Knowing Tony Shaffer as I do (albeit in a limited fashion) I have tried to keep my distance from the Able Danger controversy. Generally speaking in the spooky business one likes to keep a stiff-arm out for those in the spotlight, though there is a lot of quiet cheering (or jeering) in private.
Giving his testimony the once over I am struck by a couple of things, not the least of which is his willingness to name the names of the good, bad and ugly associated with this case. Some will attribute this to motives of revenge, which may be true, but more likely it is rooted in the fact that without a sufficiently strong dose of sunlight we cannot hope for an real progress in fixing the problems that brought us to the point where hearings were necessary. These things didn’t happen in a vacuum, so to me naming names is appropriate (let a more thorough investigation indict or exonerate them).
It also struck me that no matter how much of a bad light is cast on those who may have been involved in thwarting the full success that Able Danger could have had, none of them really have anything to fear. Despite the various post-mortem findings spawned from 9/11, no one was held accountable even when it was fairly clear that blame could have been laid. There was a time when being the MFIC meant not only did you get all the bennies and the glory, but all the responsibility too. The last great surprise on US soil saw the end of the careers of those in charge; though with the passage of time it seems that the definition of what “responsibility” means has changed. How skewed is it that crashing a ship with nominal effect brings with it more retribution than allowing the failures that led to the death of thousands?
Naming names and affixing responsibility is the only practical way to bring about change in any bureaucracy, not just the IC (though especially the IC). It is the unspoken message transmitted when malfeasance is ignored that resonates the loudest. Every IO who has had to carry the load of an inadequate co-worker and then watched as the praise and rewards went to others knows what I am talking about. The same goes for those who have suffered countless injuries as an unqualified boss makes mistake after mistake, and then adds insult to injury by leaving you to clean up the mess. Watching peers and superiors break the law and then move up the ladder is enough to make even the most dedicated (or callous) wonder why they should continue to do the right thing.
What separates those who testified the other day, and those who put them in this situation, is that the former are willing to face and give name to their fears, while the latter simply have none.