When I was a kid there was a TV show called "Wonderama" hosted by Sonny Fox. Oddly enough, a particular segment of that program taught me why, unless something absolutely miraculous happens, we will always be behind the curve with respect to national security.
The segment involved a game called "telephone" in which Fox would whisper a phrase to the first kid seated with a bunch of other kids on rows of bleachers. Fox gave specific instructions: the first kid was to whisper the exact words to the kid seated next to him, who then passed them on to the next kid and so on, all the way down to the last kid in the bottom row.
The result? The original words were mangled beyond recognition. The "fun factor" was the idea that the more people involved in processing information, the greater the likelihood the information itself would be rendered unintelligible. Sonny and the kids never failed to get a good laugh out of it.
Unfortunately, government bureaucracy works precisely the same wayonly nobody's laughing.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has once again proved that government bureaucracy is Wonderama writ large. It isby naturethe essence of ineffectiveness, incompetence and outright stupidity. It doesn't matter if ninety-nine people out of one hundred are dedicated public servants genuinely concerned with protecting their fellow Americans. All it takes is one "it's not my job," pass-the-buck, clock-watching hack at the wrong point in the chain and you get a jihadist thug who did everything but wear a Bin Laden T-shirt boarding a jetliner bound for Detroit.
Anyone still remember that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, two of the thugs who flew planes into the World Trade Center, got their student visas approved by the Immigration and Naturalization Servicesix months after 9/11?
When the Bush administration decided to form the Homeland Security Department, I wrote a column saying that such an approach to combatting terror was exactly wrong. My advice?
Start firing, not hiring.
There isn't a government worker alive who doesn't know who the shirkers are. There isn't a single department of government related to national security that would be adversely affected by clearing out the careerists, the paper shufflers, the go-along-to-get alongs, and every other union- or management-protected no-account. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that government bureaucracy is the weakest link in our national security chain. Thousands of bureaucrats, from the wall-separated CIA and FBI to the baggage checkers at three American airports, couldn't stop nineteen men from engineering the worst domestic attack in the history of the country.
Bureaucracy doesn't just breed incompetence. It breeds lassitude. It breeds torpor. It breeds the kind of "stand behind the yellow line" laziness and arrogance one develops when one becomes virtually un-fireable. No doubt someone will walk the plank for this latest debacle. But bet the bank there won't be anything resembling the house-cleaning that ought to take place. That would be the aforementioned miracle that won't happen.
Reality check: in the midst of one of America's worst job-killing recessions, government employment has increased.
Someday, maybe it will occur to those genuinely concerned with America's safety, that we have put ourselves at a tactical disadvantage with regard to international terrorism. We are the overweight, lumbering and oh-so politically correct Wiley Coyote trying to chase down the lean, mean jihadist Road Runnerwho knows its just a matter of time until our screw-up equals his triumph.
It is almost impossible to believe less than one week removed from the blunders of Flight 253, a white van with no license plates and a phony police placard could sit abandoned in Time Square for two daysjust prior to the time when nearly a million people will fill up that area to celebrate New Year's Eveuntil one truly understands the insidious nature of bureaucracy. Who's "responsible?" My favorite part of the story is from the NY Post, which cites an unnamed source's speculation: since the van didn't have a license plate, traffic agents who used hand-held computers couldn't scan the van's registration, which would necessitate writing a ticket by hand, "which an agent might have avoidedparticularly in frigid weather."
Imagine having to tell the families of thousands of dead Americans killed by a truck bomb on New Year's Eve that one of the reasons it happened was because someone didn't want to get his hands cold.
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