Bureaucracy, Culture & Ft. Hood Attacks
The Fort Hood attack was an intelligence failure, just like 9/11 and so many others before. In retrospect, it all seems obvious – these kinds of failures always do. It is easy to blame bureaucratic inertia, but it is also unfair. Large organizations need procedures to function. Priorities must be set and decisions have to be made and implemented.
Examining the system failure is revealing, both about the challenges in preventing these kinds of tragedies but also in how they reveal some of our society’s core values.
Army: Major Problems
It is now clear that Major Hasan’s colleagues were concerned about his actions and behavior. But there were limits to what they could do about. Firing an Army Major is a very big deal. It is now clear that Hasan’s colleagues had doubts about his commitment to the military and about his work habits. But, informally, they judged that he was not dangerous. Consider the situation from their point of view. First, Hasan was a psychiatrist – it is understandable that Hasan’s colleagues would assume that an individual practicing a profession rooted caring, healing, and empathy would not be likely to become a murderer (Hannibal Lector is a fictional character.) But also consider the bureaucratic challenges. Hasan’s relatives reported that when Hasan made informal inquiries about leaving the Army:
They told him that he would be allowed out only if Rumsfeld himself O.K.’d it..This may be a slight exaggeration, but removing Hasan would certainly have required authorization from people several levels higher in the chain of command – and the bases for doing so were not evident. What was clear was that Hasan was odd and said disturbing things and that he did not appear devoted to the job and the Army. Virtually every bureaucracy ends up with at least a few such characters. Usually they are slowly eased out. To fire them, without clear evidence of criminal activity, is much harder. It would have taken enormous amounts of time and since Hassan was a Major, General officers would need to have been involved. There were obvious incentives for easing Hasan out, rather than attempting to dismiss him.
No doubt, Hasan’s colleagues are no wishing that they had pursued this process nonetheless and in the future officers faced with comparable situations undoubtedly will do whatever is necessary to remove individuals.