Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Party in Cartagena

Here's a news flash: young men will blow off steam. Sometimes that means guys will have a few extra drinks, some guys will get involved with some gals. The propensity to do this when you are out of town probably can be said to increase (on average). The same goes for being overseas.

So, the event in Cartagena involving some Secret Service agents and some military who had been detailed to the Presidential support team is being blown out of proportion? No, actually, it isn’t. Let me be the first to say that I have seen more than my share of guys having one too many, of maybe going a bit too far, and all the other things that can happen in those situations. But there are a couple of things that make this a bit different.

First, they were part of a Presidential support team. Are Presidential support details supposed to be made of saints? No, and no one is saying they should be. Can the team members have a few glasses of beer when they finish up their watch? Sure. But, they are part of the President’s support. Not only does that mean they are in a ‘high vis’ position, more than the simple ‘representative of the nation’ that everyone is when on duty overseas, it means some very specific things: they are aware of the President’s schedule, they are privy to key details of the President’s itinerary and his various support packages, they have access to key gear and facilities. This is important because, despite what most of the nation and the world have forgotten, the President’s security is a good deal more important than simply making sure he isn’t jostled in a crowd. The President is responsible for the security of the nation, and for the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. That is the very real reason that the President must be, in effect, in constant contact with certain elements of the US military. This fact must be dealt with in a very serious manner. It wasn’t.

Second, there is the simple truth that these people must all, as part of their position, have access to a great deal of classified (secret and top secret) material. At the most simple level, there is always the possibility, as discipline breaks down – and it did break down – that the ‘rules’ will be forgotten and material that should have been locked up is not and as a result is compromised in any of a number of different ways.

Third, there is the more subtle problem that untoward behavior is a boon to the intelligence arms of other countries, and presents and opportunity to place one or more people – who ostensibly have access to sensitive information concerning the President – in compromising positions.

In short, this is not as easily dismissed as a bunch of guys from a navy ship going ashore in Colombia (or Italy, or Thailand, or Australia – fill in your favorite country), drinking too much, maybe getting mixed up with a ‘lady of the evening,’ and getting into a little trouble with the hotel manager.

They messed up and they need to know it.

More importantly however, is this question: who was the senior guy and what the heck was he doing? There is an old saying in the Navy-Marines that you take care of your shipmate. Translation: you don’t let your buddies get into trouble. And if you are the senior guy, you REALLY don’t let you shipmates get into trouble. So, the real questions here are: who was the senior guy who knew what was happening as it happened? Why didn’t he stop this in time to not only save careers and prevent embarrassment to the nation, but also before there was any real risk of compromise or of a counter-intelligence screw-up? And if he was not competent as a leader, if he was not clear enough in his own head as to his responsibilities to prevent such an event, how did he wind up in charge and who put him there?

The simple truth is the ‘troops’ will go raise a little hell from time to time. Good leaders let them, but also keep them from getting into trouble. Let me repeat that: Good leaders don’t let a situation get so far out of bounds that you will get into trouble. (And good leaders know that the boundaries change depending on what you are doing and where you are doing it.) Good leaders take care of the troops, don’t let them hurt themselves; don’t let them get into real trouble. Good leaders make sure the team knows what it can and can’t do and make sure the team is kept safe.

This was more than anything a failure of leadership. It is probably true that the ‘troops’ will be punished, and that is probably unavoidable at this point. But the folks who should be ‘taken out to the woodshed’ are the leaders who failed to lead and let this happen.


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