Tigerhawk examines a STRATFOR analysis of CIA failures especially during the Tenet era, selecting this quote: "over the years, the CIA had become driven by process ... getting the wrong answer became tolerable at the CIA, so long as the process was followed. Getting the right answer was unacceptable if it did not follow the process," and adds "that sounds right to me, in part because it precisely reflects my experience in business." And the reason process is so important is that is necessary to assign accountability and reduce risk.
The Sarbanes-Oxley law and other contemporary influences have essentially required American business to elevate the importance of process in virtually everything it does. While the smart people who promote the rule of process say that it ought not interfere with creativity or the taking of risk, the ugly truth is that very few employees are capable of slavish devotion to process, on the one hand, and inspired creativity within the process, on the other. The result is that our large companies are losing the benefit of ineffable intuition and sheer gut judgment at any level below the very top.
Steven Pressfield in his fictional re-creation of the campaigns of Alexander against Darius repeatedly re-examines the question of how it was possible for Alexander's numerically weaker forces to destroy the vast, successful and highly regarded Achaemenid Empire. The Persians, contrary to their depiction in the movies, were neither stupid nor incompetent. On the contrary, they had highly developed systems designed to manage a vast empire. That was the trouble. Alexander's key advantage was that he was unconstrained by any process that did not serve his strategic ends, while the Achaemenids, on the other hand, had traditions to uphold, key constituencies that had to be satisfied: they were bound to a process regardless of its consequences. The routine was an end in itself, as Tigerhawk further quotes:
The CIA under George Tenet didn't search for a strategy for defeating al Qaeda. It didn't take apart al Qaeda, identify its weak point and systematically attack it. Rather it tried to create a process for dealing with terrorism. In trying to build a replicable, definable process, it failed to understand its enemy and therefore never created a strategy.
The importance of staying within bounds is highlighted by a Pajamas Media video discussion between the New York Sun's Eli Lake and New Republic senior editor Michelle Cottle. Both Lake and Cottle attempt to gauge the political damage Senator Hillary Clinton may have caused herself by suggesting that the Iraqi Surge might be partially succeeding. The actual truth or falsity of Clinton's statement was far less important than whether she was contradicting herself or said something which angered a key constituency. As STRATFOR put it, "getting the wrong answer became tolerable ... so long as the process was followed. Getting the right answer was unacceptable if it did not follow the process." You were satisfied as long as the ticket was correctly punched. Never mind if the ticket took you straight to hell.
Of course al-Qaeda, like anyone else who reads the papers, is aware of the process ruts in Washington and probably plan their actions "outside the box". A focus on process, with its emphasis on accountability and predictability, can create a disincentive to throw away the book. This contributes to stability but only until someone comes along capable of ripping up the whole rulebook.