Sunday, February 27, 2005

Don't be selective in your reading

From Anonymous:

For the guy with question about all the bad stories on Los Alamos..

OK, lets talk about stories of government screw-ups and significant threats
to US security over the last decade, shall we?

1. Aldrich Ames (1994) - He works as a Soviet double agent inside the highest
levels of CIA Headquarters at an office that involves US agent operations
in Moscow. The info he gives to the Soviets results in the death of
many of our Soviet agents. He has drinking and financial problems, but
the CIA fails to notice them, and he operates as a Soviet double agent
for many years. What has happened at LANL in the last decade that
compares to this compromise of US security?

2. Robert Hanssen (2000) - He works in the FBI's Counter-Intelligence (aka,
"spy-catcher") branch, with constant data-base access to all ongoing
cases in which we are monitoring foreign spies. While in this high
level position as a traitor, according to CNN, he compromises:

- The National Measurement and Signature Intelligence Program

- The FBI Double Agent Program

- US studies on recruitment operations of the KGB against the CIA

- US studies on the KGB's effort to gather information on US
nuclear programs

- FBI counterintelligence techniques, sources, methods and operations

Federal prosecutors discover that Hanssen made $1.4 million from
his espionage. What, pray tell, has happened at LANL during the
last decade that compares to this fiasco?

These are the two biggest national security screw-ups of the last decade,
but one can also point to...

3. The FBI dropping the ball on the 911 hints. Field offices call in
to FBI HQ saying "we've got some strange people out here who
are taking flying lessons, but have no interest in landing the
planes". FBI HQ ignores them. 911 takes place.

And, of course, once 911 happens, we must strike back, so this gives
us two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), and huge spending increases that
may bankrupt the US treasury. One cannot blame the FBI for 911, but
they certainly missed some important clues. What has happened during
the last decade at LANL that compares to this type of failure?

And then there are other stories, such as:

4. Missing: A Laptop of DEA Informants - MSNBC June 7, 2004

DEA loses a laptop with information on all their US drug informants.
What evil drug lord wouldn't love to get ahold of this thing?

5. Purchase card bust - Federal Computer Week - Aug 30, 2004

A guy in DOD uses a purchase card to commit $11 million in fraud,
including sending $500,000 to family members. This makes the LANL
purchase card case and the Bussolini case seem like small potatoes.

6. Marine Charged Breast-Lift to US - ABC News - Aug 14

DOD/Marine uses purchase card to pay for her breast-lift.

7. Lost Laptops Compromise Secrets - - Oct 1, 2001

FBI is missing 184 of its laptops.

8. CentCom Laptops Missing From HQ - Tampa Tribune - Aug 7, 2002

Two laptops with tactical battle plans go missing from Gen. Franks
war planning HQ right before the war.

9. Grassley Shines Light On Credit Card Abuse at Department of Defense

At least 200 Army personnel used their government charge cards
to obtain hundreds of dollars in cash at strip clubs. They use
the money for "lap dances".


I could go on and on, but you get the point.

What do you think? Perhaps we should shut down the FBI/CIA/DOD/DEA?
They have endangered our security and engaged in illegal activities,
have they not?

Bad things happen in government agencies. It's not just LANL. Unfortunately,
LANL management and the DOE do a terrible job of defending us. These
other agencies do a much better job at defense.

Yeah, you can pull up lots of articles that might make a person
believe that Los Alamos is some sort of basket case. But, in the
bigger context of things, far worse things have happened at other
places in the US government. Do some more research -- these stories
about screw-ups at other agencies are easy for anyone to find.
Don't be selective in your reading.

So, since everyone else is a screwup, we shouldn't strive for excellence in everything we do?

Sign at LANL: Please don't disturb the monkeys -scratch that- scientists. They like their messes, and they'll throw feces at you if you bother them.
From your insulting "monkey feces" analogy, it is clear to me you don't
want excellence at Los Alamos. Let's be honest about it, you simply want
the lab shut down. That is the only thing that will ever make you happy.
Well, with the way things are going, perhaps you'll get your wish.
Talk about missing the point! I don't see anything here that implies this gentleman wants the lab shut down. He simply makes the assertion that there have been countless real lapses in security within the government that didn't result in some knee jerk fool shuting down a 2 billion dollar a year operation.

He also did not say we shouldn't strive for excellence. I agree with the writer that some balance and reflection is due here. This institution has suffered greatly over something that NEVER HAPPENED. Remember there was never any missing media. If you went to the first CREM meeting you know that the Director knew that the media never existed within a few days of his ridiculous and embarassing "cowboy" rant. There were never any cowboys either!! All of this was an enormous management lie. I think it's long over due for us to strive for excellence in manangement. Managers who blame others and refuse to get hard facts before they fly off the handle are the real issue here.

We'd all like to move on but we can't do it with a vicious backstabbing rat like Nanos in charge. It's way past time for that rat to leave this sinking ship.
This institution cannot survive a 6 month contract extension with him at the helm.
Thanks to the original poster for a really excellent post. This is the important reality that the politicians and the press conveniently ignore.

Now, as for the remarks from the author of the "mokey feces" comment: Of course we should strive for excellence in everything we do. But is it realistic or beneficial to demand absolute perfection, and to declare abject failure and impose draconian punishments for anything less?

The real world consists of fallible humans. In any large organization, there is going to be a non-zero fraction of the work force who are either dishonest, or incompetent in their jobs (recall the Peter principle),or disgruntled, or distracted by personal problems and therefore prone to mistakes.

The questions the manager of such a large organization must ask are: "How low a failure rate is reasonably achievable?"
"What failure mechanisms can realistically be corrected?"
"What are the costs of attempting further reduction in mistakes (in terms of productivity, morale, recruitment and rentention, etc.)?"
"Are further incremental improvements worth the cost?"

After asking and answering those questions, you'll arrive at some "acceptable" rate of failures, and accept that you must live with it or else incur unacceptable costs. When dealing with large numbers of people, it becomes like thermodynamics: you can get arbitrarily close to absolute zero, but you can never get there. And each increment in further cooling becomes progressively more costly.

Sorry, but that's reality. Expecting perfection from large groups of humans is just childish wishful thinking. Unfortunately, casual observers are prone to this childish world view.

The unfortunate consequence of this reality, and the public's lack of understanding of it, is that any organization (or individual, for that matter) is vulnerable to attack by shrewd politicians with ulterior agendas. There will always be failings; one need only go digging for them. Find a few molehills, talk them up into mountains, and you have the makings of a major scandal. The press, particularly today's lazy press, which seems incapable of independent critical thinking, will love it. And the equally lazy, uncritical public will lap it up.

How do we defend ourselves? Keep speaking the truth, loudly and often. Make meaningful comparisons between LANL and other similar organizations, as the poster here does, and as Brad Holian did in his Physics Today piece. Make sure our politicians and the press understand reality.
Thanks for the original post! It really puts things in perspective. LANL does have problems, and we need to improve. However, a healthy perspective of reality is important to improve.
Let me guess. The guy who compared LANL scientists to a bunch of monkeys
slinging their feces at the crowd is from:

1. The DOE IG's Office

2. Top-level Management at LANL

3. The Anti-Nuke crowd from Santa Fe

Maybe it doesn't matter, because the three are so hard to tell apart from
one another these days.
To the list of Government screw-ups listed by the poster. Let's not leave out Government Contractor screw-ups like Christopher Boyce at TRW - a very damaging incident to US National Security.

What, you say I can't blame all of TRW for the acts of one person? Of course I can - it's easy - It was that low-key, laid back, Southern California, we're not into the rules mentality. The entire company had it, I'm sure.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the ramifications for TRW, although I thought there were some. No shut-down as I recall though.
I just came back from meeting mid-level management from SNL and LLNL. The monkey feces comment was uncalled for but it is what the general reading that I got from management at those two labs about the majority of posters here.

In general, they read the blog, and the question that came from them was if everyone is as 'head in the sand' as the most vocal posters.. why would we want to hire them if they leave Los Alamos?

This echoed a comment from a post-doc who went for an interview last week in Silicon Valley. They had read the blog and wondered why they should hire someone from such a negative culture? Would they just end up firing this student for poisoning their company. The student didnt think that the company was pro-Nanos.. as much as it seemed that the Los Alamos people came across as completely disconnected to how the rest of the country sees them (and has seen them for a long while longer than Wen Ho Lee). The student was asking me if he should just go do Walmart for a couple of years to clean up his resume.
Hey. You tell that post doc to live through a 6-month, unnecessary shutdown under an incompetent, dictatorial director who continues to trash his most valuable assets, his employees.

Then ask him that bit about negative attitude again.
So, a couple of middle managers at SNL and LLNL don't sympathize with the situation here. I've got plenty of anecdotes to the contrary, like a friend who mentioned to a Berkeley prof that he works at LANL. The response: "I hear the director is a real b-----d."

What's the point? This isn't a popularity contest. It's about saving our Lab from a bogus PR campaign mounted by the Director.
I have talked with several executives in Fortunate 500 companies. Based on the conversation with certain managers at LLNL and SNL, they might have trouble getting a job those fine organizations. Their response was if they had acting the way our management has acted they would be out of work before the day ended and would spend the rest of their days holding up cardboard signs saying, "I will manage for food."

Item 1.
"I just came back from meeting mid-level management from SNL and LLNL.
The monkey feces comment was uncalled for but it is what the general
reading that I got from management at those two labs about the majority
of posters here."

Now, compare this with Item 2.

The "This Won't be a Popular View" writer (and its associated
"Level Of Incompetence" List) who left these comments...

Myth Buster responds:

First, I'm not in upper management. My most recent experience is
<<< middle management >>>, but most of the things I've seen in my LOI
list came during my experience as team leader and project manager. Like
many others, I prefer not to receive angry phone calls and sacks of
burning excrement at my door, and so choose to post anonymously.

Bet you these are all coming from the same "middle manager" fellow.
And from the sound of it, he has a hang-up with both monkey feces and
bags of excrement. My guess is he's a guy who is either: (1) frustrated
by the fact that he can't seem to break beyond middle management, or,
(2) the whole "middle management" story is a scam -- this guy is really
at a much higher level in the LANL management chart. My bet is with (2).

Regardless, he writes well and is entitled to his opinions. I just wish
he would be truthful about his real position in the LANL hierarchy.

I don't believe for now that his "middle management" story is true.
But if it is, this is the type of fellow who would fit the Nanos
mold as an ideal SET candidate, would he not?
If the previous is true, it would suggest that the senior management is very worried. Histrionic warnings of the form, "If you don't stop carrying on, the whole lab will get shut down and everyone will be blacklisted," suggest that something is about to crack. I suspect it's the EB members who will have trouble finding new employment.
A commentator near the end of the "The Won't Be A Popular View" (written
by "middle manager") made a very insightful observation about this so-called
"middle manager" fellow who has left comments on this piece:

Interesting that at the end of the piece, the writer says, "That's what
you're paid very well to do." - as opposed to "we're" - appears to be a
definite management style to the manager talking here. Am I to infer that
he or she is not well paid, or that they have a: There is a "Me/Us/Manager",
and then there is "You/Them/Employee", mentality?

And now we see what appears to be the same guy, trying to scare everyone
into being silent (along with various allusions to monkey feces and
other excrement). Yeah, this guy is probably from upper management.
And this looks to be a sign of upper management desperation.
Oh yeah, don't forget that Ames and Hanssen were given polygraphs as their crimes were being committed.
Inaccurate: Hanssen was never polygraphed.
Wrong!! Hansen passed 2 polygraphs!
I read quite a long article on Hanssen and was not polygraphed before he was caught. That was a black eye for the FBI. ( Not in my opinion, but in public opinion.) Perhaps he was polygraphed after he was caught, I wouldn't know about that.
Perhaps the previous poster was thinking of Aldrich Ames who did pass a couple of polygraphs.
In fact, no spy has been caught by a polygraph which is another reason for the seething rage at LANL. So many drops create a mighty river of anger.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?