31 October, 2005

Shorter Vietnam: Dilbert covers ass

Secretive organizations often have Dilbert moments. They are accountable only to themselves, so it's all too easy to cover up mistakes with a few choice lies. This can sometimes lead to more lies, and eventually big problems, but the person who made the initial mistake has covered his ass, so he keeps his job and watches the world collapse around him.

Sort of like the incompetent intel analysts who mistranslated some Vietnamese in 1963 and led the U.S. into one of its many wars of dumb. (I don't say war of choice, as all wars are wars of choice. These are wars of dumb, when it takes conscious ignorance in order to go to war. I'd include the Mexican, Spanish-American, and Iraq wars in this list.)

Yes, I meant to do that:
Mr. Hanyok believed the initial misinterpretation of North Vietnamese intercepts was probably an honest mistake. But after months of detective work in N.S.A.'s archives, he concluded that midlevel agency officials discovered the error almost immediately but covered it up and doctored documents so that they appeared to provide evidence of an attack.

"Rather than come clean about their mistake, they helped launch the United States into a bloody war that would last for 10 years," Mr. Aid said.
The best part is that this finding itself has been buried for the last five years, again to prevent embarrassment for policy makers intent on making war -- this time in Iraq.

To sum up: Tonkin incident never happened. NSA analyst thought it did. Analyst covers error with lies. Policy makers push lies to public, leading to war. 38 years later, historian uncovers tale. Historian's findings suppressed from public, in fear public won't support another war based on lies. Yes, a coverup to cover up a coverup that covered up a lie. Upshot: 2 big wars, millions of dead bodies, and the accelerated demise of the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

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