Regression to the Mean in Governance is Deadly Business


Regression to the mean is a term used in statistics.

Simply put, outstanding results will always go back to average results. If, for instance, the ocean produces a rogue wave of 100 feet, it will eventually go back to producing more normal waves.

Every time nature produces a Michelangelo, it compensates by going back to producing a plethora of those of us in the paint by numbers crowd.

Human institutions appear to have a form of regression to the mean that is more active than that found in nature. The CIA and its propensity for punishing agents who actually make the breakthroughs it uses to get funding from Congress is a case in point.

The agent who was the main character in the movie Zero Dark Thirty has learned this the hard way. She’s been passed over for promotions and punished in other ways because, as one of her colleagues put it, “she’s not miss congeniality.” The topper for the delicate sensibilities inside one of our nation’s spy factories was when she sent a broadcast email to her colleagues after the agency gave a group award for finding Bin Laden.

From RT:

“She hit ‘reply all’ ” to an email announcement of the awards, a second former CIA agent recalls to Miller. Then, to all of her colleagues, the agent sent a message along the lines of, “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”

One source tells the Post that a testy attitude is typical within the CIA, and says “Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?”

“If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone,” the former agent claims.

Even still, the real-life Maya’s online outburst “stunned” her colleagues, the source says. (Read the rest here.)

It sounds like they’re easily “stunned” at the CIA.

Of course, this isn’t the first time they’ve punished an agent for doing his or her job. John O’Neill, had latched onto the threat represented by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden years before 9/11. If the agency had listened to him and used his intelligence to inform our elected officials, there might not have been a 9/11.

Think about that: Three thousand dead Americans might be alive today, and we could have avoided a decade of war. If the agency had listened to John O’Neill.

But what they did instead is classic bureaucrat. It’s the kind of management that allowed the over-paid heads of General Motors to bankrupt the largest corporation in the world.

They got rid of the guy — “pushed him out” — who was warning them — and us — about 9/11.

And the rest is, as they say, history.

Or in this case, the dead are dead, the wars are fought, the patriot act is passed, and, along with all the rest of the destruction that 9/11 wrought, we the people are being surveilled.

This regression to the mean stuff has deadly consequences when it involves governance. It becomes a signifier for incompetence and corruption. It leads to unnecessary wars, unnecessary deaths, and the destruction of the treasure and liberties of a great nation.

We don’t need to put every man, woman and child in this country under government surveillance to “keep Americans safe.” We certainly don’t need to enrich private corporations by feeding them at the surveillance money trough. That is corporate welfare gone nuts boys and girls. It is corruption at the expense of all our liberties.

We need to fire a few people at the CIA. And I don’t mean the woman who found bin Laden.

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  • SisterCynthia

    The notion that those who obstructed the agent who got Bin Laden deserve a “group award” is as (or even more moronic) than the notion that there are no winners in a game and everyone gets a prize for playing, even if they sit on the sidelines playing Nintendo, get into a fist fight with the other kids, or otherwise contribute nothing to a win. Sad. As for getting rid of these liberty-trampling liars who are feeding their friends in the tech industry, that sounds great to me. Such pork is financially killing our country and robbing her citizens of the rights they were SUPPOSED to be guaranteed. This should not be a partisan issue, either, it’s an American one! :(

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    To a historian, there is an ugly familiarity about these stories. It is exactly how Britain managed the peace with Germany after WWI. When an unusually alert and willing British general called Morgan gave the British government certain proof that the German government was breaking the peace treaty on a grand scale (in 1925, long before Hitler), keeping armed forces two and a half times larger than the treaties allowed and a military budget that was actually larger than the huge pre-war one, the British government nearly sacked him. When, in 1923, the governments of France, Italy and Belgium came to the conclusion that the notorious hyperi-inflation of that year was being deliberately stoked by corrupt and militaristic elements in the German government, the British not only refused to support them in the occupation of the Ruhr, they implicitly threatened France with war – until the German government proved the three Allies right by putting an end to the hyper-inflation literally from one day to the next, when it had realized that the French would not scare. What was done later to Churchill, who was beginning to notice what others had seen before, you know. There is a pathology where it is more important to get with the group and be seen to be one of the guys than to get results, and indeed where results are often very unwelcome.

    • SisterCynthia

      One could say, people often prefer a lie that all is well than the truth that there is trouble, even to their own detriment. Perhaps they don’t want to be bothered out of their own plans/dreams for their time in power, and assume if they just ignore the problem it won’t BE a problem–like a little kid who pretends “if I can’t see you, you’re not there”? I’m not sure why else people can choose to be so willfully blind to the gathering of wolves at their own gates.