Friday, December 29, 2006

AFTER THE NEXT TERROR ATTACK: Distribute plush toys to defuse the tension, profs at Northwestern teach FBI agents

Often DD reads mainstream newsmedia articles on the state of security preparedness in this country that are completely baffling. They purport to show earnest preparation and training but to anyone with a shred of common sense they seem like complete wastes of time and resources or just plain damaging to the intellect and spirit.

Such was the case with a Los Angeles Times piece entitled "New FBI Means Business," yesterday. (It's here.)

The Times reporter was along for the ride at a leadership training course for the FBI, given at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, IL. The purpose: To get special agents to think like successful businessmen, to be open to new ideas, to look outside the box and all that sloganeering so beloved in such discourse.

Sounded good, until you started reading the fine print, unremarked upon by the journalistic practice of reporting a story, no matter how ridiculous, without pointing out its patently confounding and idiotic bits.

Blame this all, it appears, on FBI director Robert Mueller, who has an erection for "management science." He has compelled the FBI's "senior headquarters staffers and top agents from [its] 56 field offices" to take the training.

"If Toyota can adapt its car lines to the baby-boom generation, then why can't the FBI adapt its role to the changing security needs of the country?" asked the story. Perhaps because the FBI doesn't furnish a consumer vehicle or commodities, would seem the correct snappy answer, sending the lecturer fleeing from the podium.

In our land, however, this is never the case. While the FBI is allegedly being taught "dissent" -- "dissent" is a big concept here -- by the profs involved in the training, very little actual "dissent" is evident. In fact, DD scanned the article carefully and couldn't find one instance of talk about the worth of critical thinking.

" . . . the agents are taught the value of dissent," it goes on. "Included in the assigned reading is an article called 'How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight'"

"Every organization that operates efficiently and effectively has people who are exploring better ways to do things," opines some head FBI apparatchik, rather obviously, who appears to be in charge of seeing that his underlings sit through the business training course.

One Northwestern lecturer teaches the FBI that some ideas aren't so good even though they seem keen, or keen to him.

"[The prof] used as an example urinals introduced at an Amsterdam airport that used the image of a black fly inside the basin to get the men to hit their mark. What seemed a good idea never caught on," the brilliant inference, one supposes, that armies of guys still piss all over the place. "Just because you have a great idea . . . does not mean everybody will line up behind it."

Remind us again how innovation in the public convenience is like counter-terrorism, sir?

"The classes take place in a modern conference center that caters to business. Lunch is served in the Johnson Wax Dining Room, breaks are in the Oscar Mayer Lounge."

At which point, if there were any good "dissenters," they would all jump up and leave.

DD saves the best for last, just where it appears in the Times piece.

Daniel Diermeier, "one of the Kellogg professors," says to agents: "Think of yourself as stewards of the FBI brand."

Yes. Men and women, think of yourselves as upholders of the rep of a hot dog, a floor wax, or a fine automobile -- like a Mercedes!

"The class also gets a lesson in brand management," continues the newspaper. Mercedes was faced with a public relations crisis in 1990. "As it prepared to roll out a new subcompact . . . the model flipped while making a sharp turn during a routine test of whether it could avoid a sudden obstacle, such as a moose."

However, Mercedes righted itself eventually, it is told in class. "Mercedes then launched a public-relations blitz and tried to defuse the furor by putting plush moose toys in ... new vehicles."

DD leaves it to the reader to imagine the variety of plush toys which could be fashioned to fit terrorism furors. Think strategically here, as you would be advised at the Kellogg school.

The hardcopy of the story included a photo -- not on-line -- of an FBI agent, listening to a lecturer, his hand thoughtfully held to his chin. It could just as well been someone with it smacked up against a forehead in disgust.

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