Hmmm ... Does This Sound Familiar?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Hmmm ... Does This Sound Familiar?

I've been reading a book written by James Surowiecki called The Wisdom of Crowds, and I recently came upon this passage:
Homogenous groups, particularly small ones, are often victims of what the psychologist Irving Janis called "groupthink." After a detailed study of American foreign policy fiascoes ... Janis argued that when decision makers are too much alike - in worldview and mind-set -- they easily fall prey to groupthink.

... In the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion, for instance, the Kennedy administration planned and carried out its strategy without ever really talking to anyone who was skeptical of the prospects of success.

The people who planned the operation were the same ones who were asked to judge whether it would be successful or not. The few people who voiced caution were quickly silenced. And, most remarkably, neither the intelligence branch of the CIA nor the Cuban desk of the State Department was consulted about the plan.

The result was a bizarre neglect of some of the most elemental facts about Cuba in 1961, including the popularity of Fidel Castro, the strength of the Cuban army, and even the size of the island itself. (The invasion was predicated on the idea that 1,200 men could take over all of Cuba.)

The administration even convinced itself that the world would believe the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, though American involvement was an open secret in Guatemala (where the Cuban exiles were being trained).
Unlike the Kennedy administration, the Bush II administration was kind enough to consult CIA intelligence analysts. Of course, once those analysts reached conclusions that differed from those of the White House hawks, it was time to send Dick Cheney and "Scooter" Libby over to the CIA headquarters to, um, persuade those analysts to change their minds.

It's amazing that our government learned so little over the span of 42 years.

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