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April 15, 2004
Q laid out four neatly carved slices of lamb on a plate. I came into the kitchen some time later and saw that there were now only three pieces. And that there was a trail of blood leading to the telephone book, upon which what was left of a slice of lamb was busily staining the pages red.


The coming of Spring is making her a little wild. There was a lovely fake cardinal wired to the window latch, looking very real indeed. Until What's-Her-Name, fired by the thrill of the chase, sprang at it Sunday and tore it to bits. The cardinal never had a chance.

What's up with you lately? I ask her as she stares out the window. What's-Her-Name says nothing; she doesn't respond to direct questions Come to think of is, she doesn't take indirect questions about her own responsibility for what goes on here, either. She simply has no comment. Life with What's-Her-Name is like a presidential press conference.

The 9/11 hearings are long; the commission has met with witnesses for a couple of weeks now, and will meet with many others for some days to come. Just about everyone who was involved in intelligence or law enforcement at a high level has testified or will testify soon. After an initial tussle over whether The National Security Advisor would testify, she did so. The President and the Vice President will do so soon -- privately, we hear. What did we know? Who knew it? How did we know it? What did we do with what we knew? What could we have done to avert the tragedy? What can happen now?

The hearings are typical of American political culture, both in their presuppositions and in the way the witnesses behave: "I didn't do it" is an article of faith in any bureaucracy, government ones most of all. Never admit responsibility. Never. Deflect the blame elsewhere. The last administration is always a good place for that, but anyplace will do.

I would pay a fair amount to see a public official look into the camera and say he felt personally responsible. I wouldn't think that meant he was solely to blame. I wouldn't demand his resignation forthwith. I wouldn't smell blood. I would think I was looking at an adult who understood where the buck stops.

Some of those who have testified have sounded like that. Not those at the highest level: they have simply continued the song about other peoples' shortcomings. I mean those who actually do the work. They have talked about the problems they had sharing information, the culture of ownership around classified documents, the need for better computers, even. About what could change to make their work better.

Leadership doesn't always know what really goes on in work. The people who do it are the ones who know. When leadership doesn't listen to the people on the ground, it becomes entranced with its own vision, confusing it with its own dreams of hegemony. It forgets to check and see if the vision can work in real life.

Shortly after the attacks, I was talking to two retired midlevel intelligence officials. They were shaken to the soles of their feet by what happened. They still had professional pride in their work, and it was grievously wounded in the attack. My heart ached for them. We weren't ready, they kept saying. We failed. "We," they kept saying. It was as if they had been on duty that day. They haven't been on duty for years.
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