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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Flynn and Groupthink

In Victims of Groupthink and subsequent works, Irving Janis described situations in which high-level officials made very bad decisions because of pressures to conform.  He identified eight symptoms:
  1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious dangers, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.
  2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warnings contrary to group thinking.
  3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring ethical consequences.
  4. Excessive Stereotyping:The group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group.
  5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group's stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.
  6. Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counterarguments.
  7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group's decision; silence is seen as consent.
  8. Mindguards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.
Retired general Michael Flynn will be Trump's national security adviser.  At The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg, Mark Mazzetti, and Eric Schmitt review his career and tenure at the Defense Intelligence Agency.  The report suggests that Flynn embraces groupthink as a feature, not a bug.
Many of those who observed the general’s time at the agency described him as someone who alienated both superiors and subordinates with his sharp temperament, his refusal to brook dissent, and what his critics considered a conspiratorial worldview.
At the agency, “Flynn surrounded himself with loyalists. In implementing his vision, he moved at light speed, but he didn’t communicate effectively,” said Douglas H. Wise, deputy director from 2014 until he retired in August. “He didn’t tolerate it well when subordinates didn’t move fast enough,” he said. “As a senior military officer, he expected compliance and didn’t want any pushback.”
During a tense gathering of senior officials at an off-site retreat, he gave the assembled group a taste of his leadership philosophy, according to one person who attended the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss classified matters. Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his. The room fell silent, as employees processed the lecture from their new boss.
For weeks [after Benghazi in 2012], he pushed analysts for evidence that the attack might have had a state sponsor — sometimes shouting at them when they didn’t come to the conclusions he wanted. The attack, he told his analysts, was a “black swan” event that required more creative intelligence analysis to decipher.
“To ask employees to look for the .0001 percent chance of something when you have an actual emergency and dead Americans is beyond the pale,” said Joshua Manning, an agency analyst from 2009 to 2013.