Cheap Seats 2018
Strzok Dumb - 07/18
By Rich Trzupek
So, did you see Peter Strzok’s testimony before the House. Quite the performance, by all parties. For me watching and listening to Strzok was a familiar experience. I’m not suggesting that every bureaucrat is an arrogant a-hole, but the guy could be the poster boy for every horrible bureaucrat.
When I wrote “Regulators Gone Wild” I tried to make it clear to readers that I have interacted with a great many good people in the EPA and state environmental agencies throughout my career. The majority are trying their best, walking the line between stupidly-written regulations, environmental groups who are never satisfied, the frightened/gullible portion of the public that the environmental groups exploit and the commendable working men and women running the factories that fuel the nation’s economic growth.
Unfortunately, in any organization the efforts of the good majority can be overshadowed by the actions of a few bad actors, or even one. Take air travel as an example. I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles with United and have enjoyed just about every interaction I’ve had with their employees. They are, almost universally, professional and attentive to the needs of the business traveler. But mention United Airlines to some people and the first image that comes into their head is that poor guy getting dragged off his flight, kicking and screaming, because somebody at United decided another passenger should have his seat.
I’m sure it’s the same with the FBI and I’m sure that the vast majority of FBI agents who aren’t arrogant, self-righteous a-holes like Strzok are deeply offended by his performance and attitude. Indeed, I’ve read a few op-eds by current and former agents that make just that point.
But if you deal with bureaucracies on a day-to-day basis, it was easy to recognize all of the classic signs of a bureaucrat drunk with power and convinced of his or her own infallibility when listening to Strzok. Some commentators have suggested that Strzok “knew he was lying” when he testified. I disagree. In his mind, Peter Strzok did everything correctly. He sees himself as the consummate FBI agent and sincerely believes that anyone who thinks differently must be ignorant or biased. I have no doubt of that, for I’ve been dealing the self-righteous bureaucratic mind set for 35 years. I know it when I see it and it doesn’t matter if the bureaucrat in question’s nametag contains the letters EPA or FBI: Bureaucratic arrogance is a disease that infects selected members of any bureaucracy, be it public or private.
There are many characteristics that out-of-control bureaucrats share. I’ll highlight just a few that demonstrate how Strzok is a poster-boy for this particular disease that infects the body politic:
1) Purity of Mission/Purity of Rules – There can be no misbehavior in the Ideal Bureaucrat’s mind, so long as the Ideal Bureaucrat follows the Rules. The Rules have been developed in order to fulfill the Mission and are therefore sacrosanct. Further, the Rules defy interpretation. There are no gray areas. You either follow the Rules or you don’t.
2) The Vulcan Ideal - There is no need to worry – or even think about – human fallibility, emotion or prejudice tainting the performance of anyone who pays due homage to the Rules. Like Mr. Spock, the Ideal Bureaucrat has the remarkable ability to completely and entirely disconnect his or her personal opinions and emotions when performing their duty. They are able to do so because the Rules give them the unique power to make this separation.
Most police officers I have known, and I have known a few, will admit that they regularly make judgement calls: Whether to write a ticket or issue a warning; to arrest or lecture; to pursue a certain line of inquiry or leave it alone as unproductive. They make these kinds of decisions all the time and, if they are honest – and the best of them are – they make them while recognizing that their personal prejudices and emotions can color these judgement calls. That’s why most police officers are not allowed to investigate cases involving family members or close friends. Try as they might, the assumption is that being too close to a case will color the judgement calls to come. I can’t imagine it’s any different in the FBI.
But Peter Strzok, the Ideal Bureaucrat, cannot imagine his well-documented personal prejudices coloring his decision-making in any possible way when investigating potential wrong-doing involving a presidential candidate he loathed and another presidential candidate he admired. In his mind, I have no doubt that Strzok sincerely believes that all of the many investigative decisions he made or chose to not make while he was running the show were exactly the same decisions that any other Ideal Bureaucrat employed by the FBI would have made. The Rules don’t permit mistakes!
3) System Infallibility – To the Ideal Bureaucrat, should anyone dare attempt to work around the Rules, the System would surely identify and punish the transgressor. If the Rules are perfection, then the System is uber-perfection, the perfect gate-keeper. Strzok appealed to the System as his ultimate defense, ensuring the House Committee that had he done anything contrary to the Rules his superiors AND his subordinates would have caught the errors, because the System is that good.
A more cynical fellow than I might note that it took the FBI 22 years to discover that Agent Robert Hanssen had been selling out the USA and FBI to the USSR and Russian Federation, suggesting the FBI Rules and System might not be quite as perfect as Strzok believes.
Which is not to suggest that the personal animus that motivate Agent Strzok to make questionable decisions in the investigations he was chosen to lead are equivalent to the greed that drove Hanssen to sell out his country. It is rather to observe that no person, much less any system, can prevent poor choices 100 percent of the time. That Strzok believes that he is such a person and the FBI is such an organization in simply proof of how deluded and arrogant an individual he is.