The coffee klatch
“So tell me about this coffee klatch that routinely meets to discuss how to overthrow the office…” This was my introduction to “Tanya.” I had never met her face-to-face. Our first meeting was via video teleconference and she started it by accusing three of my attaché colleagues, my friends, of mutiny. If you recall, Tanya’s the one running all the Defense Attaché Offices in Europe and Eurasia for DIA. To put it into perspective, she is the civilian rank equivalent of a Colonel in the military, overseeing the largest and most prolific division within DIA’s most prolific directorate. At her disposal is one of the nation’s leading producers of intelligence. Within the geographic division that she leads there are approximately 100 military attachés serving in over 40 countries. So, she’s a pretty big deal…and it’s clear she knows it and is enjoying the power trip. To boot, the postings within her division are the most sought-after postings in DIA, if not in the entire military: London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Stockholm. Attachés posted in these embassies have worked hard to be there and they want to stay. That’s why most of her subordinate Defense Attachés ask “how high?” when Tanya tells them to jump for her.
Put yourself in Tanya’s shoes for a minute. You have zero operational experience. You have done very little within the Agency and because you are so toxic, other divisions have shuffled you out as quickly as you arrived. However, in your mind, you are awesome because you go to one job and are very quickly promoted to another. Now, having never been a commissioned officer in the military, you are suddenly a Colonel-equivalent in charge of a hundred of the military’s best officers. Think there may be a little bit of psychology playing into this? Let’s go one step further…you (remember, you’re still Tanya in this) know that these officer pukes will do anything to keep their cushy little embassy job in Europe so you basically have them “by the balls.” You know that you pretty much have carte blanche and if someone speaks up you can just simply have them replaced (we’ll talk about “course of performance” later). Am I painting a vivid enough picture here?
Now think about the flipside – you’re a Defense Attaché in, say, Madrid. From time to time you’ll see Tanya run her mouth, or denigrate your people or even you, but it’s not that bad, you think. After all, you really like it in Spain and so does your family. You still remember your attaché indoctrination training: “high production, low drama”, so you decide to bite your tongue because it’s not worth it to “rock the boat.” You keep your head down and stay off the radar…so you think. Then one day, you get a call. It’s DIA. You’re being recalled to D.C. and your assignment is being terminated. Have your family pack up – you’re done. Say what??
You do the good American officer thing and obey the order. You fly out to D.C. where Tanya berates you and says you’re done; that your assignment as an attaché is now terminated. The Navy (let’s say you’re in the Navy for sake of argument) needs people like you on its boats (they have a lot of them, I understand), so they promptly ship you off into the sunset, pun intended. And by the time you can say “what the poop-deck just happened!?” your family has put your crates of crap on a boat headed for America and you’re already starting your new job. Meanwhile, some poor suspecting Navy guy is somewhere on another boat (hopefully not the one you just showed up in!) getting the call: “congratulations, Commander, you’ve been selected to be the new Defense Attaché to Spain!” And that’s how things ran in the DAS, especially under Tanya. If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself a few questions at this point:
“Why was this attaché fired?”
“Did he, or the Navy, have any recourse in all this?”
“Is Tanya even allowed to fire someone?”
The sad reality was that no one was asking these questions and the unfortunate result was that far too often good people went in and they came out with their career and/or personal lives in shambles.
Cue the $64,000 question that we are all asking: “and all for what!?”
A little legal-ese now. The term “course of performance” means a sequence of conduct between the parties to a particular transaction that exists if: (1) the agreement of the parties with respect to the transaction involves repeated occasions for performance by a party; and (2) the other party, with knowledge of the nature of the performance and opportunity for objection to it, accepts the performance or acquiesces in it without objection. Essentially, if one party does something with/to you and you allow it to happen, it becomes a de facto rule. Leadership within the Defense Intelligence Agency, and especially in the Attaché Service, over time, thrived in this gray area. The modus operandi was something akin to this process:
Step 1: Onboard new personnel,
Step 2: Attain leverage over those personnel by drawing upon the threat of being removed from the assignment,
Step 3: Use that leverage to wield unchecked power.
When this cycle continues to perpetuate for years, as it did in the Agency, it becomes de facto policy.
Let’s revisit the anecdote about the ousted Defense Attaché from Spain. “Tanya” recalled him to D.C. and showed him the exit door out of DIA. Did anyone at any point ask: “did Tanya actually have the authority to fire him?” The answer is in the paragraph above. If one party (Tanya) fires people, and the other party (the armed Service) doesn’t object (aka, they acquiesce), then you have a course of performance established. And this is exactly what was happening in DIA. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate abuse of its personnel wasn’t the only nefarious course of performance that was transpiring in the Agency. At some point along the way, it creeped insidiously from toxicity to illegal activities, all while the military spectated.