Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity

If you’ve been following Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger’s bid to unseat Rep. Dave Brat, R-7, you know that Republican operatives uncovered a boatload of sensitive personal information about the former CIA officer through a routine public records through from the U.S. Postal Service.

How could such a thing happen? Was skulduggery involved? Did the Republicans have an inside source? No. As the Washington Post puts it today, the release of information “resulted from an employee in a new position mishandling a public-information request.”

Never attribute to malignity or conspiracy what be blamed upon incompetence and stupidity. That applies equally to the Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and the Trump campaign Russia scandal.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


8 responses to “Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” This is a policy blog, not a politics blog, so I won’t waste readers’ time delivering an inexpert opinion on the political fallout.”


  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Nope. I smell a rat. How many times has a “new” employee .. wrongly released such info ?

    Second. When such info is released – who signs off on the release ? Is it the single sole employee who retrieved the info?

    Three – How many FOIA information releases, in general, are released by a single employee rather than going up the chain to the Agency head?

    Even the most minor FOIA to say a local school board – go through layers of administration before they are finally released – the person who actually retrieves the data is not the person who actually does the release.

    sorry- but something is rotten in Denmark here.. How many times has a FOIA been released by a “new” employee? It don’t happen.

    1. “How many times has a FOIA been released by a “new” employee? It don’t happen.

      And you know this…. how?

      1. In truth, having filed several thousand over the past few decades, it happens all the time. Bearing in mind that many agencies are required to utilize (and charge for the time) of the lowest ranking employee capable of fulfilling a FOIA request, they are typically filled by those with little or no agenda and frequently little understanding of the allowable exemptions. Those individuals are frequently promoted or leave and there is considerable churn at that level.

        Sometimes its a good thing, sometimes bad, for the person filing the request. Generally speaking, in recent years, far more information has been released than was previously the case. Many agencies don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of a denial or having to defend it when it ends up in the press. Further, given that legal counsel has been forced (either by the agency or the requestor) to review more and more requests, most are erring on the side of disclosure given the discretion the “FOIA Officer” has to disseminate information, oftentimes with embarrassing results for agencies, jurisdictions, officials, etc. that were previously able to snuff out disclosures.

        Times they are a changing, with the good regarding additional latitude in FOIA releases outstripping the bad, at least in my experience.

        1. I agree with you, Mom. In most businesses and agencies, FOIA requests are mostly considered nuisances and get very low level staffing and attention unless there’s extraordinary pressure to do otherwise. Seeing a conspiracy behind every routine processing malfunction is simply wrong. That said, I’m sure deliberate obstruction or malfeasance has occurred on occasion, even accompanied by attempts to hide behind “clerical error” — but let’s not assume that at the outset.

          At a deeper level this is a large part of what disturbs me so about the penchant for blatant lying and “fake news” allegations at the top of our federal government these days — it erodes our ability to take much of what people say (including all those ordinary federal employees just trying to do their jobs) at face value, and to act on what they say assuming their basic honesty and integrity.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    People do dumb things. In the old days of the Bell System long distance monopoly, call detail (calling number, called number, charge number if different from calling number) and billing records used to be recorded daily at a regional call center. Omaha, where I worked was a regional call center. Bell System policy required the tapes to be downloaded into the billing system daily and then taken to a separate room where they would be erased.

    One mid-level manager decided to save money. Who needs a separate room for erasing tapes?

    You guessed it. A clerk accidentally took the wrong tape, which contained the calls from the day before and that had not been downloaded into the billing system and erased it. The folks at AT&T in New York weren’t very happy at the clown who decided to save money and not have a separate room in which to erase tapes.

    People do dumb things.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    There might be something sensitive, there might not. The SF86 information probably has a chance to be dicey (although I doubt it). Medical records? Maybe, maybe not. Mine are quite boring.

    So, now what? Hopefully Dave Brat asks the PAC to return the sensitive materials and agrees to never discuss anything that was released in error.

    We all move on.

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      It had her social security number in it, and the PAC was giving it unredacted to journalists. That’s how she initially found out. Regardless of who you support, distributing it willy nilly to journalists, with her SSN, medical history, and personal history, is pretty bad. Lots of people in Virginia have applied for clearances, and this hits home.

Leave a Reply