On April 22-23, 2009, I had the honor and privilege to speak to approximately 150 police intelligence officers from all over the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The occasion was the international conference of the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Agencies (I.A.L.E.I.A) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I spoke about analytic thinking and written analysis, with an emphasis on the ethics of intelligence analysis. This year, I used part of my presentation to dissect Governor Kaine’s Review Panel Report on the mass killings at Virginia Tech. Although some may not view the report as intelligence, it is in every sense of the word. The report is a finished intelligence product centering on crime scene analysis. An intelligence report should be based on the following principles: Accuracy, access to all available sources of information, clarity of thought, solid logic and reasoning, precision of thought and words, and sound conclusions and judgments based on the evidence.
I picked my words carefully and spoke with a certain amount of hesitation. My comments, after all, were (and are) critical of law enforcement officials, politicians, and school leaders. Among the topics I touched on were:
1. The report’s flawed timeline—this flaw violates the principle of accuracy.
2. The report’s failure to have all sources of information, most notably the refusal of the police, the ATF, and gun dealers to turn over key documents related to Cho’s purchase of weapons—this flaw violates the principles of both accuracy and having access to all sources of information.
3. The report’s wholesale use of word games and obfuscations: Specifically, the report states on page 71, that “…under federal law, Cho could not purchase any firearm.” Earlier, on page 7, the report says, “Finally, with respect to Cho’s firearms purchases, the Virginia State Police, the ATF, and the gun dealers each declined to provide the panel with copies of the applications Cho completed when he bought his weapons or of other records relating to any background check that may have occurred in connection with those purchases. The Virginia State Police, however, did describe the contents of Cho’s gun purchase applications to members of the panel and its staff.” The difference between these two entries in the report are never reconciled—page 71 flatly asserts that Cho could not, under federal law, buy any firearm—yet he did, and the documentation of those purchases was withheld from the review panel. This flaw violates every principle of not only good intelligence writing, but good academic analytical work—most notably, clarity of thought as well as solid logic and reasoning.
4. The report’s failure to identify critical errors in judgment on the part of school and law enforcement officials following the first two killings at West Amber Johnston Hall—specifically, the lack of any clear account of what Chief Flinchum told Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and other university officials, and why parts of the campus took precautionary measures and others did not. This failure is a thinly veiled effort to avoid assigning accountability and responsibility to anyone or group of people for bad judgment. This flaw violates a number of principles including accuracy and failure to make sound conclusions and judgments from the evidence.
I was not sure what the response would be, but to my surprise the reaction was uniformly and overwhelmingly supportive. Those who came up to me immediately after the session and during the rest of the conference invariably asked, “What are school and state officials in Virginia hiding?”
Many officers told me stories of attempted cover-ups in their home states. One officer said that a prosecuting attorney actually told him to lie about a crime scene because “the facts did not fit his theory of the case.” The officer did not lie and the judge threw the case out.
I would never accuse anyone in the Virginia Tech school administration, in the governor’s mansion, or in law enforcement agencies of lying—that would be beyond the pale; that would be the unthinkable. For anyone to be dishonest and lie when dealing with the worst school shooting in this nation’s history—well, I don’t think we have a word or words in the English language to describe such actions.
I do, however, disagree strongly with the content, or should I say lack of content, of Governor Kaine’s report. In order to do away with any impression that this report is inaccurate, the investigation needs to be reopened and all the documents and facts need to be available to those investigating the crime. There is only one way to prevent these school shootings and that is to examine them with brutal honesty and hold individuals accountable.