Hong Kong to US on #Snowden: A4 Paper, Please. And Do Remember to Spellcheck!

By MsExpat, a journalist and essayist who lives in New York and Hong Kong, and Fellow of The Mighty Corrente Building. Originally published at Corrente.

Anyone who has ever had any dealings with Hong Kong’s scrupulous bureaucracy can’t help but chuckle at today’s South China Morning Post article detailing the problems that Hong Kong’s government had with the United States’ request to detain Edward Snowden. Since the SCMP is behind a paywall here are the juicy parts:

Hong Kong’s justice secretary said on Tuesday the United States had failed to provide crucial information necessary to support its request for the arrest of whistle-blower Edward Snowden before he had left the city.

The missing information included things as basic as a confirmation of Snowden’s full name and passport number, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Tuesday.

It gets even better. Apparently the US request didn’t even have Snowden’s correct name…

Yuen said the US government had not responded to Hong Kong’s request for a confirmation of Mr Snowden name and passport number even though it had mentioned that he was a US passport holder, Yuen said.

The name used in US government diplomatic documents was Edward James Snowden, the US Department of Justice referred to him as Edward J Snowden, and Hong Kong’s Immigration Department had him recorded as Edward Joseph Snowden, Yuen said.

“I couldn’t say the three names were consistent, so we needed further clarification. Otherwise, there would have been legal problems with a provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said.

There were, as well, more substantial problems with the US document:

The US also failed to explain to Hong Kong authorities how two of the three charges the US mentioned in its arrest request fell within the scope of a US-Hong Kong rendition of fugitive offenders agreement signed in 1996.

The Hong Kong government on June 15 received the US request for the provisional arrest of Snowden on three charges, namely unauthorised disclosure of national defence information, unauthorised disclosure of intelligence and stealing state property.

Yuen said the US had failed to tell Hong Kong authorities which part of the agreement covered the first two charges.

He also said documents from the US made no mention of what evidence they had against Snowden, a requirement for Hong Kong courts to move ahead with a provisional arrest.

Note to Eric Holder: Don’t even think of trying to get anything past Hong Kong government officials without making sure you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed your t’s. This is not Hong Kong dragging its feet or being difficult. This is merely how we roll in Hong Kong, the love child of China and Great Britain, two of the world’s greatest bureaucracies. Oh, and around here politeness and prompt response always beats haste and arrogance. You are welcome.

* * *

Lambert here: “Edward James Snowden” vs. “Edward J Snowden” vs. “Edward Joseph Snowden” is an example of “dirty data” (see Durusau at NC here and here). The missing passport number, and the possible Interpol #FAIL, could also be accounted for by “dirty data,” even if Snowden deployed his own chaff (“Edward John Snowden,” and “Edward Jack Snowden,” respectively, perhaps). This is strongly reminiscent of the IT systems for MERS, LPS, the servicers, which weren’t dirty in patches, but all the way through, and were also run for executives notorious for haste, arrogance, and lack of accountability (although, to be fair, only one executive was actually indicted). Perhaps we should be playing the data equivalent of “produce the note” more often.

Yves here. There’s another layer I believe may have been operating in this contretemps. Various reports of how upset American officials were about Snowden exiting take the tone, “We were working with the HK officials, they didn’t tell us anything was wrong.” Even if that was true, look at the underlying assumption: the US and the HK government agreed Snowden was extradition material, it was just a matter of formalities to get him back to the US. It’s almost as if they assumed there was an agreement in principle and any details could be worked out or fudged as appropriate. This is basically a dealmaking view of the world: the important people will sort matters out. By contrast, the HK bureaucratic rigidity looks to be much closer to how Americans think laws work: rules are rules, and they are applied strictly and impartially (mind you, that is not to say the bureaucratic approach didn’t also serve HK’s political needs).

And on top of the immediate document snafu, there was likely a bigger defect in the American approach. From the Guardian’s live blog:

In a very rare instance of agreement, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz – a reckless critic of the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and advocate of jailing journalists – also thinks the Obama administration blew it by bringing charges under the Espionage Act, which theoretically gave Hong Kong a way to invoke the political exception to any extradition request:

“It’s really dumb to charge him with what might be considered to be a political offense when they’re trying to extradite him,” Dershowitz told Newsmax. “…If they had just indicted him for theft and conversion of property — an ordinary crime — the chances of getting him extradited would have increased dramatically… But at this point they have really shot themselves in the foot.”

It’s unclear whether Hong Kong ever saw a possibility of extraditing Snowden or would have gotten Chinese approval to do so.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. psychohistorian

    This is a hoot! Thanks for the posting.

    Yves nailed it: “….This is basically a dealmaking view of the world: the important people will sort matters out……..”

    Rule of law is just for the little people……

    It is kinda fun watching “Rome burn”.

    1. Thor's Hammer

      The deal making view of the world is entirely appropriate as long as you have the Force. America is still under the impression that having 1400 overseas bases,the world’s largest drone air force and a stockpile of H-bombs and nerve gas means that every country in the world will bow quivering on its knees before every demand it makes.

      Laws and treaties are only ink marks on pieces of paper without the will or power to enforce them. To cite a mundane example discussed in detail on this forum, exactly how much value did the laws regarding title registry of property have when banksters devised MERS so they could fraudulently securitize mortgage paper?

  2. Lune

    How is someone still a law professor at podunk community school of legal theory much less Harvard if he believes a whistleblower is the same as a spy? Oh yeah. It’s the same institution that graduated a constitutional law professor who believes it’s constitutional to assassinate U.S. citizens on U.S. soil without due process or even knowing the charges against him.

    I propose a new category for next year’s U.S. News & World Report’s Law school rankings: the percentage of their professors and students who have an understanding — and respect — of the law that exceeds a third grader’s. Podunk Cummunity would likely best most of our esteemed institutions…

    1. Skeptic

      Dershowitz, of course, is there to manipulate and game the Law to get a result for the client/interests paying him. Justice be damned! This is what he teaches to his students.
      Thus, at Harvard, Obummah was taught how to destroy, ignore, bypass the Constitution, not preserve and protect it.

    2. ohmyheck

      It looks like a third grader filled out the extradition document. You think that with all the unemployed college graduates, they would have found someone with a smidgeon of competence.

      1. washunate

        It would be hilarious if it was filled out by a Snowden supporter.

        But what that shows is not the failure of the employee who completed the form. Rather, it shows the management failure of not having processes in place to ensure that forms are completed accurately. This is a fantastic tidbit of the overarching story of management failure across our society’s institutions.

      2. Thor's Hammer

        When I lived in Colombia for two years several decades ago the US CIA spooks were so easy to identify it was as if they were hookers in Honolulu where white shoes are the mandatory night uniform.

        Fortunately bureaucratic and management incompetence is as universal a human characteristic as greed.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      There are two answers to this question:

      -One, there is a difference between factual knowledge/trivia and understanding or even a desire to grasp why X is important.

      -Two, I think Obama sees himself as our wise father in the mode of the Lincoln Memorial of our wise father who saved the Union as opposed to Abe Lincoln, small time attorney and part-time vampire hunter*. I think he is a soft fascist, and like all fascists, belief in whatever asinine idea they have is a primary motivator. Obama is so wise he can save the Constitution much like Lincoln. Lincoln suspended Constitutional rule in areas to protect us, so since he was wise and Obama is wise, Obama can too. Things like the Confederacy having divisions in marching distance of Washington don’t matter because like most fascists he isn’t particularly bright. What matters is Obama’s special nature as our wise father. I don’t think its more complex than this. With the cult of personality, he does what he wants because he can surround enough people who won’t challenge him. I don’t mean to say Lincoln was perfect or right, but Lincoln didn’t see himself as a giant or connected directly to the giants of the past. He saw himself as part of the age and the successors of the giants of the past but not a giant himself or at least not by merely being President. Lincoln came to Washington incognito for fear of assassination. Obama came in with pomp and circumstance pretending to be the Lincoln Memorial. I think with Obama the Lincoln Memorial, the Constitution, The Declaration, the Washington Monument, Monticello, and “I have a Dream” t-shirts are symbols of an ancient and glorious past of a nation Obama is now the father. I suppose Obama is representative of republicans descending into nationalists.

      *There are really stupid ideas in the world. Anything to make a buck off idiots, right?

      1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

        The way forward with Obi & Holder is simple:
        just classify every single g*d-d*mn piece of paper !

  3. Clive

    What this all tells me is, once a government starts getting sloppy with the rule of law domestically (click on the “Banana republic” topic in the Topic sidebar for more NC examples and have a read through them. But only if you’ve got a spare couple of days; there’s 1775 of them at the time of writing) then it’s all too easy for that sloppiness to corrode thinking and basic operational competence.

    I’d say that the US justice department can’t reliably function where it has to accurately follow basic legislation and not use nudge-nudge wink-wink tactic to carry it over procedural failings. What does it think the HK immigration and border control court is ? A foreclosure hearing in Miami ?

    1. from Mexico

      Competence is not a trait which psychopaths, sociopaths, and other characteropaths are known for.

      1. washunate

        Yeah, that’s one of our great advantages as time progresses. Competent people are actually being selectively bred out of the system. Look at how pathetic as a group our bloated senior military brass has become.

        Twenty-something Millennials with little formal authority and no outside assistance can outsmart them.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          “Look at how pathetic as a group our bloated senior military brass has become.”

          With rare exceptions, these are often ironed out during wars where there is a real sink or swim issue*. The military brass is generally full of incompetent weasels.

          Robert E. Lee was out of the army during John Brown’s raid, but Winfield Scott more or less thought so little of any current officer he took the time to ask Lee, an artillery officer, to take command of Marines and handle the situation. Grant was an unemployed drunk who only made it back into a state militia because an officer who remembered him from Mexico became a Congressman. He couldn’t get him into the regular army despite being a combat experienced officer in April 1861. What happened? Marching and medal polishing doesn’t weed out incompetence. After World War I, the army brass pushed for funding for horses and allowed a tiny tank program to appease the whiners. The military is largely self-selective at some point, and on the surface there is a certain sense of control and order which never holds up in any real conflict. The brass is the same as its always been except now they can button pushing to their chests of commendations for cleanest foot locker and creating acronyms which make grunts dying sound better.

          The brass during the Spanish War wasn’t horrible. They were smart enough to recruit Longstreet to tell them what to do as he had experience dealing with regular soldiers, militias, and changing warfare.

          *I think the prospect of sinking boats does promote a better admiralty. If you run the ship into the reef because you can’t read a chart, you aren’t making Admiral.

    2. Ms G

      “What does it think the HK immigration and border control court is ? A foreclosure hearing in Miami ?”


    3. ChrisPacific

      Well put. Naturally you’d expect officials to say that the rules apply impartially to everyone, but the DoJ couldn’t possibly have expected that Hong Kong might actually mean it. What a quaint and antiquated notion! Everyone knows that you don’t actually enforce the rules against Persons Who Matter. They’re for sticking it to the little guy!

  4. vlade

    It looks to me like “we’re the bully and _of course_ you’ll cooperate with us, won’t you?” answere by “we don’t really like being bullied, and can get away with this easily, so get stuffed”. If Snowden didn’t have the the public support he has, I suspect HK would overlook some of the formal problems. Given the politicized nature of this, any pressure US exterts is contraproductive. US could extradite Snowden from UK (UK politicians treating UK as US territory as far as extradition goes) and a few other countries, RotW would do so only if presented with some very strong evidence of actual harm (such as agents killed/jailed, operations failed etc..) – which US, even in the highly improbable case it has it, is unlikely to release to foreign courts (“lookee, our secret operation ‘Freedom Light’ to show the light to all of those misled has failed… Oopps. did we say it was secret?”)

    1. Synopticist

      The US couldn’t snap their fingers and extradite Snowden from the UK just like that. Absolutely no chance at all.

      The UK govt announced they wouldn’t let him into the country for exactly that reason-they knew if they did, they’d probably never get rid of him.

      1. vlade

        I wish I could share your optimism. The past precedents indicate that US snaps and UK extradites (the only exception being so far Gary McKinnon. Aka UK-US Extradiction Treaty of 2003 (used to extradite before ratified by US, for acts commited in the UK by UK citizens resident at the time in the UK and NOT CRIMNAL in the UK at the time). Oh, and US won’t extradite IRA terrorists who fled to the US in 80s (or people resident in US who supported IRA financially or materially).

  5. Clive

    PS I (a UK citizen) just had to renew my passport. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a person to renew their passport” I thought at the end of my struggle with one of the finest pieces of bureaucratic engineering I’ve ever encountered. It was basically designed to trip you up, fill in the wrong things in the wrong places and omit the necessary things. Much UK officialdom operates in this way. I imagine the HK systems inherited much of these sorts of legacy processes left by us Brits when out lease ran out — they were even worse 20 years ago. Goodness only knows what bells and whistles the Chinese have added to it since. Best of luck Eric Holder with that one (probably a moot point now anyway).

      1. Clive

        I’ve always used “moot”, as in “moot point” like that. And I never knew it was an Americanism. That’s what cultural imperialism does for a planet.

        What do you want me to do ? Come round and make you a nice cup of tea and supply some jammie dodgers as proof ? Jeez… (oops, do only Americans say Jeez.. ? have I put my foot in it again ?)

        1. Synopticist

          “Moot point” isn’t an Americanism, surely.
          I’m sure I saw it used on “Rumpole of the bailey”.

          1. Clive

            Thanks Synopticist, yes, I’d make a strong argument for saying that when it comes to the phrase “moot point” we Brits invented it first :-)

          2. diptherio

            Wikipedia disagrees with you, Clive:

            In American law, a matter is moot if further legal proceedings with regard to it can have no effect, or events have placed it beyond the reach of the law. Thereby the matter has been deprived of practical significance or rendered purely academic.

            This is different from the ordinary British meaning of “moot”, which means “debatable”. The shift in usage was first observed in the United States. The U.S. development of this word stems from the practice of moot courts, in which hypothetical or fictional cases were argued as a part of legal education. These purely academic issues led the U.S. courts to describe cases where developing circumstances made any judgment ineffective as “moot”.

            But, can Wikipedia be trusted? Phrase Finder website, based in the UK has this:


            An irrelevant argument.

            Some may disagree with the above meaning and argue that it means ‘a point open to debate’, rather than ‘a point not worth debating’. That former meaning was certainly the correct one when the term was first coined, but that’s going back a while.

            Laurence Humphrey, the president of Magdalen College, Oxford, wrote Nobles or of Nobilitye, a manual of behaviour for the English nobility, in 1563. In that he wrote:

            “That they be not forced to sue the lawe, wrapped with so infinite crickes and moot poyntes.”

            In medieval England, moots, or meets, were assemblies or councils where points of government were debated. The country was split into juridicial areas called hundreds and administered via assemblies known as hundredmotes…In such assemblies points which were put up for discussion were said to be mooted.

            The change in meaning has come about following the introduction of ‘moot courts’, which are session where law students train for their profession by arguing hypothetical cases, i.e. ‘moot points’. The lack of any substantive outcome from these theoretical cases has led to the ‘unimportant/not worth discussing’ meaning of ‘moot point’, which is what many people accept today.

            This looks to me like a case of Amerikan Law über alles…although it may still be a “moot poynte”.

      2. YankeeFrank

        What is it about the NC boards these days that commenters are seeing conspiracies in the littlest things?

        1. Synopticist

          I dunno, YF, but I personally have no real doubts about Assad’s sarin use in Syria. I mean, how could anyone start a war in the middle east over a questionable, unproven and unverified WMDs claim?

          There’s no precedent that I can think of.

          And as for the idea that the exiled domestic enemies of the regime there might have set it up while foreign intelligence agencies winked at them, why, that’s just crazy talk. Besides, the UN HAVE agreed, this time, that someone HAS used chemical weapons in Syria, so LETS ROLL. That they were used by the people who we’re arming is a minor detail we can iron out later.

        2. Banger

          As a former denizen of the murky Byzantine world of Washington DC I can tell you that conspiracies, plots, power-plays, misdirection and all the Machiavellian palette is present there as it has been in every imperial capital in the history of the world.

      3. ChrisPacific

        Clive is a semi-regular contributor to NC comments (and on my short list of commenters worth paying extra attention to).

        If he is indeed a plant, then the conspiracy goes much deeper than we ever imagined, and has probably reached the point where only a tinfoil hat can save you.

    1. ohmyheck

      “Martin, look at my suit. I’m an attorney. I have to think about my future. If I prosecute the most powerful people in the world, what will be left of my career? Nothing. Nada. So, think before you ask these questions.”

    2. Banger

      Explains some key principles of Washington in a nutshell. Great find and funny–I just posted it on FB.

  6. clarence swinney

    Obama Press Secretary claims Obama has shifted significantly on U.S. Policy
    on major counter terrorism issues defined by the Bush years.
    Iraq withdrawal date set by Bush—Gitmo—Wiretapping??

  7. James Dodd

    I can’t help but be reminded of an allusion in Jimmy Breslin’s book How the Good Guys Finally Won about “death by a 1000 paper cuts” which finally led to Nixon’s demise.

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      For the wannabe Neo-Imperialists, I think there’s a limit to how much of the planet’s “useful land” can be effectively conrolled with X million Soliers of the Empire. Yes, you can have the most powerful weapons on earth and thus proclaim: “Mission Accomplished”, but that is merely an occupation. To extract profit and resources from a colony, you really need a class of middle managers and modern-day Governors, i.e. “sympathetic” local leaders. When the Empire becomes over-extended, and rival empires offer better Vassal Terms, the natives just might double cross the primary Empire and ally with a rival empire that seems no worse, after all is said and done.

  8. ohmyheck

    It seems then, that Snowden had every reason to leave Hong Kong. Had he not left, eventually Hong Kong and the US would have ironed out the extradition snafu and sent him back to the US. Or am I missing something?

  9. aletheia33

    HK to US: and by the way… we await your answer on–

    ”…Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.”

  10. diptherio

    I heard Morning Edition’s coverage of this the other day and, surprisingly, they didn’t mention a thing about any of this, or the HK request for information about NSA spying on civilians in their territory. I wonder why?

      1. diptherio

        I mean, to hear them tell it, this was a case of the evil Chinese gov’t helping a traitor to escape justice. Weird, huh? [snark off]

  11. Garrett Pace

    “This is strongly reminiscent of the IT systems for MERS, LPS, the servicers, which weren’t dirty in patches, but all the way through, and were also run for executives notorious for haste, arrogance, and lack of accountability”

    That’s exactly what this reminded me of. You can’t be sloppy and peremptory when you are dealing with independent outsiders.

  12. Richard Hellstrom

    If our political leaders cannot perform their duties with out acting out in
    willful gross negligence and public incompetence to the promontory that they have high school drop outs and privates invoking such security breaches in our government then all these officials should immediately removed from their position. So , I hereby call for all members of Congress and the Executive to be immediately
    removed from their positions and replaced with grown ups !
    I wouldn’t of hired Glenn Greenwald to sort my socks as well.
    It’s just out right etiolation that our government cannot be trusted to perform their services in which they are trusted.

    1. Banger

      They perform their duties just fine. Just not in the interests of most of us–the people in DC are very skilled and very able and work for the constituencies that support them, i.e., the power-elite who hold their futures and their lives in their hands–all it takes is few turns of the dials, hit a few keys on the Mighty Wurlitzer and the people do as they are conditioned to do and all pounce on Paula Deen on cue.

    2. diptherio

      n. growth process of plants grown in the absence of light, characterized by long, weak stems, fewer leaves and chlorosis
      n. The operation of blanching plants, by excluding the light of the sun; the condition of a blanched plant.
      n. Paleness produced by absence of light, or by disease.

      Had to look that one up…

      Don’t knock our incompetent leaders, with out them we’d have no Mannings or Snowdens and would then ourselves be subjected to etiolation. Also, what’s everyone got against high school dropouts? If I had been smarter, I’d have dropped out of high school and taught myself computer programming too.

  13. Doug Terpstra

    HK to Untied Stasi: the horse you seek has left the barn, but we will be pleased to close the barn door once you have properly identified the horse. We have found your eyes crossed and tees dotted incorrectly.

    Oh and BTW, there is the matter of cyber-espionage and warfare your National Stasi Agency has been waging illegally on our sovereign territory. We have sufficient evidence and hereby request the arrest and extradition of Barack Hussein Obama, James Clapper, and Keith Alexander. Under the terms of our treaty, please detain these suspects immediately and prepare them for extradition.

  14. Kurt Sperry

    Is it possible this sloppiness is a natural knock on effect of a growing broadly authoritarian ‘kiss up, kick down’ culture within the modern American bureaucratic state, where obedience and deference to authority outweighs actual competency? It seems to me likely as the whole plutocratic drift of American culture pushes competency lower and lower down the list of prerequisites for advancement in both private and public realms. In such an system where nepotism, reliable subservience, connections and other anti-meritocratic criteria come to dominate who advances within an organization, surely the basic competency of the organization will inevitably suffer. One can imagine that those promoted by such anti-meritocratic processes will be aware to some degree that they are the beneficiaries of those processes and by extension their own lack of competence, thus actual competence and ability will become perceived as a threat to the hierarchical ordering status quo within the organization. Run this scenario through a number of iterative cycles and its easy to imagine the organization becoming a race to the bottom as a self reinforcing feedback loop keeps the best qualified from rising within it.

    A dynamic along these lines could in part perhaps explain the historical tendency of hierarchical organizations from governments to businesses to become less effective and decline over time.

    1. cripes

      @kurt sperry:

      That’s certainly been my experience. In publishing, manufacturing and social services, that subservience to authority is valued over competance. In fact, ability, and the willingness to challenge corruption or bad practises is a career death warrant. Welcome to the slow agonizing end of empire.

      1. nobody

        Academia too:

        “[W]hat we see is a university system which mitigates against creativity and any form of daring. It’s incredibly conformist and it represents itself as the opposite, and I think this kind of conformism is a result of the bureaucratization of the university.”


        “What collegiality means in practice is: ‘He knows how to operate appropriately within an extremely hierarchical environment.’ You never see anyone accused of lack of collegiality for abusing their inferiors. It means ‘not playing the game in what we say is the proper way’.”


      2. Banger

        Double-think, double-speak has become normal in most organizations as well as a return to authoritarianism. The funny thing is all this really turned around at the same time that organizations were spending big mony on “flattening” the hierarchy and encouraging free-expression and getting subordinates to offer fresh approaches and making sure everyone communicates and information is available to everyone blah, blah. In the end the managers just ignored allt his expensive advice and became twice as authoritarian and hierarchical–with some exceptions–many managers did take is seriously but ended up being undermined by all kinds of “processes” which are all too painful for me to write about.

  15. azcaclark

    Since we are forward looking country and Snowden has already released the information why don’t we move forward and let him be.

  16. Yalt

    I raise my glass to the bureaucrats involved.

    A strong, functioning, inefficient bureaucracy can be a powerful counter to control fraud and/or abuses of power. I’ve seen it many times, even participated myself at least once–a piece of fraud or obvious wrongdoing is handed down by some senior manager and it gets stopped in its tracks by a clerk stubbornly “following the rules.” It helps, of course, to have the support of some at least partially countervailing power, like in-house counsel or a compliance officer in the corporate setting, or, here, the local government.

    1. Kurt Sperry

      But isn’t it the entropic end state for any rigidly hierarchical system for only one operative rule to remain which is essentially, “Do as you are told by your superiors”?

      Rules only apply downward in the hierarchy, they can always be applied to control subordinates, but never can be applied up the chain. This obviously leaves those at the top immune from them. A simple hierarchical flow chart makes a mockery of universal rules.

      1. Yalt

        Real organizations aren’t nearly that simple, or working to rule wouldn’t be an effective labor tactic.

        I’ve never encountered a truly rigid vertical hierarchy. There are always multiple reporting lines involved–in-house counsel or compliance will have an interest in control fraud, for example. And once a manager has used their power in the hierarchy to force the clerk to make an exception to the ordinary rule, they’ve put their own neck on the line when compliance comes calling.

        1. Kurt Sperry

          Who does compliance report to? And I wonder what percentage of people’s workplaces will work to rule be a viable tactic?

          Obviously the rigidity of any given hierarchy falls on a continuum between absolute autocracy and soft and consensus seeking. If one accepts it is possible for an organization to be too rigidly hierarchical, then it becomes a question of at what point and to what degree that rigidity becomes unambiguously counterproductive in the broad sense. Some organizations do much better than others. As is always the case. I think however that globalization of the labor market, planned and managed high unemployment and widening wealth disparities have significantly altered vertical power relationships–not only inside organizations, but across societies generally. These changes all conspire strongly I would argue towards increasing the hierarchical rigidity of any organization exposed to them.

  17. jfleni

    RE: Hong Kong & Snowden.
    This whole business conjures up the image of some latter day Three Stooges film, called “The Empire Strikes Out”.

    Be thankful for small mercies; at least we haven’t seen the all the spies clowning around while dressed in jackass costumes!

  18. Andrew

    I have to laugh when I saw the title of this. A Chinese customer of ours bought some major equipment from us worth millions of dollars. When their employee applying a visa to come to US for training, with our sponsorship, his visa got rejected by our consulate because the invitation letter was not printed on a letter size paper. Figure that out!!!!

Comments are closed.