The best-laid plans of mice and men

Keith Hudson

I have a theory that if America and Russia were to declare war on each other tomorrow then it would probably be three months or six months before the first ballistic missiles left the ground.  My theory is based on my own experience in industry . . . when expensive machinery has been installed, elaborate maintenance procedures laid down, new personnel appointed — but then breakdowns inevitably ensued before too long.

I’m prompted to write about this this morning when reading about an 18-page dossier written by Able Seaman  William McNeilly, a British weapons engineer, and released on the internet.  In it he lists 30 safety and security lapses at the Trident nuclear submarine base on the river Clyde. Among other things, he writes of ID cards not being checked and that it would be easy to take bags on board,  “It is just a matter of time before we are infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist,” he declares.

I’ve little doubt that this is so — if ever a psychopath or a terrorist ever thought of infiltrating the base to set off a bomb or suchlike.  But there is also evidence in what McNeilly further writes that he is unfortunately mentally deranged.  Even if an ISIL suicide bomber were to set off a bomb at the base, or in a submarine, it might cause local destruction but it wouldn’t “send nuclear warheads crashing down on the UK” as he imagines.  He also thinks that he could be “assassinated” for what he has written — and that, presumably, is why he has done a bunk from the base and the police are after him.

Nevertheless, his descriptions of current security lapses, because they’re so specific and detailed, are probably authentic and thus believable.  They’re simply the sort of thing that happens as, Robbie Burns also knew — when “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley” [that is, often go astray].   (Incidentally, the eight stanzas of Burns’ poem,To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” contains more wisdom about human nature than a stack of current psychology text books.) (Though not in future ones when relatively recent discoveries of evolutionary biologists are more widely disseminated.)

Exactly the same procedural negligence occurs to me concerning government regulations  that are cunningly invented which seek to control future operations of the banks and other financial bodies.  The reason is that the monetary base — the ad lib printing of money by governments themselves — is, in reality, a farce.  It’s no wonder therefore that criminal traders within the financial system learn how to play fast and loose within it sooner or later.  The more that such regulations are laid down, the more gaps that will be divined and the more that regulations will be evaded — until disaster strikes again and exposes the sorry mess.

George Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Labour government laid down a grand tripartite Financial Services Authority and he had the best financial brain at the time — or thought to be — to organise it.  The FSA was designed to prevent financial infelicities and depredations of individuals in banks, hedge funds, currency and interest rate arbitrations and so on forever and a day — as also equivalent procedures laid down by the US Treasury and in other advanced countries — didn’t prevent the 2008 financial disaster hitting very single one of us — except troglodytes and hunter-gatherers far from civilisation — out of a clear blue sky.

No, the authorities won’t assassinate Able Seaman  McNeilly.  When they capture him, they’ll treat him with the utmost care.  They’ll want a well-publicised show-trial, during which they’ll prove that McNeilly is/was . . . well, hysterical at least . . . but also that security procedures at the nuclear submarine base — and all the Trident inter-continental missiles therein —  are absolutely perfectly well maintained.  Which they will be, of course, for twelve months or so after the trial!

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