CONNECT THE DOTS: a metaphor to illustrate a person's ability (or inability) to associate one idea with another

There is a puzzle game called “Connect the Dots.” Sometimes it was called “Follow the Dots.” I used to play it when I was a kid. It wasn’t the most imaginative puzzle. There would be a page with lots and lots of numbers spread all over it. The idea was to begin with 1 and then draw a line to 2, then 3, and so on until all the dots had been connected. When I was finished the lines I had drawn would have created a drawing of a dog, elephant, or some other figure of interest to children.

Who would have thought that decades later the connect the dot theme would be prominent in serious media? Let me just ask you: “How many times since Christmas Day have you heard the term “connect the dots?” I’ll bet it’s in the dozens and dozens…maybe even hundreds. Politicians, commentators and journalists have embraced the term to describe what they believe to have been the failure to stop the “underwear bomber” (Farouk Abdulmutallab) from getting on an airplane in Amsterdam and flying to Detroit. Thankfully, the explosives he had concealed in his briefs failed to explode. The usual comment is “The government failed to connect the dots in order to prevent this near-tragedy.”

It’s true. There were all kinds of pieces of information about the terrorist that emerged right in front of the experts. They all recognized these bits of information as important…important enough to make note of them and add them to a file. But nobody put the information together in any kind of merge document to prevent him from trying to kill hundreds of people over Detroit.

To press the metaphor further, it would be as if some of the dots on the page were missing or numbered incorrectly. The gaps between them prevented the person drawing to complete a picture that made sense to anyone. Some would say that the puzzle was complete but there was no one playing it.

You can see how the metaphor gets stretched. But the bottom line is that the good thing coming out of this near-tragedy is that the anger of the President, his strong direction to the Intelligence Community, and the promise on the part of the Intelligence community to increase vigilance have diminished the likelihood of this happening again.

One point being made following this episode is that the intelligence operations worked to the point of gathering the vital information. What failed was the next step…connecting the information to identify a potential crisis. That’s the same thing that happened prior to the 9/11 crisis. There was intelligence that a plot was in process. The terrorists’ activities fit the criteria of suspicion. Nobody connected the dots to realize that a crisis was happening. Incidentally, in spite of Rudolph Guliani’s attempt to re-write history, that crisis did happen during the Bush administration.

In this age of super-communication that shouldn’t happen. Several hours ago my computer notified me that a virus was attempting to invade my computer. It stimulated a process to detect the virus, identify it, and eliminate it. Within 4 minutes the computer crisis was over and I was safe to continue working on my computer. If that can happen on my relatively inexpensive laptop, a potential terrorist plot should be able to be stopped.

I don’t believe this is a political issue relative to a specific administration. It is an issue within the intelligence community and its need to get the point and do something about it. I sure hope so. This is not a child’s game on a piece of paper. It is a matter of life and death.

Photo Credit: For Teachers Only

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