Once Upon a Time

This last week we read a most brilliant article in The New Yorker titled “World War Three, by Mistake“.

The opening stanza definitely caught our attention

On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at NORAD headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.


Quite simply, breathtaking!

It inspired Honestly Lay Bare to set ourselves a challenge to see whether we could find the 1980 investigation report mentioned that pointed to the 46c defective chip.

And find it we did and of itself it makes for fascinating reading.

The purpose of today’s Honestly Lay Bare is not only to share the investigation report but to reflect on the importance of maintaining old documents as sign posts to the significant moments in an organisation’s history.

This become real to us a couple of years ago when we came across storage boxes of about 20 years of internal audit reports.

To read them was similar to reading the NORAD investigation report – it gave a window to the time and place in which they were written.

The history of an organisation is told through the words that it writes.

Long ago decided budget cuts mean that all but the super wealthy or unique organisations have done away with archivists (much the loss we think!).

So who can step in their place?

Well lets think of what the archivist (other than archive) does – they chronicle in a structured and dispassionate way the strengths and follies of the entity as expressed through the words written by the organisation itself.

So they use a dispassionate framework to identify strengths and weaknesses – sound familiar?

Is the auditor the new archivist?

Is the the ultimate role of an auditor to be the story teller of the organisation that it seeks to serve?

We believe that that role is exactly what a good auditor should do.


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