By Adam James
It was Real Time with Bill Maher that drew my attention to Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes on June 30, 2017 when Bill’s last guest of the night was the counter terrorism expert who became famous after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. (with an additional crash in a Pennsylvania field). The attacks, almost universally referred to as the “9/11 Attack,” seemed unimaginable at the time. It was not. Richard Clarke had been raising red flags since the transition from the Bill Clinton administration to the George W. Bush administration. He was on Maher’s show to discuss the book, co-authored with the CEO of Ergo (an intelligence firm) R.P. Eddy.
The name Cassandra is based on the Greek Myth of the destruction of Troy. In the story, incredibly prescient with the rise of what is being called the “Me Too Movement,” Cassandra, a beautiful woman denied a male god (several versions feature a different dickish god) his sexual advances. She would be gifted with the ability to see the future but she’d be unable to make anyone believe her. In hindsight, it sounds more likely that the Princess of Troy was smart enough to see that the gift of a huge wooden horse from the Greeks was a dangerous rouse. She was indeed ignored, the horse accepted, the Greek forces brought inside the walls and Troy was conquered. Plenty of lessons to learn from that.
A “Cassandra” is not the guy or girl on the internet screaming about calamity or conspiracy. They don’t sell you herbal supplements in between horror stories. According to Clarke and Eddy, who were not available to discuss the book (however Harper Collins did provide a copy of the book for this piece), a Cassandra needs to meet most of a profile they designed to separate the wheat from the Info Wars. They call their theory the Cassandra Coefficient and express the importance of building on, examining and implementing the Cassandra Coefficient. The danger is, they write, that “The people with the power to respond often put more effort into discounting the Cassandra than saving lives and resources.”
To break it down, they explain, “…senior decision makers in governments and corporations…prefer something they can unpack, understand, and apply themselves.” So Clarke and Eddy prescribe examining four components 1) the warning 2) decision makers 3) possible Cassandra 4) critics.
To help readers understand how the theory works, the authors first take you through numerous examples of what Cassandras in the past have looked like. For instance, Charlie Allen. The failed attempt of the US government to put a system in place to detect Cassandras, led to Allen being ignored-even when raising the alarm was his job. He recognized the threat and rightly predicted the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the 90’s. Everything was working for him. Allen was an expert, invasions of the type had happen before (having things happen for the first time is usually one of the determining factors for Cassandras not being believed), and there was plenty of data. The experts needing to intervene refused to believe Charlie Allen and Hussein’s army captured Kuwait. He wasn’t the only one ignored. A decade later Dr. Ivor van Herrden, desperately tried to prepare Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina before it existed. He too, was ignored. Ambassador Robert Ford tried to warn the State Department that ISIL was gaining strength and in Japan, Yukinobu Okamura was ignored by decision makers who were not at all prepared for the tsunami that knocked out a nuclear reactor. Several other calamities were also predicted and could have been prevented including Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and the collapse of Citibank-if not prevented, certainly mitigated.
Looking ahead, Clarke and Eddy hope we’ll all learn from the past (a bit naïve). This is the purpose behind sharing the Cassandra Coefficient and they put it to work immediately. In Warnings, they break down particularly credible threats that sound like their more likely to be seen on the silver screen. There are experts currently warning of pandemic disease, sea levels rising faster than the current consensus predicts, nuclear ice age resulting from proliferation with ongoing conflict, cyber war, meteor striking the Earth, and the dangers of gene editing.
The point of Warnings is to examine the credibility of these and future experts warning about far-fetched events. Seeing so many catastrophes come and go with the resulting death and destruction, Richard Clarke, who had to watch as the plans of bin Ladin unfolded on TV-events that might have been prevented or at least mitigated by swift action, security policies and intelligence examination. At no time is there a celebration dance performed by any of the Cassandras or the authors. Nothing in Warnings resembles an “I told you so.” This effort is to raise awareness, expand minds and give decision makers pause. Cassandras are driven by data, they can be abrasive and offensive but they’re experts and obsessed with preventing doom. If you’d like to discern between crazies and Cassandras, you need to read this book.
Richard A. Clarke has served in the White House for several presidents and was the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism. He is also the author of several books, including Breakpoint and the #1 New York Times bestseller Against All Enemies.