By Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun
As I watched former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell testify before the House intelligence committee this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the impressive escape strategies of the elusive octopus.
Before I make the connection, I’ll say a word in Morrell’s defense. If anyone doubted his willingness to act as a “team player,” those doubts should be forever allayed. In an environment where talented intellectuals willing to “take one” for the team are rewarded with promotions, increasing influence, retirement with full benefits and lucrative post-government positions, Morrell executed his mission very capably. He’s in impressive company. During the past few years, we’ve seen a host of culpable federal employees glide in and out of congressional investigations emerging totally unscathed. This might lead us to suspect that somewhere there’s a training class for federal employees called “The Octopus Vulgaris Advanced School of Escape Techniques.”
So let’s consider the ingenious devices an octopus might use to get out of a tight spot. First, it has no spine. Therefore, it can squeeze itself into impossibly tight confines were a pursuer could never follow. While a creature with a backbone might have to develop the ability to stand and defend itself in the open, the spineless octopus can slither in and out of spaces where an observer could never follow and an investigator would never think to look.
Then, there’s the camouflage. Octopuses have an amazing ability to look like something they’re not. They can change color. They might appear yellow when you first see them, but they could be red or brown next time they appear. If they’re in trouble, they have no second thoughts about giving up one color and taking on another.
They can change their skin texture too. If they want to look like hard rocks — presto! They’re rocks. If they’d rather look like coral or even seaweed — voilà! Coral or seaweed. No matter what background they need to blend in with they can easily alter themselves if that’s what it takes to throw a pursuer off the trail.
Octopi have other effective methods they may use in order to appear to be something they’re not. Though all octopi are, to a greater or lesser degree, venomous (we should never forget this) they can alter their spineless bodies and employ their color changing abilities to take on the appearance of a whole different species; one that might not be so attractive to the pursuer. For example, a pursuer might think it’s closing in on an octopus only to find itself staring at what looks like an unappetizing eel or sea snake when they come face to face.
And here’s another brilliant trick. If a pursuer happens to lay hold of one of the octopus’ arms, it executes a maneuver called autonomy, which means, it simply detaches that arm. This sacrifice will keep the pursuer distracted with a useless limb while the octopus escapes. The pursuer thinks it’s captured the prey when, really, all it has is a detachable piece that can grow back once the octopus is out of harm’s way.
On top of all this, they’re smart. In fact, scientists say these octopi can learn by watching and adapt their behavior to accomplish their goals. They can be skilled pickpockets. There are documented instances where octopi creep aboard fishing vessels, open the cargo holds and steal part of the hard-working crab fisherman’s catch.
When all else fails, there’s ink. If the octopus finds that the pursuer has seen through all its tricks and devices, it expels such a cloud of ink in the pursuer’s face that it becomes confused and lost in the fog. Some scientists say that this tactic is so effective the pursuer even loses its sense of smell.
So why would a witness testifying before a congressional committee cause me to reflect on the octopus’ impressive array of evasive skills? What would make me see a comparison between the “fast and furious” investigation, the “IRS targeting” investigation and the “Benghazi investigation” on the one hand and the slippery, deceptive and evasive tactics of an octopus on the other? Maybe it’s this: If the octopus’ devices work, the pursuer comes up empty handed every time. With regard to these numerous investigations, so far no one has paid a price for gross government incompetence and misbehavior except the innocent victims of that incompetence and misbehavior.
Every time the investigators seem to be closing in on a culprit, something slippery or deceptive happens or the environment gets choked with blinding ink. Is this a fair comparison, or is it just me? I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.