Anyone who’s ever worked for a large organisation will know that it’s not necessarily the brightest and the best who make it to the top. Starfleet is no exception, and over the course of its long history, our heroic captains and crews have had to deal with more than their fair share of downright incompetent or shadily corrupt top brass. In this article, I’ll list some of the worst offenders.
Note: admirals taken over by the aliens in Conspiracy won’t feature, since we don’t know if they were incompetent or corrupt in and of themselves, or just victims of misfortune.
These are the admirals who were clearly promoted beyond their ability. When they turn out to be incapable of handling the kind of high-stakes situations that ships named Enterprise frequently find themselves in, it causes nothing but trouble for everyone around them.
Being in charge of others should require a measure of empathy and understanding for others’ circumstances, but unfortunately Admiral Haftel seemed to be a bit lacking in this department. Haftel’s unwillingness to believe that androids such as Data could have desires and freedoms of their own caused him to persuade Starfleet that he should take custody of Data’s daughter Lal.
As it turned out, Lal didn’t survive long anyway, but was her death really a reasonable price to pay to demonstrate to Haftel that androids can form family bonds as powerful as those of humans?
For years, Mark Jameson coasted by on a reputation built from a successful hostage negotiation. In fact, his solution to the problem had been to supply both the hostage-taker and his rivals with weapons, thus fuelling forty years of war.
Still, Jameson could have retired gracefully and gotten away with it if not for two things. First off, he ends up returning to the site of his botched negotiation to start fresh dealings. Secondly, having contracted a degenerative disease, he decides to counteract it by taking a risky anti-ageing drug right before these new negotiations get underway.
Naturally, this combination of events doesn’t turn out well for the admiral, and he pays for his general incompetence and deception with his life.
Not every incompetent admiral starts out that way. Norah Satie was actually a renowned investigator with a keen intellect, who thoroughly deserved the rank she attained – at least, at first. Unfortunately, Satie soon became a victim of her own laser-like focus, as she started to believe in ever grander and more unlikely conspiracy theories. When she began questioning even Picard’s loyalty to the Federation, it was clear that things had gone too far.
If Norah Satie was around today, she’d be that ex-schoolmate who you remembered as being pretty smart, but who now sits around in their pyjamas all day watching flat Earth videos on YouTube.
Despite having reached the rank of Commodore, Stocker was a desk-jockey with no starship command experience. Nonetheless, when Kirk was incapacitated by a virus that caused rapid ageing, Stocker used his rank to take command of the Enterprise. He then promptly chose to violate the Romulan Neutral Zone, leading to a conflict with the Romulans that he was ill equipped to deal with.
Fortunately, Kirk was cured in time to save the day, and Stocker was swiftly installed in command of Starbase 10, where he could presumably focus on his strengths as an administrator.
For all that the above admirals were bad, this next lot are arguably worse. These are the corrupt admirals, the ones who knowingly betrayed Starfleet’s moral code in order to fulfil a questionable agenda.
The person in charge of Starfleet should be an upstanding officer beyond reproach – but sometimes, things don’t quite work out that. Unwilling to imagine a future where the Federation was at peace with the Klingons, Admiral Cartwright set out to undermine that by participating in an elaborate plot – starting by framing Kirk and McCoy for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon.
Fortunately, the combined efforts of the starships Enterprise and Excelsior were able to bring Cartwright and his co-conspirators to justice. Hopefully he used his time in prison to reflect on the irony of working so closely with Klingons in order to sabotage any future cooperation with the Klingons.
The Federation’s Prime Directive is meant to prevent interference in the affairs of other races, but Admiral Dougherty was entirely happy to exploit one of its loopholes. Having decided that the “Fountain of Youth” particles in the Briar Patch needed collecting for the greater good of the Federation, Dougherty deemed it entirely fine to work with the Son’a to forcibly relocate the Ba’ku and render their planet uninhabitable. In Dougherty’s mind, since the Ba’ku weren’t native to that planet in the first place, relocating them was actually an entirely fine thing to do.
Of course, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E took a somewhat different view, and worked together with the Ba’ku to thwart the admiral’s plans.
It may have been incompetence that led Kennelly to be manipulated by the Cardassians, but once he started actively working with them, it definitely crossed over into corruption. After concocting a plan to eliminate a Bajoran terrorist cell, he deployed Ensign Ro onto the Enterprise-D to act as his agent. Fortunately, Ro realised the error of her ways in time to alert Picard to the plot, both saving the day and ensuring that Kennelly was court-martialled for his actions.
When your government isn’t taking a threat seriously, what’s an admiral to do? In Admiral Leyton’s case, it involved faking a Changeling attack on Earth’s power grid, ultimately leading to martial law and a state of emergency. Leyton may have been right to take the Dominion threat seriously, but the way he acted on those feelings was counter to everything that Starfleet stands for. Not only did his elaborate plot require the manipulation of Starfleet cadets and officers, but when Sisko found out the truth, he tried to have the Defiant itself destroyed.
Fortunately, Leyton was stopped in his tracks, but his attempts to bolster solidarity against the Dominion had quite the opposite
Erik Pressman may have had the backing of some influential figures in Starfleet Intelligence, but that doesn’t make his actions any more legally or morally defensible. Back when he was a captain, he was in charge of testing an experimental phasing cloaking device – an action that clearly violated the Treaty of Algeron. Pressman went ahead anyway, and most of his crew mutinied.
Flash forward twelve years, and Pressman is out to recover said cloaking device. Having learnt nothing from his earlier mistakes, Pressman not only feels perfectly justified in breaking the law, but he expects unquestioning loyalty from his subordinates.
Naturally, the crew of the Enterprise-D ultimately prove just as unwilling to cooperate with Pressman as the crew of the Pegasus once did, and his disregard for the law is duly curbed.
So accomplished are the Romulans at espionage that they even managed to place a mole at the top of Starfleet Security. Commodore Oh may have seemed like a loyal Vulcan officer, but in fact she was working for the Romulans all along. Driven by the Romulan hatred of synthetic life forms, she worked tirelessly on a plot to eliminate them, and thought nothing of telepathically manipulating others to server her cause. However, like so many before her, she failed to account for the one variable that always brings a corrupt officer down – one Jean-Luc Picard.
Are these Starfleet’s worst admirals and commodores? Did I leave any out? Comment below and let me know.