No one connected the dots
on terror plot
By Frances Townsend, CNN
(CNN) -- We are now five days away from the attempted terrorist
attack to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, Michigan. We are
learning more each day about the multiple failures in our security and
intelligence system that preceded that attack.
It is worth discussing the most egregious thus far and the way
forward to building a better system.
The facts suggest that an al Qaeda plot was hatched in Yemen and
involved the same radical cleric who communicated with the man accused in
the Fort Hood shootings before the deaths of 13 U.S. soldiers. And the
attempt to blow up a U.S. plane on Christmas Day used a bomb technique
similar to the one to that was used in August to try to assassinate the
chief of Saudi Arabia's counterterror police.
Having survived this assassination attempt, Prince Mohammed bin
Nayef flew to Washington, where he personally briefed U.S. intelligence, law
enforcement and national security officials both about the assassination
attempt and on his concerns about the growing terrorism problem in Yemen.
The CIA passed some information about Flight 253 suspect Umar
Farouk AbdulMutallab to the federal interagency channel, but they appear not
to have passed along all the relevant information that they may have
possessed. The National Counterterrorism Center, which was created post-9/11
to "connect the dots," failed to do that and to ask the intelligence
community for additional dots.
Furthermore, we understand that there was an intercept of Yemeni
cleric Anwar Al Aulaqi advocating al Qaeda's use of Nigerians as operatives,
but this was never put together with the information about AbdulMutallab.
Al Aulaqi is the radical cleric who was in contact with suspect
Nidal Hasan before the November 5 shooting of 13 U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood,
but it appears that no one connected those dots either. Our British allies
revoked AbdulMutallab's British visa for fraud because he lied on his visa
application, but they did not inform the U.S. because it was, in their
judgment, not related to a national security issue.
As President Obama said, there are both systemic and individual
The president is understandably frustrated and under pressure to
act. AbdulMutallab should not have been able to get high explosives on a
plane, the watch list system should have prevented him from boarding the
plane at all, and the U.S. intelligence community writ large should have
been able to collect, analyze and disseminate critical intelligence.
We will never encourage the risk-taking and creativity necessary to
fix these problems if we indulge in the usual Washington bloodsport of the
blame game. I have conducted more than my share of reviews, from the
Silberman-Robb WMD Commission recommendations to the Katrina lessons
Obama needs people outside those directly responsible to look at
what happened and provide him with an objective view. He now has the
President's Intelligence Advisory Board (of which I was formerly a member),
which can undertake such a review.
It has been more than eight years since the tragedy of September
11. While we all wish we could forget the pain of that tragedy, our enemies
relish remembering it and planning for what they hope will be their next
We need to confront the growing sense of complacency in the
bureaucracy and among the American people. We can only prevent a repeated
success for the terrorists if the American people get the facts and the
solutions to fix the problems that this incident has brought to light.
The opinions expressed in
this commentary are solely those of Frances Townsend.
2010: Year of digital
By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
(CNN) -- The "real-time Web" is booming. From Twitter to Facebook
to new search engines that discover information posted just seconds ago, it
seems the 2010 Web will be fueled by our desire for instant gratification.
But between Facebook status updates, Tweets and new mobile
applications that deliver breaking news on our phones, will we be driven to
distraction in 2010?
The interruptive Web:
We're one paragraph into this article and I've already been
notified that I have five new Twitter updates, received one breaking news
alert and seen three new e-mails pop into my inbox.
What's new? After all, e-mail, instant messaging and text messages
were distractions devised more than a decade ago. Has anything really
Yes: The network itself has become faster and virtually omnipotent.
and the need for speed
One factor that's dramatically different at the end of this decade
versus the beginning: Ubiquitous connectivity.
McDonalds is set to introduce Free Wi-Fi in its U.S. restaurants in
January, while Google is providing free wireless Internet at selected
airports this holiday season.
Meanwhile, Virgin America, American, Delta, United and other major
airlines have ensured that the skies are no longer digitally disconnected.
All now provide Wi-Fi on their flights. Verizon is running attack ads
against AT&T -- and AT&T is counterattacking with equal force -- over which
company provides the best 3G coverage. Take note: This isn't about which
company has the best network coverage, since it's already taken as read that
cell phone reception is fairly ubiquitous at this point. Rather, the phone
companies are warring over who has the kind of high-speed connectivity that
will let you watch YouTube videos while you're hiking the Appalachian Trail.
All this connectivity raises our expectations of an immediate
response. Colleagues, friends and relatives become accustomed to the idea
that we're always on and available. Few sanctuaries of digital
disconnectedness remain, and consumers aren't mourning their loss. Our
addiction to being constantly connected to our online communities and the
world's information is insatiable.
At the time of writing, for example, a BlackBerry outage is
resulting in hundreds of complaints per minute on Twitter. Writes one
disgruntled BlackBerry owner: "feeling disconnected. when will service be
Productivity boon or bust?
Capitalizing on our constant connectedness and our desire to live
in the now, so called "real-time" applications have dominated the Web
startup landscape in late 2009.
Desktop applications like TweetDeck and Seesmic let users consume
scores of Twitter and Facebook updates throughout the day. News reading tool
Google Reader now delivers breaking news within moments, not minutes;
collaborative tool Google Wave lets users work together in an environment
where every letter they type is shared with the group instantly. Hitting the
"enter" key to send a complete thought is much too slow these days.
Mobile versions of these apps, meanwhile, follow you everywhere you
go. Speed and connectivity may be satisfying, addictive and in high demand,
but is our collective neophilia making us less productive?
In a response to my recent CNN column exploring the real-time Web,
psychologist Jim Taylor points out that while instant gratification is
highly compelling, it's likely to create yet more digital distractions. It's
true. Studies show that multitasking -- the kind of behavior that real-time
applications foster -- hurts productivity.
A summary of research by the American Psychological Association
states that "Multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually
take more time in the end and involve more errors."
The mistakes sneak in because of "switching costs" when rapidly
changing tasks, the studies suggest. Surprisingly, "chronic media
multitaskers" perform the worst in testing of their multitasking abilities,
according to a 2009 report. In other words, those who consider themselves
proficient multitaskers perform the worst on the tests.
2010: Innovation or
In short, Web companies are rushing to satiate our desire for
instant gratification, pushing real-time updates to us anywhere, anytime.
And yet the studies show that these constant interruptions make it harder
for us to process the information -- to digest it, come to conclusions and
Could the "now Web" do us more harm than good?
As a technology optimist, I'd like to believe we'll spot this
problem and confront it. In my recent column 10 Web Trends to Watch in 2010,
I proposed "content curation" as one antidote to information overload.
By allowing our friends or teams of professional editors to comb
the Web and extract the gems, we'd receive more relevant information at less
frequent intervals. Technical solutions seem plausible, too: Filters that
separate the wheat from the Web chatter.
If all else fails, of course, we can turn off, something I hope
you'll get a chance to do over the holidays.