Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

Preventing Another Christmas Bomber

January 3, 2010

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve grown increasingly disturbed by the story of the Yemeni-trained Christmas Al-Qaeda bomber and the failure of our nation’s counter-terrorism security to thwart his plot to blow up a plane flying to Detroit. Today, the news came out that the U.S. and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen over threats from Al-Qaeda. And former U.S. officials are making the rounds of the talk shows this morning discussing the breakdown.

I know U.S. officials have broken up other plots, and this a very difficult job. But we can and must do better.

I agree with my former colleague Steven Baker that this was partially a failure to connect the dots. Intelligence officials should have done a better job at figuring out that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of attempted terrorism on the Christmas flight to Detroit, was connected to the terrorism operation involving a Nigerian man in Yemen that officials from the National Security Agency picked up on in their wiretaps.

But more than that I think it is a failure of weak rule-making. As soon as the Nigerian man’s father warned the American Embassy in Abuja (he even met with an official of the Central Intelligence Agency) that his son was being radicalized and had disappeared in Yemen, he should have been placed on the smaller no-fly list or selectee list–instead of the least-restrictive and far larger American watch list that flagged him for future investigation.

This is about as bright a red flag as you get. When he bought his ticket and showed up at the Amsterdam airport, U.S. officials should have never let him on that plane. But even if he wasn’t on a no-fly list, our software and intelligence rules should have identified him as a person who needed to be thoroughly searched before he boarded that plane. A search would have probably turned up his explosive kit.

A law enforcement official told the New York Times recently that “it was not unusual that a one-time comment from a relative would not place a person on the far smaller no-fly list, which has only 4,000 names, or the so-called selectee list of 14,000 names of people who are subjected to more thorough searches at checkpoints.”

So what changed? Why did we weaken our list rules? Al-Qaeda remains determined to kill Americans so our rules should be just as strong as they were after 9/11, and perhaps they should be stronger.

And here’s what really scares me: If this guy was not considered enough of a risk to get on the no-fly or selectee lists, then what have the several other hundred thousand people done to get on that list? And what are we doing about those people?

When I was reporting a lot on counter-terrorism security after 9/11, security officials talked a lot about the need for layering security. The idea was that even if one layer failed, then another layer would spot the risk. Clearly, this case shows we either need to strengthen our existing layers and/or add a few more to lower the risk of being attacked by another terrorist.


2009: The Year of Hard Choices for Mass Media, says Craigslist Founder

January 9, 2009

I ran into craigslist founder Craig Newmark Wednesday night at a book party for my colleague Stephen Baker.

I asked Newmark what he thought about the state of the mass media. Newmark is a great person to ask this question since craigslist was an early disruptor of the newspaper business. His answer reinforced my growing belief that 2009 could be a watershed year for mass media, a sort of reckoning.

Why? The Great Recession will likely force more companies to finally restructure their businesses for the digital age, instead of making more of the modest, incremental changes they’ve been dribbing out for the most part over the last 10 years.

“The recession will accelerate the problems of the mass media,” said Newmark. “There are going to be some hard choices that need to be made.”

Newmark didn’t elaborate on those choices but it’s not too hard to see the options. Michael Hirschorn (who edited SPIN when it was worth reading back in the 90s) addressed this issue head-on in an interesting essay in The Atlantic about the growing problems of the New York Times.

Among the hard choices that will probably be made by more mainstream media outlets such as newspapers and magazines:

1. Digital-focused distribution. In March of 2007, IDG publication InfoWorld led the way by abandoning print distribution. Last October, the Christian Science Monitor announced it was going to become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its Web site. The paper isn’t totally abandoning print, though. It will publish a weekly print edition. Expect more papers and mags to go digital.

2. More aggregation. The open nature of the Web has undermined the value of original reporting to a certain extent since readers can access much of that content for free across multiple places. As a result, more media outlets will retreat from areas they don’t consider essential. Intead of original reporting, editors will filter the Web and serve up the most relevant links, much like the Huffington Post does, or many other blogs.

3. More journalistic outsourcing: To make up for the inevitable staff cuts that are coming, more media companies will outsource reporting to blogs and other new media companies. The New York Times recently announced syndication deals with several blogs, including VentureBeat, Read/Write Web and the GigaOm network. The popular politics blog Politico is delivering content to many newspapers now, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Denver Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Of all the changes, this is probably the most hopeful since it will lead to more investment in new media journalism. This will be crucial since the decline of the mainstream media–at least in the short term–will damage the press’s ability to serve as a foundation of democracy.

Revolving Door: More on Sprint’s Poor Customer Service

February 25, 2008

So my investigative feature “Sprint’s Wake-up Call” has been burning up the Web. It’s been the most read, emailed and discussed story on for the last four days, with 96 comments and counting. Many thanks to a bunch of bloggers for linking to the story, including the diva blogger herself Arianna Huffington, super-activist site The Consumerist, and the tech mavens at GigaOm and CrunchGear.

Over the next few days, I hope to share more of my reporting and thoughts with readers on this blog and that explains why Sprint Nextel has consistently delivered the worst customer service of the U.S. wireless industry, which arguably means the worst customer in America given that cell phone providers consistently rank at the bottom of industry customer satisfaction surveys.

One theme that did not make it into the final version of the story is the incredible turnover that Sprint Nextel has seen in its management of customer service. Over the last 17 months, four different people have run customer service: Cindy Rock, Timothy E. Kelly, Steve Nielsen and Bob Johnson. Last October, Johnson took over as Chief Service Officer from Nielsen, whose tenure only lasted six months. Rock left the company in 2007, according to her LinkedIn profile, and Kelly was one of three top execs to be let go on January 24, one month after new CEO Dan Hesse took over.

What’s the impact on operations? Well, as one former senior executive told me: “It puts things on pause for three to four months. You can’t be successful. You need to have more stability in an organization.”

When I ran this point by Johnson, he said, “I am in a role that I hope to be in for a long time.” Sprint’s customers can only hope he is right on that count.

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