Clinton Combats Cyberterrorism

4:45 p.m. Jan. 22, 1999 PST
President Clinton drew a nightmarish portrait of 21st century terrorism on Friday and asked Congress for more than US$2.8 billion to defend against chemical and germ warfare and protect computer networks.

"If we prepare to defend against these emerging threats, we will show terrorists that assaults on America will accomplish nothing but their own downfall," Clinton said in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences.

Clinton said his proposed budget for the 2000 fiscal year starting next 1 October, which he is to present to Congress on 1 February, will include requests for $2.85 billion for the effort.

That breaks down to $1.46 billion for computer security and critical infrastructure protection and $1.39 billion for domestic readiness against an attack with weapons of mass destruction, both hefty increases over the current budget.

The budget request also proposes over $7 billion for conventional counter-terrorism security programs.

Clinton described a world of frightening terror scenarios involving nerve gas, germ attacks, and computer hacking that, until now, have largely been the province of thriller novels.

The president developed a personal interest in the possibility of a biological attack after reading a novel by Richard Preston called The Cobra Event, which deals with such an attack in New York.

"This is not a cause for panic," he said. "It is a cause for serious, deliberate, disciplined, long-term concern."

Clinton said there was a threat of computer hackers breaking into sensitive government and business computer networks, stealing and destroying information, raiding bank accounts, running up credit-card charges and extorting money by threats to unleash computer viruses.

He said the threat was made clear last spring when a satellite malfunctioned, disabling pagers, automatic money machines, credit card systems, and television networks around the world.

Clinton's national coordinator for the counter-terrorism effort, Richard Clarke, said there was a threat of "information warfare" in which a rogue nation, terrorist group, or criminal cartel could perform a "systematic national intrusion" into computer systems, with effects comparable to the strategic bombing of infrastructure during the World War II.

"What we're concerned about is in the future, nations will have that same capability to destroy each other's infrastructure, not by bombs, but by cyber attack," Clarke told reporters.
Clinton said even a small band of terrorists could have the potential to unleash chemical or biological weapons against an unsuspecting public, like the nerve-gas attack in the Tokyo subway in March 1995 by members of a cult.

"We have to be ready for the possibility that such a group will obtain biological weapons," Clinton said. "We have to be ready to detect and address a biological attack promptly before the disease spreads."

Clinton pledged an aggressive effort against the threat but said the United States would remain committed to upholding privacy rights and other constitutional protections.

"It is essential that we do not undermine liberty, in the name of liberty," he told an audience of about 150 people.

Clinton would spend $52 million to continue procurement of a national stockpile of vaccines, antibiotics, and other medicines to protect the civilian population and $611 million for training and equipping emergency personnel in US cities and otherwise planning to combat the effects of weapons of mass destruction.

Another $206 million would go toward protecting US government facilities and $381 million to research and development for vaccines against chemical and germ weapons, new therapies, detection and diagnosis, and decontamination.

Of the $1.46 billion for computer security and protection of critical infrastructure, about $500 million will help fund an intensive research effort to detect intruders trying to break into critical computer systems.

It will also help develop detection networks, first for the Defense Department, so when one critical computer system is invaded, others will be alerted instantly.

The effort will also create information centers in the private sector so that US industries can work together and with the government to address cyber threats.

And it will help develop a "Cyber Corps Program" to bolster the government ranks of highly skilled computer experts by training and retraining computer specialists and hiring gifted young people out of college.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.



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