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Jewish World Review March 26, 2001 / 2 Nissan, 5761

Ann McFeatters

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The real enemy -- WE have seen the enemy, and it stares us in the face every day.

Forget the hoopla about Russian spies. They do it. We do it. And most of the time, it's just a game. Even President Bush said a few hours after expelling Russian diplomats that the United States labeled spies, "I am confident we can have good relations with the Russians."

"We are pleased to have it behind us," Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, said of the current we'll-expel-yours-if-you-expel-ours episode, as if to say, "That's that." (At least until the next time.)

The threat of rogue missiles raining down on American cities is no longer the true worry.

Beyond nuclear weapons and chemical and biological warfare, the newest enemy is to be found behind the facade of the computer monitor, an amorphous evil lurking in an ominous new term: Cyber-terrorism.

The FBI, evidently having let a top American counterespionage agent get away with spying for 15 years for Moscow, is hoping to do better on the cyber-front.

The new head of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center warns, "We are picking up signs that terrorist organizations are looking at the use of technology" in their never-ending war against the United States.

This goes far beyond the traditional specters of terrorism involving poison in the reservoir or anthrax cast to the winds or a suitcase bomb in the subway at rush hour.

Authorities say America must be on better guard against the intentional use of the computer to cause panic by destabilizing the U.S. economy or playing havoc with computer data systems.

Almost every week there is a new case of a computer hacker who cracks Pentagon computers or penetrates the databases of banks and other financial institutions.

We're not talking just about carefully educated, highly skilled enemy agents.

The other day, a busboy from Brooklyn was accused of using a public library's computers and his home PC to swipe the financial identities of dozens of America's richest, most famous and powerful celebrities. He is said to have spent at least $100,000 of other people's money and collected personal information (Social Security numbers, mothers' maiden names, etc.) on 200 people and was hoarding as many as 800 falsely issued credit cards.

One computer virus can sweep around the world causing chaos and heartache for millions, yet every week more than 50 computer viruses are let loose.

Richard Clarke, who has been national coordinator for infrastructure protection at the National Security Council for a decade, warns that the United States is increasingly vulnerable to overseas extortion. He constantly notes that in cyberspace there are no borders. He decries the lack of a governmentwide chief information officer with the budget and authority to pull anti-cyber-terrorism efforts together.

A panel appointed by Congress to look at the issue of terrorism, including cyber-terrorism, urged Bush to develop a "coherent, functional national strategy" to fight it as soon as possible.

The National Infrastructure Protection Council has about 100 people representing the FBI, CIA, National Security Council and Department of Defense. Not surprisingly, they fight among themselves.

Meanwhile, state and local law-enforcement officials say they feel they are kept in the dark about terrorist threats and need more intelligence data and training from the federal government. The council has links to hundreds of private computer experts and corporations it can call on for help, but most outside sources say not enough has been done to tap such expertise.

Most anti-terrorist experts argue for an increased stockpile of vaccines needed in the event of biological attacks. They also warn that America's food supply is vulnerable to cyber-terrorism. And while local medical personnel around the country train for how to respond to the carnage from terrorist attacks, little has been done to set national guidelines.

There are 25 committees in Congress dealing with various aspects of terrorism. And some want a new office created in the White House to fight cyber-terrorism.

Another level of bureaucracy may not be the answer, but if there is a new office, it should put a special emphasis on protecting civil liberties, often the first casualty of fear. There are already disturbing calls for making anti-terrorist efforts exempt from Freedom of Information requirements.

Bush could do a great service for the country if he would rap some knuckles and demand a plan by the end of the year on coordination to fight cyber-terrorism. It won't be easy to contain this new threat, possibly the modern equivalent of Yorktown. That challenged another George, who prevailed.

But this threat could emanate from as close as the next computer screen.

Ann McFeatters is a columnist for the Block News Alliance. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS