SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
June 22, 2001

CYBER THREAT ASSESSED, DISPUTED

The nature of the information warfare threat to U.S. economic and national security was addressed at a hearing of the congressional Joint Economic Committee yesterday.

Few other major policy topics are as rife with official exaggeration and shoddy thinking. Because the term "information warfare" is carelessly used to refer to everything from email viruses and web site defacement to credit card theft to the hypothetical destruction of an entire national infrastructure, it has been impossible to achieve any working consensus on the urgency of the problem or to advance sensible solutions.

If anything, apocalyptic threat claims have probably undermined security by diminishing the credibility of the issue. Senior government officials have warned on over 50 occasions in recent years that cyber-terrorists could cause power outages in U.S. cities, notes independent critic George C. Smith, author of The Virus Creation Labs. But while there have been a number of blackouts -- it got awfully sweaty in Georgetown last weekend -- none of them are attributable to infowarriors or "hackers."

Lawrence Gershwin of the National Intelligence Council, testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, presented a relatively restrained and caveated survey of the threat, noting that "uncertainty remains whether computer network operations will evolve into a decisive military weapon for US adversaries." You would not know that there was any uncertainty at all from reading breathless stories like the one in USA Today last Monday ("Cyberspace is the Next Battlefield").

Duane Andrews of SAIC wondered why, after a decade of warnings about the cyber-threat, so little has been done to combat it. His proposed answers to this question do not include an acknowledgment that the "electronic Pearl Harbor" scenario has been substantially discredited.

Several witnesses endorsed a dubious proposal for new limitations on the Freedom of Information Act as a means of encouraging industry to share threat data with the government. Only someone who has never filed a FOIA request could be persuaded that this achingly slow process, with its abundance of exemptions, could be effectively used to uncover proprietary business information.

The prepared testimony from Thursday's Joint Economic Committee hearing is posted here:

For an alternate perspective, see George C. Smith's monthly Crypt Newsletter, which delights in puncturing the pretenses of the info-warriors:

A free email copy of the new Crypt Newsletter 63 on Infowar Threat-mongering may be requested from [email protected].


FBI PERFORMANCE FAULTED

The Federal Bureau of Investigation provided a rare opportunity for bipartisanship on Wednesday when members of both parties agreed at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bureau's performance in recent years has been severely deficient.

Among the various criticisms leveled at the FBI was the complaint that it resisted legitimate oversight and failed to provide appropriate access to its own records.

At the same time, said former Senator John C. Danforth: "It is important for all of us--Congress, the media, the public--to acknowledge our own responsibilities for the lack of openness we lament in government. When public officials fear that the disclosure of their mistakes would lead to personal humiliation and professional ruin, it is understandable if they prefer concealment to candor."

But it appears that the FBI resists accountability even when embarrassment is not at issue. In the course of its routine activities, the General Accounting Office found that "FBI access issues have been the most sustained and intractable" of any law enforcement-related agency. In some cases, the FBI has simply refused to provide GAO with information even though, "for the most part, the information requested has been no more sensitive than information we routinely receive from other agencies during our work."

Former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich noted that in terms of inspector general investigations, the FBI "is currently subject to less oversight than any other agency."

See the prepared testimony from the Judiciary Committee hearing here:


A NEW MOSSAD AD

"Without intelligence, the nation would fall." That suggestive passage from the Book of Proverbs (11:14) serves as the caption for a new recruiting poster published today by the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service.

The Mossad is looking for at least a few good intelligence collection officers. Applicants must be Israeli citizens over 27 years old, possess extraordinary interpersonal skills, curiosity and creative talents, as well as an ability to work independently and as part of a team under conditions of uncertainty, according to the new ad campaign. A similar campaign last year was reported to be very successful.

Candidates must also be willing to travel, and be fluent in foreign languages. "I don't think they mean Yiddish," remarked Israeli attorney and security specialist Boaz Guttman. The new Mossad recruiting poster may be viewed here:

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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