22 January 1999
(Seeks to block biological, chemical, cyber attacks (680) By Wendy S. Ross USIA White House Correspondent Washington -- President Clinton says the United States must have in place programs that can protect the nation if "the enemies of peace" attempt to disable its computer and critical infrastructure systems or attack it with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This effort is at the heart of the $10 billion for counter-terrorism programs the President will request in his proposed Fiscal Year 2000 budget. Clinton announced the initiative in a January 22 speech at the National Academy of Sciences. It includes a doubling of funds for research and development programs to defend against biological and chemical weapons and a 40 percent increase in funding for programs to protect the nation's computer systems and other critical infrastructure -- such as power-generation and emergency services -- from terrorist attack. "Because of the speed with which change is occurring in our society -- in computing technology, and particularly in the biological sciences -- we have got to do everything we can to make sure that we close the gap between offense and defense to nothing, if possible," Clinton said. "That is the challenge here." The President said that "if the United States is prepared to defend itself against such emerging threats, we will show terrorists that assaults on America will accomplish nothing but their own downfall." Following the speech, the President's National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure, and Counterterrorism, Dick Clarke, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala briefed the White House Press Corps on the President's proposals. Clarke said the administration knows of no imminent attack being planned on the United States using chemical or biological weapons, or cyber attack techniques. But, he said, "we do want to raise consciousness, in the American people, in the scientific community, in the corporate community, and in the Congress, that such attacks are growing increasingly likely." He said "we need to be ahead of the power curve; we need to be prepared to defend ourselves against those attacks, and in so doing, perhaps to prevent them; at least to be able to mitigate their effects." Clarke said the President's announcement "puts our money where our policy is." Congress, however, must first agree to the budget requests and must appropriate the money to fund them. The initiative includes such programs as establishing a corps of computer experts who could respond quickly to electronic attacks, developing new vaccines, stockpiling antibiotics and creating emergency medical teams in major cities. Clarke said Clinton was very concerned about the threat of "information warfare", by which a hostile nation, a terrorist group or a criminal cartel could systematically attack computer systems that control the nation's electric power grids, the telephone networks, banking and finance system and transportation hubs "and effectively shut the nation off". He compared such a strategy to the bombing campaigns of World War II, in which opposing nations tried to blast each other's infrastructure into oblivion. "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. Now, we can prevent that if we have cyber defenses." Reno noted that since last year a National Infrastructure Protection Center has been in existence, with the mission "to detect, prevent and respond to cyber attacks on our nation's critical infrastructure, and to oversee investigations in this field. It is a true interagency, public-private partnership," she said, and "what the President has announced today builds on this effort." Secretary of Health and Human Services Shalala, noted that "We're all here talking about a kind of scenario that we hope that our citizens never have to confront. But the point is to be prepared. And my job -- and this is the first time in American history in which the public health system has been integrated directly into the national security system -- is to be able to provide tracking and treatment for victims."