IT operations were hit in Pentagon attack

The Pentagon has placed an emergency order for desktop and workstation security equipment in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that destroyed several classified communications and technical help desk centres.

U.S. Department of Defense officials have ordered more than 1,000 proprietary Secured Desktop Gateway communication enclosures for immediate delivery from Carlsbad, Calif.-based Holocom Networks. The Pentagon contacted Holocom during the weekend, requesting urgent delivery of the company’s products to help assure the security of information at Pentagon workstations temporarily set up in unclassified office locations.

Holocom detailed the request in a statement on its Web site.

The company’s secured communication enclosures will be installed at desktops being set up in makeshift sensitive compartmented information facilities. The Secured Desktop Gateways are secured through the use of a lock and key at user outlets. They allow users to maintain access to top-secret and other classified networks while working in temporary office facilities, said Robert Murphy, a furniture and facilities connectivity specialist at Holocom.

Defense Department officials and sources said the areas damaged by last Tuesday’s attack included the U.S. Navy’s Telecommunications Operations Center, sensitive chief of naval operations offices and help desk operations within the U.S. Army’s Information Management Support Center. To date, seven Navy telecommunications specialists and two intelligence officers have been added to the list of personnel missing since the attack on the Pentagon, according to the Navy.

Navy Admiral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, acknowledged last week that the Navy Telecommunications Operations Center was located near the impact area but said it wasn’t fully destroyed. “We have reestablished our operations center, and it is functioning,” said Clark.

Margret Myers, the Navy’s deputy chief information officer, declined to discuss what she called “operational responses to the current crisis.”

However, a former Navy intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the location of the crash almost certainly caused damage to many top-secret network operations within the Department of the Navy. But, the former officer said, it’s likely the attack disrupted only programmatic and management functions and had little or no impact on the Navy’s ability to communicate intelligence or orders to Navy vessels.

One of the main areas where Murphy will be working when installation of the Secure Desktop Gateways begins this week will be in an area slated to become the new Army Enterprise Help Desk. The help desk will provide around-the-clock support for more than 7,000 Army computer users in the Washington area.

“These people have to be at their desks working on their systems right now,” said Murphy, who was busy installing the prototype systems for the Army and was nearly killed when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. “My safety shoes are in that room and I’m really glad that I’m not in them.”

Murphy was walking back to the help desk area and was only minutes away from reaching it when it was destroyed by the plane crash.

There are also new indications today that the damage to the Pentagon goes beyond the area around Corridor 4, where the commercial airliner struck. The Army office of public affairs, which is located in and around Corridor 6, remains dislocated from its offices, according to a voice mail message left by Paul Boyce, public affairs specialist for the Army. “We have only partial computer access, no power or telephones in the offices in the 6th corridor,” Boyce’s message states.

Holocom is scheduled to deliver all of the 1,000 gateway devices in the next 15 days and has significantly reduced its standard government price in light of the circumstances surrounding the attack.