Leaders speak out on terror and technology

In a series of speeches this week, two well-known political figures and a former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency director warned of the dangers of inaction and lack of preparedness when it comes to cyberterrorism and homeland security. “We’re in a very dangerous century. The power of the few to terrorize the many has grown by leaps and bounds precisely because of technology,” former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during an interview broadcast Tuesday as part of the Terror and Technology Online conference, sponsored by IDPartners LLC.

“A few people can deliver a lot of damage,” said Netanyahu, referring specifically to the threat of cyberterrorism, or the ability of international terrorist organizations to physically destroy key cyberbased infrastructures or attack those infrastructures using the Internet.

When asked what can be done to meet the threat, Netanyahu’s answer offered a stark contrast to the current thinking by the Bush administration, which has been committed to a nonregulatory approach to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection in the private sector. “The only way you can deal with it is through security systems and security norms that are enforced by governments,” said Netanyahu.

Although he did not address the specific roles of government and private sector, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, now a vice president with the Global Strategic Security practice of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in McLean, Va., said networks and systems that play a role in homeland security will have to be designed in a fundamentally different way in the future.

The networks and systems that power the U.S. economy “were put together by businesspeople … with an eye toward openness and ease of access, and were not put together with a single thought in most cases … to terrorism,” said Woolsey.

“All of the networks that serve us have the functional equivalent of flimsy cockpit doors,” he said, making a clear reference to the ease with which terrorists were able to enter and take over the cockpits of four commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001. “They have things that need to be fixed so that they cannot be taken over and used to kill thousands of people. This is a matter of some urgency.”

Speaking at an invitation-only dinner reception sponsored by The McGraw-Hill Cos. on Wednesday in Arlington, Va., former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani urged the government and the private sector to “prepare relentlessly” for the full spectrum of possible terrorist attacks.

“Recognize it, accept it, deal with it and make the changes that are necessary so that we provide appropriate security,” said Giuliani. “Private institutions have to do some of this themselves. Security planning is vital now as a mission for private organizations.”

According to Giuliani, the businesses located in and around the World Trade Center that had developed and exercised disaster plans were the ones that survived the attacks. “Those that had business continuity plans so that they had a backup for the systems that went down at the site of the World Trade Center were able to resume business that day or the next day and not have a significant interruption and a major economic catastrophe,” he said.

“We should plan for all the things that we can anticipate,” said Giuliani. “The terrorists that we are facing will attempt to do the unanticipated again. And the only way you can deal with the unanticipated is to prepare for everything you can think of.”

As an example, Giuliani pointed to a system called the Syndromic Surveillance System, a symptom monitoring system that the City of New York had developed in 1996 — five years before the recent series of anthrax attacks conducted through the mail.

“When the anthrax attacks took place, I was able to go back through the syndromic surveillance report and I could see that we didn’t have an epidemic,” said Giuliani. “The country needs (that type of capability) now. We need to create systems to collect this information and do the best we can to anticipate an attack.”

For Netanyahu, however, technology development is not the reason that he remains optimistic about the outcome of the war on terrorism. “I don’t think that technology is what makes me optimistic,” he said. “The presence of will in free societies to defeat terrorism is what makes me optimistic. Technology without will is meaningless.”