Ex-security advisor warns of complacency

Samuel Berger says U.S. should bolster anti-terrorism measures

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. is in danger of becoming complacent about the threats posed by international terrorism and should step up its funding of anti-terrorism measures for both physical and cyber realms, according to former Clinton national security advisor Samuel Berger.

Speaking to reporters at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Monday, Berger said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, forever changed the way the U.S. viewed the world, showing the American people how vulnerable their country was.

"We're not going back to the blissful period [before September 11, 2001] where we thought we were invulnerable," Berger said.

Speaking of the federal government's efforts to secure the nation since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Berger said that more progress has been made in the realm of cybersecurity than in other areas, picking up on efforts that began during the Clinton administration.

"I think the effort on cybersecurity strategy is some of the best work that's been done on homeland security and that's because there was continuity from the late 1990s with (former Bush Special Advisor for Cyberspace Security) Richard Clarke. We started with something to build on, and we've made significant progress since then."

Berger cited the increased importance of public-private ISACs (Information Sharing and Analysis Centers) as an example of initiatives begun during the Clinton administration that have gained traction since the September 11 attacks.

The Bush administration's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace struck an appropriate balance on the difficult issues of requiring companies to improve their IT security, he said.

"Like all areas of critical infrastructure, there has to be a close relationship between the private sector and the government. There's not one regulatory model that's suitable," Berger said.

Despite progress in some areas, however, the country has become complacent about the threats posed by international terrorism, Berger said.

"We were lucky that there were no attacks coincident with the war in Iraq," Berger said.

Through the war in Afghanistan and its apprehension of senior Al Qaeda leaders, the U.S. and its allies have seriously disrupted the terrorist network, hampering its ability to plan and coordinate large attacks, he said.

Nevertheless, that disruption does not diminish the long term threats posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, Berger said.

"We busted up the beehive, but we haven't killed all the bees. They can still plot and plan, and we should operate on the assumption that we're not going back to a terror-free country," Berger said.

Berger dismissed the idea that the absence of coordinated cyberattacks means that international terrorists do not possess the capability to attack the U.S.'s information infrastructure.

While cyberterrorism has not been a weapon in Al Qaeda's arsenal, smaller anti-American groups may well be capable of launching such attacks, he said.

"[Cyberattacks] have to be considered part of the terrorist arsenal even though there's no evidence that major terrorist groups have used it," Berger said.

Congress should immediately free up funds that can be used to fund cybersecurity and other aspects of homeland defense, according to Berger.

"So far we've spent a lot of money and time on bureaucratic reorganization, but requests for money, including those for cybersecurity, are still moving at a snail's pace. It's important for Congress to put its money where its mouth is," he said.

Once funds are available, the country could address pressing problems such as border security while laying the groundwork for the larger IT infrastructure changes that will be needed to support domestic security, according to Berger.

In the long run, however, the U.S. and its allies will have to address larger problems such as the growing income and technology gaps between rich and poor nations.

"We're not safe in a world that is bitterly divided -- when half the world is not connected to the global economy. Those nations will fall further and further behind and become more disconnected and more desperate," he said.

In order to secure its long-term security, the U.S. will have to reach out to nations in need.

"9/11 told us that Manhattan is not an island. We can't pull up the draw bridge and hide behind walls," Berger said.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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