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U.S. infrastructure information found on al Qaeda computers

From Kelli Arena and David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Information about both public and private computer systems that control the nation's infrastructure has been found in seized al Qaeda computers, government officials confirmed Thursday.

They said private industry and government agencies were made aware of that intelligence. Law enforcement officials said nothing was found that suggests there was any current plan to use the information as part of a terror plot -- or that the capability to carry out such a plan exists.

But congressional reports and others have pointed to vulnerabilities in private and public sector systems.

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CNN has learned that toward the end of last year, investigators discovered a house in Pakistan run by al Qaeda that was devoted solely to training for cyber-warfare and hacking, according to coalition intelligence officials. One official described it as a place to study tactics, calling it a cyber-academy.

The scenarios about a "cyber threat" -- laid out Thursday in a Washington Post article -- have been discussed at length by then-FBI Director Louis Freeh and other FBI officials before Congress and in other public forums.

Physical threat 'much more worrying'

Mike Vatis, former head of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, talked about the issue in an interview with CNN more than a year ago.

"The things we have to worry about are critical infrastructure, such as electrical power systems, our government agencies, police and medical services," he said.

Vatis and others have said their concern is the possibility of a physical attack supplemented by cyber attack "such as shutting down the 911 system."

One U.S. intelligence official said Thursday it "overstates the capability" of al Qaeda and associated groups to conduct such cyber attacks.

Intelligence officials said the Post article is correct that intelligence gathered since Sept. 11 indicates a greater knowledge and interest level than had previously been assumed, but, said one, "The story suggests they've made more progress than we think they in fact have."

These officials said they are "much more worried" about the likelihood of physical acts of terrorism by al Qaeda.

National Correspondent Mike Boettcher contributed to this report




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