Clinton Warns Against Biological, Computer Attacks
ANNAPOLIS, Md.(AllPolitics, May 22) -- President Bill Clinton used a commencement speech at the Naval Academy Friday to warn against the 21st-century threats of terrorism, biological warfare and cyber-attacks on the nation's computer networks.
Clinton said the threats are real and demand a more active response from the nation, including the next generation of military leaders. Already, Clinton said, computer hackers can raid banks, invade military computers and extort money by threatening to unleash computer viruses.
"We must be ready to fight the next war, not the last one," Clinton said.
"If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists, criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vital systems, disrupting commerce, threatening health and weakening our capacity to function in a crisis."
In his 25-minute talk, the first spring commencement address by the president, Clinton said the nation is blessed with peace and prosperity, but warned that today's possibilities are not tomorrow's guarantees.
He said recent nuclear tests by India are a reminder that technology "is not always a force for good," and he again asked India to halt its testing and Pakistan, India's South Asia rival, to exercise restraint.
Clinton's focus, though, was on what he called non-traditional threats posed by adversaries who cannot defeat the U.S. in traditional theaters and so choose new ways to attack.
"Our foes have extended the fields of battle," Clinton said, targeting vulnerable computer networks and seeking "to use disease as a weapon of war."
Clinton said he wants to improve coordination of the nation's anti-terrorism efforts; develop a comprehensive plan to "detect, deter and defend" possible attacks on the nation's power, water, air traffic control, financial control and telephone systems; and improve the nation's capability against biological attacks.
"In our efforts to battle terrorism and cyber
attacks and biological weapons, all of us must be extremely
aggressive," Clinton said. "But we must also be careful to uphold privacy rights and other constitutional protections. We do not ever
undermine freedom in the name of freedom."
As one step, the administration plans to begin stockpiling vaccines to treat civilians in the event of a biological weapons attack.
A package last year in Washington, D.C., suspected of containing the biological agent anthrax showed officials the holes in the capital's defense systems. Police had inadequate protective and decontamination equipment.
Afterward, FBI Director Louis Freeh complained to Congress that most cities do not have such equipment and called it the nation's greatest vulnerability.
Experts say rogue states or terrorist groups would need only a small amount of a virus or toxin to poison the population of any U.S. city.
Stockpiling enough vaccines is possible but expensive and there is the problem of actually administering hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of doses in time. A program at the Pentagon, already approved, to develop and stockpile vaccines for U.S. troops carries an estimated price tag of $320 million over five years. A civilian program could cost billions.
CNN's Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.