Hearing Calls for Ambitious Infowar Plan

The White House has outlined its infowar defense plan, but hasn't identified which industry officials will participate

To foil hackers trying to sabotage the nation's critical information networks, the United States needs a defense plan as ambitious as the development effort behind the atomic bomb, said Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general.


"I consider this issue to be one of the most important issues that our government, and our society as a whole, face today.... What we need, then, is the equivalent of the Manhattan Project for [network] infrastructure protection," she said at a July 16 hearing called by Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.

Nunn called the July 16 hearing as part of his investigation into the threat poised by hackers. After investigating the issue, Nunn's staff has called on the government to identify the nation's critical information network, investigate defense measures and make agencies responsible for the defense of networks used by the government.

At the hearing, Gorelick announced that the president had signed the long-awaited executive order, titled "Critical Infrastructure Protection," which establishes a commission to create a national information warfare defense plan against hackers by July 1997.

The order also create an ad-hoc, multiagency network defense organization led by the FBI.

The three-level commission will be headed by a chairman from industry. The chairman will work with a 20-person panel -- including 10 industry officials -- nominated by 10 agencies, which include the departments of Defense, Treasury and Commerce. This panel will be advised by a group of industry officials.

The recommendations prepared by the chairman and the panel will report to the president via a principals committee, which will be composed of 11 senior government officials, including the attorney general, the director of Central Intelligence, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the secretaries of Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Energy.

Although the industry officials on the commission have not been announced, Gorelick emphasized that industry will play a central role. "This effort will require an unprecedented amount of involvement by the private sector.... Hopefully, the private sector involvement in crafting the solution will engender the trust and understanding between government and industry that will be necessary," said Gorelick. However, that trust has been strained by industry's fight against the government's curbs on the export of encryption technology, say industry officials.

Government controls on encryption exports have hampered the use of high-quality encryption by U.S. companies operating worldwide and have curbed the overseas sales of U.S. software, they say. But the government must have the ability to crack open encrypted messages among criminals, terrorists and possible tax evaders, counter government officials.

In a concession, Vice President Al Gore announced July 12 that the Department of Commerce would take over the task of reviewing applications for the export of encryption. It would also jointly develop with industry new technology to protect industry's secrets while allowing government's monitoring under court supervision.

However, industry officials and their allies in Congress rejected the announcement as inadequate. "While most of us had hoped the administration would take some bold steps forward, they have only crept ahead inches," announced Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is backing three congressional bills to lift controls on encryption.


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