Don't shortchange infowar

For the most part, Congress has properly responded to crises involving information technology. But last month's decision to gut the Defense Department's fiscal 1999 information warfare budget was the technological equivalent of Congress shooting itself— and the nation— in the foot.

In their respective fiscal 1999 DOD appropriations bills, the Senate and the House nearly wiped out the $69.9 million information warfare budget— funds that are essential to monitoring and tracking cyberattacks of DOD computer systems and potential breaches of those systems that support the nation's critical infrastructures, such as air traffic control, telecommunications and the financial industry.

For months, top Pentagon officials, intelligence officers and security experts have brought their case to Capitol Hill, laying out doomsday scenarios of cyberterrorists attacking U.S. systems and commercial infrastructures. The latest, CIA Director George Tenet, told a Senate committee last month that foreign nations, including China, have begun training their troops in information warfare. Tenet said he knew of at least one state-sponsored attack on a government system. What part of "national security risk" does Congress not understand?

Information warfare is no less important to the security of the nation than the Year 2000 problem, which Congress learned about and then acted on by coming up with billions of dollars to fund fixes.

Granted, the Year 2000 problem may be an easier concept to grasp: It has a fixed deadline, date code is universally understood, and the ramifications are widespread. Conversely, information warfare, which can occur anytime, is more difficult to get your arms around. And unlike the nuclear threat, cyberattacks are less destructive (though no less debilitating), are covert and can come from any nation.

Nevertheless, Congress must apply the same strategy to IT as it has to conventional warfare and continue fighting on two fronts— the Year 2000 problem and information warfare. Now is not the time for shortsighted solutions. Congress has properly funded the effort to fix Year 2000 glitches throughout government. It is now time to fund adequate information warfare capabilities that will protect our systems and our way of life into the next century.

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