DOD investigating computer 'mob tactics'

While a senior adviser to the Defense Department testified before Congress this week on threats to national security stemming from the export of powerful computer technology, his supervisor allegedly attempted to access and tamper with his computer, prompting the immediate launch of a full-scale investigation.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said Jay Davis, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, informed the committee on June 28 that an investigation was under way into an incident involving unauthorized access to the computer belonging to a senior strategic trade adviser to the agency.

According to Burton, the incident took place while Peter Leitner, a longtime internal critic of DOD's policy on exporting sensitive computer technologies, was testifying on June 24 before the committee regarding security problems stemming from that policy. Although no details from the investigation have been released yet, Burton claims that the incident is an example of DOD officials trying to strong-arm a congressional witness into not cooperating with the committee.

"While Dr. Leitner was telling my committee about the retaliation he suffered for bringing his concerns to his superiors and Congress, his supervisor was trying to secretly access his computer," Burton said. "This smacks of mob tactics. Congress will not stand for this kind of witness intimidation."

Although DTRA has launched an investigation into the incident, Burton said he plans to call upon Defense Secretary William Cohen to ask for "his personal involvement" in the case. "I intend to ask a lot of questions of the Defense Department officials involved, and I expect to get straight answers," Burton said.

Leitner has criticized the department's policy of easing export controls on powerful computer technology that is used to simulate and test the reliability of nuclear weapons, claiming that the acquisition of supercomputer technology abroad was feeding a new form of Cold War characterized by an arms race for "virtual weapons."

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