Y2K prep helped terror response

If the federal government had not upgraded its critical systems for the Year 2000, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 could have been far worse, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) told a gathering of experts Oct. 18.

Bennett said the work done to eliminate Year 2000 date-change bugs and upgrade computer systems helped make rescue efforts swift after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

"If we had not done what we did for Y2K, we would not have been capable of responding [Sept. 11]," Bennett said at a seminar on strengthening homeland cyberdefense.

For example, he said, while working to eradicate the millennium bug, "We found out that if you had a 386 [computer] at the Defense Department, you had a hot item."

The federal government dismantled its Year 2000 command center in Washington, D.C., after Jan. 1, 2000, but New York City kept its in place. Officials were able to tap its resources when two passenger jets hit the World Trade Center, Bennett told a briefing of the Information Technology Association of America and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

When a bomb exploded in the garage beneath the World Trade Center in 1993, it "didn't kill enough people," Bennett said, and that "lulled us" into thinking it wouldn't happen again.

Now, he said, it's important to think strategically and share information among private companies and government.

Bennett is sponsoring the Critical Infrastructure Information Security Act that would enable companies to share information with the government and not be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

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