DHS Chief Calls for Reverse Manhattan Project

Jul 29, 2005

David Needle

In line with his assertions, Chertoff said the Administration is asking Congress to approve the new position of assistant secretary for Cyber and Telecommunications Security.

Chertoff said the new assistant secretary will play an integral role in working with technology companies to improve the safety of the country's infrastructure. As one example, Chertoff said, "We have to unleash private industry to help improve our border security."

The security chief said a nuclear attack on this country would be "uniquely damaging." He said President Bush supports a "reverse Manhattan project for the 21st century" designed to invest in nuclear detection technology.

Chertoff made prevention and early proactive detection of terrorist threats a recurring theme in his remarks in front of the public affairs group the Commonwealth Club, which was sponsored by software security provider Symantec.

"We can't be lulled into complacency," he said. "Terrorists are driven by evil ideology and they are mutating new ways to attack."

On the subject of cyber crime versus cyber terror, Chertoff said it was hard to draw a distinction because the results can be just as deadly.

"Even if tomorrow we got all Al Qaeda, we'd still have to about some 16 year-old in bad mood or in a competition that decides he wants to attack our systems. Technology gives enormous leverage to bad actors who can do what in the old days you'd need an army to do."

Last year a 17 year-old German boy was arrested as the mastermind behind the notorious Sasser and Netsky viruses considered to be among the most damaging e-mail worms in Internet history.

According to security firm Sophos, the effects of his activities are still being felt around the world, with Netsky variants accounting for 25 percent of all the virus reports in the first half of 2005.

Chertoff listed several ways technology will be used in the future to aid security efforts while minimizing disruption to the way we live and do business. One is airline passenger screening with the swipe of a finger passed over a biometric sensor. Another is advanced nuclear detection devices.

He said current passenger screening techniques, such as massing names to a database of known or suspected terrorists are "primitive" because it's so easy to forge fake IDs. "Biometric identification technology can reduce fraud, and computer and wireless technology can bring prompt screening even at remote locations."

Chertoff also predicted more advances in the way cargo is inspected by using the best non-invasive inspection technologies to keep the nation's supply chain safe and on time.

"We have to apply advanced technology for detecting explosives that doesn't require everyone or everything going through a fixed portal and can be used in an open architecture."

Another aspect of introducing new technologies is the danger of disruption to people's lives. "We could reduce highway fatalities tomorrow by reducing the speed limit on the highway to five miles per hour," said Chertoff. "But no one would like that.

"The vast majority of cyber assets are privately owned and operated. Cyber security can't be just government dictates, but a collaboration between the private and public sectors."

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