Clinton suggests budget increase to deal with modern terrorism

$2.8 billion would help guard computers, stockpile medicines, train workers

January 23, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Warning that terrorists will increasingly try to target America with cyber viruses and chemical and biological weapons, President Clinton proposed a budget increase of $2.8 billion yesterday to protect computer networks, stockpile medicines and train emergency workers.

His proposal represents a 40 percent increase in spending for computer security and a doubling of funding for chemical and biological defense from two years ago.

Some experts say more should be spent on life-saving vaccines and less on training military and other emergency workers.

Congressional auditors have questioned the way the Clinton administration selected cities for "first responder" training and say the chemical and biological defense efforts suffer from a lack of coordination.

"The enemies of peace realize they cannot defeat us with traditional military means," Clinton said in a speech yesterday at the National Academy of Sciences.

The targeted $1.4 billion to counter weapons of mass destruction includes $52 million for procurement of specialized medicines, $683 million for planning and training, and $381 million for research and development.

Clinton proposed another $1.4 billion to defend against cyber attacks. The money also would be used to create a government "Cyber Corps" of highly skilled computer experts to respond to attacks on computer networks.

The president said hackers are stealing and destroying information, raiding bank accounts, running up credit card charges and extorting money by threats to unleash computer viruses.

"We must be ready; ready if our adversaries try to use computers to disable power grids, banking police, fire and health services or military assets," Clinton said.

Clinton also said a cult's sarin gas attack that killed 12 people in a Tokyo subway station nearly four years ago served as a "wake-up call."

"We have to be ready to detect and address a biological attack promptly, before the disease spreads," the president said.

Clinton conceded that officials in his administration "weren't as well organized as we should have been" to deal with cyber attacks or weapons of mass destruction. The Justice Department is developing a National Domestic Preparedness office to help deal with the twin threats.

The administration has created 10 National Guard teams around the country to respond to chemical and biological incidents. Also, federal officials are training emergency medical personnel in 120 cities -- including Baltimore.

Richard McKoy, Baltimore's director of emergency management, praised Clinton's address and said the city would receive a grant of $350,000 this year for antidotes, breathing apparatus and chemical detection equipment.

McKoy said the government must do more to educate the public about the dangers of chemical and biological weapons.

"I don't think this country is anywhere near ready for an attack," said Fred Sidell, a retired chemical agents expert at the Edgewood Arsenal who is a private consultant with the city-training program.

"The cities where we've been to attendance was poor and the right people were not there. Most cities have been woefully unprepared with antidotes," Sidell said.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency, reported last fall that the various chemical and biological programs are not well coordinated. The report also questioned the selection of the cities for the training effort.

Twelve states and the U.S. territories have no cities in the program, and 25 percent of the cities are in California and Texas, the GAO found. It said there was no analysis to evaluate which cities were at risk for an attack, and that smaller cities with higher risk factors may have been excluded.

Richard Preston, author of "The Hot Zone" and "The Cobra Event," which graphically detail the dangers of viruses and biological weapons, also questioned Clinton's spending priorities.

"Basic medicines and vaccines -- that part of the budget is too low," said Preston, who has testified before Congress on the subject. "New York City will not be saved by Marines in spacesuits. New York City will be saved by vaccines."

Anthrax and smallpox vaccines are among the most important, he said, but the government has only 7 million usable doses of smallpox vaccine stored in Pennsylvania. Just 100 cases of highly contagious smallpox could engulf the U.S. population within months.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala agreed that "calling in the Marines is not the solution."

"We have to be assured that the volume and the range of needed pharmaceuticals can be made available quickly," she said. "These are not just vaccines we're talking about; we're also talking about antibiotics and about vaccinating large numbers of people within a relatively short period of time."

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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