By Siobhan Gorman
November 7, 2007
WASHINGTON - President Bush quietly announced yesterday his plans to
launch a program targeting terrorists and others who would seek to
attack the United States via the Internet, according to lawmakers and
Bush requested $154 million in preliminary funding for the initiative,
which current and former government officials say is expected to become
a seven-year, multibillion-dollar program to track threats in cyberspace
on both government and private networks.
But lawmakers, who received briefings on the initiative only recently,
continue to have many questions, and some remain concerned, about
whether the program has adequate privacy protections.
There might be additional, perhaps classified, requests for money for
the initiative, which would be run by the Department of Homeland
Security but draw on the National Security Agency and other intelligence
agencies. A former government official familiar with the proposal said
the total start-up costs that have been discussed are about $400
The proposal "will enhance the security of the Government's civilian
cyber networks and will further address emerging threats," Bush wrote to
Congress as part of his request for additional money for cyber security
and other counterterrorism measures.
The initiative would first develop a comprehensive cyber security
program for the government and then do the same for private networks,
the former government official said.
This announcement was the White House's first public suggestion of the
highly classified program, known to some internally as the "Cyber
Initiative." Congressional aides said they were told in a secret
briefing Monday that the money requested yesterday was start-up funding
for the initiative.
At the White House, spokesman Sean Kevelighan would say only that the
money would be used for "increased monitoring capabilities, as well as
to increase the security of our networks."
The Sun first disclosed the program in September. Plans for the
initiative call for an effort led by the Homeland Security Department
with significant support from the NSA and other intelligence agencies,
which have more extensive experience in cyber security matters,
according to current and former officials familiar with the program.
In plans under discussion, the number of people who would staff the
initiative has been in the range of 1,000 to 2,000.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has been coordinating
the planning effort because it involves multiple intelligence agencies.
Congressional reaction yesterday was mixed.
"The proposal may be long overdue, but there are too many questions on
how it will be implemented and how it will avoid the fate of past failed
plans that remain unanswered," Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi
Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a
statement. "I hope the answers to those questions will come shortly so
that cyber security no longer remains on the government's back burner."
Thompson had expressed concerns about the legality of the program and
whether it provides sufficient privacy protections, and an aide said
yesterday that those concerns persisted after the briefing.
On the Senate side, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from
Connecticut who chairs the Senate committee overseeing Homeland
Security, praised the administration's new initiative, though he said he
"I am encouraged that the Department of Homeland Security is finally
taking a strong, leadership role in domestic cyber security," Lieberman
said in a statement. "On first impression, and without the benefit of
the details, this appears to be a step toward better protection of
government computers and information."
A Senate aide familiar with the briefings said that while "there are
really no details" on how the program would work, officials in the
briefing suggested that the "NSA was not going to be doing [Homeland
Security Department] work."
Lawmakers overseeing the Homeland Security Department demanded briefings
for several weeks before receiving the classified briefings late Monday
and early yesterday in advance of Bush's budget request. Another
briefing for lawmakers took place yesterday morning.
A congressional aide familiar with the briefings said the officials,
including representatives from Homeland Security, McConnell's office,
the NSA and the FBI, left lawmakers with many unanswered questions.
"It's really unclear who is doing what and how this is being
implemented," said the congressional aide familiar with the briefings,
adding that questions remain about what the roles of the NSA, FBI and
other agencies will be, given past revelations about warrantless
The House Intelligence Committee also received briefings recently, but a
committee aide said the panel wanted more detailed information. A
spokeswoman for the Senate Intelligence Committee declined to comment on
whether the committee had been briefed.
To pay for the launch of the initiative, Bush proposed cutting back
several homeland security and law enforcement programs, including
funding for the Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina rebuilding, border
security, Homeland Security's inspector general's office and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency.
Kevelighan said that shifting that money to cyber security and other
counterterrorism programs would "utilize funding resources more
Copyright 2007, The Baltimore Sun
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