Intruder Alert
George Szamuely
New York Press


One by one liberals abandon all their issues as they continue along their happy Clinton brownnosing way. Civil liberties? The hell with that. Here is Thomas Friedman’s response to last week’s "attack" on Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon. com: "The only one who can possibly protect you from the super-empowered angry people…is Uncle Sam… [G]overnment still matters. In fact, it matters more now in the cyber-age, not less… Who’s tracking down the latest cyber-vandals? The FBI."

Thank God for Janet Reno and Louis Freeh! Now Friedman can go to his conferences, talk meaningless gibberish about "globalism" and the "digital age," and enjoy his laptops, DVDs and cellphones.

Friedman sees the world much as Clinton does. The President and the loathsome Butcher of Waco, Janet Reno, are truly passionate in their desire to suppress freedom.

Subversives and "extremists" plotting away on the Internet has become something of an obsession for them. For years the administration has been trying to enact new laws and establish new government agencies to crack down on free speech. The ostensible reason has been the threat of "terrorism." There is no terrorist threat whatsoever facing the country. But the gullible media plays along with government efforts to spread panic. Now a new menace looms: "cyber-crime." But what is "cyber-crime"? Committing crimes like fraud online is already covered by existing statutes. So what is it? Presumably it has something to do with terrorists, foreign governments and–inevitably–"rogue states" out to do in the weak and vulnerable United States.

"How we deal with cyber-crime is one of the most critical areas we face," Reno declared recently. Interestingly, the recent "attacks" were all on commercial, not government, sites. Yet the administration seized this opportunity to demand draconian measures. Clinton met with computer industry executives and suggested ways for government to get involved in their business. Clinton’s latest budget shows his preoccupation with the issue: $2 billion is set aside to help prevent sabotage of U.S. computer networks. This sum includes $91 million for a research institute to develop new protections for information systems and to train workers in security issues. Clinton has also asked for an additional $37 million for the Justice Dept. to fight Internet crime. One of the heftiest increases, from $15 million to $240 million, will pay telephone companies to rewire their networks to facilitate federal and state wiretapping.

Last year the Clinton administration proposed to establish something called the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, or FIDNet, run out of the FBI, with a view to spotting network penetration. The idea is to create a vast computer monitoring system to keep track not only of government networks but also those of vital industries like banking, telecommunications and transportation. The ostensible aim is to thwart "attacks" on government or the nation’s economy. Thousands of software monitoring programs would keep track of computer activities so as to be alert to the slightest indication of network intrusion. But the only "intrusion" going on is that of the government now endowed with vast new powers. Government would have access to all communications between computers, including e-mail.

"A number of nations that are hostile to the [United States] and several well-financed terrorist groups, and quite arguably a number of organized crime groups, are systematically developing capabilities to attack U.S. information systems," blustered Jeffrey Hunker, NSC’s director of information protection who is in charge of the FIDNet program. Like who? Not North Korea again? According to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, FIDNet would violate "the spirit of the federal wiretap statute, the plain language of the federal Privacy Act and the history of the Fourth Amendment."

Read George Szamuely's Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

Clinton began dreaming of cracking down on the Internet some time ago. In July 1997, he signed Executive Order 13010, establishing the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP) that was to look into security vulnerabilities. The PCCIP report, issued in October 1997, concluded there was no evidence of an "impending cyber attack that could have a debilitating effect on the nation’s critical infrastructure." Nonetheless it recommended the creation of a new government agency to protect the national "infrastructure." In May 1998, Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 63. This brought into being numerous bodies authorized to carry out surveillance of the Internet. There is the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism–a creature of the National Security Council. There is the National Infrastructure Assurance Council (it consists of private sector and state and local government representatives). There are the National Plan Coordination (NPC) staff, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) and the Critical Infrastructure Coordination Group (CICG). And there is the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), run by the FBI. In addition, the U.S. government was authorized to help the private sector set up something called an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC). All this without any evidence that the nation faced the slightest serious threat to its computer systems!

"There is a dark side of hacking, crashing networks and viruses that we absolutely must address," Janet Reno once told the National Association of Attorneys General. She proposed to address it with something called LawNet–a kind of online law-enforcement agency–which would employ computer nerds and government agents to trawl chat lines to spot anyone saying anything suspicious.

Last year the administration proposed a law allowing government agents to obtain warrants to surreptitiously enter people’s homes and install software on their computers so as to decipher any scrambled communications. The nice part was that suspects would not have to be notified for 30 days that their privacy had been invaded. Civil liberties groups protested. The administration backed down. Yet the repulsive Reno has not given up on the idea. In a letter to House Majority Leader Dick Armey she explained that government agents should have the ability to "search for keys" without immediately notifying a suspect.

The Clinton administration’s contempt for law is well known. It is now using hackers’ "attacks" to push through measures to keep tabs on the Internet. And isn’t it strange that no one has come forward to claim responsibility for those attacks?

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