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RSA: US must stay vigilant after 9/11

The US is in danger of becoming complacent about the threats posed by international terrorism and should step up its funding of anti-terrorism measures for both physical and cyber realms, according to former Clinton national security advisor Samuel Berger.

Speaking to reporters at the RSA Conference in San Francisco yesterday, Berger said that the attacks on 11 September, 2001, forever changed the way the US viewed the world, showing the American people how vulnerable their country was. 

"We were lucky that there were no attacks coincident with the war in Iraq," he added. 

Through the war in Afghanistan and its apprehension of senior Al Qaeda leaders, Berger said the US and its allies have seriously disrupted the terrorist network.

Nevertheless, he warned, that disruption did not diminish the long-term threats posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.

"We should operate on the assumption that we're not going back to a terror-free country."

Berger dismissed the idea that the absence of co-ordinated cyberattacks means that international terrorists do not possess the capability to attack the US's information infrastructure.

While cyberterrorism has not been a weapon in Al Qaeda's arsenal, smaller anti-American groups may well be capable of launching such attacks, he said, and suggested that Congress should free up funds immediately for cybersecurity and other aspects of US defence.

"So far we've spent a lot of money and time on bureaucratic reorganisation, but requests for money, including those for cybersecurity, are still moving at a snail's pace. It's important for Congress to put its money where its mouth is."

In the long run, however, the US and its allies would have to address larger problems such as the growing income and technology gaps between rich and poor nations.

"We're not safe in a world that is bitterly divided - when half the world is not connected to the global economy. Those nations will fall further and further behind and become more disconnected and more desperate," Berger said.

"9/11 told us that Manhattan is not an island. We can't pull up the draw bridge and hide behind walls."

However, Berger acknowledged that since the 11 September attacks, more progress has been made in the realm of cybersecurity than in other areas. He cited the increased importance of public-private information sharing and analysis centres as an example of initiatives begun during the Clinton administration that have gained traction since the attacks.

The Bush administration's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace struck an appropriate balance on the difficult issues of requiring companies to improve their IT security, he added.

"Like all areas of critical infrastructure, there has to be a close relationship between the private sector and the government. There's not one regulatory model that's suitable."


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