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Clinton Orders Defense Against Biological, Computer Attacks

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 1998 – President Clinton announced plans May 22 to help defend the United States from attacks by enemies using weapons of mass destruction or using cyberweapons to disable key U.S. computer facilities.

As part of this initiative, Clinton announced plans May 22 to inoculate all service members against anthrax.

Clinton, speaking at the Naval Academy's commencement in Annapolis, Md., said the U.S. military "must be ready to fight the next war, not the last one." He told graduates the armed forces must be prepared to combat nontraditional threats posed by rogue nations and terrorists.

"Because our troops serve on the front line of freedom, we must take special care to protect them," Clinton said. "So we have been working on vaccinating them against biological threats, and now we will inoculate all our armed forces, active duty and reserves, against deadly anthrax bacteria."

The U.S. military is the best in the world, Clinton said. Foes cannot hope to challenge the United States militarily. "Rather than invading our beaches or launching bombers, these adversaries may attempt cyberattacks against our critical military systems and our economic base," he said. "Or they may deploy compact and relatively cheap weapons of mass destruction -- not just nuclear [weapons], but also chemical or biological [weapons] -- to use disease as a weapon of war."

To combat these threats, Clinton announced two presidential decision directives. One details a systematic approach to combating terrorism and establishes the Office of the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism. The office will be part of the National Security Council and will report to the president through the national security adviser. Richard Clarke, a member of the National Security Council staff, will head the office.

The other directive calls for a national effort to assure the security of the interconnected infrastructures of the United States. This plan will detect, deter and defend against attacks on U.S. power systems, water supplies, police, fire and medical services, air traffic control systems, financial services, telephone systems and computer networks.

Clinton pointed to a single satellite incident May 19 as proof of the need for this directive. The Galaxy IV satellite failed and disabled pagers, automatic teller machines, credit card systems and TV and radio networks around the world.

"If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists, criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vital systems, disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening our capacity to function in a crisis," Clinton said.

He also announced a DoD initiative to train state and local officials to detect and respond to threats or use of biological weapons.

"We will train and equip local authorities throughout the nation to deal with an emergency involving weapons of mass destruction, creating stockpiles of medicines and vaccines to protect our civilian population against the kind of biological agents our adversaries are most likely to obtain or develop," Clinton said. "We will pursue research and development to create the next generation of vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tools."

He said the United States, while combating terrorism, must be careful to uphold privacy rights and other constitutional protections -- that is, "not ever undermine freedom in the name of freedom."

Clinton praised the graduates and told them not to lose sight of why they do what they do. "In a free society, the purpose of public service ... is to provide all citizens with the freedom and opportunity to live their own dreams," he said. "So when you return from an exhausting deployment, or just a terrible day, never forget to cherish your loved ones, and always be grateful that you have been given the opportunity to serve, to protect for yourselves and for your loved ones and for your fellow Americans the precious things that make life worth living, and freedom worth defending."

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