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Cyber-attacks threaten security, ex-joint chiefs chair says in FW

Not all the terrorist or national security threats the U.S. faces, probably not even the most likely, involve bombs, chemical weapons or hijacked airliners, a former top U.S. military officer said Thursday.

Cyber-attacks on business and government computer systems pose a real threat to U.S. security and the economy, Peter Pace, retired Marine general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the annual meeting of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Government and business, Pace said, both need to step up efforts to anticipate and ward off computer threats whether they are from malicious hackers, terrorists or adversary nations.

“The more anything is dependent upon computers the more vulnerable it is,” said Pace. “Our nation is enormously dependent upon computers, therefore it is enormously vulnerable.”

The damage a cyber-attack could do to banks, airlines and other companies dependent upon computers systems could be enormous, far reaching and wreak enormous financial and other damage.

Pace said his concern over cyber-security is based on what he knows about the computer capabilities of the U.S. military and intelligence establishment.

“If you know what you can do to others, you have to assume they can or will have the ability to do it to you. It may be five years or it may be 10 years, but sometime soon small groups of individuals will have the computer capacity countries have today. And if they have it, they will use it.

“We have just begun as a nation to understand this threat,” Pace said, adding that government and private sector need to both work to identify vulnerabilities.

“It’s not about attacking or defending. It’s about understanding the capability of computers,” Pace said. “We need lots of brainpower in this country working on this problem.”

Commenting on the war in Iraq, Pace said the U.S. had made real progress on the ground and not just because of Bush’s so-called surge strategy. What has made the difference, Pace said, is that Iraqis of different ethnic and political backgrounds have made the decision to live and work together.

“It’s about Iraqi’s loving their children more than hating their neighbors,” Pace said, adding that the U.S. military role must continue to be keeping violence in check well enough to allow Iraqi society and the political system to function.

Pace said the U.S. government and its European allies have widely varying views on how significant the threats posed by terrorists or rogue states are to the interests of individual nations. The result has been that only a few nations, even in NATO, are willing to take forceful action which has undermined efforts to pursue effective, cohesive military policies, particularly in Afghanistan.

“We have not come to a good understanding of the global threat we all face,” Pace said.

Pace reportedly was denied a second term as chairman of the joint chiefs by Defense Secretary Robert Gates because of the likelihood of opposition from key members of Congress due to his perceived support of President Bush’s Iraq policies.

He said he will not publicly support the presidential candidacy of either Rep. Sen. John McCain or Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

“Once the election is over, if I am asked I would be willing to provide my advice and counsel to whoever is the president,” Pace said.

BOB COX, 817-390-7723