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Dick Clarke's American Grandstand

I suspect there could be something to allegations leveled by former cyber security czar Richard Clarke against the Bush administration. Ditto for former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.

Yet there is something unsettling about these guys, these for-profit patriots. What stopped either from taking a stand at the very moment they believed a line was crossed, when their respective consciences shouted at them that their ultimate pledge of allegiance was to the United States of America, not their employer?

Perhaps it is because these high-profile whistle blowers are as choreographed as the White House whose behavior and policies they criticize. Both agendas are slickly packaged and their cry-for-freedom talking points are timed for maximum political and monetary payback.

I wonder now about Clarke’s defense of The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace after its release in February 2003. Was it real or just more of the spin that he once used to defend Bush anti-terrorism policies? Did Clarke actually support a White House cyber-security policy that left the high-tech sector-desperately searching for new business in the aftermath of the dot-com bust of 2000-utterly disappointed?

Clarke seemed as much alarmed about cyber terrorism as he claims he was about al Qaeda. At most, Clarke had it half right.

First, while worms and viruses are a digital fact of life that cost businesses millions, the perpetrators are not necessarily the same as those who fly jetliners into skyscrapers or detonate bombs on trains with cell phones. The mischief to date appears to be mostly the work of alienated computer-literate cowboys here and abroad.

Perhaps our vulnerability to cyber attacks has less to do with Islamic extremists than with the omnipresence of a computer operating system that EU antitrust regulators found too much to stomach. Oh, how Microsoft Corp. would like to extend its dominance into the emerging wireless space. It hasn’t happened yet.

Rather than blowing up cyberspace, the terrorists we’re hunting along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and elsewhere are exploiting the Net with the same savvy and efficiency as offshore gamblers and child pornographers.

In a briefing last Tuesday to the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, highlighted findings in the 2004 report, Digital Terrorism and Hate. Cooper said the Internet has become a critical terrorist tool for recruiting and fundraising.

Terrorist Web sites “and too many other Internet postings should serve as another explicit warning and a wake-up call … in the difficult and challenging times we live in that we must monitor and engage the enemies of peace in the domain of the new digital battlefields,” he said.

Cooper didn’t make big headlines last week. Instead, with about seven months until the presidential election, partisan finger pointing and talk of “actionable intelligence” carried the day.

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