Former CIA Director George Tenet on Wednesday said greater government regulation of the Internet and telecommunications networks is needed in order to guard against terrorist attacks.
The U.S. intelligence community needs to consider how terrorists might attempt to couple an attack on telecommunication networks with a physical attack, Tenet said during a keynote speech at the E-Gov Institute's homeland security conference in Washington.
"Efforts at physical security will not be enough, because the thinking enemy that we confront is going to school on our network vulnerabilities as well, and I think the two are inextricably linked," he said. "The number of known potential adversaries conducting research on information attacks is increasing rapidly and includes intelligence services, military organizations and nonstate entities."
According to Tenet "a loose collection of regional [terrorist] networks" now "thrive independently" worldwide by using telecommunications and the Internet to communicate with and learn from each other at almost no cost.
Telecommunications technology for government and business should have built-in protections, Tenet said, such as intrusion detection and protection systems, antivirus software, authentication and identify management services, and encryption.
"I know that these actions would be controversial in this age where we still think the Internet is a free and open society with no control or accountability," he added. "But, ultimately, the Wild West must give way to governance and control."
Tenet was also critical of the direction that intelligence reform is taking in Washington. "There's a big focus on structural change at the top. My perspective is, this is all about data," he said.The U.S. government has "an enormous amount of knowledge" on terrorist activities that should be disseminated to state and local officials, Tenet continued. "We have to start treating them as equals with regard to data and teach them as much as we possibly can by pushing data to them at the lowest levels of classification. [We should] even begin a very serious process of learning how to write at the unclassified level so we can educate everybody about what we see going on in the world."
"I really believe data sharing and the movement of data is the most critical feature of reform. I think that's where this game gets won and lost," he said. "We're having discussions about power relationships between people in Washington. At the end of day, I don't think that's the right conversation."
Legislation to overhaul the U.S. intelligence community is currently stalled in Congress. A key component of that legislation is creating an intelligence director to oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies.
Tenet reiterated criticism he expressed to the 9/11 commission earlier this year that the person leading U.S. intelligence agencies should be affiliated with an agency. "If you're not getting your hands dirty every day in terms of risk, I don't think you can lead the men and women of American intelligence, or capably inform the president," he said.