Critical infrastructure office reaches out to states, localities

The Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) this week will begin a series of regional conferences with state and local officials and industry in an effort to find effective ways of protecting the nation's critical infrastructure, including computer systems.

To launch in Texas, the four meetings will address the new threats of the 21st century, which is going to require "unparalleled cooperation" between government and industry, CIAO Deputy Director Nancy Wong told the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors on Friday.

Wong hailed efforts made by industry, particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to organize itself by sectors to determine best practices for protecting computer systems. She said that cooperation "was quite an education" for government officials that many of the industries were ready to deal with the aftermath of the attacks.

Wong said that under the Clinton administration's Presidential Directive 63--which sought to fortify the nation's networks against cyberattacks--"every single critical infrastructure sector" has been brought to the table in the past two years to determine protection plans.

Cyber security is a "major component" of the overall homeland security plans being developed, Wong and other federal officials said. Michael Byrne, senior director for response and recovery for the Office of Homeland Security, said the four key homeland security areas that would be funded under President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget proposal are first responders, bioterrorism, information technology and border security. The office has until July 1 to present its national strategy.

Part of the IT strategy that is underway is a "special caption information" card, or SCI, which the CIA is distributing to the nation's governors, allowing them to receive classified intelligence information relating to potential threats. Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin urged her colleagues to lobby officials to get clearance for them to receive the SCI cards, as well.

Byrne detailed how the $3.5 billion allotted in Bush's proposed budget for aiding state and local first responders would be distributed. Based on a pre capital formula grant, funds would be given to governors, where 25 percent of funds would be used as state discretionary funds to protect critical infrastructures, and the remaining 75 percent would be distributed to localities by the governors based on population and location of critical infrastructures.

Companies such as AOL Time Warner, Eastman Kodak and Gateway have been working with the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), part of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The group has outlined the private sector's position on issues such as protection of proprietary information and technology and encryption needs overseas. It is tasked with developing ways to protect business information and preventing transnational crime, and its goal is to develop an effective security communication network.

Robert Franks, assistant director of State's Diplomatic Security Service, said OSAC is encouraging businesses to divulge potential vulnerabilities abroad and at home so government can aid them in protection efforts.

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