U.S. ill-prepared for other forms of terrorism

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The United States is ill-prepared for a possible cyberterrorist attack, which could cripple utility companies, emergency-response systems, hospitals and oil refineries, an expert says.

``We cannot afford to underestimate the intelligence and determination of our adversaries,'' Sujeet Shenoi, a University of Tulsa computer science professor, told members of the Oklahoma Homeland Security Task Force on Tuesday.

Shenoi warned that computer hackers and Internet virus conspirators could kill Americans and tear ``at the very fabric of our society,'' Shenoi said.

Leaders should protect and defend the nation's electronic assets, said Shenoi, who specializes in preparing computer experts for work with the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI and other governmental entities.

``Our country is the most wired in the world. But as we have become increasingly interconnected, we've also become overextended and susceptible to cyberterrorism attacks.''

Shenoi also said he was worried because little is being done to screen college students to make sure they aren't potential terrorists.

Some of the courses taught by Shenoi address prevention of cyberterrorism, but he said he was concerned that those with other motives could use that information as well as lessons from other ``sensitive courses'' to further destructive acts against the United States.

Shenoi said he was shocked when he learned that some of the terrorists who flew hijacked jets into targets Sept. 11 had taken flying lessons in this country. He said there should be some way to screen students ``so the next generation of terrorists don't learn things they can use against us.''

Shenoi is a member of the Joint Homeland Security Task Force, a panel appointed by the Legislature to review Oklahoma's ability to respond to a terrorist attack. Its report is due next year.

Gen. Robert A. Goodbary, director of the Office of Military Relations at Oklahoma State University, suggested that Shenoi's concerns might be addressed by amending a recent federal anti-terrorist measure.

Among other things, it requires people from countries designated as sponsoring terrorism to register if they work in labs with certain potentially dangerous chemical or biological agents.

In other testimony, Dr. Leslie Beitsch, state health commissioner, said the United States is ``extraordinarily vulnerable'' to bioterrorism, too.

Beitsch said there are enough disease-causing viruses, bacteria, parasites and botulism ``to cover the world'' if they fall into the wrong hands.

So much produce is brought into the country, that a terrorist ``could commit a crime without ever coming onto our soil,'' he said.

Contaminated fertilizer and other toxins could produce food supplies that are poisonous ``from the moment the seed is planted until it reaches the consumer's mouth,'' Beitsch said.