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FBI director concerned about more attacks

November 11, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Although the U.S. is "much more secure" from terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told police and other officials here Monday that he is concerned about possible cyber threats and biological attacks from terrorists.

Speaking at the second day of the West Virginia Summit on Homeland Security at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center, Mueller stressed the need for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to work together to thwart possible terrorist attacks.

Mueller said he is concerned about the possibility of computer attacks, and described a recent computer hacking incident.

The incident involved a science facility in Antarctica, where officials there complained about someone hacking into the facility's computer system and corrupting its data, Mueller said.

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Investigators tracked the hacking incident to a computer server in Pittsburgh, Mueller said. From there, the attack was tracked to Bucharest, Romania, where investigators found the two people who were responsible, Mueller said.

Mueller said the U.S. must remain vigilant against possible biological attacks, and said the FBI is working with doctors from West Virginia University and Marshall University in an attempt to keep such threats at bay.

The doctors have been given clearances to get sensitive information from the FBI to help the federal agency guard against biological attacks, Mueller said.

"We understand that criminals and terrorists operate at every level, and we have to fight back at every one of those levels," Mueller said.

In response to a question about whether terrorist threats have increased, stabilized or declined, Mueller said the nation is considerably more secure since 9/11, in part because terrorist training camps and terrorist communication systems have been disrupted.

But terrorists are "still determined to kill Americans. Basically, al-Qaida is still out there," Mueller said.

About 370 state, federal and local officials gathered at the training center to trade information about how to protect against terrorism attacks in the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of the state.

Local police, firefighters, hospital administrators and business leaders saw some of the latest high-tech equipment used to respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters such as floods and industrial accidents.

Echoing earlier statements from U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., one of the hosts of the summit, Mueller said he was encouraged by the terrorism attack preparedness that has been done so far in the state.

"From our perspective, West Virginia is ahead of the curve in many ways," Mueller said.

Mueller defended the Patriot Act, which has come under fire from some for a perceived threat to civil liberties.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress in October 2001 on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It gives controversial new powers to the Justice Department in terms of domestic and international surveillance of American citizens and others within its jurisdiction.

Mueller said FBI agents are required to take classes about protecting civil liberties and any time agents wish to collect information under the act, judges must first review the requests.

Rockefeller also defended The Patriot Act, saying it is an example of adjustments that must be made to everyday living habits to make sure the nation is safe.

Rockefeller used increased airline security as an example.

"People went crazy when they had to take their shoes off. Now they just acquaint it with a safe airline trip," Rockefeller said.

The summit was scheduled to close late Monday afternoon, but not before a number of panel discussions regarding funding for homeland security needs, school safety, infrastructure protection and other issues.

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