Security Threat is Topic of Tuesday News Conference
February 9, 1999
Contact: Eric Wohlschlegel
WASHINGTON (February 9) -- House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-VA) held a news conference Tuesday to discuss an emerging national security threat: the potential posting of sensitive and nationwide chemical disaster information -- including locations of materials and potential deaths from worst-case accident scenarios -- on the World Wide Web. The FBI and intelligence community fear such a posting could enable terrorists to target American cities. Professional police and fire fighting organizations have written letters expressing their fears, as well.
He was joined by Diane Leonard, the wife of a Secret Service agent killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and two Commerce subcommittee chairmen.
This Summer, 'worst case' scenario accident data for over 60,000 facilities will be obtained by the Environmental Protection Agency. Bliley, the FBI and intelligence experts fear that information could be too easily accessible to terrorists if it ends up on the World Wide Web.
No one - not the FBI or Bliley - wants to deny people information about chemical facilities in or near their communities. The challenge, according to Bliley, is to make that information accessible, without providing terrorists with a national blueprint for pin-pointing attacks on American cities.
The Chairman has scheduled a joint hearing of two Commerce subcommittees entitled "Internet Posting of 'Worst-Case Scenarios': A Roadmap for Terrorists?"
The following is Bliley's statement from Tuesday's news conference:
"Good afternoon. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.
"In 1990, Congress required over 60,000 domestic businesses and facilities to submit chemical accident prevention plans to the EPA that ultimately would be made public.
"Back then, we never dreamed all that information -- including human injury projections for 'worst-case' chemical accidents -- could be easily searchable from Boston to Baghdad, from Los Angeles to Libya, on the World Wide Web.
"Outside of a small group of researchers, no one knew what the World Wide Web was back then. We certainly didn't know how the Internet would revolutionize information gathering and communication on a global scale.
"As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently stated about the growing threat of worldwide terrorism, "the advance of technology has given us new means to counter terrorists, but it has also enabled terrorists to develop more powerful weapons and to travel, communicate, recruit and raise funds on a global basis."
"Tomorrow, we hold a hearing to consider the best method of distributing chemical accident information to the public, while also doing our very best not to facilitate acts of terrorism.
"In response to security concerns from the FBI, the CIA, this Committee and others, the EPA recently abandoned its reckless plan to put the worst-case scenario data at every terrorists' fingertips by posting it on the agency's own Internet site. But EPA has yet to propose a suitable plan for the handling and dissemination of this sensitive information to third parties.
"We are facing a June 21, 1999 deadline to correct this problem -- because that is the date by which these facilities all across the nation must submit this sensitive data to the EPA.
"It is hard to say exactly how much the terrorist threat will increase if this data makes it on the World Wide Web. But the consequences of a single attack could be so deadly, so tragic, that we ignore any increased risk at our peril.
"We must take every measure to make sure terrorists are not given a tool to pin-point attacks on American cities.
"With us today is Diane Leonard. Mrs. Leonard knows firsthand the cost of terrorism. She lost her husband, a Secret Service Officer who worked for 24 years protecting seven different Presidents, during the Oklahoma City bombing.
"Since then, she has worked tirelessly to help victims of terrorism and to persuade legislators to take the fight against terrorism seriously. Her tragic story reminds us, as legislators, that government policies have real-life consequences, and that we must be careful that our actions do not inadvertently help terrorists target our citizens and our communities.
"Let me stress that no one -- including the law enforcement and intelligence communities -- is advocating that we should keep this information from communities that host such facilities.
"I support making sure people in these communities have access to the information they want about the risks associated with chemical facilities.
"The challenge we face is making it more difficult -- not easier -- for international terrorists to obtain all this potentially dangerous information on the World Wide Web. "We can and must achieve both goals. Based on what we learn at tomorrow's hearing, I will consider offering legislation soon to correct this problem.
"I will introduce Diane Leonard to speak in a moment. But, first, I would like the two subcommittee chairman who are holding tomorrow's joint hearing to say a few words."
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