FBI Says Moved to Thwart About 20 Threats Over Y2K

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Thursday January 6 4:15 PM ET FBI Says Moved to Thwart About 20 Threats Over Y2K

By Jim Wolf WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI said on Thursday it had moved to thwart up to 20 or so possible threats against targets such as power plants and computer networks during a heightened security watch that started before 2000 dawned. About a dozen ``physical incidents'' involved threats to blow up equipment such as electrical power plants, while another six or so involved cyber intrusions or detection of sophisticated ``hacker'' tools aimed at knocking out computer networks, deputy assistant director Michael Vatis told reporters.

``On neither side did we think that this level of activity was particularly unusual,'' added Vatis, who oversaw a 24-hour headquarters command post tied to special year-end watches at all 56 FBI field offices. Asked to explain what he meant by the type of ``physical'' violence in question, Vatis said: ``Threats involving explosives or physical destruction of equipment or a plant of electrical power or something like that.''

All of the cases opened during the special Year 2000 watch were still being investigated, an FBI spokeswoman, Debbie Weierman, said. The FBI published a study called ``Project Megiddo'' on Nov. 2 warning of possible Year 2000-related violence by cults seeking to spark a biblical day of reckoning or by other domestic fringe groups. The study had warned that any power outages or breakdowns sparked by the so-called Y2K computer quirk could play into conspiracists' fears of a supposed plot to create a ``one-world government.'' The project was dubbed Megiddo after a hill in northern Israel linked to Armageddon, the prophesied final battle between forces of good and evil.

Attorney General Janet Reno did not answer directly when asked why she thought the fears reflected in the Megiddo report had not yet led to any big trouble. ``The nice answer would be that there was no threat,'' she told her weekly press conference. ``What we must all do, I think, is ... take reasonable precautions ... when we have specific information that can inform the American people, that we advise them.'' The FBI Y2K command post operated from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5. Vatis declined to comment on whether any suspectedplots to strike New Year's Eve celebrated had been foiled or whether any originated abroad. He declined to discuss specifics of the physical threats under investigation or link any of them to any Year 2000 issues. He also declined to address the case of an alleged plot to smuggle bomb-making material into the United States from Canada. One Algerian man, Ahmed Ressam, has been charged while the authorities are investigating a suspected associate, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, held in Seattle on immigration charges.

Vatis is director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, or NIPC, an interagency group designed to detect and deter both cyber intrusions and physical attacks on infrastructure such as power grids, pipelines and water systems. On the computer security side, Vatis urged system administrators to download a new NIPC tool to scan for a hacker tool designed to cripple networks. The download was made available on the NIPC web page (www.nipc.gov) Dec. 30 after discovery of new so-called ''distributed denial of service'' tools aimed at systems using the Solaris operating system. Vatis said three of the half dozen or so new FBI investigations were triggered in recent days when private companies, using the NIPC detection software, found signs their networks had been penetrated. The hacker devices -- such as one dubbed ``trin00'' and another called ``Tribe Flood Network'' or ``tfn'' -- are capable of enlisting multiple systems to amplify an attack on the ultimate target, Vatis said.


-- Steve Davis (Columbia, MD) (Steve@davislogic.com), January 06, 2000

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