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Clancy Talks On Terror Threat

Author also tells security pros at Gartner conference where to find good ideas.

Best-selling author and admitted technical neophyte Tom Clancy told a crowd of security professionals at the Gartner IT Security Summit 2003 in Washington, D.C., on Monday that he doesn't believe that terrorists pose a serious threat to the United States through the use of biological and nuclear weapons. He also offered advice on how IT security pros might get better at what they do.

But don't ask him about new types of technology. "Quantum computing is something you can't do with a girl in Alabama. I barely comprehend what that means," he says.

But when asked by an attendee how IT pros could become smarter at what they do, he didn't miss a step: Put down the IT security books and go read something else, anything else, once in a while. "The really smart guy is the one who crosses discipline lines. Whether it's surgeons or baseball players, everything that someone does can be applied to something else," he says. "The smart people keep their minds open. A lot of you people probably already do it. Do it more."

He also posed this question to the audience: "Where were you when you last had a really good idea? I guarantee you were not at your desk," he says. Clancy suggested that IT security pros should consider relaxing their brain from time to time and allow it to go into "free form," where it can creatively solve the complex problems they face. "For me, that happens in the shower," he says.

Clancy also talked about the threat from satchel-sized nukes and bioterror attacks. When it comes to nukes, Clancy says it's unlikely that terrorists can get their hands on the special nuclear materials needed to make such a device. "You need a fairly large building, and even a satellite can spot it, so if we keep our eye on that we should be OK," he says.

Clancy didn't seem too concerned about attacks from biological weapons, either. "Theoretically there is a bio threat, but as an effective weapon against a nation it doesn't work. If they bring a contagious disease to America, everyone will stay home and eventually the epidemic will burn out," he says. "Biowarfare is not a real threat. It's just something to make you feel creepy."

And the repercussions levied against the attacker would be severe, Clancy predicts. "Because terrorism is a political act, sooner or later, they will say who did it. Anyone who does a bioattack on America will get nuked."

He was asked how America could respond if a non-nation-state launched such an attack. "As a practical matter, you kill them. If someone brings war to the U.S., the only thing you can do is take war back to them and kill them as efficiently and savagely as possible," he says.

But the ability of the United States to do that depends on agents being able to gather intelligence and infiltrate enemy groups, and that ability has been eroded by a decades-long shift from human intelligence to gathering information by satellites and wiretaps, Clancy says. "Unless we build up our intelligence, the real field guys, we deserve to get clobbered," Clancy says. "You have to put a spook in the field and go talk to bad guys."

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