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CIA warns of Net terror threat

It's not just Al-Qaida that American businesses and government agencies may have to worry about. The CIA warns that other terrorist groups could launch a "cyberattack."

Al-Qaida is not the only terrorist network hoping to wreak havoc on the United States through "cyberwarfare," the CIA says.

America's spooks have named Sunni extremists, Hezbollah and Aleph--formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo--as other top threats.

"These groups have both the intentions and the desire to develop some of the cyberskills necessary to forge an effective cyberattack modus operandi," the CIA said in a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The CIA's report, which responds to a list of questions from senators, also says that scientific data posted online aids terrorists: "Terrorist groups worldwide have ready access to information on unconventional weapons, including nuclear weapons, via the Internet."

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, government pressure to self-censor scientific information has grown. It prompted the presidents of the National Academies to say in a statement on Oct. 18 that "restrictions are clearly needed to safeguard strategic secrets, but openness also is needed to accelerate the progress of technical knowledge and enhance the nation's understanding of potential threats."

"Aleph, formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo, is the terrorist group that places the highest level of importance on developing cyberskills," said the CIA report prepared by Stanley Moskowitz, the agency's director of congressional affairs. "These could be applied to cyberattacks against the U.S. This group identifies itself as a cybercult and derives millions of dollars a year from computer retailing."

The Aum Shinrikyo religious group carried out the deadly nerve gas attack in a Tokyo subway in 1995, which killed 12 people and sent more than 5,000 to hospitals. The group is a doomsday cult that believes the end of the world is near.

The CIA report, along with two others from the State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency, were prepared in March and April but were not made public by the Senate until this month.

In September, the White House released a 64-page report on securing networks and thwarting "cyberterrorism." Richard Clarke, an adviser to President Bush, said at the time: "We rely on cyberspace, and it is not yet secure. We know the vulnerabilities, and we know the solutions. Let us all work together."

In the past, some intelligence officials have been criticized for being overly alarmist. At an unclassified hearing in February 2001, Adm. Tom Wilson, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, predicted that Fidel Castro might be preparing a cyberattack against the United States.

Wilson told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Castro's armed forces could initiate an "information warfare or computer network attack" that could "disrupt our military."

Castro denied the charge as "craziness," saying his nation did not have the technical ability to succeed in such an attack even if it wanted to launch one.