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Clarke: Using technology to secure IDs is vital

In an age of prevalent terrorism, identity cards need to be more effective, says counterterrorism expert.

SAN FRANCISCO--More-effective identity cards are necessary to defend the United States against terrorists, former U.S. presidential adviser Richard Clarke said Monday, during a speech at a conference focused on smart-card technology.

At a gathering sponsored by the , a multi-industry booster group for smart card adoption, Clarke said that at the very least, driver's licenses must be made less susceptible to counterfeiting and that incentives for adopting technology such as smart cards should be proposed. But he stopped short of advocating a national ID card.

"We need to convince people that they should use smart cards because they are more convenient," he said. "We are not going to have national ID cards, because there is a large group of American people--a minority, but a large minority--that oppose the idea."

Clark, who has worked in counterterrorism and security roles in the U.S. government for the past 30 years and whose book, "Against All Enemies," criticized President Bush's handling of terrorism, said better securing U.S. citizens' data should be a major initiative for the administration.

The Bush administration has already taken some steps toward adopting secure ID cards. At the end of August it issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which mandates that a secure identification card standard be created and that all federal employees use cards created under the standard.

Clarke said more-effective identification cards, in conjunction with better procedures for confirming identity, could have helped stop the terrorists involved in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, many of whom had valid state driver's licenses.

"Driver's licenses give a false sense of security," he said, adding that "of all the implementation costs of smart cards, the largest portion should be spent on proving that you are you."

Clarke took the Bush Administration to task for not making the United States, and the world, safer from terrorists since the WTC attacks. He pointed to data indicating that there were more terrorist actions by al-Qaida worldwide in the three years since the attacks than in the three years prior. He also claimed that terrorist recruitment and funding had increased.

However, according to "Patterns of Global Terrorism," an annual U.S. State Department report on terrorist attacks, the number of total incidents--including those by other terrorist organizations--has dropped by more than half, from 426 terrorist acts in 2000 to about 200 each for 2002 and 2003.

Clarke also criticized the lack of progress made by the administration in implementing the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. The policy document, released by the Bush administration in February 2003, outlines broad steps the nation should take to protect communications infrastructure and the Internet.

"Almost nothing has been done to implement it," he said. Pointing to the proliferation of online, but not necessarily terrorist, threats, he added, "The state of cyberspace is a state of chaos."

Better identity cards could help banks harden their online services, convincing more people to purchase items and pay bills on the Internet. Open and publicly debated standards could result in secure cards that people would be comfortable using.

If the industry does the job right, the nation stands to benefit, Clarke said.

"We can do all of this and preserve our traditions of civil liberties and privacy and be more secure as a nation," Clarke said.