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November 20, 2001
Plan for government-only computer network called 'colossal mistake'
By Liza Porteus, National Journal's Technology Daily
As the Wednesday deadline for industry suggestions on the creation of a
government telecommunications network looms, some observers are calling
the idea the result of bad politicking and inexperienced policymakers
assuming too much of a technological role.
The proposal for a secure government intranet dubbed Govnet "reeks of
politics," is "counterintuitive" to an effective response to the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks and is, overall, "a bad, bad thing," said Grant
Holcomb, a Marine in the Persian Gulf War. "I watched more of my Marines
die because we couldn't communicate. ... I've spent the last 11 years
making sure that [communication] can happen."
Holcomb, the chief technology officer for TeraGlobal, which sells
software for real-time collaboration and communication over computer
networks, said the government's idea to create a national, secure
communication system is good, but its requirements will isolate the
40-some agencies that address homeland security and will deny
information to the "first responders" who need access to information
At the request of Richard Clarke, President Bush's cybersecurity adviser
and a Govnet proponent, the General Services Administration on Oct. 10
asked companies to pitch their ideas, and the deadline for comments is
Govnet would operate on a private network shared by government agencies
and authorized users only, with no interconnections to the Internet or
other public or private networks. But Holcomb and others say the closed
network would only further isolate officials, such as local police and
hospitals, who need access to federal information.
"What really needs to be done is open up the information flow," Holcomb
said. "People's lives are at stake here."
He said the Defense Department's Global Information Grid could serve as
an example for opening a national, secure network to authorized users.
The grid offers a globally interconnected, interoperable, secure system
to support warfighters, Defense personnel, policymakers, the
intelligence community and other non-Defense users involved in relevant
TeraGlobal, meanwhile, offers a similar virtual network for private
companies and government entities that has the blessing of industry
representatives such as Vint Cerf, considered the founder of the
Internet and now a top executive at WorldCom.
Defense officials argue that there is "no way" they can coordinate and
execute homeland security missions if the government closes its network.
"This 'Maginot Line' approach they seem intent on pursuing is just going
about things all wrong and would be a colossal mistake," according to
one Defense official's e-mail correspondence.
Holcomb added that the technology for a secure network already exists,
but the problem is that the people making the policy are not the
"You would actually boost the economy by letting the same network be
always on and always available" for various uses such as tracking
potential terrorists, Holcomb said. "Govnet's political answer is not
yet a viable answer, at least not with the [current] requirements."
Holcomb said Defense's Joint Forces Command is planning to meet with GSA
on Govnet. GSA did not return phone calls as of Tuesday afternoon.
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