By Jay Lyman,

Part of the NewsFactor Network

September 28, 2001

Odigo vice president of marketing Alex Diamandis told NewsFactor that two people at Odigo’s Israeli offices received instant messages regarding the terrorist attacks on the U.S. about two hours before they happened.

Citing the severe stress on the nation’s communications and technology infrastructure brought by the September 11th terrorist attacks, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is proposing a National Guard-style corps of volunteer information-technology professionals and equipment to be ready for trouble.

Wyden, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, announced his proposed tech corps on the Senate floor Wednesday and is planning to meet with government agencies and technology firms next week to promote the idea.

“As we seek to prevent future disasters, we must still prepare to meet them,” Wyden told the other senators.

“I believe the technology professionals of this nation, like all Americans, are ready to answer the call and do their part,” Wyden said. “The formation of a National Emergency Technology Guard will give them that chance and ensure greater safety and stability for our communities and our citizens in the coming days.”

Instant-Message Warnings

While Wyden’s proposed technology corps will focus on dealing with a natural disaster or attack after it happens, executives at Odigo, an instant messaging company in Israel, said that there was advanced warning of the recent terrorist attacks via IMs to employees.

Odigo vice president of marketing Alex Diamandis told NewsFactor that two people at Odigo’s Israeli offices received instant messages regarding the attacks about two hours before they happened.

While Diamandis said he could not discuss the nature or content of the messages, Diamandis said that Israeli and U.S. officials were notified and that investigators interviewed Odigo employees a day or two after the attacks.

Crippling Effect

Meanwhile, Wyden, who has planned hearings on the matter for the science subcommittee next week, said the September 11th attacks on U.S. airliners and landmarks “severely challenged” the communications infrastructure of New York, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country.

“Wireless telephone networks were severely overloaded and crashed,” Wyden said. “Wireless Internet access was suspended. Telephone lines were cut and communications for people literally in communities around the East Coast of the United States came to a standstill.”

Wyden added: “Even immediate communications needs of rescue workers, victims, families and aid groups were a struggle to coordinate. The New York Times drew a conclusion that I strongly agree with: there need to be new ways to set up emergency information systems.”

Bolstering Tech Readiness

Wyden spokeswoman Lisa Raasch told NewsFactor Network the idea is still being fleshed out, but that the senator had already met with some heads of the high-tech industry, adding that she understood the idea had been “quite well received.”

“The idea is that especially when communication is critical to rescue and response, we should make sure there is a reliable backbone and infrastructure there so the important things that need to be done, can be done,” Raasch said.

A statement from Wyden said a national volunteer organization of trained and well-coordinated units of IT professionals from leading technology companies ought to be in a position to stand ready with designated computers, satellite dishes, wireless communicators and other equipment to quickly re-create and repair compromised communications and technology infrastructures.

Calling on Companies

Raasch told NewsFactor that Wyden planned to meet with a number of companies including Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and AOL (NYSE: AOL) to recruit support for the National Emergency Technology (NET) Guard.

“It is a volunteer notion in as much as companies would be asked to provide resources both in equipment and personnel,” she said.

Wyden’s proposal comes as a number of security experts, federal officials and lawmakers warn that the U.S. and its infrastructure are not prepared for a cyber attack. Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) technology group director Rich Pethia testified Wednesday before U.S. House committee members, telling them the spread of the Nimda computer virus demonstrates how vulnerable the Internet and technology infrastructure is to attack.

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