Clinton Prepares for Bio- and Cyber-Terrorism

President Clinton intends to ask Congress for a big chunk of cash--about $2.85 billion--to fight terrorist threats to the U.S. civilian population. The plan, revealed today at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., includes new funding for some areas of biomedicine and computer science. It is part of Clinton's budget request for 2000, to be submitted to Congress on 1 February.

Flanked by National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and Nobelist Joshua Lederberg (a microbiologist and former president of The Rockefeller University), Clinton said that he has been "nagging" his staff "for the better part of 6 years" about the need to prepare for bioterrorism. His worries gained credibility last year, he added, when they were echoed by a group of scientists brought together by Lederberg. After that meeting, the president said, "I had experts to cite ... and nobody thought I was just reading too many novels late at night."

Clinton is asking for $1.46 billion next year to beef up "critical infrastructure protection and computer security," which Clinton said is 40% more than the government now spends. Most of the money would go to applied research by the Department of Defense. About $3 million would fund new scholarships to create a "cyber-corps" of highly skilled computer technicians who can respond quickly to attacks on networks anywhere.

In addition, the Administration would like $1.39 billion (an increase of 8% over 1999) for "domestic preparedness" projects to defend against weapons of mass destruction. Among the fields targeted for support are vaccine development ($30 million); research on faster diagnostics, antimicrobial agents, and genomic studies of pathogens at the National Institutes of Health ($24 million); new product regulatory review at the Food and Drug Administration ($13 million); and public health surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($86 million).

Congress is likely to increase Clinton's proposed antiterrorism budget, says Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA). Weldon, chair of the House armed services subcommittee on research, says he has been "hammering" on the Administration to fund civilian defense programs for years. "While I welcome the statement by the president," Weldon says, "it's about time the White House got on this bandwagon."