Ridge, Weldon call for industry to take part in homeland defense

Ridge, Weldon call for industry to take part in homeland defense

Office of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge today called on the IT industry to use their products and expertise to support homeland defense efforts.

Rep. Curt Weldon, who chairs the procurement subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed Ridge's call while decrying the information stovepipes among intelligence agencies.

Ridge, Weldon and several other officials spoke to more than 350 agency and industry representatives on homeland defense subjects at a half-day meeting in Washington.

Ridge said homeland defense involves not just the federal government but a national strategy, and that's why the private sector must engage itself in the effort.

Information warfare is perhaps the greatest threat to the United States, even more than weapons of mass destruction, Weldon said.

'Our intelligence agencies all do a splendid job, but their information is stovepiped,' the Pennsylvania Republican said.

Thirty-two agencies have separate classified information storehouses, Weldon said. He called that 'ridiculous' and said no corporation would stand for that lack of data integration.

Two great challenges facing homeland security officials are instant profiling of fast-developing threats and integrating the nation's state and local civilian response teams, especially in telecommunications, Weldon said.

Weldon also said the method of reporting disease symptoms to state public health officials is manual and too slow. The United States needs a national data center that would protect patient confidentiality but pick out patterns of suspicious symptoms that could be the first warning of a bioterrorist attack.

Private-sector innovators will never have a better opportunity to pitch their ideas to the government, Weldon said, adding, "Take this city by the neck and shake it."

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