Sunday, May 6, 2001

Proceed cautiously
with missile shield

The issue: President Bush has
proposed building a shield to defend the nation
against ballistic missiles armed with nuclear,
chemical or biological warheads.

IN AN ADDRESS to a sympathetic audience at the National Defense University in Washington last week, the president proposed a national missile defense plan, suggested that the nation shrink its nuclear arsenal, and hinted that the U.S. would withdraw from an anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia.

The president and the Congress should proceed, but with the utmost care to make sure the technology works and that the project does not turn into a pork barrel. Hawaii's delegation in Congress would do well to support the president, all the while casting skeptical eyes at each stage of the plan.

Since the invention of the war chariot in 1800 B.C., the history of weaponry has been a constant if uneven race between offensive and defensive arms at ever-greater ranges and with increasing lethality. The ballistic missile of the second half of the 20th Century, once launched, has been unstoppable over intercontinental distances. The proposed defense is but the latest and largest in a competition that is four millennia old.

President Ronald Reagan proposed a similar defense in March, 1983, that was clearly ahead of its time. The Joint Chiefs of Staff advised Reagan in the strongest terms that the technology was far from ready and urged him not to announce it in public. The president plunged ahead, without any political preparation, and was promptly scorned by many, including Senator Edward Kennedy, who gave the scheme the derisive label of "Star Wars," after a popular science-fiction movie.

In marked contrast, President Bush discussed missile defenses during the election campaign last year, his advisers talked about it openly during the transition and after they took office, and Bush himself called several foreign leaders to apprise them of his plan before he announced it. Nobody should have been surprised.

As expected, the Chinese, who have a few missiles that could reach the United States, and the North Koreans, who may have them soon, complained bitterly about the defensive plan, asserting that it would trigger an arms race. If they and the rogue nations with nuclear arms want to prevent the U.S. from building missile defenses, their strategy would be simple: Stop building missiles.

The president's opponents have assailed his suggestion that the U.S. might withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1972. Treaties, however, are not encased in concrete and the U.S., by the provisions of the treaty itself, is permitted to withdraw on six months notice. Plenty of treaties in the past, having outlived their rationale, have been allowed to lapse or have been abrogated. As the president said: "This treaty does not recognize the present or point us to the future. It enshrines the past."

THE REAL DANGER in the president's plan lies not abroad but here at home where it could easily be turned into a jobs program. Each military service will gear up to grab the lead in building this system, or at least to have a large share of the action, for which read "budget" or "money."

The services will be backed by allies in the defense industry and, in turn, by members of Congress. A Congressman who might be skeptical about the technology or strategy of the plan will turn on a dime when he or she finds out that the Galactic Widget Company could get a lucrative contract back home.

Ten years after the Cold War, the U.S. has three alternatives in nuclear arms. It could disarm, which is not worth considering. It could continue MAD, or mutual assured destruction, the present strategy in which only the threat of retaliation stays the hand of a potential aggressor. Or the nation could build a shield to protect itself and trim the need for the large nuclear arsenal of yesteryear.

The vote here is for option three.

Laws policing
Internet may be

The issue: Governor Cayetano has
signed a new law specifying certain acts on the
Internet as crimes to be prosecuted by the state.

CYBERSPACE has opened fresh opportunities for numerous endeavors, one of which is crime in the form of fraud, pornography, pedophilia and, increasingly, stalking. Governor Cayetano has signed into law a statute criminalizing various activities over the Internet, but the new law raises questions about the usefulness of laws that duplicate those already on the books.

Crimes under existing law -- state or federal -- don't escape prosecution via the Internet. When Matthew Thomas warned President Clinton by e-mail in April 1994 that he was going to "come to Washington and blow your little head off,' he was arrested for threatening the president, and he pleaded guilty two months later. Espionage laws have been used to prosecute security violations committed using the new technology. The Internet is merely a medium through which criminal acts can be committed.

That has not kept Congress and various state legislatures from adopting laws making certain unlawful acts doubly illegal when committed via the Internet, beginning with the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984. Fraud committed across the Internet comes under the jurisdiction of federal wire fraud statutes.

Fraud committed across the Internet is now a state crime as well, as is the modern version of what previously was known as commercial trespass. In the computer age, that means sneaking into someone else's computer system to obtain information for private gain. A federal judge in California a year ago applied the ancient law of trespass to the Internet in a civil case.

The new law criminalizes computer hacking, or intentionally damaging someone else's computer system, a federal crime that has been prosecuted aggressively. It addition, it is a crime to send messages via the Internet aimed at leading to the violation of existing laws against custodial interference, sexual assault, child abuse and promoting pornography to children.

The law expanding on computer crimes called for a commission to review its implementation. If the commission finds that the new law has been useful in prosecuting crimes unique to the new technology in ways that federal law would have been inadequate, the Legislature will not have wasted its time.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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