Cybersecurity may be winner despite Britain's cuts

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2010 5:13 PM
Cybersecurity may be winner despite Britain's cuts

Britain unveils a package of spending cuts this week _ the harshest since World War II _ but counterterrorism and cyber attack prevention were among areas expected to get funding boosts.

Terrorism and cyber warfare have been identified as the two most serious threats facing Britain, and a higher priority than preparing for another international military conflict, according to Britain's national security strategy _ a detailed plan that spelled out the country's security priorities Monday.

The announcement came just days after the head of Britain's eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, warned of the threat that cyber attacks pose to the country's computer infrastructure. Iain Lobban said 20,000 malicious e-mails had been detected on government networks each month, and significant disruption had already been caused by electronic worms.

Preventing another attack like the 2005 suicide bombings that killed 52 London commuters was also a top priority. U.S. and British intelligence officials say a credible European terror plot is still active and being monitored.

"While military spending on big ticket items like jets and tanks will probably be decreased, it is true that we will likely see spending hikes in cyber attack and terror prevention," said a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was familiar with the spending cuts but was not authorized to speak to the media.

Monday's strategy set the scene for Tuesday's Strategic Defense and Security Review, which will detail areas to be sacrificed to achieve the 7 percent to 8 percent savings demanded by Britain's treasury.

Overall spending cuts will be announced Wednesday where government ministries are likely to see their budgets reduced by up to 25 percent over four years _ far more than any other British administration since World War II has attempted, even under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he spoke by telephone to President Barack Obama on Monday, assuring him that Britain remains committed to meeting its responsibilities in NATO. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern last week about the impact of British budget cuts on NATO, amid fears that reduced military spending would affect London's relationship with Washington.

Cameron told Obama the U.K. would remain a "first rate military power and a robust ally of the United States," his office said.

Home Office Secretary Theresa May said Monday efficiencies were possible without sacrificing security.

Another British official who was also aware of the cuts but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his job, said staff reorganization had already provided some savings.

Britain's cuts have raised questions of how it will be seen on the world stage, and more specifically what it means to its participation in the NATO-led military operations in such places as Afghanistan.

Funding was also expected to be increased for mobile military units that have intelligence gathering capabilities and units within Britain where surveillance techniques have thwarted past terror plots.

"We have every reason to believe that ... that there might actually be an increase in funding for cyber protection and all of the necessary anti-terrorism resources," said Louis Susman, U.S. ambassador to Britain.

Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg _ in a joint introduction to the strategy _ said Britain needed a "radical transformation" in its organization of national security.

"This strategy is about gearing Britain up for this new age of uncertainty _ weighing up the threats we face and preparing to deal with them," they said.

Treasury chief George Osborne will announce details of more than 80 billion pounds ($128 billion) in cuts he says are necessary to rein in Britain's 156-billion-pound deficit and reduce its huge debt.

Daniel Benjamin, the U.S. counterterrorism coordinator, said such cuts were the reality of the times.

"We're all living in a period of great austerity _ my own department at home is faced with the threat of significant budget cuts," Benjamin said.

"But we have great understanding of what all of our partners are going through in order to get our financial houses in order, and we have a high degree of confidence that we have learned a lot and that our cooperation _ as the military would say _ is a 'force multiplier' and that there are efficiencies that can be found."

Other major threats listed by the review included a large scale accident or natural hazard such as pandemic flu and an international military crisis that could involve the U.K, and its allies.

Lesser possible threats included the threat another state will use weapons of mass destruction or that there would be a severe disruption to information received or transmitted by satellites. A conventional military attack on the UK is rated only as a "tier three" priority.

Other risks include an attack on a NATO or European Union member or an overseas territory. The disruption of food or mineral supplies is also listed as a risk.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday the country would remain a formidable player within the NATO alliance, maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent, strong intelligence agencies and deployable military forces.

"We will make sure this country is properly defended, that we continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent, formidable intelligence agencies, highly deployable armed forces so we will remain a global player," Hague told Sky News.