Frank Gaffney is a specialist in military affairs. He writes for conservative publications.
He has taken the position that y2k may threaten the social order. This is as strong as statement as I have heard from any conservative commentator. This indicates that the tide is turning, at least on the fringes of public awareness. When analysts begin using the language of social breakdown, they have begun to articulate the position I have been maintaining since late 1996. He uses language that has previously been confined to my Web site and others that have followed my lead: "potential catastrophe," "possibly apocalyptic effects."
He concludes: "It is now too late to avoid altogether the myriad, damaging effects of the Millennium Bug on the United States, its people and its interests. All that can realistically be hoped for now is that a form of triage can be effected so as to reduce somewhat the possibly apocalyptic effects that will otherwise be experienced."
This approach to interpreting y2k will escalate from now on. My Web site has moved from "ignored" (early 1997) to "crackpot" (late 1997) to "extreme" (early 1998) to "alarming" (this has now begun). It will move to "controversial" (late 1998) to "comprehensive" (early 1999) to "widely quoted" (mid-1999) to . . . nothing (2000).
Gaffney points out that Vice President Gore is silent on the Year 2000 issue. This is a mistake, he says. How big a mistake will depend on how severe the y2k crisis is.
His May 1 article was published by the Center for Security Affairs. It was then published in the WASHINGTON TIMES (May 5).
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Publications of the Casey Institute of the Center for Security Policy No. 98-C 76
PERSPECTIVE 1 May 1998
Where's Al? The Veep Is Missing in Action on the 'Y2K' Crisis
(Washington, D.C.): Public awareness is inexorably growing about the magnitude of the danger posed to the U.S. economy, national security and perhaps social order by the looming computer meltdown known alternatively as the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem or the "Millennium Bug." For example, in recent days, the Y2K issue has featured prominently in Newsweek Magazine and on the front-page of the Washington Post. The U.S. Senate has felt sufficiently concerned to take the extraordinary step of establishing a Special Committee to provide oversight in this area. Curiously missing in all of this, however, is one man: Vice President Al Gore.
What makes Mr. Gore's absence curious is not just his determination -- as the 2000 campaign for the Presidency gets underway -- to associate himself with every cause, no matter how trivial, that demonstrates his indispensability and leadership (or at least offers the prospect of publicity). More extraordinary, still, is the fact that the Vice President has made his technology matters generally and computer technology in particular his personal responsibility within the Clinton Administration.
Recall, that it has been Al Gore who has assiduously touted the power of the Internet and who has, most recently championed the development of the Net's second generation. It has been Al Gore who wants to hardwire every library, put computers in every classroom and otherwise assure equal opportunity access to the Internet. It has been Al Gore who has cast himself as a prime-mover behind the improved use of computer technologies to reinvent government, making it more efficient and productive, while (purportedly) shrinking its size and costs.
How could it be, therefore, that the Administration's self-appointed Computer-Nerd-in-Chief is nowhere to be seen on what is, indisputably, the biggest information technology challenge of the 20th Century and the problem that threatens to blow up, at least temporarily, the bridge to the 21st? Three possible explanations come to mind:
On His Watch
The first possible explanation for the Veep's invisibility on the Y2K problem is that the United States finds itself in this mess in no small measure because of an absence of leadership on his part over the past five years. A computer glitch that requires history's most massive software maintenance effort (assessment, reprogramming and testing) and hardware replacement (involving potentially billions of non-Y2K compliant "imbedded" microprocessors and chips) initiative would have been a relatively minor problem in 1993 or 1994 or 1995. Now, with roughly 600 days left before 1 January 2000, it is a literally insurmountable one.
Worse yet, as Jim Lord -- a respected author and newsletter-publisher on the Millennium Bug -- has pointed out, we do not even have until the Year 2000 before the effects of the Y2K crisis will begin to become evident. Consider the following: On 1 February 1999, major American companies will begin their Fiscal Years 2000. New York State will do so on 1 April. 46 other states will enter theirs on 1 July. And, of course, the federal government will begin FY00 on 1 October 1999.
While this change of date will not trigger the Y2K problem for imbedded processors and calendar date-sensitive data, it can precipitate disruptions involving untold millions of lines of code and related financial transactions. And, if historical experience is any guide, every 100 lines of code manually "corrected" will introduce seven new errors. Time compression and programmer overload may make the actual human error rate far higher in this period. The result could be cascading crises in the U.S. economy, with ripple effects for both the government and private sectors -- and every American.
Al Gore: Luddite
All too evident in Al Gore's tendentious 1992 tome, Earth in the Balance, is a recurrent theme: Advanced technology is an enemy of the planet, not its friend -- a remarkable stance for someone who professes to be a champion of such technology. According to Mr. Gore's ideology, though, the environment must be spared technologies' deleterious effects at all costs, and, wherever necessary, the United States must take the lead in bearing those costs.
This sentiment -- which the Vice President shares with Luddites in the environmental, anti-nuclear and arms control movements -- clearly animates the Kyoto Protocol on the Global Climate Change, a treaty made possible by Al Gore's personal intervention and diktat.(1) It also is responsible for engendering many of the concerns being expressed by those in Congress and the electorate about that Protocol's likely adverse effect on U.S. economic growth and quality of life.
The Kyoto treaty's impact, however, will almost certainly pale by comparison with that of the Millennium Bug. This will be particularly true if, for example, as a result of anticipated concerns about safety, the Nation's nuclear reactors are taken off-line before the Century changes. The U.S. power grid could, as a result, be denied some 20 percent of its electricity -- as much as 40% on the East Coast. This could be disastrous in the coldest months of the year, even if the rest of the grid's electrical supplies (generated by oil-fired, hydrothermal, solar or wind-powered systems) are not disrupted. Unfortunately, Y2K experts warn that such disruptions should, in fact, be anticipated. Could Al Gore actually believe this would be good for the environment, and therefore for the rest of us?
An Election Year Gambit
The most insidious explanation -- but perhaps the most likely -- for why Mr. Gore and, for that matter, the rest of the Clinton Administration are not grappling with the Y2K crisis even now is that they don't want to burst the bubble of economic good-feeling that may help the Vice President's party (and his future electoral base) in the 1998 elections. Maybe the Veep is calculating that he can start talking about the coming potential catastrophe after 3 November; after all, there will still be another thirteen months before H-Hour, plenty of time to demonstrate long-deferred leadership.
Such a view is wrong, dead wrong. Even if the witching-hour were midnight on 1 January 2000, there is already too little time to take the sort of wholesale corrective action so clearly needed. Computer experts emphasize that fully 50% of the task involved in making computer systems Y2K-compliant is the testing phase. It will take months, if not more than a year, fully to validate the "fixes" made to complex computer systems so as to ensure that they -- and the computers with which they share data -- are actually Millennium-compliant.
Naturally, if it turns out that early- or mid-1999 is when Y2K meltdowns begin to occur, the Clinton-Gore Administration's deliberate down-playing of the problem(2) for the next six-months will greatly compound its malfeasance in this area over the previous sixty-four months. As Y2K authority Jim Lord has observed, every passing day in which the U.S. government fails to warn the public about the threat posed by the Millennium Bug -- to say nothing of, by its example of fecklessness and inactivity, discouraging the private sector from taking needed corrective actions -- thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses in this country are going to be seriously (and perhaps fatally) affected.
The Bottom Line
It is now too late to avoid altogether the myriad, damaging effects of the Millennium Bug on the United States, its people and its interests. All that can realistically be hoped for now is that a form of triage can be effected so as to reduce somewhat the possibly apocalyptic effects that will otherwise be experienced. Damage-limitation will require both corrective actions where they can still be taken (i.e., with respect to priority systems associated with national security, public safety and critical national infrastructure) and rigorous contingency planning for coping with the consequences of having not adopted those and other measures earlier on. Even this program will require Manhattan Project level priority and resources.(3)
The only hope, in turn, that such a damage-limitation strategy will be implemented is that the Nation's top leaders, starting with the President and Vice President, make clear at once the peril looming before us. Anything less than the most vigorous, consistent and convincing use of the bully pulpit entrusted to them in the all-too-few months remaining will add exponentially to the substantial responsibility Mr. Gore and his colleagues will bear for this utterly avoidable computer-driven catastrophe.