Amazing for them to even offer up an opinion. --MW CIA says many unprepared for Millennium glitch WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many countries appear ill prepared for the disruption to basic services that the Year 2000 computer glitch may cause, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency office studying the issue said Tuesday. ``We're concerned about the potential disruption of power grids, telecommunications and banking services'' among other possible fallout, especially in countries already torn by political tensions, Sherry Burns said. In an interview with Reuters, she said CIA systems engineers and intelligence analysts were focusing beyond the technical problem of reprogramming computers to recognize dates when the Millennium dawns on Jan. 1, 2000. Instead, the spy agency has begun to collect and analyze information on preparations for the ``social, political and economic tumult'' that could flow from interruptions of essential services in some fragile societies. Millions of computers and embedded chips -- some central to financial markets, air traffic control systems and even running elevators and heating systems in office buildings -- cannot distinguish between 1900 and 2000 because years have been expressed in two-digit shorthand in old programming. The glitch, known as the Y2K problem, may trigger widespread disruptions because not all computers will be fixed by Dec. 31, 1999. With the world's computer networks largely linked, the use of data that has been converted to the new millennium standard improperly -- or not converted at all -- could infect newly reprogrammed systems, Burns said. According to the CIA assessment, the threat of turmoil is greatest among those unaware of the key role that bits and bytes play in providing essential services and bringing goods to markets, even in less developed countries. ``There is very little realization that there will be disruption'' of basic services as some computers shut down or go haywire, even among business leaders, Burns said. ``As you start getting out into the population, I think most people are again assuming that things are going to operate the way they always have,'' she said. ``That is not going to be the case.'' Many governments are ``unprepared for what could potentially be some fairly tough circumstances,'' she added. In an initial effort to gauge preparations, the CIA received a wide range of feedback last year, not all of it very encouraging, Burns said. One overseas contact said his country would be safe because it used a ``different calendar.'' Others acknowledged the issue was not on their radar scope. Someone from a Middle Eastern country told the CIA not to worry about the millennium ``bug.'' ``When we see it, we'll spray for it,'' Burns paraphrased that source as saying. She said Canada, Britain and Australia were about six months behind the United States in preparing their systems for the switch, and this was the group in the best shape. The rest of Western Europe, led by the Scandinavians, came next, six to nine months behind the United States. Europe's job is compounded by the need to reprogram millions of computers for next January's introduction in 11 countries of the euro, the new unified currency. The CIA felt Europe probably would be unable to complete both reprogramming jobs ``effectively'' in time, Burns said. Japan, China, Hong Kong and most other Pacific Rim countries were ``maybe nine months to a year behind in terms of where the work should be,'' Burns said. She put Russia in the same category. Latin America was ``way behind the power curve,'' added Burns, who reports to CIA Chief Information Officer John Dahms, the person responsible for maintenance of information systems. As part of the agency's increased interest in the Y2K program, some CIA employees have been briefed on preparing themselves individually for potential fallout. They were being advised to pay their bills early in December 1999 to avoid possible processing problems, keep cash on hand in case automatic teller machines failed and lay in extra blankets in case of a blackout on a cold New Year's Eve night, Burns said.
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