Washington After one day on the job, the president's cyberspace security adviser asked computer companies Wednesday to help design a new secure telecommunications network for government use.
Richard Clarke said he wants the network, called GOVNET, to be separate from the Internet to keep it safe from hackers or terrorists.
Government agencies would use GOVNET for voice and data communications, and possibly for videoconferences presidential advisers have used since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Clarke said in an interview that the idea came from the many virus and other Internet attacks on government sites over the past several years. He said about 90 percent of the fiber-optic cabling in the country is unused.
"That ought to mean that it is available cheaply," Clarke said. "Therefore we thought that now is the time to ask industry how much it would cost to do a real private network."
The nation's counterterrorism chief for more than a decade, Clarke has pressed private industry to increase computer security by improving its own products.
From his previous post at the National Security Council, he warned that America's fledgling Internet was vulnerable to a "digital Pearl Harbor" that could badly disrupt communications.
Those warnings were echoed Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where experts told Congress that part of the problem is that current computer systems were not designed with security in mind.
The government relies on all types of technology companies for personal computer software to public telephone networks.
Recent independent reviews have shown computers at many government agencies are open to a hacker attack. In theory, GOVNET would be impervious to outside assault particularly from lone young hackers, the most common Internet attacker.