Senator Bob Bennett (from CSIS report 10/28) : LUSENET : Millennium Salons : One Thread

X-From_: Mon Dec 21 23:46:11 1998
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 00:43:42 +0000
From: Ben Levi To:

Subject: Senator Bob Bennett (from CSIS report 10/28)

Dear friends,

For those of you who have not looked at the October Y2K Risk Assessment Committee report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (, here is an excerpt from Senator Bob Bennett that I believe represents the most current and accurate thinking from his committee (Bennett is Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.), who's task it is to find out the best information available on the Y2K problem.

An introduction from Senator Sam Nunn about Bennett accurately states the difficult task we all have before us: "I'm going to quote Senator Bennett when he said in a recent speech, he is 'trying to be Paul Revere without being Chicken Little. Like the British in 1775, the problem is coming. However, the sky has not yet started to fall'."

Here is Bennett's speech:

As I deal with the Y2K thing the old cliche about peeling an onion comes to mind, and the more I get closer to the core of this onion the more my eyes cloud up and the more difficulty I have trying to tell you exactly what's going to happen.

And that of course, is the one question that everybody asks. My fellow senators stop me and say, are we going to be all right? Or, have you solved it yet? Sam can understand this having been Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. It's a little like walking up to Sam and saying, well if there's another war are we going to win it? And he'd say, well, there are a number of considerations before you can answer that question. It's highly complex. Oh, don't give me that; just give me the bottom line. Are we going to be all right or aren't we? The biggest handicap anybody has in trying to come up with an answer to that question or any sub-part of it -- that is, is the power grid going to work, are we going to have telephone service, is the water system going to fail, etc., etc., go down the list -- is the lack of information.

And the one frustrating thing about the Committee that I chair is that as we probe in all of these areas -- and we've now held hearings virtually across the entire spectrum -- we still don't know. People lie to us. Or they refuse to talk to us.

The only people who will come forward and talk to us in a hearing setting are those who feel pretty good about where they are, and therefore you get a more rosy reaction to the testimony that comes from the hearings than you probably should get.

For example, in our hearing on transportation, we discovered, among other things, that one of the major problems with the transportation -- air transportation system -- is going to be airports and their ability to service planes when they land.

So we had an airport director from SEATAC -- Seattle-Tacoma Airport -- and she was terrific, and outlined all of the things that they had done at SEATAC that gave you a sense of some security that gee, when an airplane lands, the baggage handling system which is filled with embedded chips and driven by software, the paperwork -- handling the landing of an airplane and its rerouting and determination elsewhere, and all of the other things relating to handling a passenger plane -- will probably be okay.

Of course, the FAA tells us they're going to be okay. Whether you believe that or not depends on how close you get to it. But the FAA is continuing to insist that they're going to be all right and we'll take that at face value. And you put all this together and the airlines say they're going to be all right. And you say well, we can heave a sigh of relief.

And then she says -- that is, the Director from SEATAC -- we of course, are the best of any air terminal anywhere in the country. And we look behind her and find that number one, she's telling the truth -- she is the best and she still is describing problems she will have -- and number two, there are a whole bunch of air terminals that have no clue of what they're doing. And maybe a plane can take off from SEATAC but where will it land? And when we try to get other air terminals to give us information as to where they are, we either get evasive answers or we get no answers at all. So as I say, the message out of the hearing is, air transportation looks like it's going to be okay.

Here's an example of an air terminal that's going to work. And then we kind of automatically project the best of the best -- which is the kind of witnesses we get -- onto the whole spectrum and say, well, then everything's going to be fine.

I'm trying to see to it that our Committee becomes the repository of accurate information, because the real scary thing about trying to analyze where we are with respect to Y2K is that there is no such repository anywhere. There's no place where you can go to get the answers.

You run into stonewalling from lawyers, and we hope the legislation that we pushed through -- and Sam you won't believe, this but that legislation was introduced in July and signed by the President in September and we had an August recess. How often does that happen?

A lot of folks said we couldn't do it and frankly I wasn't sure we could do it but we did, and I have to give most of the credit on the legislative side to John Kyl, a member of our committee to whom I gave the assignment to work out this legislation. I said John, failure is not an option; just get it done.

He and his staff worked with the Administration and all of the interested groups downtown all through the August recess, and had a product for us to work on in September. And this is a Committee that has no legislative jurisdiction. All we do is recommend.

Fortunately, most of the people who have legislative jurisdiction don't understand the problem at all so they'll take our word for it. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing sometimes.

Anyway, we are hoping that the legislation that we got through will help free up the flow of information from the legal departments that are telling everybody, you can't disclose that, you can't tell people that, you can't let anybody know. And in that kind of an atmosphere as I say, you end up with a situation where nobody knows.

All right. What do I see? I can't tell you, are we going to be all right? I haven't got any idea. I can make some guesses and they may be educated guesses, but until the whole system really goes through this there's no way really, to test it in advance. Everything is so interconnected.

The power grid is going to work. Of course the power grid is going to work. That's based on the assumption that the telephones will work. And the telephone system is going to work, and that's based on the assumption that the power grid is up. And so on, all the way through.

The banking systems are going to work just fine, as long as all the telephones work and as long as there's no brownout problem on the power side. And the health care system is going to work just fine as long as the financial system works.

It is all so inter-connected we're not going to know until we go through it whether it really will work or not.

I see major world problems. Even if this country and the United Kingdom and Australia and Singapore and Canada -- and those are the five countries that are rated as being the best -- with Japan and Saudi Arabia and Germany and France just slightly behind those five but coming along with some others -- the Netherlands.

I can't remember all of those that I would place coming along behind the top five, but well on their way towards solution.

Assume that all of them work, you're still going to have countries -- and I say countries -- that will simply drop off the radar screen on January 1st, with enormous problems. Oh, you can say, they don't have a problem in South America because they're not very computerized anyway. Well, they have telephone systems, and what happens to the possibility of economic development in that country long-term if the telephone systems don't work? If you can't get on an airplane and fly into one of those countries to check on your investments because the air traffic control system won't work. If the power grid goes down -- and every power grid has computer problems connected with it -- who's going to want to invest in a country where they can't be sure that they can get power? And so on. There will be a wealth transfer come out of the year 2000 at least equal to the wealth transfer that was caused by the oil crisis of the '70s when billions of dollars got recycled out of Western Europe into the oil producing states of the Persian Gulf and then back to banks in Switzerland and Arab accounts.

The long-term impact of this thing I think is going to be very significant, and in an era where this country practices foreign policy by CNN, and we make our decisions as to which countries we will intervene in on the basis of which atrocities we see on nightly television.

When CNN cameras can show some starving children in Somalia and the President of the United States then dispatches troops there to try to deal with the problem, what are we going to do when the more compliant countries start getting reports of people starving, dying, water purification problems, lack of power, and so on, in countries all over the world? And the humanitarian requirement that something be done, over and above all of the economic considerations that we're talking about here today -- the more I peel back the onion, the more concerned I become about those kinds of problems.


I hope you find the above useful in your own Y2K awareness process, and I also hope that this kind of data will assist you in bringing awareness about Y2K to your communities and spheres of influence.

Ben -- Ben Levi | Ph:303-546-0679 | Fax: 303-473-0489
2800 Kalmia, #A-327 | Boulder, CO 80301 |

-- Bill (, December 24, 1998

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