WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A crisis management firm advised by an ex-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff predicted Wednesday an upsurge in guerrilla violence against U.S. targets to mark the dawning of the year 2000.
The consulting firm, which includes several big names in the U.S. counterterrorism world, also predicted disruptions from doomsday cults and unstable people subject to a "millennium madness" that it says may be coming.
"Whether by bombing a jetliner or attacking crowds in (New York's) Times Square, it's almost certain the Year 2000 will be ushered in with a major terrorist attack," said Neil Livingstone of GlobalOptions, as the Washington company is called.
"We have every reason to believe that people are going to try to mark that date," added Livingstone, an author and commentator on security issues who is the firm's chief executive officer.
He referred to cults, stressed-out workers and "crazies" subject to going beserk in what he said would be a "frenzy" of apocalyptic predictions leading to the date rollover.
Admiral William Crowe, head of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, said he shared the fear that guerrillas may exploit any security lapses related to the so-called Year 2000 computer glitch.
"I think the millennium is going to usher in a period of intensive activity," said Crowe, the U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1994 to 1997. "We're going to see more terrorist acts against United States' interests."
Livingstone and Crowe spoke to Reuters in separate telephone interviews. Each rejected a suggestion that their predictions might be tweaked to bring in business to the security consulting firm.
Crowe cited his findings as chairman of twin review boards named by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to investigate the August 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Referring to the displays of overwhelming high-tech U.S. military prowess during the Gulf War and in Kosovo, he said foes of the United States were increasingly likely to resort to "terrorism."
"They either hurt us in this fashion or they don't hurt us at all," he said. The embassy review boards reported on January 8 that "there is every likelihood that there will be further large bomb and other kinds of attacks" on U.S. targets.
Crowe is a senior advisor to GlobalOptions. The company was releasing a "white paper" at a news conference Thursday to publicize its concerns about what it calls the largely overlooked "other Y2K problem."
Crowe, who said he gets no salary from the firm, said he had affiliated himself because of concerns stemming from his embassy bombing investigations. The firm's intelligence and investigations work is headed by Robert Quigley, a former chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigations' Bomb Data Center. Gary Stubblefield, a former Navy SEAL special forces commander, heads GlobalOptions' crisis management.
Livingstone, author of America the Vulnerable among other books, faulted U.S. authorities for allegedly failing to prepare the public for disruptions that may occur regardless of how computers and electronic device cope with dates after Jan. 1, 2000.
"Not only is business continuity going to be a problem, but millenium madness may also include employees going `postal' and taking hostages or shooting up their workplaces," he said.
Jack Gribben, a spokesman for the President's Council on Year 2000 conversion, said U.S. authorities have stressed all along that systems operators should expect "mischief" or worse timed to coincide with the date rollover.
"But it is also the case that people operating systems will be on the lookout for anything abnormal," he said. "And in many ways, Jan. 1, 2000 would be the worst time for someone to try to sabotage or to otherwise break into a system."
"They're are going to be a lot of people ... monitoring systems more closely than perhaps at any other time," he said.
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