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CNN Today

Y2K Computer Bug Bites the Defense Department

Aired January 5, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Turns out, the Y2K computer bug bit the Defense Department. The Pentagon says the glitch briefly blinded some U.S. spy satellites, temporarily hampering efforts to monitor potential terrorist threats against the U.S.

We get the story from CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned a U.S. spy satellite system, disabled for several hours by a Y2K computer glitch Friday, was monitoring potential terrorist threats around the world. The unexpected failure at a U.S.- based ground station came at the precise time, during New Year's celebrations, when the United States was on heightened alert for possible terrorist attack.

JOHN HAMRE, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: It was a significant event, but fortunately it had insignificant consequences.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says, after a few hours, the National Reconnaissance Office restored the capability to process photographs like these taken of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden's headquarters in Afghanistan in 1998. Officials would not disclose what the satellites were observing this time, but said the system operated at a diminished capacity, until late Sunday. Other intelligence gathering systems monitoring terrorism kept working.

The super-secret nature of the satellites and their sensitive counterterrorism mission was offered as one explanation for the Pentagon's cautious handling of the information, which was reported first by CNN seven hours after the fact.

HAMRE: I don't personally believe I owe an explanation for not telling people forthrightly we had a problem with a reconnaissance system. I don't think I would have told you that at the time until I knew I had a fix. I honestly think, forgive me for being disrespectful, but if it's trying to respect your right to file a story and my responsibility to protect the country, I'm going to protect the country.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The Pentagon argues the loss of the satellite system was really a Y2K success story, because contingency plans had technicians standing by to fix it right away.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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