Rosemary Wenchel Thursday became the highest-ranking Defense Department official to visit the new Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, and she brought with her a sobering assessment of the possibility that the United States could face a massive cyber-attack.

"I wouldn't discount it," Wenchel, the Pentagon's director of cyber, information operations and strategic studies, said before touring the center, which began operating three months ago. "It would be foolish not to be concerned." But, she said, the government is spending lots of time and money to plan against such an attack. "A lot of work is being done," she said noting the Pentagon is also concerned about "intrusions," such as botnets - malicious software - creeping into government systems.

A cyber-attack, she said, is different: "Right now, there's a lot of discussions about what would constitute an attack. What does that mean? When would we respond? That is not defined yet."

Wenchel's visit was aimed at familiarizing Defense officials with the new center. Center president Frank Otto said it is negotiating with the Defense Department for an agreement that could be worth $15 million to help small businesses at the center work on homeland security projects.

The center has 16 companies or organizations working on such projects. Otto said there is still room for a few more: "This is still a work in progress."

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