Hong Kong is between nine months and a year behind in solving the millennium computer bug, according to the CIA. In a rare interview, CIA official Sherry Burns warned that most foreign countries were nowhere near re-programming their computers in time for 2000. The SAR, China and Japan were 'maybe nine months to a year behind in terms of where the work should be', she said. The CIA is surveying the international security risks of the bug. The warning came as Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting Kwong Ki-chi announced that the Government would launch an awareness programme on the bug, also known as the Y2K problem. In the strongest warning from the Hong Kong Government, Mr Kwong said the bug was 'extensive and potentially disastrous if not properly addressed as there are few, if any, areas of modern life that are not touched by information technology'. It was also working with all organisations funded or regulated by the Government to ensure they were bug-free. The Government already had 'a comprehensive rectification and replacement programme', he said. The Y2K problem could cause computer systems throughout the world to crash on January 1, 2000, because they have not been programmed to recognise the '00'. Not only office machines could be hit. Dedicated computers controlling everything from fax machines to nuclear power stations could malfunction, experts have warned. A Hong Kong Productivity Council study last August found that fixing the bug across the SAR would cost more than $1.3 billion, yet two-thirds of companies relying on computers were intending to ignore the problem. Among the looming problems are computers in the Immigration Department, which in March warned of 'chaos' unless it spent $60 million solving the bug problem. The problem would prevent it issuing identity cards and processing travellers at the airport in 2000.