Archive for cable disruptions


Posted in Covert Ops, Middle East Watch with tags , , , , on February 7, 2008 by willthomasonline
Underseacable -dailytech.comLike wounds inflicted on any neural network, the unprecedented cutting of four vital undersea communication cables within 10 days has sparked hysteria and concern across the Net. One of the principle companies hit, Flag Telecom has raised its own flags after seeing two of its brand new cables go down for the first time at the same time in the region.

The FALCON cable has been cut twice.

More than 95% of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables. The new trans-Pacific fiber optic cable can carry the equivalent of 100 million simultaneous phone calls.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan and India all experiencing severe problems before rerouting their Internet traffic.

Egypt lost more than half its Internet capacity and did not expect services to be back to normal for at least 10 days.

India’s $11 billion outsourcing industry, which provides a range of services like insurance claims processing and customer support to overseas clients over the Internet not been hurt by the cable disruption due to back-up plans.

Loss of service in Iran sparked an instant Internet freakout as “quick-on-trigger” Slashdot speculated on a comms blackout as prelude to an American attack. In fact, Iran was not greatly affected. “Users in Iran have been able to connect to the internet without any atypical problem,” security tech expert Bruce Schneier wrote. “I manage a Persian-language website with many readers in Iran, so I have both the motivation and the resources to check into this. We’ve seen no decrease in traffic from within Iran. Iran is not disconnected from the Internet!” []

The problem was traced to pings to a single malfunctioning router. The outages in Iran did not exceed 20% of their total number of networks.

In the UAE, Qtel’s loss of capacity has been kept below 40% thanks to alternative routes for transmission after an undersea cable carrying Internet traffic was cut about 50 km off Dubai – the third loss of a line carrying Internet and telephone traffic in three days. Two of the damaged cables carry three-quarters of the international communications between Europe and the Middle East. UAE Internet and telephone services were largely back to normal after it used a terrestrial cable across Saudi Arabia to circumvent the problem. []

The specter of lost ships “dropping anchor” toward seabeds that could not be reached with every bit of chain, rope and bedsheets onboard has been discounted. Egypt checked and found that no ships transited anywhere near the commutations “choke point” where the cables Sea Me We 4 and Europe-Asia are located. The entire region is a restricted area. [International Herald Tribune Feb 4/08]

But loss of service to five separate cables within days cannot be attributed to attrition, accident or seismic activity. Undersea cable owners still won’t speculate on cause of the continuing cable cuts.

If foul play occurred, who could have dunnit?

One guess.

The supersecret National Security Agency – otherwise known as the “No Such Agency” – used to intercept all the information it could handle by eavesdropping on satellite traffic. Today, international information mostly travels through fiber-optic cables containing eight or more strands of light-transmitting fibers.

Still in the business of minding everyone’s business, in early 1989, the NSA sequestered a special research team in their own classified labs at its Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters. Their mission: Find a way to get inside fiber-optic cables and hack the data streaming through them.

Congressional opposition was steamrollered under “national security” concerns. Ten years later, in 1998, Congress allocated funds to modify the nuclear submarine USS Jimmy Carter to accommodate what the Navy calls “advanced technology for naval special warfare and tactical surveillance.” In other words, phone tapping on a terabyte scale.

The five-year, $1 billion retrofit included the ability to tap undersea cables for the NSA. Launched in 2004, Jimmy Carter was equipped with “lock-out capability” to allow divers to leave and enter the sub via a separate undersea chamber. The sub also sported special thrusters and inertial navigation systems, allowing it to hover near the ocean floor for long periods without disrupting its tapping operation.

Other new technology allowed the sub to supply oxygen and power to the undersea chamber deployed and detached from the sub. According to naval intelligence expert, Norman Polmar, a length of cable is brought inside the special chamber, where crewmembers inside “then do the work” while the mother sub hovers nearby.

Assuming that the crew enters the chamber directly from the sub, it could be deployed a depths far beyond the survival capability of divers.

Surreptitiously tap of a live cable carrying 10,000 volts is still tricky, though! “Exposing that electricity to the water, or severing it at all, would shut down the entire system,” Polmar says. Such a shutdown would alert shoreside operators that something was wrong.
There are basically two ways to extract light – and the data it contains – from a fiber optic strands. Data thieves can attempt to bending the fiber so that some of its light shines through its thin polymer cladding for interception. But bending can easily kink the fiber. Splicing secondary fibers into each fiber in the strand is easier. This splits the same data into two identical streams.

But splice the line and you cut off the light. Even a second’s interruption will be noticed by the cable’s operators.

At least that’s the conventional wisdom. One retired NSA optical specialist insists that the NSA has devised a way to splice a fiber without being detected. [ZDNet News May 23/01]

Assuming five breaks in the same region during the same period are not coincidence, we must now descend as deep as a submarine into murky yet tantalizing speculation.

Was the U.S. Navy messing with those cables to place a tap through which information could be extracted – and PsyOps disinformation injected into the data flow?

But if its crew broke one, why didn’t the Navy or the NSA order the operation immediately halted?

Or was this a test aimed at deliberately disrupting communications so that the Navy and NSA could then trace and track the “work arounds” used by affected countries to reroute their data traffic?

If so, does re-routing around cable failures offer many randomly “organic” alternate nodes? Or are backup communications routes limited enough to now have been mapped for future targeting if an aggressor required the shut down of, say, blog, video and Internet links out of an area it meant to attack?

Stay tuned.

If you can.