Archive for undersea cables


Posted in Covert Ops, Middle East Watch with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2008 by willthomasonline

Iran’s long and nervously awaited oil bourse is once again set to open” imminently”. Iran’s Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari has just told the world press, “All preparations have been made to launch the bourse; it will open during the Ten-Day Dawn.”

The ceremonies, which mark the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, traditionally take place between February 1 and 11.

Many financial wizards expect that when the country holding one of the world’s largest remaining oil reserves begins demanding euros instead of dollars for its “black gold”, the greenback could crash dive. It’s a metaphor that brings to mind USS Jimmy Carter, a specially retrofitted U.S. nuclear submarine modified to tap into undersea fiber-optic cables that carry most of the Middle East’s telephone and Internet traffic. (See my previous blog, “Did Secret Sub Sever Cables?”) [MK/JG/RE/HAR, Iran Press TV, Energy Bulletin Feb 3/08]

Chris Cook, former director of the International Petroleum Exchange, says that oil is not priced in dollars.

Dollars are priced in oil.

“This is eerie,” comments the Energy Bulletin.

And dangerous. The U.S. economy’s weakness is that it is consumption and deficit based. “If proceeds from oil sales are not being invested in U.S. Treasury Bonds or other U.S. assets” – now increasingly seen by investors as liabilities – “then it makes it that much more difficult for the dollar to avoid further declines”, Cook comments. [Energy Bulletin Feb 3/08]

He should know. His Wimpole Consortium originated and drew up the blueprints for the Iran oil Bourse. Though Cook maintains, “The currency of the IOB contracts was never a consideration,” the Energy Bulletin notes that the Iranian Bourse “cuts out the dollar as a currency in which to trade oil. “


The bourse’s launch has been again for years as three successive Iranian oil ministry officials failed to find hard-line political backing for a move that must have frightened the mullahs, who had seen Iraq brutally seized by invading U.S. troops soon after Saddam Hussein switched his country’s oil trading currency from dollars to euros.

Many observers see the Bush administration’s constant threats to attack Iran as intimidation aimed at scuttling the ever-impending oil bourse.

But when Chris Cook wrote directly to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, a drastic shake up of the Oil Ministry followed.

Once again, with his unfailing knack for turning opportunities into disaster, GW Bush had done it to Americans by using the U.S. Treasury Department to pressure international businesses to leave Iran. After the German Deutsche Bank’s closed its Teheran office, Treasury warned more than 40 other banks it would “follow a strict interpretation of U.S. and United Nations restrictions on doing business with Tehran.”

The Treasury Department also “bullied” two Iranian banks – Sepah and Saderat – “barring them access to the U.S. financial system for dollar transactions through third-party banks,” the Financial Times reported.

The highly controversial sanctions against Iran only slightly inconvenienced the regime, which simply switched from German and Swiss banks to Far Eastern banks, who were happy to take their business.

But as many predicted, the ill-considered move did succeed in sparking severe blowback.

The bourse was fast-tracked.

Though global oil prices are determined by supply and demand, Cook believes that the new Iranian Oil Bourse will “remove much of the current price volatility caused by a toxic combination of speculation by hedge funds and market manipulation by intermediary traders,” the Energy Bulletin reports.


“The IOB’s scrapping the dollar, if not practically then psychologically is going to significantly embody a counterweight to dollar domination of the oil markets.”

If it works.

And there’s the rub-a-dub-dub.

Because the Iranian Oil Bourse for trading Middle East oil in euros (and other currencies) is Internet-dependent.

“The bourse will be trading on a concept that is new in the oil markets but which is already operating in other fields,” the Energy Bulletin explains. Just as in South America, where participating countries barter locally produced raw materials and for Venezuela’s oil, buyers and sellers in the Middle East and beyond will “connect via the Internet on a peer to peer market place.”

And this means…

“There won’t be any trading intermediaries such as investment banks as middlemen that are making hefty profits.”

The communications chokepoint of the vital undersea cable network serving the new Oil Bourse headquarters is the luxury Persian Gulf island of Kish, (pronounced “quiche”), close off Dubai. Travel brochures boast, “No headscarves here!”

And the diving is spectacular…

Demolishing the deficit-dollar by pricing oil in euros – and eliminating massive investment bank brokerage profits – is a threatened double-whammy Washington cannot ignore.

So why not use its fiber-optic tapping sub to mess with those undersea Internet cables off Dubai, while sea- and land-based electronic monitoring (ELINT) stations plot the “work-arounds” used by affected countries to reroute their Internet traffic for future targeting?

Nuking the U.S. deficit-dollar by pricing oil in euros – and eliminating massive investment bank brokerage profits – is a threatened double-whammy Washington cannot ignore.

So why not use its fiber-optic tapping sub to mess with those undersea Internet cables – while sea- and land-based electronic monitoring (ELINT) stations plot the “work-arounds” used by affected countries to reroute their Internet traffic – for future targeting?

Sheer speculation, of course.

But five cable breaks in the same region in less than two weeks is a bit too “coincidental” for comfort. And the timing of such significant Middle East Internet disruptions could also be sending another signal through those severed cables.

At the very least, spending $1 billion and five years’ shipyard downtime to retrofit a Seawolf-class attack sub with advanced tech capable of  splicing into underwater fiber optic cables shows the seriousness of US intentions to mess with crucial cable communications.

Put this technology, timing and events together and “Cable Gate” seems a
more likely explanation than interference from submerged space aliens worried about the IOB’s impact on currency exchange rates on Aldeberan.

Take your pick.

And watch for the bourse to surface.


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.