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Once, sure. Twice, Maybe. Three? Four!?!
February 5, 2008 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Much of the Middle East has been without reliable internet access recently due to the somewhat suspicious cutting of four seperate underwater cables, in seperate locations, within a few days of each other. The problem has been alleviated by re-routing of traffic until ships can reach the cables to repair them, a process which may take several weeks. The problem was initially believed to be caused by anchors of passing ships, but that has since been retracted and deals have already been signed by several companies for new cables.

Without knowledge of the complex infrastructure we can’t really ascertain how unlikely four separate cables having near simultaneous problems is – but many are treating it as suspicious considering recent news.

Personally, I think things may have been blown out of proportion by the limited information we have, although it was believed that Iran had been isolated by a single disabled router this is plain untrue and given the redundancies inherent in internet infrastructure it would be difficult if not impossible to fully cut off a country, but that is not to understate the consequences of these problems.

On a related note, Iran has recently announced plans to move to trade oil with the Euro rather than the US dollar, which will cause further devaluing of the greenback. Saddam Hussein was in the process of doing the same before the US invasion, a decision reversed by the occupying force.

Some are interpreting this as signs of an “info war” and while I don’t subscribe to the analysis, I find it interesting to consider the idea that in an age where increasingly large amounts of money can be attributed to companies based on estimated worth of intangible assets such as human networks and brand identities, the idea that you have to physically invade a country to do it economic damage is becoming outdated.

There has been a documented shift towards “proxy war and if one agrees on the existence of this trend then more abstract forms of conflict between powers seem to be a likely follow up.

If you do buy into the “information war” analysis there is ample fodder in the media, but more interestingly rumours of a theoretical invasion plan hint at a sophisticated attack not necessarily limited to military action. Indeed, Several large governments, such as the US, are spending increasing amounts of their military budget on more abstract forms of warfare
(pdf)

Again, although I don’t subscribe to this view, I find it interesting to consider as a growing trend a shift from conventional war to proxy war to purely economic warfare as engaging in open hostilities with any country becomes increasingly risky from a game theory point of view.

See Also.
posted by Dillonlikescookies (68 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry for the mini essay, but there's a lot of analysis floating around to cover. several links via SE (NSFW)
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 5:55 PM on February 5, 2008


Also
posted by DU at 5:58 PM on February 5, 2008


Neal Stephenson's article, Mother Earth Motherboard, is interesting and related to the latest undersea cable shenanigans.
posted by mullingitover at 5:59 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not just a satelite, but a space satelite. Ohhh those tricky Iranians
posted by mattoxic at 6:02 PM on February 5, 2008


Neal Stephenson's article, Mother Earth Motherboard, is interesting and related to the latest undersea cable shenanigans.

Particularly since it documents FLAG, one of the cables that was cut.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:06 PM on February 5, 2008


The impact seems to vary widely. My dad is living in Cairo, Egypt right now. My only link to him was via email. I finally got a reply back recently. He said his area was down for about three days.
posted by wastelands at 6:10 PM on February 5, 2008


Does anyone care to explain briefly how cable disruption can cause the internet to crash, where do the satellites come in, is it that easy to destroy the internet?
posted by iamck at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2008


Yeah. initially I was hearing that every country was affected except Iraq and Israel but that turned out to be inaccurate, seems it's regional and intermittent, of course when information is limited spin is always going to be high.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2008


Could a US submarine be responsible?
posted by v-tach at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Could Anonymous be responsible?
posted by Smedleyman at 6:18 PM on February 5, 2008 [9 favorites]


Satellites play a minimal role in the routing of global traffic - undersea cables are the way to go. The internet is designed in such a way to make it resistant to disruption - and even with four cables cut some traffic is getting through - but some are reporting 80% decrease in network capacity, which means internet traffic jams.

As much of cell phone traffic in the middle east also goes through the cables, yes, in some places it is quite possible to "destroy" the internet, but it'll be still going on for the rest of the world.

there's a good article here but i'm no network analyst so someone could probably explain it better than I can.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 6:22 PM on February 5, 2008


Sorry, the satellite wasn't supposed to be linked to the Internet part of the post. It's more linked to the "recent events" part. It's another move on the chessboard. (I originally typed that as "cheeseboard"--now that would be some machiavellian scheming I could get behnid!)
posted by DU at 6:25 PM on February 5, 2008


More than just three cables.
posted by krash2fast at 6:26 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is a nice picture of the undersea cable system here. Also, historical cable maps, 1858-1992.
posted by thrako at 6:35 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


I heard some expert on the BBC World Service right after the first cable went down who was saying that one cable could be chalked up to human error but that if a second cable in the same region got cut it was definitely an intentional action. He did not equivocate about that point. I'm really struggling to find a link, I wish I remembered the guy's name.
posted by The Straightener at 6:35 PM on February 5, 2008


‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action’ - Ian Fleming I believe - thru Goldfinger
posted by Smedleyman at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


There is a joke about tubes somewhere in all this.
posted by thrako at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


v-tach: "Could a US submarine be responsible?"

Probably not. The Carter is designed to tap underwater fiber-optic cables, not cut them. You don't need a submarine if you just want to cut a cable, and you don't want to cut the cable if your intent is to tap it.

If you break a piece of fiber, it's (with the right equipment, which people running multibillion-dollar cables have) trivial to determine, down to the meter, where the break occurred. You don't just chop it in half and stick a tee connector in there. You also can't break it and then use the break as cover for installing a tee somewhere else; the second break would be noted by OTDRs at either end. My understanding is that the only even halfway reliable way of tapping an optical fiber without changing the attenuation significantly involves bending it and then amplifying the signal that 'leaks' out of the bend -- you do not break it.

Besides which, once you get the tap in, you still have the equally serious problem of what to do with all the data you now have access to. You either need to have a lot of processing power available in order to sort through the packets and extract the relevant ones for transmission down some low-bandwidth link, or you have to have your own optical fiber running somewhere for the backhaul from the tap.

The U.S.-backed conspiracy-theory angle just doesn't hold water.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:53 PM on February 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


v-tach's link sounds very plausible. Except that cutting five cables in the course of a few weeks is pretty obvious. However, it's not like anyone can comb the entire length of the cable to find wiretaps... so if the cables are bugged now, they'll stay bugged for awhile.

In terms of the sub being all over the Mediterranean at the same time, I guess the bugging submarine doesn't have to actually be the one to cut the cables It can just poke around tapping into the fiber at a convenient place, during the weeks needed for repair ships to work.
posted by anthill at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2008


another neat map!

abstract forms of conflict

also see :P
posted by kliuless at 7:07 PM on February 5, 2008


Technical feasibility of actual taps aside, is there any plausible explanation here for five cuts other than espionage of some type by some party? Could it be pure bravado? We are gonna cut, tap and we don't care if you detect the tap. If you fix the taps we will come and do it all over again because we have a fleet of nuclear submarines and you do not. Is this scenario implausible?
posted by well_balanced at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2008


Show of force? Drill for later when coupled to military action? Throttling of traffic out to stave off espionage?
posted by A189Nut at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2008


I originally typed that as "cheeseboard"
I pay fromage to your machiavellian scheming.
posted by Floydd at 7:39 PM on February 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I've been watching this since the first failure... "OMG terrorists", no, normal... second, third, fourth.... something is up... thought it would be easy at first, but have to go through 100+ messages in mailbox for links and stuff.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:47 PM on February 5, 2008


What entity would benefit the most making the world think that it was the US who was responsible for this rather inept conspiracy? Wait. Inept? Maybe it was the US, afterall.

Regardless, what benefit to the "West" would it be to cut off the flow of Western media/ideas to the Middle East? Isn't that like the West actively trying to deny Samizdata to Soviet citizens during the cold war?

Then again, it could go both ways; how much Iranian/Middle-Eastern culture or tactical information could be flowing into the "West" and could this be a tactical disruption of, say, subterfuge attack orders or coordination communication hidden in Usenet traffic, but it was unknown exactly what the codes were?

And what does this have to do with UBC being on alert because of some undisclosed threat twice in about a week?
posted by porpoise at 8:10 PM on February 5, 2008


I left Egypt just a couple of days before the connection went down. The Internet is becoming increasingly used in Egypt...when I arrived there were already 3 or 4 DSL providers in Cairo, and many, many people had DSL. In fact, DSL has been oversold it seems, and so bandwidth has been slowing down over the past few months. There are WiFi cafes throughout much of central Cairo...even McDonalds has WiFi. And even in poorer areas there are still small dusty internet cafes where people alternatively send emails to their friends or play soccer (football) video games. Nonetheles, aside from those who use the net for business, I have a feeling that most Egyptians handled this with grace. I would have gone frikking mental. It's a good thing I was gone. :)
posted by Deathalicious at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2008


Maybe everyone posting before me just assumed this.. But isn't it obvious that explanation #1 is guerilla action? The cable locations are well known, and snapping a cable is as simple as trawling an anchor. It seems way too easy to do.
posted by Nelson at 8:35 PM on February 5, 2008


Cloverfield.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:46 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nelson, in the "retracted" link in the original post, Egypt says cameras show no ships in the region of the two Mediterranean cables during the 12 hours before and 12 hours after the breaks. They could be lying, but that's what they're saying about the first two cable breaks.
posted by mediareport at 8:48 PM on February 5, 2008


The continued existence of the US empire requires that the world use the dollar as its reserve currency. There is no greater direct threat to our world supremacy than non-dollar markets for oil.

Over the long run, trying to maintain dollar hegemony by military force is absolutely doomed to fail, but over the short run, well... those who want to trade oil in euros have sure had bad runs of luck lately, haven't they?
posted by Malor at 8:55 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


Sorry for the mini essay, but there's a lot of analysis floating around to cover.

Don't be sorry - great in-depth post.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:30 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Need more information. How often do such cables snap? What are the possible natural causes? If it was intentional, all the explanations so far have flaws. Could this turn out to be a genuine mystery? Seems like it at present. It's fascinating, and I don't understand why it hasn't been in the top ten news stories from the start (not to mention how long it took to appear on MetaFilter).
posted by AppleSeed at 9:38 PM on February 5, 2008


A much more entertaining conspiracy theory would involve rogue investment bankers teaming up with Paul Allen and his luxury submarine. Paul and Mystery Banker would hatch a plan to demonstrate the weakness in current global network infrastructure, setting up for yet another Fiber Link Around the Globe. Of course, Paul and Mystery banker sell their share of the venture at the top of a massive technology bubble in late 2015, and the resulting collapse threatens global capital markets (again).
posted by b1tr0t at 10:03 PM on February 5, 2008


This is the very model of a fantastically good post.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:16 PM on February 5, 2008


Very interesting, thanks.
posted by Wolof at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2008


Could Anonymous be responsible?

How many Scientologists and Furries are in the Middle East?
posted by ryoshu at 10:34 PM on February 5, 2008


However, it's not like anyone can comb the entire length of the cable to find wiretaps...
Even aside from the optical TDR that Kadin2048 mentions, my understanding is that people have done exactly that when repairing cables in the past — sent a ship along the cable route, lifting up a running loop of the cable for inspection or repair. (I have no idea if this is something that would be done with a modern cable, though.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:46 PM on February 5, 2008


I am actually in Cairo at the moment, arriving last Saturday from Ottawa. I fully expected to have no connectivity here during my visit, but even Saturday night was able to find WiFi near my hotel that allowed me to send a couple of important emails back home. On Sunday both our office and the hotel had fairly good connectivity, and since then I think Egypt is back to perhaps 80% of normal.
posted by tranquileye at 11:17 PM on February 5, 2008


Great thread, DLC

Thanks especially for the link to the article explaining the economic threat, to the United states, of the Iranian [Euro-Backed] Oil Bourse. I've been hearing of this 'threat' for a few years now, but my limited understanding of economics and currency exchange, kept me from really grasping why this would be such a problem [for the US].

In the section explaining that "...Americans cannot allow [the decoupling of Oil trade and the US Dollar] to happen, and if necessary, will use a vast array of strategies to halt or hobble the operation’s exchange..." we find, as the first strategy of prevention:


"Sabotaging the Exchange—this could be a computer virus, network, communications, or server attack, various server security breaches, or a 9-11-type attack on main and backup facilities."


Hmmmmmmm........
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:17 PM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


lifting up a running loop of the cable for inspection or repair. (I have no idea if this is something that would be done with a modern cable, though.)

No, that's not possible. There's not enough slack to lift the cable to the surface.

Internet here in Dubai is working but much slower than usual.
posted by atrazine at 12:37 AM on February 6, 2008


Will the RIAA stop at nothing to put an end to peer to peer filesharing?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:40 AM on February 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


No, that's not possible. There's not enough slack to lift the cable to the surface.

It's that taut?!
posted by fairmettle at 2:59 AM on February 6, 2008


isn' t tme to accuse the "zionist entity"? they usually are blamed for all illls in that region.
posted by Postroad at 4:10 AM on February 6, 2008


iamck writes "Does anyone care to explain briefly how cable disruption can cause the internet to crash, where do the satellites come in, is it that easy to destroy the internet?"

It's pretty easy to almost destroy it. Most data goes under undersea cables. Satellite is used for a bit, but the vast majority goes in a series of tubes underwater. You couldn't really cut someone off entirely by cutting the undersea cables (there are satellites, and, unless they're an island nation, there will always be a little bit of land line they can use), but you can cut off the vast majority of their internet access.

The Straightener writes "I heard some expert on the BBC World Service right after the first cable went down who was saying that one cable could be chalked up to human error but that if a second cable in the same region got cut it was definitely an intentional action. He did not equivocate about that point."

He's not an expert, then. If he argued that this many hits had to be an intentional action, he might be right, but two or three outages, especially if nearly simultaneous, is not that uncommon. One dragging ship anchor can rip through two cables if they're relatively close together. Only happens once every few years, but it has happened.

AppleSeed writes "Need more information. How often do such cables snap? What are the possible natural causes? If it was intentional, all the explanations so far have flaws. Could this turn out to be a genuine mystery? Seems like it at present. It's fascinating, and I don't understand why it hasn't been in the top ten news stories from the start (not to mention how long it took to appear on MetaFilter)."

They don't snap on their own pretty much ever. However, they get cut...I dunno, maybe 6 or 7 cable outages happen a year? Maybe more? I work in a WAN monitoring center, and they're not really uncommon, but they aren't daily or weekly occurrences, either. Part of it is that the cable goes from the deeps to the shallows to the shore to land, and a bad anchor in the shallows can rip up the cable.

Natural causes: pretty rare. This article, from 1987, mentions that at least four undersea cable outages had been caused by sharks chewing on the cable. They've fixed the shark problem since then, but it kinda shows that there can be some unexpected natural causes (until they found shark bites on those cables in 1987, what random pre-internet commenter would have guessed "shark ate it"?)

atrazine writes "No, that's not possible. There's not enough slack to lift the cable to the surface."

Traditionally, that's exactly how damaged undersea cables have been restored: you find the break (I think via measuring attenuation, but I'm not sure), haul the line up to the repair ship deck, resplice the cable, and then lower it back down into the water. There are submarines capable of doing onboard repairs underwater, but they aren't the norm yet, and I'd be amazed if they were the norm back when the FLAG itself was laid.
posted by Bugbread at 4:36 AM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


AppleSeed writes "It's fascinating, and I don't understand why it hasn't been in the top ten news stories from the start (not to mention how long it took to appear on MetaFilter)."

Well, aside from the possible conspiracy angle, it's not really newsworthy. Interesting, of course, and a bit of a mystery, but not quite newsworthy. It's not like city life has been shut down by the outages, or that banks are going under, or massive power outages resulting in riots. The net effect is that a lot of companies are paying a bit extra to get their high priority traffic rerouted, and regular folks are getting their email later than usual, not being able to use Skype, and having their traffic to Europe routed the long way around, through Asia and the US.

Again, these types of simultaneous cuts are rare, but a few years ago, there were a bunch of outages due to a Taiwan earthquake, and that didn't get into the news, and a few years before that, there was a whole month of separate outages near China, which at the time I was convinced presaged a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and turned out to be illegal fishermens' anchors cutting through cables. That didn't get into the news either.

I'm sure there was stuff even before that, but I only started this WAN monitoring job in 1999, so before that I have no idea.
posted by Bugbread at 4:45 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's not enough slack to lift the cable to the surface.

Traditionally, that's exactly how damaged undersea cables have been restored: you find the break (I think via measuring attenuation, but I'm not sure), haul the line up to the repair ship deck, resplice the cable, and then lower it back down into the water.


This article mentions that they cut out the broken section while it's on the ocean floor and then haul up the two loose ends.
posted by mediareport at 5:28 AM on February 6, 2008


Maybe they're just tired of all the popups, spam and phishing attempts.
posted by butterstick at 6:27 AM on February 6, 2008


My money's on Alcatel-Lucent. Can you think of a better business model?
Step 1: Lay fiber optics and collect on a nine-figure contract
Step 2: Cut the cable and blame evil empires
Step 3: Go to step 1
posted by Crash at 7:33 AM on February 6, 2008


Update: Reports of fifth cable being cut?
posted by indiebass at 8:12 AM on February 6, 2008


Not only is this TinfoilHatFilter, it's not even good (i.e., plausible) TinfoilHatFilter.
posted by oaf at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2008


For more information about the oil/dollar coupling and much more besides, check the amusing tale of oil presented by Rob Newman (45 mins). Includes the best 'Wu's the president of China' monologue I have ever heard.
posted by asok at 9:25 AM on February 6, 2008


This is fascinating. Thanks for doing the legwork for so much background info in the post, dillonlikescookies. Bugbread, you really tied up all the loose ends that were left for me as well.

Though of course all five could be due to anchors or natural causes or some combination of both, I would be interested in "following the money" on all this to find out who benefits the most with the cables down.
posted by misha at 9:45 AM on February 6, 2008


60;conspiratorial OT62;

"...Americans cannot allow [the decoupling of Oil trade and the US Dollar] to happen, and if necessary, will use a vast array of strategies to halt or hobble the operation’s exchange..."

There is no greater direct threat to our world supremacy than non-dollar markets for oil.


as explained here [cf.] "The currency in which oil exporters hold their assets matters a great deal. The currency in which the price of oil is quoted matters substantially less."

so while having oil and other globally traded commodities priced in dollars helps (as a 'lingua franca' accounting convention) as brad setser might point out, what's more important is what the currency denomination is of where surplus/mercantilist countries* -- namely saudi arabia and china -- park their proceeds; i.e. after iran, venezuela, nigeria or whoever get their dollars, do they stash them in US treasury, agency and corporate bonds? or do they put them in euros, pounds and francs... or gold? or a 'sovereign wealth fund' that could then choose to invest in, say, citigroup or blackstone. again, central bank 'asset class preference' is really the issue more than what currency business is conducted in wrt the dollar.

trying to maintain dollar hegemony by military force is absolutely doomed to fail

continuing the discussion :P so far i think "force" is too strong a word;** they are choosing to hold their currency reserves primarily in dollar assets, altho at the margin they are diversifying out of USD (and debt for that matter). a better term might be 'compelled', for a variety of reasons, as delineated by fallows.

the larger point tho, re: economic warfare and abstract conflict, remains: "productive capacity has determined war-making ability and if waging effective war has moved into the sphere of the economic, then societies will 'compete' less thru military adventure than by who makes better 'stuff' (and, i guess, where people would rather live)."

---
*those financing the US current account deficit
**altho i'm pretty sure that, if not arm twisting, some back room security deals -- access to surveillance satellites! -- were cut by the state dept. (maybe even pentagon?) to keep the GCC from further defections [viz., cf.]
posted by kliuless at 10:11 AM on February 6, 2008


mediareport writes "This article mentions that they cut out the broken section while it's on the ocean floor and then haul up the two loose ends."

Ah, cool, I wasn't aware of that (I knew they hoisted it to the surface to fix, but I didn't know they cut it underwater first).
posted by Bugbread at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2008


Whatever it is, this is not the work of a mature, modern intelligence agency. It's a brute-force approach, inelegant & announcing itself to even the most casual observers. This is the equivalent of trying to pull off a break-in by using a marching band that's playing a rousing rendition of Stars & Stripes Forever as they fiddle with the locks. It makes no sense as a wiretap because it's already drawing so much attention that any tap risks immediate exposure. It makes little sense as a DoS in preparation for attack because there's just not that much strategic advantage in it, too little bang for the buck. Plus each day that there's no attack decreases whatever advantage there might be as providers reroute their traffic.

There is one possibility I can't completely discount & that's that they (whoever they are) are trying to force their enemies (whoever they are) to use alternative lines that are already tapped. But again it's an awfully noisy way to go about it; whoever planned & authorized it must be pretty desperate to risk spooking (so to speak) the opposition into silence rather than gently nudging them in the desired direction.
posted by scalefree at 12:06 PM on February 6, 2008


The US? - possibly, but yeah, it doesn't make good sense.
Other Regional Actor? - see above.
What Else? Organized Crime? Aliens?
What's the most logical?
posted by eclectist at 12:25 PM on February 6, 2008


What would be the benefit of tapping these lines? Wouldn't anyone with sensitive data and two brain cells be using strong encryption anyway?
posted by mullingitover at 1:40 PM on February 6, 2008


Well, there's something to be gained from knowing about the existence of traffic, even if you can't decrypt it.

But, yeah, if it is an intelligence operation, it's incredibly clumsy, which leads me to think that it would almost have to be the White House. When you have people in the administration who speak disparagingly of the 'reality-based community', one tends not to expect much, shall we say, elegance in thinking. Short of doing this immediately before a full-scale invasion, the oil bourse is the only likely target I can see. We know this White House is fond of blunt-force solutions.

Hmph. One other, kind of out-there thought that comes to mind... perhaps some foreign entity that doesn't have submarine line tapping capability has moles in the line-repair services?
posted by Malor at 2:49 PM on February 6, 2008


What would be the benefit of tapping these lines? Wouldn't anyone with sensitive data and two brain cells be using strong encryption anyway?

Systems fail. Somebody accidentally reuses a key, installs a new server or account with a different, less secure configuration or forgets to upgrade a server/account as part of a migration, forgets to pipe the new wire through the VPN concentrator, the device/implementation/algorithm has a hidden flaw, somebody does any of the above on purpose for money, love or ideology. If none of that ever happened, people like me would be out of a job. But it happens all too often, believe me.
posted by scalefree at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2008


i tried to re-open this page to follow some links about where the "Jimmy Carter" actually is right now; i got 404 errors.
http://thegallopingbeaver.blogspot.com/2008/02/where-is-uss-jimmy-carter.html

just saying.
posted by lemuel at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2008


Whatever it is, this is not the work of a mature, modern intelligence agency. It's a brute-force approach, inelegant & announcing itself to even the most casual observers. This is the equivalent of trying to pull off a break-in by using a marching band that's playing a rousing rendition of Stars & Stripes Forever as they fiddle with the locks.

Can you name a mature modern intelligence agency that isn't a hotbed of incompetence and delusion, using national security to sweep the constant blunders under the rug, (thereby avoiding accountablity, and thus ensuring the entrenchment of said incompetence)?

Ok, even if you can, the vast majority of the big players in the intelligence game have a record of permanent abject incompetence that makes Inspector Clouseau look like Sherlock Holmes.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:26 PM on February 6, 2008


The US? - possibly, but yeah, it doesn't make good sense.

Sure it does. You guys seem to be assuming this was meant to be some secret operation, or some kind of botched wiretap. Why? Seems to me that if it was deliberate, that someone managed to cause a whole lot of disruption, to the infrastructure of their choice, completely anonymously, and got away with it without a trace.

If it was sabotage, we will probably never know who did it, and because we don't know who did it, we don't know what they intended to achieve, or whether the disruption succeeded in achieving their goals.

It seems to be like it could quite plausibly have been a fantastic success by any standard of sabotage.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:27 PM on February 6, 2008


Also, while we're speculating about conspiracies, I note that Indian call centres have been hugely affected. So I hereby suggest we throw "anti-outsourcing activists" into the list of possible suspects :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:36 PM on February 6, 2008


Malor: "One other, kind of out-there thought that comes to mind... perhaps some foreign entity that doesn't have submarine line tapping capability has moles in the line-repair services?"

If we must have a conspiracy theory, this seems like a much more reasonable one; cutting the cable and then bribing someone on the repair crew to meddle with it would be a fairly low-tech way to effect a tap.

Still, you have significant technical problems. Each cable is transmitting gigabytes per second -- if you do get a tap in it, somewhere out in the middle of the ocean, what are you going to do with all the data? Either you need to haul it back to shore (requiring a separate cable of your own), or you need to inspect the packets and pull out the ones you want, in order to send them to some other limited-bandwidth interface (requiring a lot of processing power at the site of the tap). Neither one seems very practical.

Overall, a tap is kind of a cool idea to think about but it's the sort of thing you'd only do if you're really technically competent, and if you're really technically competent, you don't cut the cable. Thus, it's probably not a tap.

That doesn't eliminate the scenario where some government or group just sabotaged them for some other purpose, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:42 PM on February 6, 2008


From the link that lemuel tried to post:

By disabling the cable, either by severing it underwater or creating a problem ashore, it gives me time to do my splice undetected in a location far away from the diversionary problem. When the cable operator says it will be days before a repair ship can get to it, that gives me plenty of time to get the job done and get out of the area.

This ties in nicely to:

Each cable is transmitting gigabytes per second -- if you do get a tap in it, somewhere out in the middle of the ocean, what are you going to do with all the data? Either you need to haul it back to shore (requiring a separate cable of your own),

That would give them time to splice in something akin to a T junction, and run their own cable to a well-equipped field office....
posted by Malor at 2:23 AM on February 7, 2008


Wouldn't running your own cable be a sure-fire way to ensure you're discovered?
posted by odinsdream at 9:46 AM on February 7, 2008


i followed the link to this site:
http://thegallopingbeaver.blogspot.com/2008/02/where-is-uss-jimmy-carter.html

there were 2 links to 'Where is the
'Jimmy Carter
'"'.

both came up 404.

i went back to the site later and the links were not there. went back today and the links were but still 404.

i realize it's a national security issue, but dammit i paid 2 billion dollars for this boat and i wanna know where it is.!
posted by lemuel at 3:41 PM on February 7, 2008


the economist weighs in :P [cf.] ...with another neat map!
posted by kliuless at 5:34 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


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