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Vandalism or Sabotage?
April 9, 2009 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Last night in San Jose and San Carlos, fiber optic communication cables were deliberately cut, knocking out landlines, cell phone, 911 and internet for several California counties. AT&T is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction for those responsible “for the vandalism incidents.”

...the four cables that were cut in San Jose were about the width of a silver dollar and were encased in tough plastic sheath. One cable contained 360 fibers, and the other three had 48 fibers each.

In both instances, saboteurs had to use a piece of equipment to lift heavy manhole covers and climb down several feet to get to the cables. They would have to have been equipped with heavy-duty cutting equipment to slice through the thick cable coating.

911 ACCESS BACK, POLICE SAY CABLE CUTTER KNEW HOW TO ACCESS LINES
posted by 445supermag (51 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
so, "vandalism incidents" is what they are calling it these days. (i couldn't help myself)
posted by the aloha at 8:59 PM on April 9, 2009


Typical CWA union tactic. Usually it happens later after negotiations have stalled, though.
posted by csw at 9:01 PM on April 9, 2009


FOOLS IT IS BARACK OBAMA CARRYING THROUGH ON HIS THREAT TO TURN OFF THE INTE-
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:03 PM on April 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


so, "vandalism incidents" is what they are calling it these days. (i couldn't help myself)...

If the perpetrators turn out to be non-white, illegal immigrants and/or Muslim it's TERRUR! Amirite?
posted by ericb at 9:07 PM on April 9, 2009


Well good thing I'm safe since I don't live in California.

But really, knowledge of the cables and intent to do harm I buy, "heavy-duty cutting equipment" I don't buy so easily. Until I see a verified report from AT&T and the applicable civil agencies about how often they monitor cable access sites, I am more willing to bet it was informed bad guys, with a couple of levers for the manholes, who knew they had plenty of time to do their thing on the cables with basic hand tools.
posted by Science! at 9:07 PM on April 9, 2009


A least the electrical grid is safe.
posted by ornate insect at 9:09 PM on April 9, 2009


Try again: is safe
posted by ornate insect at 9:10 PM on April 9, 2009


On slashdot. Nothing factual in the +5 comments yet, but something informative might show up there in the next 12 hours or so. Skip the first few comments (or perhaps all but the last few!) unless you like reading banal pontifications.
posted by intermod at 9:12 PM on April 9, 2009


Bruce Shiner was saying the electrical grid story sounded like something ginned up by people looking to boost their budgets. Washington is full of people hyping ridiculous stories in order secure funding for their boondoggles.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on April 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Typical CWA union tactic. Usually it happens later after negotiations have stalled, though.

Do you have a citation? I mean, it can't be in the contract, obviously, maybe it is learned during apprenticeship? Or maybe you are an anti-union jerk just rushing to repeat some crap you read somewhere?
posted by mlis at 9:23 PM on April 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


If the perpetrators turn out to be non-white, illegal immigrants and/or Muslim it's TERRUR! Amirite?

in my day, we just called it late-night fun with the boys. obviously, back then the brooklyn dodgers will still the brooklyn dodgers and eisenhowser was my president.

(really, though, i probably should have also put quote marks around "calling" to make it clearer i was going on about the lack of telecommunications. the tone of the words in my head obviously can be read differently by different people. i should have thought this one out further before reflex responding.)
posted by the aloha at 9:31 PM on April 9, 2009


No 911, landline, cell or internet? This seems like a great cover for some kind of awesome hollywood style heist...
posted by danny the boy at 9:33 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fucking gophers.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:41 PM on April 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


the aloha -- I understand. I was taken by the phrasing/framing of the incident and was riffing further on such. Just a few years ago we could have expected the Bush administration to immediately cast it as a terror incident (raising the threat level for the Bay Area, etc.) without first vetting the "true story."

Remember the (in)famous August 2004 "terrorism threat" on 5 financial centers in New York and New Jersey which ended up being bogus -- based on 4-year-old information?

BTW -- what ever happened to the color-coded threat alerts? Haven't seen them since prior election cycles. Interesting. Hmmm.
posted by ericb at 9:42 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"This is really big for ham radio," Smith said.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:46 PM on April 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


No 911, landline, cell or internet? This seems like a great cover for some kind of awesome hollywood style heist...

This was also my thought. It seems weird to me that it's till just a regional story - if nothing else, the implications are huge.
posted by rtha at 9:54 PM on April 9, 2009


No 911, landline, cell or internet? This seems like a great cover for some kind of awesome hollywood style heist...

No way the hams would let that happen (from the first link):


Ham radio operators organized themselves to assist with communications between hospitals. About 25 operators were handling the radio traffic while another 50-60 had signed up to fill in when other volunteers got tired, operator Craig Smith said.

Ham radio operators are trained to help during emergency situations where traditional communication methods are unusable, Smith said. The operators helped with communications during last summer's devastating wildfires and were critical during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Teams of operators set up at Dominican, Sutter and Watsonville Community hospitals, as well as at NETCOM and a local American Red Cross office. They handled tactical traffic and messages between medical care providers, such as relaying information from one doctor to another.

"This is really big for ham radio," Smith said.

posted by 445supermag at 9:59 PM on April 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


AT&T Uses Twitter during Service Outage
"Twitter is going mainstream and companies are using it to communicate with customers during crises, like the AT&T service outage in Silicon Valley."
posted by ericb at 10:02 PM on April 9, 2009


The more I think about this, the weirder I feel. Was Google without phones and internet? Apple? Why isn't this a bigger story (yet), or am I not looking in the right places?

Or do I just need someone to talk me down?
posted by rtha at 10:34 PM on April 9, 2009


I live in Santa Cruz, and this is all people were talking about all day. Pacific Bell landlines seemed to work, but all cell phones, digital landlines, internet, ATMs and business debit machines were all out. 911 wasn't working, but I don't know if that was because all the phones weren't working or whether 911 specifically wasn't working.

I was also kind of surprised at the lack of mention in the news media - it seems like it would be a bigger deal. We got everything back around 5pm, though cell phones are still really spotty - lots of dropped calls and failures to connect. My guess is too much traffic on too little infrastructure - whatever they've managed to bring back online.

When we got the internet back, I looked for some online news. There was just a brief mention in the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, and a longer piece in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

It was really a good reminder of how totally dependent we are on modern telecommunications. I had not a dollar in my wallet - luckily Trader Joe's credit card machines were working (though not debit), so I could get my groceries. I realize now that I really need to make an earthquake plan - it was really disruptive with just the telecommunications out, not the power or any other infrastructure. Time to go buy a radio and put some water in jugs.
posted by foodmapper at 10:48 PM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the conspiracy theorists had a field day with this one. Unfortunately, I had to listen to them all day (no internet radio to distract me!).

I'm with you foodmapper, this was an excellent reminder to keep my gas tank full and a little extra cash on hand. Oh, and I should never let myself get too low on reading material. If this went on for more than a day or two, I would've finished my library books and my latest issue of Readymade.
posted by annaramma at 11:03 PM on April 9, 2009


ericb, the homeland security colors are still going on. last time i check the u.s. was yellow, except for air travel being orange and has been for awhile now; or at least there have been no newsworthy changes. i only wish i could forget how the previous administration would look into taking advantage of anything which could reinforce a general feeling of fear.

the way this is going, i may have to change my member name to rakim. hopefully, everyone would understand and i would not have to pay $5 in full.
posted by the aloha at 11:04 PM on April 9, 2009


somewhere in Baltimore, Lester Freamon is pissed.
posted by clearly at 11:07 PM on April 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


ericb, the homeland security colors are still going on.

While this is true, I don't think it's as much of a spectacle and used as a tool of fear as it was by that last asshole. I don't think I've seen it mentioned on TV at least.
posted by dead cousin ted at 11:21 PM on April 9, 2009


The homeland security colors are mentioned - at least visually - every week during the opening credits to American Dad.
posted by stevil at 11:29 PM on April 9, 2009


It was pretty weird today being on campus at UCSC and having no internet or cell phones. The neat part of it was I got about double my normal work done, and people didn't have their heads glued to phones so I met a bunch of new people today. It's funny to think that my productivity is radically increased when internet is down.
posted by JimmyJames at 11:33 PM on April 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


"'heavy-duty cutting equipment' I don't buy so easily."

A battery powered angle grinder, sawzall or skilsaw with a fine tooth blade will slice through a 2"PVC conduit full of plastic insulated copper power wire in way less than a minute. I can't imagine glass fibres pose much of a problem. Total cost less than a $100 and portable by a little kid. An Oxy/MAPP torch would be even quicker. A gas powered chop saw would cut it in seconds. The vandals might have went overkill to minimize there time down the hole.
posted by Mitheral at 11:49 PM on April 9, 2009


I could buy this as a test of response time.
posted by trondant at 12:03 AM on April 10, 2009


Twitter has become my own personal fnord.
posted by autodidact at 1:40 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eh, there was a decent sized cut in LosAngeles over DWP fiber the night before...
posted by zengargoyle at 2:53 AM on April 10, 2009


Bruce Shiner was saying...

Delmoi, who is this Bruce Shiner you keep talking about?

You wouldn't by any chance be referring to Bruce Schneier, would you?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:56 AM on April 10, 2009


I see I'm not the first to ask you about this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:58 AM on April 10, 2009


"A piece of equipment to lift heavy manhole covers". What, like a big screwdriver?

It could have been done in broad daylight - I've walked out and blocked traffic in the center lane of a busy 4-lane with a couple orange barrels and popped the lids on manhole covers to inspect sewers, and not even cops who drove by gave me a second look.
posted by notsnot at 3:11 AM on April 10, 2009


What, like a big screwdriver?

Common crowbar, actually.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 3:59 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, AT&T and its union, CWA are involved in difficult contract negotiations. The contract is expired, and there is the possibility of a strike.

It is possible that a member cut the cable (without the endorsement of the union) but this sort of thing is very unusual while still working without a contract. It is just as possible, given that someone else cut a cable.

The last time I remember this happening was during the Verizon strike, where a member tried to cut a cable and ended up cutting a power line and in the hospital.
posted by hazyspring at 4:27 AM on April 10, 2009


Re: the union comments, one comment I took from the Slashdot discussion was:

"Back in '05 when our local telecommunications company (TELUS) in British Columbia went on strike, some lines were cut and service for a couple thousand customers was lost. Of course, the first thing the company does is blame the union for sabotage.

Turns out it was just some thieves cutting the lines for copper, but that didn't come out until a month after the labour dispute ended.

Most likely the same thing happened here, thieves aren't exactly smart and most union employees would not risk the bad press something like this would generate."
posted by inigo2 at 6:09 AM on April 10, 2009


Cutting a line to steal the copper requires two cuts. Also, you don't generally find a lot of glass recycling thieves stealing fiber optic lines.

I'm a bit surprised they've let the story out it was vandalism. It seems like it'd be awfully easy for any malcontent to pop a manhole cover and slice up some cables, if only the idea occurred to them. Now the newspaper is all the inspiration they need.
posted by Nelson at 7:05 AM on April 10, 2009


I don't think it's as much of a spectacle and used as a tool of fear as it was by that last asshole

That's because the alert system accomplished its main purpose: getting Bush reelected in 2004. The threat level's been yellow or higher the entire time, with spikes to orange during Bush's first term.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:14 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cutting a line to steal the copper requires two cuts. Also, you don't generally find a lot of glass recycling thieves stealing fiber optic lines.

My point was more that people sometimes kneejerk in blaming unions, and then the truth doesn't get any play at all, so people just remember "oh, the union was blamed for that".
posted by inigo2 at 7:35 AM on April 10, 2009


What would the likely criminal penalty be for something like this? Is this a misdemeanor? Do you pay $200 court costs and maybe do 30 hours community service? A slap on the hand seems too light, but a lengthy prison sentence seems too heavy, especially if it was some sort of "vandalism" and not truly nefarious intent.

Would this fall under some of the incredibly broad "anti-terrorism" laws that have flourished the last several years?

Would AT&T be able to sue the cutter(s) in civil court to recoup the financial loss? Would others who were affected by loss of service? I assume this could bankrupt someone rather easily.

A 100,000 reward seems very high, considering I see 25,000 rewards for murders, and makes me think AT&T might be willing to "make an example" out of whoever did this.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:04 AM on April 10, 2009


Cutting a line to steal the copper requires two cuts.

You only need one cut to notice that the thing you cut into wasn't a copper wire.
posted by effbot at 8:14 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Would AT&T be able to sue the cutter(s) in civil court to recoup the financial loss?

I work in an industry that is frequently drilling holes in the ground around utilities, and the holy grail of f-ups is hitting a fiber line. We've always been told that they will come after you for repairs and loss of service, but I've never seen it happen.

As far as "knowledge of the lines locations" it's not really all that hard to find fiber lines using free services available to any construction industry knowledgeable person.

"San Jose police spokesman Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said the manhole covers are heavy and would take quite an effort to lift, perhaps even requiring a tool."

A $30 manhole puller. Widely available.
posted by Big_B at 8:25 AM on April 10, 2009


It wouldn't take more than a crowbar and a good hacksaw to get access and cut the fibre, so theoretically anyone could have done it.

But it sounds like the cuts were very strategically located, is this correct? i mean you can't just select a street and a manhole at random and luck into the main fiber backbone. And two successful cuts on the same night?

Also, underground communication cables, even the copper ones, are way too much hassle to remove and process to be stolen simply for the copper.

So, given the above, and the timing re the contract... I'm sure the contract situation is an avenue they're investigating. A bit more than a kneejerk.

Re: the holy grail of f-ups is hitting a fiber line

Definitely high, but the pinnacle is hitting a gas line. No-one dies (directly) if you hit a fiber...
posted by Artful Codger at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2009


"In both instances, saboteurs had to use a piece of equipment to lift heavy manhole covers and climb down several feet to get to the cables. They would have to have been equipped with heavy-duty cutting equipment to slice through the thick cable coating."

Mitheral kind of hit this point already, but I always wonder if, when these reports come out, the people doing the investigating are assuming that everything is the work of some really sophisticated conspiracy. From the description, my first thought was a guy with a crowbar and a battery powered reciprocating saw could have done this in about five minutes.

Rather than being some overly elaborate menace to the community, it will probably turn out to be some drunk guy with a functioning knowledge of where the cables lay, who wanted to prevent the chick he was cheating with from calling his wife or something mundane like that.
posted by quin at 9:18 AM on April 10, 2009


And that he used a lug wrench to lift the manhole covers and an axe to cut the cables.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:06 AM on April 10, 2009


It sounds to me like vandalism by someone with technical know-how who wanted to interrupt service but still wanted it to be relatively easy to repair. Besides, he just couldn't allow himself to do a sloppy job of it. Someone interested in vandalism with maximum destruction in mind could have just dumped five gallons of gasoline in the hole and lit a match.
posted by digsrus at 11:12 AM on April 10, 2009


Bruce Shiner was saying the electrical grid story sounded like something ginned up by people looking to boost their budgets.

Threat Level had another suspicion: Put NSA in Charge of Cyber Security, Or the Power Grid Gets It
posted by homunculus at 12:28 PM on April 10, 2009


They knock out Nakatomi Plaza?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


"i mean you can't just select a street and a manhole at random and luck into the main fiber backbone."

I used to think of this scenario every time I approached the colo facility we had servers in. The road leading up to it was notable for the sudden concentration of manholes, all with the names of the various cable companies stamped into the covers. It wouldn't take a genius to spot them.
posted by tallus at 1:07 PM on April 10, 2009


AT&T boosts reward to $250K in phone service sabotage
posted by 445supermag at 2:49 PM on April 10, 2009


409truth.com

ATT DID FIBRCUT

WHY DID NANOG STAND DOWN

AT&T TWEETED 30 SECONDS BEFORE FIBER 7 WAS CUT

CHECK OUT THE EXPLOSIVE DOCUMENTARY "LOOSE COUPLINGS" COMING SOON

GET THE TRUTH OUT
posted by Potsy at 4:16 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


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