cable coincidence

threefour major undersea cables cut in two separate incidents
internet traffic to Middle East affected

UPDATE: Apparently it is now four cables cut, another one in the Persian Gulf just went snap... that is an amazing coincidence

story at and discussion on slashdot - some strident insistence that putting a tap on the mid-cable is non-optimal. That of course is assuming you have access to the ends...

The Egyptians are now explicitly claiming to have checked and the two Med cables were not cut by ships' anchors - hm.

PPS: there is an Aegis cruiser (USS San Jacinto) in harbour in Israel, staying there till Feb 7th. That is a handy thing to have around this time of month.
In an unrelated story, Israeli civilians have been advised to prepare "rocket rooms" in case of future conflict (basically interior rooms, preferably sealable, better still, with air filters...).
Still no mention of the cable breaks in JPost or Haaretz, that I can find, which is mildly curious.

Cable Map from Grauniad

slashdot has some details, with the usual misreporting and wild speculation mixed in

Cable cut by ships anchors on separate occasions.
Coincidental effect is to impact a lot of internet and phone traffic from Middle East to Europe, especially from Egypt and Iran.
Internet is robust and is of course rerouting.

Several interesting speculations, of course: like was it deliberate.
Hard to see terrorists having the capability or motive, they use the internet.

Israel could probably do it, certainly they could cut the Med cable, don't know why they'd want to (they don't share the Med cables that were cut). Hm, nothing on Jpost or Haaretz on the cables being cut, coming off a holiday, but still.

US could of course do it, again not clear why they would, most interesting speculation is that it is cover for installation of a fiber tap on a different segment of the same cable. They probably have to cut the cable to install a tap, which would be noticed, so do a fake "accidental" cut down-fibre to cover for the installation of a tap at a different point. Very speculative though. Very dangerous politically, if caught in the act.

Prelude to attack is also a conjecture -but attack who with what? Nothing plausible on the horizon or in place. Some carriers out exercising, but only the Truman is in the Gulf. Nimitz is headed for China Sea to cover for the Kitty Hawk which is back in dock.
The Kitty Hawk having maintenance at all is slightly bizarre, as she is supposed to be decommissioned this year - maybe they are selling her to India, as rumoured.
USS Washington to take over in Japan this summer.

Very narrow time window to do anything, those cables earn money, they'll be fixed as fast as physically possible.

Grauniad story here - India is the country hit worst economically, but the second cut was inside the Persian Gulf, which does not affect India.

The USS Carter is the US sub that reputedly could so such things, she was moved to the west coast recently as part of a permanent redeployment of seawolf class subs to the Pacific. The Carter's deployments are not public.


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As a purely technical question, how does one determine where along a cable has been cut? And how does one find them again to repair them?

And I have this image of a US sub as designed by a mad scientist with a buzz saw mounted on arm tacked on to the side.

do you still need pictures of cats?

By a cornellian (not verified) on 02 Feb 2008 #permalink

Heh, classic intro physics problem - if you can only access the ends, how do you determine where the break is in a uniform cable of know resistivity...
There are ships specially designed to pick them up and splice them.

I could use more cat pictures.

I'd forgot the CANTAT-3 incident. I have vague memories it was conjectured to be caused by a sub.

As a purely technical question, how does one determine where along a cable has been cut?


By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 03 Feb 2008 #permalink

TDR will do nicely. Though it would not generally localise as well as desired.

There are lower tech methods, thumping might not work too well here though.

Someone will be getting healthy overtime to fix this.
'course if you were really clever, the cable fixing company is a front and they fix the tap on for you during the repair. Much simpler than a special purpose sub.

So another maybe silly question, once you have this tap in place on an optical fiber, how do you get the information it pulls off back to you?

Four cable cuts in such a short time are beyond reasonable coincidence, and if compared with the typical incidence of such outages, probably significant at P less than .005

Methinks a SIGINT collection op is underway on a large scale.

Recall also that we lost the break in Iran's highlevel crypto about five years ago when someone in the Administration leaked to someone working for Ahmed Chalabi, and the following day, NSA intercepted a phone call from the US to Iran informing the latter's government. This information as reported in Time magazine's cover story on Chalabi. Oh, and the leaker was never caught much less prosecuted (though this would have been easy, details on request).

Going after the cables could indicate either a) that we've given up on cryptanalysis of Iran's new systems and are seeking other methods, or b) that we've succeeded and are shifting into high gear now that it will bring decent results.

At minimum, the cable cuts are an opportunity for traffic analysis: observe the backup communications routes and methods of certain regimes, notably Iran and Indonesia.

Yes, this is speculation, but I also know enough about the field to be able to say that the facts support the hypothesis.

So another maybe silly question, once you have this tap in place on an optical fiber, how do you get the information it pulls off back to you?

Sharks with fricking modulated laser beams attached to their heads!

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 04 Feb 2008 #permalink

Factcheck: Iran wasn't in the top 20 states by number of BGP prefixes withdrawn.

Further, if you want to know someone else's routing policy, grep their AS number on a looking glass server - the Internet routing table is public by definition or it wouldn't work.

I honestly don't know why you'd bother tiddling about with James Bond stuff when FLAG runs through the UK, Gibraltar, Egypt and Singapore and SEAMEWE-4 goes through most of the same places too. Choke points, baby; the cables go where the ships go, which ought to tell you something about the statistics.

Today I am not feeling obligated to believe that the cable interruption actually happened under the sea. It could be in a utility tunnel half a block from the routing station.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 05 Feb 2008 #permalink