Sunday, 2 March 2008

Cable Cut Conspiracy

The series of mysterious undersea telecommunications cable cuts have sparked a frenzy of shady internet conspiracy theories. There is as you’d expect no proof America cut the cables, indeed there is evidence to suggest the cuts were all made accidentally or by natural causes coincidentally in close proximity and within a few days of each other. But the fact remains America had both the means and the motives to disrupt telecommunications in the Middle East. This is a list of the cuts along with a map showing their geographical proximity.

Cable Type: Location: Date

FLAG telecoms Persian Gulf, 23rd JAN

SEA-ME-WE4 Marseilles to Egypt, 30th JAN

FLAG telecom Alexandria, Egypt, 30th JAN

FLAG telecom Dubai, 1st FEB

Suez canal-Sri Lanka, 1st FEB

Qatar-UAE 3rd FEB

Persian Gulf –Iran, 4th FEB

SEA-ME-WE-4 Penang, Malaysia, 4th FEB

It didn’t take long for people to notice that the cuts all happened around Islamic countries, so finger pointing to America came swiftly followed by stories of Islamic fundamentalist frog men and dolphins with lasers attached to their skulls. What an image, a blood thirsty religious freak with scimitar between his teeth, plunging to the depths of the ocean in the name of information restriction, that’s even less likely than cybernetic mutant marine mercenaries. The cuts have done little but slowed down phone and Internet services in the Middle East and South East Asia, the beauty of the internet is of course that the traffic will automatically be rerouted. That was the network’s original purpose when designed by the US military as Arpanet, if it’s supposed to be capable of surviving nuclear war a few anchors or mutant dolphins aren’t going to make a blind bit of difference to its global stability.

Mahesh Jaishanker, an executive director for Du, said, “The submarine cable cuts in FLAG Europe-Asia cable 8.3 km away from Alexandria, Egypt and SEA-ME-WE 4 affected at least 60 million users in India, 12 million in Pakistan, 6 million in Egypt and 4.7 million in Saudi Arabia.”

Before I focus on the likelihood of an American sabotage I’ll give a run down of official statements attributed to each of the cuts. Omantel telecoms, the largest Oman telecom company blamed a tropical storm, DU.AI , the 2nd largest telecom co. in the UAE blamed ship anchors as did FLAG. The cause of the FLAG cable cut on 23rd January has been determined to be a ship’s anchor, reportedly found abandoned near the cable. However others remain a mystery, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, although there were reports of a small earthquake in the region measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale occurring at 09:03 on 3rd February which may have caused the cuts. A quake in Taiwan 2006 cut deep sea cables, although it was a damn sight larger. So I suppose the jury is still out on that one. As for the cuts in the med near Egypt, the Egyptian authorities have surveillance footage of the area the cut occurred and have confirmed there were no boats whose anchors could have been responsible.

Looking at it from America’s point of view, the only country whose communications systems are worth attacking is Iran, admittedly the main American allies in the region, Iraq and Israel are unaffected, slightly fishy, if you’ll excuse the pun, but Iran lost less than 20% of networks, not even in the top 10 nations affected. Web conspiracies centred on the fact that one Iranian router was down which led to theories that the entire nation was down, in reality only Iran’s Kish island was cut off. Which is a very significant occurrence, considering Kish Island is the location for the highly anticipated Iranian oil bourse.

So now the conspiracy theories suddenly seem a hell of a lot more plausible. The launch of the Iranian Oil Bourse, a marketplace for oil, gas and various petro-chemicals trading exclusively in non-dollars is a severe threat to the US economy. The bourse was scheduled for launch between 1-11 February on Kish Island, which was delayed when the area was cut off. The Bourse rescheduled for opening on 27th Feb. 08. The Bourse has the potential to take focus away from Western trading centres, but it requires access to internet and phones. Russia, Japan and China are among the big players who would certainly use the oil bourse to lower their enormous dollar reserves and diversify them with Euros, as protection from the depreciation of the dollar. The cuts may have scared this lot though, if they think trade with Iran is going to trigger an American special ops hissy fit, involving a nonsensical attack on global communications systems, maybe they won’t bother.

William Clark, an American security expert, predicted that if Iran threatened the hegemony of the U.S. dollar in the international oil market, the White House would immediately order a military attack. It may be a coincidence but is certainly still worth noting that Saddam Hussein threatened to value oil against the Euro instead of the dollar, back in the early nineties, things didn’t work out so well for him after that. Economic apocalyptic prophecies dictate that the dollar is going to be as valuable as bog roll in the future, but there’s no way the US are going to let that happen without a fight, I wouldn’t hesitate to attribute the need to secure the international value of the dollar as a major factor for going to war with Iraq.

“How the hell are the U.S supposed to stage an international underwater sabotage without being noticed?” I hear you cry, it sounds like something off James Bond, so it’s only right we should be sceptical, but evidence suggests such an operation is well within their means and has been for decades. Operation Ivy Bells used US technology from the 1970s, it was a pod designed to attach to underwater cables, tap information, and detach from the cable and fall to the sea bed when they were raised for maintenance. Submarines capable of using this technology include the USS Parche and USS Halibut both built in the 1960’s and the USS Jimmy Carter of the SEAWOLF Class is a submarine capable of cutting the cables and remaining undetected.

The U.S/Israeli alliance already have the USS San Jacinto, equipped with a missile system that could be deployed in the event of conflict between Iran and Israel, docked at Haifa Port. There is no doubt then that they have the technology and the motive to stage such sabotage, but why would the American military go to such lengths to damage a communications system that they developed and is widely used as a tool for distribution of American intellectual property?

The Pentagon’s Information Operation Roadmap states that the Internet’s potential for free speech is in direct opposition to their goals. It clearly states that the Internet needs to be dealt with as though it were an enemy “weapons system.” This seems insane, but it is exactly what is detailed in the Pentagon document, obtained through a freedom of information request. Much of the document is blacked out, god only knows what else they have in store, but quotes like the one below give us an idea of what lengths the department of defense will go to.

“We Must Fight the Net. DoD is building an information-centric force. Networks are increasingly the operational center of gravity, and the Department must be prepared to fight the net.”

Maybe America had this whole thing planned out, I doubt it but even if they did, it doesn’t make much difference, because Iran will have their oil bourse another time. I don’t think it really matters whether the conspiracy theories are true, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were, but the point of this whole confusion is that it can be done, and in the future we may see the internet being made into a target, in an attempt to restrict the flow of information in and out of specific areas.