Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Words beneath the waves

Damage to two undersea cables in the Mediterranean, Flag and Seamewe 4, has cut off communications to Egypt and other areas in the Middle East. It also highlighted the degree to which entire countries are dependent on high capacity underwater cables for their connection to the global economy. "TeleGeography, a U.S. research group that tracks submarine cables around the world, said the severed lines account for 75 percent of the capacity connecting Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to Europe." This level of dependence is not unusual. For example the Australian Government reports that "submarine cables carry about 99 per cent of Australian international telecommunications traffic."

Today, submarine cables carry the bulk of all international telecommunications traffic. They can be damaged by earthquake, as was the case when a "7.1-magnitude earthquake just south of Taiwan knocked an unprecedented seven submarine communications cables out of service on December 26, impairing international communications to Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Singapore." They can be damaged by accident. The outage in the Mediterranean was thought to be caused by "an illegally or improperly anchored ship". Or they can be cut by belligerents in time of war. During the first and second World Wars, the allies imposed an information blockade on Germany by cutting its submarine cables or re-installing them under Allied control.

Submarine cable communications are a strategic asset whose value has only increased with the growing importance of information in the world economy. The Australian Government says it is "concerned about security for international submarine fibre optic telecommunications cables, which are vulnerable to damage from several sources, particularly some kinds of fishing, anchoring and dredging." Among the most important ships in the world today are the fleet of cable-laying and repair ships which are equipped with the unique ability to hover above a particular spot and lift underwater cables by grapple to effect a repair.

This map of the world underwater cable network reveals one of the least appreciated aspects of seapower. The United States Navy, by its control of the oceans, has the potential ability to impose an information blockade on any country on earth in time of war and force any belligerent into using communications channels which it physically controls. Air Force control of outer space means that this blockade ability also extends to the use of communications satellites.

One reason why sea control and space control can be so effective in maintaining a communications blockade is that a naval force can prevent cable repair ships from fixing breaks to enemy cables while escorting the same repair ships to maintain its own network. Even without enemy action, cables routinely suffer breakdowns from natural events. By simply denying freedom of movement to cable repair ships, a dominant navy can effectively cause enemy comms to degrade. The same principle applies to satellite communications. The nation with the ability to launch spare satellites and defend them against enemy action can extend an information blockade into outer space.

But the flip side of the coin is this: unheralded and unnoticed the USN and USAF maintain the "freedom of navigation" not only of the ocean waves but of the ether. It is behind their shield that the world economy literally lives. The cars people drive, the fuel that propels them, the food they eat, the conversations they have, the television signals they receive, all travel the broad highways of sea and sky that men unsung defend.



24 Comments:

Blogger Zenster said...

During the first and second World Wars, the allies imposed an information blockade on Nazi Germany but cutting its submarine cables or re-installing them under Allied control.

I'm hoping that someone more historically versed than myself can step forward with a bit of clarification on this particular subject.

From what I recall, ITT ran much of the overseas telecom traffic during WWII. According to the book "The Sovereign State of ITT" Sosthenes Behn worked both sides of the street like a jonesing crack whore. Tapping traffic from his array of underseas cables, Behn freely trafficked Nazi sigint to the Allies and Allied sigint to the Nazis. Some background:

According to Anthony Sampson's book "The Sovereign State of ITT," one of the first American businessmen Hitler received after taking power in 1933 was Sosthenes Behn, then the CEO of ITT and his German representative, Henry Mann. Antony C. Sutton, in his book "Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler", makes the claim that ITT subsidiaries made cash payments to S.S. leader Heinrich Himmler.

ITT, through its subsidiary The Lorenz Company, owned 25% of Focke-Wulf, the German aircraft manufacturer, builder of some of the most successful Luftwaffe fighter aircraft. In addition, Sutton’s book uncovers that ITT owned Huth and Company, G.m.b.H. of Berlin, which made radio and radar parts that were used in equipment going to the German Armed Forces.


I'm truly curious as to whether securing Allied undersea cable traffic by "re-installing them under Allied control" actually succeeded or if Behn plays both sides like a first chair violinist.

1/30/2008 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I'm hoping that someone more historically versed than myself can step forward with a bit of clarification on this particular subject.

There's a book that will soon be out: Nexus, Strategic Communications and American Security in World War I by
Jonathan Reed Winkler from Harvard University Press that promises to be a real landmark on this subject. It bids fair to answer all your questions and more.

1/30/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

information blockade

How much of the Middle East banking system is affected by this cable outage, and how much of the transfer of funds via "donations" to terrorists?

Of course, one wonders if it was really an accident since if we did want to quarantine them into their own sandboxes, cutting off their communications would have to be a vital first step.

Seems like an optimal time for a satellite failure, too.

And, of course, if the Arabs complain about how long it's taking to get it fixed and up and running again, they are always welcome to lay their own deep-sea cables and launch their own telecommunications satellites. I, for one, would be an interested observer in the peanut gallery of any such efforts.

Does that fact that Dubai is buying CitiBank affect anything one way or the other, I wonder.

1/30/2008 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger F451-2.0 said...

Zenster said,

"I'm hoping that someone more historically versed than myself can step forward with a bit of clarification on this subject"


By no means well versed, I can however pass on something I read some time ago.

Perhaps now old news to many, Charles Higham, in his 1983 book "Trading With the Enemy" devotes a chapter to ITT, Behn and Nazi Germany.

The other 11 chapters are also quite revealing.

Hope that its helpful.

1/30/2008 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

I looked into this a few years ago, but I'm less than up to speed now so i can't get too specific. Perhaps some of the space guys here can fill in some information. But this seems a great reason to have a robust and aggressive space program that is sending up a lot of stuff. The ability to lift things into space - and to do a lot of it cheaply - is probably one of the more important strategic capacities that we could have.

This is the military capacity that I think we most need to worry about the Chinese developing. The ability to get us into a war of space assets and then being able to more rapidly launch new assets into operation.

A more aggressive US space program, consisting of the ability to rapidly manufacture cheap and reliable launch vehicles, could be a huge strategic advantage. And merely having that capacity could serve to dissuade potential rivals from even thinking of attacking our space based resources, or imagining that they could rival us in that domain any time soon.

I'd love to hear what some space buffs think about this.

1/30/2008 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Space-based assets are a huge force multiplier -- and are therfore potentially a great achilles heel if seriously degraded.

Years ago I read of a proposal to have a Trident on each boomer loaded with a cheap micro commsat that could be lobbed into orbit in an emergency.

I don't think anything ever came of it.

I think the GPS sats are in widely varying orbits in part so that debris from a successful attack on one won;t be in the same plane as the others. I also think they are at mid-altitude -- not in geosynchronous orbit but still much higher than the easier to reach LEO recon sats etc.

I hope somewhere we have the small number of F-15 launched ASAT missiles that were built (and successfully tested!) well maintained and usable.

I also hope like hell that there has been some cooperation between the Feds and private US sat operators to harden key civilian comm sats. Too much is at stake.

1/30/2008 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Interesting theory:

The United States Navy, by its control of the oceans, has the potential ability to impose an information blockade on any country on earth in time of war and force any belligerent into using communications channels which it physically controls. Air Force control of outer space means that this blockade ability also extends to the use of communications satellites.One reason why sea control and space control can be so effective in maintaining a communications blockade is that a naval force can prevent cable repair ships from fixing breaks to enemy cables…” -Wretchard

I wonder actually how successful it would be to cut communications lines to a certain country (say Iran) without knocking out communications of friendly countries. Can it be done? I assume it can.

On the same idea, I would assume the US could simply disconnect key communication channels to unfriendly countries without actual destruction of cables or satellites. Or, simply controlling the Name Servers of the world and denying certian countries access to them. On this I am may be wrong.

On another subject, those submarine cable companies can also be hazardous to your wealth.

I owned both Global Crossing and its spin out Asia Global Crossing (that was the line from the West Coast to Japan and China). By the time Winnick got done looting the company I ended up with only a tax write-off. Needless to say I and many other investors were displeased with Winnick and his “dark fiber” phantom trades.

1/30/2008 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

newscaper,
"I hope somewhere we have the small number of F-15 launched ASAT missiles that were built (and successfully tested!) well maintained and usable."

Those were all used up in "Red Storm Rising."

1/30/2008 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

"Those were all used up in "Red Storm Rising."

Yukkity-yuk. That's a good one.

See
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/388/1

The design worked, although it was only good for LEO and the jet had to be near the "footprint", real limitations.

But it worked. Well enough to take out an opponent's lower tech recon sats.

The original plan was for 112 missiles, but the program was killed off for various reasons, but failing to work was not one of them. The question remains-- are any still on the shelf from development?

1/30/2008 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/30/2008 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

I find it interesting to note that in recent hours there's been some talk in the new about Brazil's desire to buy a $600 million dollar nuclear submarine from France. They already have a French aircraft carrier, but considering the difficulties that just about every nation other than the US has had with developing that capability I have to suspect that they have a long ways to go.

In the last several hours I'd been asking myself why it is that Brazil would be throwing this kind of money into such capability. The protection of off-shore energy deposits seems plausible, I suppose. Otherwise it didn't seem clear to me exactly why Brazil was making this kind of investment.

Perhaps the topic of Wretchard's post is part of their concern? Any Brazilians reading who've been following this?

1/30/2008 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Unfortunately, the net effect of U.S. Government policies over the last 50 plus years has been to do serious damage to the U.S. space launch industry. Through various policies the U.S. Government has long been trying to eliminate much of the country’s launch capability. It has not quite been able to do so, but not through lack of trying. I would give you a link to an article on the subject, but the website that has it appears to be down right now. Maybe its cable got cut.

The measure of success in the government’s policies is illustrated by the fact that incompetent boobs have kicked our ass. The Soviets, French and Chinese came up with a series of booster designs that are simply horrible, but they had the immense advantage of not having National policies that amounted to a program of utterly ruthless sabotage.

Today, the 50th anniversary of the first successful U.S. space launch, we look out on a world that essentially no longer uses U.S.-built space boosters for commercial launches. And a world in which even the USAF is partially dependent on Russian-manufactured rocket engines.

1/31/2008 05:38:00 AM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

RWE,

Thanks for explaining this. I'd really like to ask for you to explain more and to point a way out, but I fear that could be one big essay for you to write. So perhaps a more simple question should be posed to you: If you could write a simple, one page letter that you would like every American to send to their congressman outlining a better space policy, what would you write?

1/31/2008 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The Internet itself is an example of what our strategy should be. If we leverage our technological and economic advantage into a prohibitively expensive capital asset, then everyone benefits, but nobody can compete. We own it. We don't milk it, but we maintain control. Think about the Panama Canal. I still don't know why we gave that away.

An analogous technology would be the "Tokyo Express" that Reagan wanted. If we get it up and running before anyone else, then we have a strategic asset that prevents others from using it against us.

As far as launch capability, the best bet currently going is the circular magnetic sling, which is like a looped railgun for projection of mass into orbit. The estimate is $300/kg as opposed to current costs with disposable launch vehicles of $13,000/kg. I would like to see us do it. Of course, I would also like to see the US embrace maglev railroads, but that doesn't seem too likely at this point.

1/31/2008 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Some pretty good outsider non-status quo opinions on reviving space policy (both govt and properly enabling private activities) can be found at Rand Simberg's and Jerry Pournelle's blogs. The former is an engineer with industry experience, an the latter is the hard SF author who played a role in formulating Reagan's space policy (including SDI).

Pournelle in particular is big on the government establishing large prizes for ambitious advances/achievements by US companies, encouraging innovation outside of the strangling bureaucracy of NASA.

Example
"And finally, the simplest way to invest in the needed technologies is to establish massive prizes for achievement of stated goals. For the American owned company that first flies the same ship to orbit 12 times in one year, $4 billion. For the American owned company that first puts 31 American citizens on the Moon and keeps them there alive and well for 3 years and a day, $10 billion. For the American owned company that first beams down to a receiver in the United States 10 megawatts of power per day for 320 days in a single year, $10 billion.

We do all understand that a couple of hundred square kilometers of solar panels in space would relieve energy supply problems? And that while space solar panels are big, they're light in weight, and if you want big structures, space is the place to put them: no wind loading, no snow, no rain, no dust storms...

Now of course I made up those numbers, but I think they are enough to do the job, and if we can afford a trillion dollars for foreign wars, we can certainly afford relatively small amounts like the above. Does anyone think this plan has no chance of working? I'd put the odds at well about 5:1; and note that the only big costs are nuclear power plants.

Prizes cost nothing unless someone wins."

1/31/2008 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/31/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Newscaper: Jerry Pournelle was Chief of Advanced Planning at the Aerospace Corporation before he got famous for writing. And that was also my title at Cape Canaveral for my last job in the Air Force.

As for solar power stations in orbit, it is an unclassified but not widely known fact that the same technologies that the NRO developed for “overheard reconnaissance” can be applied to solar power arrays in orbit to produce an order of magnitude reduction in the required size.

Here are a few articles at that website I mentioned, which is back up now:

On the subject of US Govt support of space launch activities:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/470/1

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/517/1

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/758/1

and on manned space exploration:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/870/1

James: It would take more than a long essay to explain where we went wrong; it would take a book, and I am writing it.

1/31/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Reliapundit said...

these were all planned outages/sabotage which we're exploiting in order to insert special worms and viruses in enemy systems in order to track their intel on their intranets.

2/01/2008 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

Did someone screw up the bugging operation?

2/02/2008 02:27:00 AM  
Blogger rkb said...

I think the GPS sats are in widely varying orbits in part so that debris from a successful attack on one won;t be in the same plane as the others.

Nope. The 24 satellites are spread across 4 orbital planes in order to have at least 3 available for the receivers to triangulate on at most places on earth. Receivers infer location by comparing signals from multiple satellites & at least 3 are needed at any given time at any given place for this calculation.

I also think they are at mid-altitude -- not in geosynchronous orbit but still much higher than the easier to reach LEO recon sats etc.

yes, that's correct.

2/02/2008 05:20:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Third Undersea Cable Cut

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Friday February 01, @02:47PM
from the someone-doesn't-like-connect-the-dots dept.

Many readers are reporting that another undersea fiber optic cable has been cut, apparently caused by another wayward anchor. It looks like Iran has completely lost Internet connectivity."

http://slashdot.org/~ScuttleMonkey/

* * *

One cut cable could be an accident.

Two cut cables could be a really severe act of nature.

Three cut cables ... ? And happening on the same day as this headline from ArabNews in Saudi Arabia: "OPEC Rejects US Demand for More Oil"

2/02/2008 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

*
don't worry about egypt... apparently they're coping by outsourcing cumbersome stuff like foreign policy to friends and neighbours.

*

2/02/2008 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Lippard said...

"One cut cable could be an accident.

Two cut cables could be a really severe act of nature.

Three cut cables ... ? And happening on the same day as this headline from ArabNews in Saudi Arabia: "OPEC Rejects US Demand for More Oil""

Two cut cables were one incident--FLAG Telecom's Europe-Asia cable and SeaMeWe-4 run in parallel from Mumbai to Djibouti into the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, and then across the Mediterranean from Alexandria to Sicily--it's that last leg in the Mediterranean where both got cut by the same tanker's anchor.

The other cut was a separate incident on FLAG Telecom's FALCON cable. The Europe-Asia cable that lands in Mumbai also splits off to the north into the Persian Gulf, past Oman, UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain, and lands in Kuwait. In the other direction, it goes around the tip of India and lands in Sri Lanka. That cut occurred off the coast of Oman, between Oman and UAE.

If you check out Telegeography's web page, you can see a complete world map of submarine cables.

BTW, in the December 2006 earthquake incident there were a total of nine cable breaks.

The impact on Iran was completely incidental to these cuts, in my opinion--none of the cables involved lands in Iran; Iran gets connectivity with a separate Kuwait-Iran cable, and presumably has some terrestrial and satellite capability as well. The more obvious impact was to India.

2/03/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Yeah, but India has the smarts to deal with it:

12:07 p.m. ET · Three vital undersea cables were cut last week, but India's IT sector coped well.

Does Iran?

2/03/2008 12:06:00 PM  

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