Cable cuts, conspiracies, and submarines…

It is 3AM at Social Graph Foo Camp and it seems conversations about data portability and authentication will continue until breakfast. As I was leaving to find my sleeping bag, several people insisted that sharing conspiracy theories about the three recent transcontinental fiber cuts was of greater importance than my own desire to sleep. Here goes…

It’s no secret that many governments tap undersea communications lines to install surveillance systems. One theory is that the cuts, initially reported as being caused by ships anchoring in rough seas, are actually a diversion to cover taps installed by a special submarine hundreds of miles away or by the repair ships themselves.

The USS Jimmy Carter is an example of a United States submarine equipped for this kind of mission, although other nations probably have this capability too. If such a submarine were doing this it seems unlikely that it would cause such massive interruptions. The whole point would be to do this covertly and so interruption would be momentary if it were noticed at all. More importantly, a tap is useless when the lines are out-of-service.

If the outages are intentional I suspect that there is something else going on.

(Updated: Feb-04 12:30 PST) I’ve edited this post and removed the “lolsub”. These theories are getting more attention after Egypt retracted an earlier statement about this being caused by ships and a fourth cable had problems. I don’t want to confuse the issue with humor that might not translate well outside of the technical community.