Did The Warranties Just Run Out On Undersea Cables?

from the snapping-left-and-right dept

If you've never read Neal Stephenson's epic article from Wired magazine in 1996 about the laying of undersea fiber optic cable, I highly recommend you set aside some time to do so. Just a warning: set aside a lot of time. The article is almost book length, and it's hard to stop reading once you get into it. He goes into quite a lot of detail about FLAG, the Fiberoptic Link Around the Globe. You'll learn quite a bit about undersea cables and FLAG, which could come in handy, because in the last week, it appears that a bunch of these undersea cables have all started experiencing problems. It started off with reports of two cut cables (one of which is FLAG's) in the Mediterranean, with the explanation being that a boat anchor dragged across them. Yet, late Friday, reports came in of a third cut cable (also a FLAG cable) in the Persian gulf, followed by Egyptian reports denying that the cuts were caused by ships, saying none were in the area. To top that off, on Sunday, reports came in of a fourth cable with problems in the Middle East (it's unclear if this problem is as serious as a full cut cable), causing people to start thinking up conspiracy theories. It certainly is mighty strange to have four separate undersea cables with such problems in the same region within a few days of each other. You hate to ascribe it to malice without further evidence, but unless these cables all just went off of warranty, it's going to have a lot of folks asking similar questions.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 4:52am

    It's cloverfield...

     

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  2.  
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    ECA (profile), Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:28am

    Ummm,

     

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  3.  
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    ECA (profile), Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:29am

    Ummmm...

    OK,
    THINK and THINK HARD...
    1. you have a fiber optic cable, HOW DEEP do you place it.
    2. DO you place WARNING BOUYS NEAR IT??
    3. HOW protected "WOULD YOU" MAKE an important connection THAT you DIDNT want to REPLACE, as it would cost you MORE then DOING IT RIGHT, in the first place??
    4. OK...Lets say it happens... 1 time... OK...2 times... 3 TIMES??? 4?HuhHuh?? in the SAME WEEK?Huh?

    4 MAJOR fiber cables have been CUT....3 KNOWN OF, and the 4th is still NOT WORKING correctly...

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:44am

    Well, if we ever have to engage in a 'cyber-war' with the Mideast at least we know where their vulnerabilities lay - right on the ocean floor.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:44am

    Re: Ummmm...

    Try ENGLISH?

     

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  6.  
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    Verse, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:45am

    "It's cloverfield..." I was thinking more along the lines of fire sale (for lack of a better word)

     

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  7.  
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    A. L. Flanagan, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:49am

    Hasn't anybody else seen

    Duh, there's a new underwater lifeform. It's cutting cables as it crawls across the bottom of the sea plotting world domination.

     

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  8.  
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    shuryno, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:05am

    Now who the heck would want to cut off the world leaders in IT , engineering and service In-sourcing? Find those and find the source ,no there can't be that many, no?

    2 incidents would be pushing coincidence to it's limit, 4 is a warning i'd say.

     

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  9.  
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    Salim Fadhley, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:09am

    Natural Activity

    Is it possible to exclude all natural activity? For example could some previously undocumented tectonic phenomena cut the cables?

    I heard that that US has at least one sub whose primary job is the installation of monitoring devices onto undersea cables. I've never fully understood how that works. Supposing you install some kind of bugging device that transparently taps the data on the fibre-optic cable, wouldn't you need another fibre-optic cable to transport the signal to a location where the data can be analyzed?

     

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  10.  
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    arrg, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:16am

    Didn't know

    I didn't know these things were so vulnerable that a mere anchor could cut them. Last I knew anchors aren't all that sharp.. I would think if you did snag a cable you would wind up reeling it in rather than cutting it.

     

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  11.  
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    Wolf, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:21am

    I find myself wondering who has submarines in the area, and who would benefit from such an outage?

     

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  12.  
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    Wolf, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:32am

    Re: Natural Activity

    With respect to Mr. Fadhley, Since all internet traffic passes through the U.S., tapping cables like these would be pointless. The N.S.A. already has access to the traffic. Personally I suspect israel of a bit of sabotage.

     

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  13.  
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    Gunnar, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    Re: Ummmm...

    The bouys would have to run the length of the cables...

    They are mostly redundant systems. Cut a few cables and info gets re-routed without issue. It probably doesn't cost much in the scheme of things to repair the cables.

    How do you suggest they "Do it right"? It's impossible to bury them undersea. Running redundant lines over politically unstable lands (ie, Iran and Pakistan to cover the ones that were cut recently) is prohibitively expensive. It has happened once in the x-number of years the internet has gotten to the Middle East. Not exactly a terrible track record.

    I'd say this is overreacting. The other cables being cut and being newsworthy is only because the Mideast outage brought a magnifying glass to the cable cutting stories.

     

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  14.  
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    Just Some Guy, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:44am

    Re: Re: Natural Activity

    Really? All Internet traffic goes through the US? You may want to spend a few minutes checking global topology maps and rethink your statement. Having all traffic route through the US would make the Internet slow for all continenents other than NA.

     

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  15.  
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    Just Some Guy, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:44am

    Re: Re: Natural Activity

    Really? All Internet traffic goes through the US? You may want to spend a few minutes checking global topology maps and rethink your statement. Having all traffic route through the US would make the Internet slow for all continenents other than NA.

     

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  16.  
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    Ken Hanscom, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:44am

    Beyond Coincidence

    It's beyond coincidence at this point. I cannot wait to see the most outrageous conspiracy theories abound. Maybe it is the Loch Ness Monster.

     

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  17.  
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    Steve, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:47am

    Re: Re: Natural Activity

    Mr. Wolf,
    No one appreciates anti Semitic comments and nor do i want to get into a discussion. Now stop blaming the Jews for everything that goes wrong, as Israel also depends on the FLAG networks, and has no reason whatsoever to cut these cables.

     

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  18.  
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    Mike, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 6:48am

    Not random

    There is no rational explaination for this many cables to fail so close together, short of a major tectonic displacement, which hasn't happened (monitored closely) these cables were cut, and I'm sure they will blame terrorists at some point. It is more likely Israel that would do such a thing, they seem to have a history of secretive attacks on information systems.

     

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  19.  
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    Nick Overstreet (profile), Feb 4th, 2008 @ 7:01am

    Re: Didn't know

    Well if an anchor did catch a fiber cable I can totally see it breaking the fiber.
    But as you said, I didn't know these cables were so vulnerable. I thought they would've at least buried them a bit to prevents things like this from happening (if it was really an anchor... which I am not buying at this point).

     

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  20.  
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    Graham, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 7:16am

    Re:Natural Activity

    It is entirely possible that it is Israel just as much as it is possible that it is US, after all they are p*ssed that Iran is trying to start up its own oil exchange in euros this month. Disruption to networks can stop trades going ahead. Many also suspect it was the reason for going in against Iraq, the fact that they were trading all their oil in euros and not dollars.

    Steve, it is not anti-Semitic to say that Israel might have done it get a grip.

     

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  21.  
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    Jeff, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    Could whoever is going this please disconnect Nigeria too? Thx.

     

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  22.  
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    Jeff, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    Could whoever is doing this please disconnect Nigeria too? Thx.

     

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  23.  
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    Disparishun, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:14am

    hint: the same region

    It certainly is mighty strange to have four separate undersea cables with such problems in the same region within a few days of each other.

    Uh, no.

    It would be mighty strange to have separate cables with such problems in different regions within a few days of each other.

    When they're in the same region, you look for common causes. Unusually strong winds, the resulting hefty underwater currents that perturb the cables, and more boats dropping cable-slicing anchors as a result of said winds and currents, are just a few that tend to accompany each other.

    Logic is your friend. Use it.

     

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  24.  
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    mike allen, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    coild be....

    It could be any one yes Israel have a record but could be Alqueerda or Iran or US but deliberate most certainly and jeff comment 22 WHY????

     

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  25.  
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    Kilgore Trout, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:24am

    Re: Hasn't anybody else seen

    "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"

    "The same thing we do every night, Pinky...try and take over THE WORLD!!"

     

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  26.  
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    chris (profile), Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:30am

    suspecting israel is not antisemitic

    any time anyone says that israel might be doing something sneaky they get hit with the antisemitism stick.

    israel will do anything to protect its people and its way of life, their rather bloody history is proof of that.

    the mossad (the israeli version of the CIA) is one of the best trained and most active intelligence agencies in the world. their capabilities rival or may actually exceed those of the CIA or britain's MI6, yet israel is smaller than the state of wisconsin.

    there is a laundry list of black bag operations that the mossad has pulled, the bulk of which are assassinations, bombings, and air strikes.

    suggesting that israel might cut a few cables is not that outlandish and is certainly not antisemitic.

    one might also argue that since the cables weren't kidnapped or assassinated, israel clearly wasn't involved.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:32am

    Re: Re: Ummmm...

    "They are mostly redundant systems. Cut a few cables and info gets re-routed without issue. It probably doesn't cost much in the scheme of things to repair the cables."

    You obviously have no idea what you're talking about. Go watch a documentary about the repair crews that have to go out and find and fix the trans-continental fiber-optic cables, and then come talk to me about how difficult and expensive it is to repair cables laid out of miles and miles of ocean floor.

    Furthermore, there are only so many such cables, only so many redundancies, and only so much bandwidth to go around. With 4 major cables inoperable, that is putting a very heavy load on the remaining backbone links around the world. Available bandwidth has been drastically reduced, and people and businesses alike are hurting because of it.

    In any event, this is not insignificant news. While I will not believe any ridiculous conspiracy theories (unless, of course, a logical explanation does not turn up soon), the fact is that such a widespread outage is not commonplace at all. We need to find out what happened and why, and figure out how to make it never happen again. Please do us a favor, and know what you're talking about before speaking, or typing, whichever term you prefer.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:34am

    I appreciate that Egypt has suddenly moved to close the recently breached border wall between it and Gaza.

    The good news is that Israel has not been affected by this as it shares a different cable with Iraq.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    Not the US. Think very hard on this, if they have to start paying American workers again, their bonuses will go down. Then the Corporate masters won't be able to pay Congress.

     

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  30.  
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    Bob Marley, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 8:54am

    I cut the cables, but I didn't cut no power supply

    Yes, I admit to it. I felt the need to fire a warning shot over the bow of greedy American businesses that outsource to India. This was a piece of cake, do you think I couldn't have shut you down completely? Send your dollars overseas so you can pay your incompetent, greedy CEOs more while screwing your hard working fellow Americans. Go ahead, you'll regret that when your economy goes into the dumpster and the dollar is worth diddly. You'll regret that when India finally goes to war with Pakistan. You'll regret that when someone does take out all the cables. Your companies will die a harsh death and so will all your savings and net worth. I'm sure you'll still feel warm and giddy though, because you'll have secured your CEOs security at the expense of your own, your family's, and your country's.

     

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  31.  
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    Kitsune, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:19am

    I know what it is!

    It's all the old-farts of the world. They all banded together, bought a submarine, and now they're down there playing "Abyss".

    "Darn all those whippersnappers and their "technology"!"

     

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  32.  
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    Katmo, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:26am

    Re: I cut the cables, but I didn't cut no power su

    Right, so I should just ignore your North Carolina IP address?

     

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  33.  
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    Improbus, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:28am

    This is a Test

    To me this feels like the test of an covert ops plan. If Iran gets attached I can see Israel/BushCo severing communication links so that the only news coming out of the area is theirs. Just call me paranoid.

     

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  34.  
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    exSubmariner, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:40am

    Could be the US Navy...

    US Navy subs eavesdrop on cables - and have for many years. Maybe they're just getting sloppy now.

     

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  35.  
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    Israel, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    We did it

    Now do something about it.

     

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  36.  
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    krsd, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 10:31am

    The Stars are Right?

    Who would have guessed those cables went right next to R'lyeh...

     

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  37.  
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    bubba, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Natural Activity

    saying israel might have done something is hardly anti-semitic. israel has done alot of bad things too, but according to your moron thinking, no one should say anything about anything they ever did in question since that would be anti-jewish there as well?

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 11:11am

    Microsoft

    Microsofts co-founder Paul Allen has a yaught named the Octopus, said ship has a 10 man submarine. Hummmm.?

     

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  39.  
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    SCUBA Diver, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 11:16am

    Re: hint: the same region

    "Unusually strong winds, the resulting hefty underwater currents that perturb the cables..."

    Nope, winds and storms only affect the top 60 feet of ocean waters (usually only the top 20 feet or so) -- and winds cannot change the underlying currents (below the surface waters) at all.

    While I am no expert on the way they lay out the cables in the ocean, they must be >60ft (except when coming on shore) to avoid being sliced by the keels of passing ships.

    Short answer: Don't blame the wind for something several thermoclines below the surface of the ocean.

    IF it was a natural cause, most likely would be a mudslide, or other erosion caused by undersea currents, not surface wind.

     

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  40.  
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    Shane, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 11:32am

    These things happen more often than you think...

    Undersea cables operate in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Given the frequent seismic events in the area I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. When telephone was the only service on transatlantic cables outages were frequently cause by undersea landslides, fishing trawlers, and the occasional marine animal. the mental picture of a calm sea floor does not reflect the reality. Its a very dynamic place.

    Or it could just be the terrorists, terrorists, 9/11, WMDs.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 11:39am

    Re: Didn't know

    Yes, they usually snag them and bring them up. The problem is how does a fishing vessel or some other boat get the cable off the anchor? It's stretched out and tight on the anchor. Many times the only way for the ship to get free is to cut the cable.

    If you're a fishing vessel that cuts a fiber optic cable, are you going to fess up considering that most people that cause cuts get a bill for it?

    That's if the people cutting it even think about it being a fiber cable. For all they know they snagged some junk and have no idea that there is live traffic on it. Unless they pull up a repeater or something, but even then, they would be housed in protection. It would be a dirty cable of unknown origin likely without bright orange "don't dig" stickers on it.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    "saying israel might have done something is hardly anti-semitic. israel has done alot of bad things too, but according to your moron thinking, no one should say anything about anything they ever did in question since that would be anti-jewish there as well?"

    Who says what Israel has done was bad? Hell, if the US didn't hold them back, they would have done a hell of a lot more, and rightfully so.

    Look at Iran today. Just because the US will probably wuss out doesn't mean that Israel should or will.

     

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  43.  
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    Chicken Little, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 3:25pm

    Mr Steve is paranoid.

    Mr Steve stop crying wolf, and about his comments too.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 3:46pm

    So did anybody notice that the Columbian (Cali) router is down also...

     

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  45.  
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    courtney benson, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 5:15pm

    telecommunications cables, who done it?

    Good God don't tell Alex Jones, he will have a field day with this story. He'll start with fixing on questions like who installed those cables? - Cable & Wireless, Global Crossing (all US companies)and who owns them or leases them? He will make a whole conspiracy movie out of it. He'll be on Coast to Coast AM to discuss it for hours. :-). Guess I'll be sitting down to read Neil's epic article.

     

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  46.  
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    wolfger, Feb 5th, 2008 @ 2:31am

    Speak for yourself!

    You hate to ascribe it to malice without further evidence

    Yeah. Like people were talking about the terrible "accident" when the first plane hit the first tower. Sorry, but sometimes it pays to be a bit paranoid and ascribe something to malice early on. While other people were wondering "how could this happen?" I was thinking "oh shit, we're under attack. And I was right. This feels the same way, although who the attacker might be, and what their objective is, I'm not at all sure.

     

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  47.  
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    nada, Feb 6th, 2008 @ 12:29pm

     

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  48.  
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    scared shirtless, Feb 6th, 2008 @ 4:45pm

    Re: good nsa article

    Acording to the article a disruption would be immediately noticed if the cable were compromised.So why not just take it down at one point and tap into it hundreds of miles away while it's "down for maintenance".I also noticed General Hayden(not just some junior grade spokesperson) downplaying NSA capabilities.He convinced me that they have trouble intercepting Morse Code.The first time I saw Hayden on TV I thought about the peaceful looking creatures in the movie Galaxy Quest that could suddenly grow fangs and become violently canabalistic.All in the name of national security.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Evil-G, Feb 6th, 2008 @ 8:16pm

    Demands

    Deposit 100 Euro's (That's like 1 million US Dollors,..Hah)
    Into this swiss bank account,..CH-9/112001.
    You have one week,..
    If you do not meet this deadline,..
    I will start cutting lines into the US.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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