Cables and Toobz, Again

Many of you who kept linking to the news on the cable cuts in CA’s South Bay were pointing in this direction. (h/t Susie)

This week in the San Francisco Bay Area, the fiber-optic cable network was purposely sliced at four distinct locations. Where a hacker cannot succeed, bolt cutters will do. Read more in The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog. Once the cables were cut, Internet service was flaky for the region and completely out for 50,000 customers. On top of that, the landlines would not work and the cell-phone towers in the area went dead.  [snip] How much work would it take to find some choke points that you could cut for the purposes of disrupting data communications in an area? How would this affect the so-called smart grid? The peculiar nature of the four cuts around the Bay Area indicated to me that someone was mapping how they would affect the region, keeping in mind that by cutting the cable in key areas you might be able to take down half the country. If more cuts are made in the future, then someone is trying to reverse-engineer the network to find the most vulnerable points of disruption.

The MarketWatch article speculates that the intentional cuts were an attempt to map how to shut off parts of the system. But what it doesn’t question–but a lot of you already had–was whether these intentional cuts had anything to do with the cable cuts made in the Middle East last year, which took down Egypt and Pakistan, and much of the rest of the Middle East.

We know whoever cut the cables last year (intentionally or not or some combination thereof) demonstrated clear choke points in international internet traffic. Now is someone trying to do the same within the US?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

31 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    We’re under attack! Run! Run!

    My bad! Shhhh (Society for Hiding, Hoping and Hushing) MadDog!

    Probably best if we don’t mention this to the Tea Party clowns ’cause they believe what you don’t know can’t hurt you. *g*

      • MadDog says:

        And probably referring to them as the Communist Workers of America rather than Communications Workers of America.

        Sure hope Glenn Beck doesn’t hear about this.

      • randiego says:

        I haven’t seen them blame the CWA publicly, do you have a link? Media speculation is all I’ve seen. They are currently in negotiations, and both sides are playing nice – at least publicly.

        yes, the initial response from AT&T used the word ’sabotage’, which is unusual language for them to use. There are outages all the time, accidental, and not accidental – more of the latter than you might think. They usually call those incidents ‘vandalism’.

        There are a few reasons they might have this reaction. Having such a large outage in your own backyard – the high-tech nirvana of the US – might be one. It also might be that you’re in negotiations with a union that is working without a contract.

        They are on record saying they’ll work through a strike. Considering that these are the people that do line work – splicing, digging, cabling – that should be interesting. The non-union rank and file will be the ones asked to fill the void. I bet those people are hoping there will be a settlement.

        • emptywheel says:

          Just all the stories interviewing the CWA spokesperson. Not anyone making a more specific allegation. (Unions have lawyers, too, don’tcha know?)

          • randiego says:

            Yes – I don’t know the exact numbers but I think the CWA contracts cover about 100,000 AT&T workers. That’s a lot of people and I assume a strike will severely impact the company.

            There’s a lot of speculation, but nobody knows who made those cuts. Plain common sense (who benefits?) reveals some union involvement as the top suspect.

            But if this was an insider, why the cuts in San Carlos, none of which resulted in an outage?

        • Synoia says:

          The culture in a Telco is “we make it work”. I really do not believe the CWA workers I’ve worked with in telcos would damage the outside plant.

          Cutting the a critical fibe optic cable in four places indicates a strong level of insider knowledge. Sonet rings are designed to survive a single cut in a sonet loop. Four cuts indicates detailed knowledge of the installation and technology.

          • randiego says:

            The culture in a Telco is “we make it work”. I really do not believe the CWA workers I’ve worked with in telcos would damage the outside plant.

            I agree, and I’d say that about 99% of the ones I’ve worked with.

    • freepatriot says:

      What is our back up plan . Cans and a string?

      I personally carve a copy of every post I make, on a rock, just in case

      for the Democrats as a whole, I’m sure there is a plan to write a sternly worded letter, or something

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Damn, no wonder your yard looks like such a shitty mess.

        Like timethief @9, it seems very weird that no further details were ever provided re: the cables in the Middle East.

  2. PeterK says:

    I wonder if it’s got to do with Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which

    would give the federal government extraordinary power over private sector Internet services, applications and software. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 would, for example, give the President unfettered power to shut down Internet traffic in emergencies or disconnect any critical infrastructure system or network on national security grounds. The bill would grant the Commerce Department the ability to override all privacy laws to access any information about Internet usage in connection with a new role in tracking cybersecurity threats. The bill, introduced by Sens. John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, would also give the government unprecedented control over computer software and Internet services,

    (see this for more details and links)

  3. timethief says:

    I’ve been waiting to hear more about the 5 cut cables in the Middle east last year. It was an incredible event and then it dropped off the public screen. I saw no follow up even little speculation about what happened. So what happened? I find your speculation interesting.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Since suspects seem unidentified, let’s cast the net a little wider. Surely, Shirley, this could easily be the work of an alphabet soup agency or Northern Command, now that the US is a “theater of war” and blessed with its own command, Posse Comitatus notwithstanding. Testing command and control procedures. No doubt, the compensation to the telecoms fits into that convenient black box exception legislated into the accounting rules by Mr. Bush.

  5. klynn says:

    This is the 2009 global map.

    I was deeply surprised that Telegeography, with offices in CA, did not cover this story.

    This security story is interesting. As is the timing.

    This happened last year.

    And there are people who oppose the smart grid and will fight against it.

    The timing on this article is of great interest. I wonder who fed the information?

    • Leen says:

      So interesting. Will read all.

      The only thing I could think of

      Does Cheney have a atmospheric deep sea diving suit?

  6. klynn says:

    Now this is interesting. Read the comments EW and randiego. Allegations made. Check out the links on the right. Especially how CWA negotiations are going. I would like to know who backs this online newsletter.

  7. klynn says:

    Wow think of it.

    Hitting cables can send lots of messages. Especially beneficial for anti-Obama messaging.

    -Bad security that Smart Grid idea. And all that money in the stimulus..tisk tisk. So much for your “new green tech” jobs to help offset the auto industry losses…
    -Bad unions doing bad things…bad,bad…

    -See, we cannot build a sustainable,new electric infrastructure that will give us clean energy. Kill the electric car. And don’t adopt those California standards on emissions for the nation.

    -We are being held hostage by another country and that was a warning signal.

    And of course there is competition for this big military ticket and California could really use it. But now what?

    Boy there are a number of possible players of interest on this. Seems like a shot across someone’s bow.

    • klynn says:

      My four points at 19 are not “my messages” but are the possible messages being put out by this cable cut by others who have something to gain from the act and the aftermath.

    • Leen says:

      MAYBE THEY ARE PUTTING IN A NEW SYSTEM..CALEA…CARNIVORE
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/…..swire.html

      K. So what does the FBI do? … Does the FBI have a system? Do they have a sort of modern breakthrough they want to apply?

      One of the big changes for the FBI once we got to the 1990s is that they were losing the copper-wire wiretaps they’d always done, and so FBI Director Louis Freeh made a priority. He says, “We have to be able to wiretap the new phone network.” This led to a law in 1994 called CALEA, the [Communications] Assistance [for Law] Enforcement Act … that said the telephone companies had to build their new fiber networks in ways that were wiretap-ready. That meant that the networks were now built at the switch level to handle wiretaps and to handle them probably in a much higher volume than before.

      So we’re not talking about the wiretap on an individual wire at this point; we’re now talking about putting some kind of device in at the switching center and getting the whole flow of traffic.

      The change in 1994 was that the wiretaps could be done at the switching center. The question that keeps coming up later is, is that going to be one person at a time, or is that going to be a much, much broader kind of wiretap at the switch level?

      Does the FBI have a program that could do that, a computerized program?

      In 2000 the press reported an FBI program called Carnivore, which was a device that could do very large-scale snooping at the switch level.

      And what happened?

      What happened in 2000 when Carnivore was announced was a tremendous outcry from the Republican Congress, complaining that the Democrats were leaning too much on surveillance and shouldn’t do so much wiretapping. …

      You said wiretapping at a broader level. What does that mean?

      Well, instead of wiretapping one person at a time, now you might be able to wiretap everybody in the neighborhood or everybody who’s going through that switch.

      You mean if you’re in someplace like New York or San Francisco, you can wiretap the whole city if you want to?

      Well, some of the switches are pretty darn big, and when you get to the AT&T case, there’s allegations that at the switch level we’re talking huge volumes of calls, maybe for millions of people.

  8. IMind says:

    I’m terrified about this, and yet at the same time pretty unconcerned… Maybe this is highlights how insane I am.

    I think it’s probably a disgruntled employee or two, it certainly highlights a huge vulnerability. Not to mention if you could hit a few carriers that share a physical conduit or who’s cables are run close to each next to each other you could do a huge amount of damage.

    On the other hand, because of the nature of the internet for example, and the way it’s designed it’s very very hard to do much more than cut off pieces of it. The biggest issue I’d see would be if you attacked a major metropolitan area and cut off communication into the area at the same time.

    Of course that pretty much happened on 9/11.

    Here’s why I’m not particularly worked up about this: We’re insanely vulnerable all over the place. I mean a single power plant in Ohio caused the power grid for the entire northeast of the United States and Canada to shut down. Knocking out the internet/land based communications is small potatoes compared to this. We need to work on the power grid BADLY.

  9. klynn says:

    I didn’t think to consider this as a action statement from the banksters until I read this.

    They would not be happy with the CA emission standards nation wide, the smart grid and role of electric cars and lower fossil fuel demand. CA would be the place to send an anti-smart-grid message. I would highly question the motive behind the marketwatch article.

    • klynn says:

      And I forgot to put “point five” in that list!

      Boy, if you are correct, THAT was more than ballsy.

      It would be interesting to get Klein’s take.

      Now, I have some more evidence from research I’ve done (but not posted). It’s evidence that has me asking more questions irt one of my points at 19. When you piece my evidence together, it’s an “Oh-SH—” moment unfortunately because the connections make way too much sense. I’ll try to post sometime.

Comments are closed.