Djibouti’s Cable News

Remember back in 2008, when a mysterious cluster of intercontinental cables were cut, knocking parts of the Middle East and South Asia (notably Egypt and Pakistan) off telecom networks?

Well, we’ve got another cluster of cut cables again, this time off of Djibouti, where one of our currently most critical bases is (we operate into Yemen and Somalia from there).

Undersea data cables linking East Africa to the Middle East and Europe were severed in two separate shipping accidents this month, causing telecommunications outages in at least nine countries and affecting millions of Internet and phone users, telecom executives and government officials said.

A ship dragging its anchor off the coast of the Kenyan port city of Mombasa severed a crucial Internet and phone link for the region Saturday, crippling electronic communications from Zimbabwe to Djibouti, according to a public-private consortium that owns the undersea cable.

The Indian Ocean fiber-optic cable, known as The East African Marine Systems, or Teams, is owned by a group of telecom companies and the Kenyan government. It was the fourth cable to be severed in the region since Feb. 17.

The Teams cable had been rerouting data from three other cables severed 10 days ago in the Red Sea between Djibouti and the Middle East. Together, the four fiber-optic cables channel thousands of gigabytes of information per second and form the backbone of East Africa’s telecom infrastructure.

There are, undoubtedly, a number of interesting conversations that would be transiting those telecom lines, not least those between AQAP and al-Shabaab. Not to mention the conversations within East Africa.

But those conversations won’t be traveling by most easily accessible telecommunication channels, at least not until those cables are restored.

And while we’re discussing Internet cables, note that these Djibouti cables, like those off of Egypt that were taken out in 2008, do not appear on State’s cable–classified just Secret–of critical infrastructure around the globe.


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.

25 replies
  1. Quanto says:

    I wonder when the cables get spliced back together if they end up with a little extra hardware attached to them like a splitter.

  2. MadDog says:

    OT – For the morrow’s postings, I’ll submit this AP article for consideration, and make special note of the last paragraph I quoted:

    “AP source: Israel won’t warn US before Iran strike

    Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions…


    …Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions…


    …But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel’s frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran…


    …U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up, according to the U.S. official, and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the communications…”

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    @Quanto: Is there any intelligence on how the Egyptian and other cables cut a year or two ago were repaired? Who did the “repairs”? Who might be in a position to do something like that?

    Bob in AZ

  4. orionATL says:


    it is amazing to me how self destructive, nation-wise, right-wingers naturally are, whatever their nationality.

    israel has entirely lost all the sympathy built up from its valiant 1967 efforts at self-defense, ff.

    a strike against iran, which has no nuclear weapons capability, will render israel a pariah among nations.

    it wil legitimize any iranian effort to develop nuclear weaponry.

    i suspect israel is pulling its final u.s. election-year bluff to push the u.s. into collaboration on a strike in order to hide itssimple dominance-seeking behavior behind a u.s. involvement.

    the wisest course for the u.s. is to hang the israelis out to dry, should they dare to strike unilaterally, by refusing to co-operate, thus making the israeli effort unequivocally unilateral.

    an additional consideration possibly invoking israeli desperation is that the israelis may not have the firepower to carry out an attack.

    if this proves to be the case, you can count on a foolish netanyahu bombing caper as the apogee of israeli influence in the middle-east, and watch its rapid subsequent decline.

    israeli’s existence under likud, from began ff, always depended on

    1. u.s. military support


    2. arab dictatorships.

    the later are crumbling, as is israel’s control of events.

  5. Gitcheegumee says:


    Would be interesting to see the results of the insurance adjuster’s investigation(if there is any).

    Lots of questions would be answered.

  6. Bob Schacht says:


    the wisest course for the u.s. is to hang the israelis out to dry, should they dare to strike unilaterally, by refusing to co-operate, thus making the israeli effort unequivocally unilateral.

    But you know what would happen if he did that. The Republicans would scream that we were abandoning Israel, our most important ally, in its hour of need.

    Obama would, immediately after the Israeli attack, have to announce in a major address to America, that we disagree with Israel about the threat posed by Iran, and that Israel had acted without our agreement. Obama would still get mercilessly attacked for abandoning Israel. It would be a difficult sell for Obama before the elections, but I think he could pull it off.

    Bob in AZ

  7. 4jkb4ia says:

    Completely re twitter, here are some Jewish dates.

    Purim is next Thursday, and that’s so much the obvious date to bomb Iran it won’t happen, but I still have my fingers crossed.

    Rosh Hashanah is September 17 and 18. So an October surprise is not only next year, it’s outside the window that Barak was floating.

    Gas prices may be able to stay high enough on everyone-knows-this-has-to-happen that they don’t need the sudden spike. The worth of an October surprise is giving the president a sudden crisis to deal with.

  8. 4jkb4ia says:

    But wait, there is more. As a happy side effect of having the Tal Law being overturned, you get this attempt at a link from Haaretz. Netanyahu has already had a primary–he won with 77% of the vote. He’s going to call an election, at an unknown time, and the religious parties may be out of the coalition after said election. So domestic Israeli politics are volatile enough that there may not be a definite plan for next year.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Interesting. Is there a market in raising carrier pigeons anymore?

    If folks did not watch Chris Hayes Up program this Sunday so much there about Iran, oil speculators banking on Israel attacking Iran and sanctions against Iran and so much more. Jeremy Scahill rolled over Anne Marie Slaughter who went quickly to inflammatory rhetoric about Iran when Jeremy flattened her myths with facts.

    On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday GPS program Dr. Zbig highly recommended that President OBama draw the we will not support an attack on Iran lines during his upcoming meeting with Netanyahu on March 5th. Dr. Zbig’s words were clear and strong. No support for an attack on Iran, will not back Israel up and let them know no flying through US controlled air space. Worth watching as well as a Mr. Stockmans explanations of rising oil prices

  10. Kathleen says:

    Oh yeah Chris Hayes did a segment on Iraq…Jeremy Scahill talked about US torture. Marcy should be on the Up program. Pushing a bit

  11. Bob Schacht says:

    “If folks did not watch Chris Hayes Up program this Sunday…”

    Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry actually give one reasons to get up early on the weekends. At last MSNBC has some decent news shows on the weekends instead of “Lockup” 24/7. And even more amazing is that they’ve given MH-P a *two hour* time slot.

    I have bones to pick with MSNBC for their treatment of David Shuster, Keith Olbermann, and Cenk Uyghur, but they’re doing a pretty good job of recruiting young News Anchors, and giving them some room to roam.

    Bob in AZ

  12. klynn says:

    You might be interested in this story about LION2 submarine cable getting ready to go live April 2012. Just somewhat odd that France Telecom is involved again… Hmmm. In 2008, France Telecom was getting ready to go live with a new cable then, just before all the cuts happened. Add in that two Indian brothers who own two separate telecom companies were having a little war between themselves and the whole 2008 cable cuts had added interest.

    These 2012 cuts also have some added interest too.

    Some players were said to be reluctant to move all their traffic to Seacom which is said to be almost three times as expensive as TEAMS

    And then TEAMS was cut. Hmmmm…

  13. rugger9 says:

    Amazing how it’s interconnected to a PTB, seems to parallel the Boeing tanker contract in some ways.

    Good luck getting any hard facts on the “dragging anchor” vessel. It is something that does happen on occasion, and is why restricted areas and anchorages exist. However, in a place as lawless as the Horn of Africa anything on the books would be ignored, and if someone “bought” the deed there’s no evidence that can be reliably traced.

  14. rugger9 says:

    About the Israeli strike, it was a wag the dog scenario from the start by a PM that’s probably going to lose the election otherwise, Making Israel a pariah among nations matters not at all to Bibi provided he 1) stays in power and 2) the AIPAC lobby ensures that the USA backs him up. He’s already soiled relations with the NATO-member Turks, who were his best friends in the region [and who we are required by the NATO treaty to defend their unarmed vessels hit by non-NATO Israel], the Egyptians who are critical to keeping the Palestinians surrounded and yet are looking at breaching the border protections, or the settlements acceleration in clear violation of the Oslo treaty signed by Israel [“scrap of paper”, anyone?]. Lots of reasons to distrust THIS Israeli government.

    OTOH, we have the the issue of genocide [Turks might want to own up to that], Ahmedinejad being a Holocaust denier and a jerk in general, and the recent threats by the Revolutionary Guard command no doubt approved by the Guardian Council that actually runs things in Iran. We do remain in a state of war [they occupied our embassy] with the Iranians, who no doubt believe we sicced Saddam on them in the 1980-88 war.

    As far as the USA goes, I have noted before that we aren’t considered an honest broker in the region by the Muslims in particular, and the presumption would be that we aided such a strike unless we prove otherwise, six ways to Sunday. If you think the riots in Afghanistan and the targeting of Americans was already bad, this strike means we’d better hunker down and shoot on sight.

  15. Quanto says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    It appears the repairs were made by Alcatel Submarine Networks now (Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks), They had the contract for the SAE-ME-WE_4 and the latest TEAMS cable. They also advertise cable repair

    By the look of their website their a pretty big player in the submarine cable industry so I would imagine they would have ties to the state department.

  16. Kris says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    that’s what scares me. if israel attack obama will have to choose between doing the right thing and being re-elected.

    if he wants both he would have to work hard making israel appear to be the bad guy in the eyes of average americans. (considering what they have done so far it is amazing that americans don’t already see them that way) i suppose he could make the argument that we don’t let other countries dictate our actions blah blah blah to throw some right wing anti U.N. rhetoric back at them. public opinion is waniing on israel, but that counry still has a pretty strong grip on the US politicians.

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