There Are No Critical Infrastructure Cable Landings in the Middle East

Yeah right.

A number of commentators have said this leaked Wikileaks cable — listing what facilities internationally were considered “critical infrastructure and key resources” under the Homeland Security National Infrastructure Protection Plan and therefore worthy of additional surveillance and protection — is the most damaging yet to our national security.

Insofar as it gives our enemies a handy-dandy list of what we consider the most important resources to keep the empire running, I agree.

Then again, seeing as how our government(s) target their illegal domestic surveillance based on their definition of NIPP, even while ignoring corporate damage to the same kinds of infrastructure, I think it’s the kind of information citizens ought to have access to, at least in generalized form. We ought to know that if you mobilize against a new pipeline, for example, the government will illegally surveil you.

Furthermore, it says a lot about who we are and how the empire perceives itself. We are, it seems, about our trade (Chinese ports and NAFTA border entries figure prominently), our diseases (a number of drug factories are listed), certain raw materials (like the rare earth China recently throttled to prove a point), and certain defense factories in partner nations.

The vegetarians in the crowd may be intrigued to learn that our government considers foot and mouth disease a critical threat, as the list includes three foot and mouth disease vaccine plants.

Most of all, this list of critical infrastructure reveals what we already knew: the telecommunications network has become as crucial to our empire as the telegram was to the British empire. By my rough count, the list includes 71 cable landing spots around the world (though I think at least one is listed twice), from around 15 going into Japan to the one each going into the Netherland Antilles and Trinidad and Tobago. This list confirms these points where submarine telecommunications cables come on shore to connect the InterToobz and other telecommunication traffic are critical to the viability of our empire.

And oddly, there’s not a single cable landing listed for the Middle East (or Africa). And it’s not so much that this list doesn’t include cable landings in somewhat hostile countries, because it lists 4 in Venezuela. But it lists no cable landings in the Middle East.

I find the absence of any Middle Eastern landings all the more interesting given something that happened in 2008, when four cables went down over the span five days.

The first two cables–just off Alexandria, Egypt–went down on Wednesday. Initially, news reports assumed the two cables had been cut by a ship’s anchor, but yesterday Egypt announced that that’s not the case: the cables went down in a restricted area, and no ships were present.

No ships were present when two marine cables carrying much of the Middle East’s internet traffic were severed, Egypt’s Ministry of Communications has said, contrary to earlier speculation about the causes of the cut.

[snip]

The ministry added that the location, 5 miles from the port of Alexandria, was in a restricted area so ships would not have been allowed there to begin with.

Then, on Friday, a third cable off of Dubai went down. Significantly, this cable doesn’t carry India specific traffic. Then, finally, a fourth cable, between Qatar and UAE, went down yesterday. Five days, four cables, and no ships near the first two in Egypt.

Now, the collective effect of these four lost cables at the time — particularly the two cables coming into Egypt — demonstrates why cable landings are critical infrastructure. The outages disrupted India’s call center business and left most of the people in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the communication dark for a period. (Here are some thoughts John Robb had at the time on the roll that cable disruptions might play in asymmetric warfare.)

Yet this list of critical infrastructure doesn’t even list the Egyptian cable landing that proved so disruptive just one year before this list was written.

It seems there are at least two possibilities to explain the absence of any Middle Eastern cable landings on this list. First, it’s possible there’s a second list somewhere — classified Top Secret — that lists the cable landings that provide telecommunication service to the most volatile area on earth. It’s possible, too, that the US chooses not to consider these cable landings critical, relying instead on the cable coming through Asia. Or perhaps the public cable landings — the ones people know about — aren’t the ones that the US empire relies on to connect with the Middle East.

I’m sure there are other possibilities.

But what seems certain is that there are cable landings carrying trade into (and allowing us to eavesdrop in) the Middle East that are critical to our empire; we’re just not privy to which those are.

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.

12 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    …First, it’s possible there’s a second list somewhere–classified Top Secret–that lists the cable landings that provide telecommunication service to the most volatile area on earth…

    I’m guessing those cables are on the Double Secret Probation list and that list is kept in some NSA nerd’s sock drawer under his Faber College beanie.

  2. Rayne says:

    There is absolutely nothing in this release which can’t be deduced by looking at business listings, unclassified government filings and news reports on the internet. Not a damned thing.

    And there will be all kinds of whining and puling about this release, yet nothing further done to address the root causes of terrorism.

    • PeasantParty says:

      Which leads me to believe more and more that the terror is actually imposed by our own Government. Why is it that everytime the President discussed removing troops the hostility went up in Iraq and elsewhere? Seriously, there are farces and forces working to keep up the MIC.

    • jerryy says:

      “There is absolutely nothing in this release which can’t be deduced by looking at business listings, unclassified government filings and news reports on the internet. Not a damned thing.”

      During the Cold War, a scary report similar to this cable was leaked showing which parts of our country was thought to be targeted by our ‘enemies’ beyond the obvious military bases and large cities; these targets included manufacturing plants, places with lots of warehouses, chemical plants, etc. Your comment while true now, was equally valid back then. But, back then we were threatened with real nukes. Amazingly enough, we survived that threat.

  3. bobschacht says:

    Good catch, EW.

    As Rayne wrote,

    And there will be all kinds of whining and puling about this release, yet nothing further done to address the root causes of terrorism.

    This is certainly true. I think it is part of a publicity campaign against Wikileaks that will be used to justify cyber-attacks on it that transgress freedom of speech and other Constitutional protections.

    Bob in AZ

  4. JohnLopresti says:

    In 2009-10 the ITU-T celebrated newly lit cable bringing an increment of additional bandwidth to **east, central, and south** Africa. Here is a 270 KB map. It is only one of many systems, and, as the ITU director mentioned, it serves a key need in the region. Traditionally, the zone is a bitstream sparse zone. There are some nice satellites with footprints covering the region, as well. The futuristic graphics are good poster art, too.

  5. fatster says:

    While they’re freaking out about some of their secrets being exposed, look what happens to data about us (we, the “little” or “small” people have no secrets). From the FTC via ACLU Blog:

    The Single Greatest Chart Ever (At Least if You Want to Know Where Your Personal Information Goes)

    LINK.

  6. orionATL says:

    ew recalls the cable cuttings (outages) in the middle east a couple
    of years ago?

    four in a short period of time; one offshore of alexandria, egypt as i recall.

    lots of cable-route maps were published at the time.

    so,

    who needs a wiki-leaks’ leak to know that communication systems are of great importance to every nation these days.

    when war comes, what does the american air force ” interdict” first thing?

    why, “command and control” facilities, e.g., communications towers, buildings, and devices.

    the key point re: national security and w-l, is that four, count them four, of these cables were cut in a matter of a few days,

    without any help from docs published by wiki-leaks.

    key question:

    do bad guys need w-l to show them how to proceed? do bad guys lounge around at the corner waiting for w -l to give them ideas, operating instructions, or a clue?

    answer: no

    they already have the info they need to act.

    it’s the u.s. gov that takes its time figuring out what happened, then writes a memo taking months to clear, which is then labeled secret so few can see it, and then filed away where w-l may come upon it later and publish it.

    this attack on w-l has the air and odor of psy ops practiced on a timourous, credulous american media.

  7. skdadl says:

    We had Chicken Littles here panicking yesterday about the Canadian section of that cable. It includes gems like … the border crossings. As my blogboss pogge wrote, how could the U.S. and Canada have carried on the vast trading relationship we have if no one knew where the border crossings are?

    Timorous and credulous are the words. This would not be working if North Americans would just wake up. Don’t know what it will take for that to happen.

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