Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Uncle Sam's wire cutters

“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Oscar Wilde.

In the span of less than a week, four major underwater telecommunications cables have been “cut”. Can you imagine being in a car wreck on Monday and the ambulance you are riding in after the wreck is also involved in a wreck and on Tuesday you wreck the rental car that the insurance company got for you and when you leave the lot with a second rental car, that one gets totaled too? Telecoms, governments and the media all want us to believe the car wreck story. That’s what they are force-feeding us when they aren’t busy trying to ignore the story.

What would be the reasons behind taking down an entire region’s communications grid in this way? There are several possibilities and I think the wilder ones could carry the most weight as this is an extraordinary set of equipment failures.

Some people are postulating that this is an opening salvo before Iran opens its oil Bourse. The latest given date for the opening is February 11th and it will be interesting to see how the communications situation is resolved and if there are other problems popping up when the Bourse opens. It is possible that the cables were taken down as a warning to not only Iran, but also the rest of the world, that their main means of operating in the modern financial world could be taken down with a moment's notice. I think this explanation carries the most weight as the timing and the “signal” of this communications outage is most prescient.

There are a few “I don’t know about that…” twists with a warning shot theory. Namely, the dollar is already being unpegged from Middle East oil producers and let’s face it, the US economy is already fucked six ways to Sunday. Sending some SEALs to the Med and the Gulf, armed with wire cutters and spare air tanks seems a bit like overkill. Then again, subtlety isn’t a trademark of the US Government.

There is also quite a bit of speculation that the outage is a byproduct of the US Government carrying out a large-scale surveillance program. I assume the NSA is capturing data streams en masse and in real time on most if not all international communications lines, so this seems less likely unless there were specific traffic routes that they had no access to. I have wondered, from an IT professional’s perspective, if the cables were cut to corner or head off a stream of communication that had the potential for damage. The idea of taking an all or nothing course of action with a dangerous communications link by cutting all traffic seems more damaging to the overall picture than helpful so I am not crazy about this idea either.

Time will tell what the real deal is behind the communications outage but we should keep in mind that if or when the shit really hits the fan here in the US we would never be able to find out in real time, from alternate sources, what has transpired. If the powers that be decide to pull the plug on our Democracy they’ll do it under the cover of night and we’ll all wake up to a glossy doll’s eyes version of the normal life we have become accustomed to. It will be as though surreal pixies remade our world overnight. The news will report that “something” has happened but we will not be privy to the reality. It will be as though someone snipped our transatlantic cables and satellite communications with the rest of the world. We will be blinded and unable to find content other than what they allow us to view. At this very moment, Iran is in that exact position.

One other thing to consider is the similarities of this outage and what ATT customers experienced during the transition periods when the NSA installed it's equipment in their COs. Add the BellSouth customers who couldn't get email when ATT "transitioned" those customers into their network and you have an interesting case study in how things don't flow when the feds snoop. To this day there are latency issues with email coming from BellSouth where looking at the header info will show an outbound email from a BellSouth customer, bouncing around like a pinball within ATT's network.

1 comment:

Idyllopus said...

Great quote you chose there for an opener.