Russian submarine with Internet-cable-cutting gear spooks U.S. officials

Spy agencies have tapped the cables for 40 years, but cutting them in war would be unprecedented.

 

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Tech

Published Oct 26, 2015   Updated Feb 29, 2020, 5:14 pm CST

Russian submarines operating “aggressively” near vital underseas Internet cables have American officials worried about potential attacks against the cables.

The vast network of buried cables carries more than 95 percent of global communications traffic and accounts for $10 trillion in daily business. The U.S. government began tapping those cables at least 44 years ago when the American submarine USS Halibut found and spied on a Soviet telecom cable. In 2004, the U.S. Navy launched the USS Jimmy Carteroutfitted with special devices for tapping underseas cables and intercept global communications.

American officials are worried that Russia might go beyond tapping to physically disrupting the cables at a time of heightened geopolitical tension.

“I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing,” Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific, told the New York Times.

The Times described a September trip by the Russian spy ship Yantar down the East Coast of the United States all the way to Cuba. The Yantar, according to U.S. officials, led a group of submersibles that can cut cables “miles down in the sea.” The Russian government has said that the Yantar is a scientific ship collecting “data on the ocean environment.”

National-security cables used by intelligence agencies are a major target in times of conflict, and any government aiming for these crucial cables at greater depths could deliver a debilitating blow.

The Times story relies mostly on unnamed Western officials, including one who compared today’s rising level of activity between Russia and the West to tensions during the Cold War.

H/T New York Times | Photo via U.S. Navy (PD)

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*First Published: Oct 26, 2015, 9:56 am CDT