"Humans see what they want to see.” ~ RICK RIORDAN (b. 1964) American author

WASHINGTON — Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.

The issue goes beyond old worries during the Cold War that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.

Igor V. Lavrenchuk, general manager of the Museum of the Cold War, in a conference room designed for the Soviet air force command.Moscow Journal: Amid a Revived East-West Chill, Cold War Relics Draw New InterestAPRIL 29, 2014
While there is no evidence yet of any cable cutting, the concern is part of a growing wariness among senior American and allied military and intelligence officials over the accelerated activity by Russian armed forces around the globe. At the same time, the internal debate in Washington illustrates how the United States is increasingly viewing every Russian move through a lens of deep distrust, reminiscent of relations during the Cold War.

Inside the Pentagon and the nation’s spy agencies, the assessments of Russia’s growing naval activities are highly classified and not publicly discussed in detail. American officials are secretive about what they are doing both to monitor the activity and to find ways to recover quickly if cables are cut. But more than a dozen officials confirmed in broad terms that it had become the source of significant attention in the Pentagon.

“I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing,” said Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific, who would not answer questions about possible Russian plans for cutting the undersea cables.

Cmdr. William Marks, a Navy spokesman in Washington, said: “It would be a concern to hear any country was tampering with communication cables; however, due to the classified nature of submarine operations, we do not discuss specifics.”

In private, however, commanders and intelligence officials are far more direct. They report that from the North Sea to Northeast Asia and even in waters closer to American shores, they are monitoring significantly increased Russian activity along the known routes of the cables, which carry the lifeblood of global electronic communications and commerce.

Just last month, the Russian spy ship Yantar, equipped with two self-propelled deep-sea submersible craft, cruised slowly off the East Coast of the United States on its way to Cuba — where one major cable lands near the American naval station at Guantánamo Bay. It was monitored constantly by American spy satellites, ships and planes. Navy officials said the Yantar and the submersible vehicles it can drop off its decks have the capability to cut cables miles down in the sea.

“The level of activity,” a senior European diplomat said, “is comparable to what we saw in the Cold War.”

One NATO ally, Norway, is so concerned that it has asked its neighbors for aid in tracking Russian submarines.

Adm. James Stavridis, formerly NATO’s top military commander and now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said in an email last week that “this is yet another example of a highly assertive and aggressive regime seemingly reaching backwards for the tools of the Cold War, albeit with a high degree of technical improvement.”

The operations are consistent with Russia’s expanding military operations into places like Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria, where President Vladimir V. Putin has sought to demonstrate a much longer reach for Russian ground, air and naval forces.

“The risk here is that any country could cause damage to the system and do it in a way that is completely covert, without having a warship with a cable-cutting equipment right in the area,” said Michael Sechrist, a former project manager for a Harvard-M.I.T. research project funded in part by the Defense Department.

“Cables get cut all the time — by anchors that are dragged, by natural disasters,” said Mr. Sechrist, who published a study in 2012 of the vulnerabilities of the undersea cable network. But most of those cuts take place within a few miles from shore, and can be repaired in a matter of days.

What worries Pentagon planners most is that the Russians appear to be looking for vulnerabilities at much greater depths, where the cables are hard to monitor and breaks are hard to find and repair.

Mr. Sechrist noted that the locations of the cables are hardly secret. “Undersea cables tend to follow the similar path since they were laid in the 1860s,” he said, because the operators of the cables want to put them in familiar environments under longstanding agreements.

The exceptions are special cables, with secret locations, that have been commissioned by the United States for military operations; they do not show up on widely available maps, and it is possible the Russians are hunting for those, officials said.

The role of the cables is more important than ever before. They carry global business worth more than $10 trillion a day, including from financial institutions that settle transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.

So important are undersea cables that the Department of Homeland Security lists their landing areas — mostly around New York, Miami and Los Angeles — at the top of its list of “critical infrastructure.”

Attention to underwater cables is not new. In October 1971, the American submarine Halibut entered the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, found a telecommunications cable used by Soviet nuclear forces, and succeeded in tapping its secrets. The mission, code-named Ivy Bells, was so secret that a vast majority of the submarine’s sailors had no idea what they had accomplished. The success led to a concealed world of cable tapping.

And a decade ago, the United States Navy launched the submarine Jimmy Carter, which intelligence analysts say is able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on communications flowing through them.

Submarines are not the only vessels that are snooping on the undersea cables. American officials closely monitor the Yantar, which Russian officials insist is an oceanographic ship with no ties to espionage.

“The Yantar is equipped with a unique onboard scientific research complex which enables it to collect data on the ocean environment, both in motion and on hold. There are no similar complexes anywhere,” said Alexei Burilichev, the head of the deepwater research department at the Russian Defense Ministry, according to sputniknews.com in May 2015.

American concern over cable cutting is just one aspect of Russia’s modernizing Navy that has drawn new scrutiny.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of American naval forces in Europe, speaking in Washington this month said that the proficiency and operational tempo of the Russian submarine force was increasing.

Citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov, Admiral Ferguson said the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the last year. Russia has increased its operating tempo to levels not seen in over a decade. Russian Arctic bases and their $2.4 billion investment in the Black Sea Fleet expansion by 2020 demonstrate their commitment to develop their military infrastructure on the flanks, he said.

Russia is also building an undersea unmanned drone capable of carrying a small, tactical nuclear weapon to use against harbors or coastal areas, American military and intelligence analysts said.

Admiral Ferguson said that as part of Russia’s emerging doctrine of so-called hybrid warfare, it is increasingly using a mix of conventional force, Special Operations mission and new weapons in the 21st-century battlefield.

“This involves the use of space, cyber, information warfare and hybrid warfare designed to cripple the decision-making cycle of the alliance,” Admiral Ferguson said, referring to NATO. “At sea, their focus is disrupting decision cycles.”


Greg Austin, Texas
Here goes the NYT again. Dealing in Russian Derangement Syndrome (RDS) once again as a proxy for the national security military industrial complex. This article appears just as the Congress is considering legislation to increase military spending. Coincidence?
Since we can hack into Russian communications anywhere anytime in the world, we should assume that the Russians can do the same to us, shouldn't we? Lord knows what our submarines are doing as we surround Russia daily.
This is all part of the NYT doing the bidding of the national security military industrial complex to reignite the Cold War, just in case the war in Foreverstan should diminish. That is an unlikely possibility, of course, but the NYT wants to make sure that there are plenty of reasons for Americans to live in fear.
Wouldn't it be nice if the NYT could return to being independent again as it once was?

DMS San Diego
I smell a request for more military spending.

What a coincidence! Just when we were thinking about reducing spending on battleships and destroyers that so many experts have told us are no longer necessary and not how we fight wars anymore, the pentagon starts sounding warning sirens and telling us about a new threat. Looks like our roads, infrastructure, veterans benefits, schools, healthcare, and investment in alternative energy sources will have to wait. Defense spending wins again.

bob garcia miami
Let me see if I understand the imperial mind set of official Washington. If we mess with Russian submarine cables, that is smart and something to be proud of. But if they go near our cables, or anyone else's that is very bad -- even if we have no reason to believe they are going to cut them.

Jon NM
As long as the cables are in international waters, there is little the U.S. can do. We can't patrol the entire sea floor.

Nor can we declare war on countries like Russia or China every time they hack our computers or mess with our cables.

WE Americans as a society have stupidly put ourselves in this position, just as WE have chosen to put our economy under the control of "President Xi", the chairman of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and people like Steve Jobs. WE chose to invade Iraq in 2003, which crippled and almost destroyed OUR army and which definitely destroyed Iraq.

Mel Farrell New York
Wow, setting up the next latest and greatest conflict, so soon.

1,400 American military bases all over the planet, fully operational, with Russia completely encircled, and our navy the largest in the world, shadowing every Russian vessel; what imbecile in the eternal war department came up with financial armegedan as a terror tactic against it's own people ?

Puttin is the only one really worried about the survival of his nation; we have him so effectively cornered, (a deliberate strategy), he will have no option but to do something stupid, and give our corporate owned government, and the military industrial complex the opportunity they have long sought to further their dream of control of the planet.

Does anyone remember a decade when we were not fomenting war and division somewhere on the planet.

And the mainstream media is entirely complicit, engaged in managing the people's perception.

R Stein Connecticut
Commenter opinion here runs toward disregarding this as beating of war drums, rather than any new threats to cables. I agree; we've been seeing more of this propaganda prep lately. So the admiral in charge of sub operations is "concerned" about what the Russians are doing. Well, that's his job -- nothing new there. So we have a major cable landing "near" our base in Cuba, which means on the shore of a recently antagonistic country. So cable disruption, as well as normal cable failures, isn't the subject of serious strategic workarounds?
Sorry, titans of war, I'm not buying this.

Santos-Dumont PA
Author James Bamford states in his books about NSA that Washington has been using special classified submarines to place taps on Russian undersea cables for decades.

K Henderson is a trusted commenter NYC
IT guy here: Severing those fiber cables (really just cutting the sheathing would be enough) would be very interruptive of normal global internet.

On the other hand: All the larger govts of the world already know this and this isnt at all new info -- so I have to wonder why our USA govt is announcing this to world media? At first glance, it seems intentionally alarmist. We are smart enough to see thru it.

Earl B. St. Louis
Matter of concern? Of course - but the idea of overtly cutting cables seems crude when compared to the value of simply intercepting communications, which apparently needs no actual physical interruption. If we can realize high quality pictures from a minimally-powered source somewhat further away than Pluto, surely it's possible to achieve inductional monitoring of communications no further away than our terrestrial seabed.

Since the first (Assyrian?) communications used incised clay tablets to share orders or information, there have been security concerns with the process. No level of sophistication has changed that; to this day no system is absolute. What is notable is that we have such naivete about our security in using electronic devices, telephones, internet; anything put into these systems might as well be on a billboard in our front yard, and expectations of privacy are nothing less than comic.

So the Russians are sniffing the cables? Nothing more than already "been there, done that," in our own history and indeed others. Our naval folk are concerned? Of course - it's in their job description, 24/7 and never-ending.

Knut Oslo / various
The Editor, NYT: This is silly, and pestered with Hollywood style of storytelling that does not belong in a newspaper. Please get a journalist to study the ITU-T standards for optical fibre technology, forget the US/FCC "technology", and skip "Popular Mechanics". The US does not have the technology to tap into these cable, James Bond does not nor the Russians. These cables us DWDM technology, where STM segments are placed beside one another and the signalling is done on the inference patterns generated between the two endpoints. Cut it and splice it, and the inference will be changed and signalling will not work. If nobody can listen to light, how special technology is available - why stop here, it would be easier to read people´s mind. They at least emit signals to the outside. Let them hit an international cable - there are numerous others that will replace it, but the owner of the cable will be deprived of the lease. I have seen an American fund well known to you: Carlyle investing in cables and communication technology infrastructure - so Frankie boy will get hurt, and send an invoice to the one that cut the fibre. Most fibres are dug into the ground by robots and covered by stones held in place by cement. National US cables may be laid as the FCC allows, and use technology that the FCC has approved - but these have no termination outside the US but these can be tapped and use a much simpler technology. Your journalism compares with Walt Disney.

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