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The Military Networking The Internet United States Politics

Russian Presence Near Undersea Cables Concerns US (nytimes.com) 273

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that the presence of Russian ships near important, undersea internet cables is raising concern with U.S. military and intelligence officials. From the article: "The issue goes beyond old Cold War worries 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.
...
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. 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.

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Russian Presence Near Undersea Cables Concerns US

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  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:30AM (#50801925) Journal
    Sounds like a money grab. It seems unlikely the Russians would risk peacetime exposure of such an act of sabotage, only to risk the full measure of the American retaliation process, unless the two nations were at war.

    Scouting mission? Sure. Possibly.

    But Putin's grandstanding is likely more about restoring key pieces of the old Soviet Empire and regaining a foothold in the Middle East, not in confronting the Americans head on.

    • I'm on-board with Military funding to thwart this - let's fund the military and have them lay down 200 redundant cables. It's absurd how few of these we have.

      • by maeka ( 518272 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:31AM (#50802281) Journal

        I'm on-board with Military funding to thwart this - let's fund the military and have them lay down 200 redundant cables. It's absurd how few of these we have.

        2 cables or 200, it doesn't matter when talking about exposure to intentional sabotage by a state actor. Destruction of such assets is inherently asymmetric.

    • by knightghost ( 861069 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:53AM (#50802063)

      In case you missed it, the Russians aren't in "peace time" mode. Ukraine, Syria, etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:04AM (#50802123)

      Sounds like a money grab. It seems unlikely the Russians would risk peacetime exposure of such an act of sabotage, only to risk the full measure of the American retaliation process, unless the two nations were at war.

      Scouting mission? Sure. Possibly.

      But Putin's grandstanding is likely more about restoring key pieces of the old Soviet Empire and regaining a foothold in the Middle East, not in confronting the Americans head on.

      I would have agreed with you maybe ten years ago, but ever since Russia started flying bombers equipped with nukes near my home here in Alaska ( http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/09/politics/russian-bombers-u-s-intercept-july-4/ ) I have to disagree. Cold War 2.0 is starting folks--the Putin regime is not joking around.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        It's started on one side. The other side still largely has its eyes closed and its fingers in its ears, chanting "la la la, I can't hear you!"

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:07PM (#50803923) Homepage

        Thing is, the US never stopped placing military assets near Russia. In the 90s Russian stopped its air patrols and cut back sea patrols due to lack of money, but the US didn't. The US has a lot of military bases near Russia too, which is has kept open.

        Russian was forced to back down, but the US didn't take the opportunity to make a similar reduction. Too lucrative for the military industrial complex I guess. So don't complain when Russia starts up patrols again. The US has an opportunity to de-escalate, was invited to by Russian diplomats, and didn't. So Russian resumed its previous stance, which is remarkably restrained considering the invasions and military activity that the US has been engaged in since 2000, all on Russia's doorstep.

        • Or because a crumbling Soviet Union with nukes is a recipe for chaos. And packing up and going home wasn't an option to make sure things stayed secure. Ironically, until Russia's actions back in '06, the US was drawing down in Europe, etc.

        • by rockout ( 1039072 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @04:48PM (#50805491)
          We absolutely were making similar reductions. There's a Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org]that lists 214 former US installations in Germany alone - the vast majority of which were closed since 1991. We completely closed our base in Iceland, which at one point had thousands of Air Force and Navy personnel stationed there. And that's just scratching the surface with 5 seconds of googling. Surely you can do better than making a point based on a completely false premise.
        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          "Thing is, the US never stopped placing military assets near Russia. In the 90s Russian stopped its air patrols and cut back sea patrols due to lack of money, but the US didn't. The US has a lot of military bases near Russia too, which is has kept open."

          It's also closed a lot too. The US trajectory was pretty clearly in the direction Russia wanted. You may have forgotten that the US wanted to build a missile shield in Europe because of the fear that Iran was building nuclear ICBMs and Russia was refusing to

      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        Flying an old TU-95 bomber is hardly a threat, it's more of a nuisance call... Fly one close to NATO airspace and see how they respond. In an actual war, these aircraft wouldn't be used against an enemy that has any realistic air to air combat capability as they'd be easily shot down. They are similar to the B52, which the US deployed in afghanistan mainly because the taliban had no viable anti-aircraft weapons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wwphx ( 225607 )
      What I find amusing is that we tapped their military cables ages ago and had a submarine dedicated to it. And now they may be looking to do the same thing? Boo hoo. Lots of factions in the government are happiest when they have a clearly-defined enemy, well, they've got it.
    • It seems unlikely the Russians would risk peacetime exposure of such an act of sabotage...

      Indeed, and they aren't stupid. I don't think sabotage (or as Shatner would say: 'Sabatage') is what they have in mind.

    • But Putin's grandstanding is likely more about restoring key pieces of the old Soviet Empire and regaining a foothold in the Middle East, not in confronting the Americans head on.

      Putin's grandstanding is about making russians see the entire world as their enemies, so they'll turn to a "strong" leader - specifically him - as their saviour. It's hardly a new trick, and it'll end up in a catastrophic miscalculation sooner or later.

    • I think people thought the same about Crimea and the incursion into the Ukrane, yet look what happened. I wouldn't put it past this ass-hole.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:40AM (#50801973)

    Anyone has such capability. No advanced equipment needed - just old-fashioned depth charges. If you master "underwater explosives", then you cruise along the cable and drop cheap bombs till you hit hit.

    Which is what will happen in a war with a low-tech opponent. Russian equipment may be able to cut a cable on the very first try - that doesn't make them more dangerous than a fishing boat retrofitted with with a dept charge launcher. This sort of warfare is too easy.

    • by Holi ( 250190 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:05AM (#50802127)
      The likely hood of actually hitting a cable a mile underwater with a depth charge is pretty minimal. The various currents on the way down are going to send your explosive on a random path, and it's not going to land directly underneath you.
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:50AM (#50802415) Journal

        Sure but the parents point is that just means you need to drop more bombs. Also a simple sonar from 60 years ago could give you a pretty good idea of where the charge you just dropped struck. Commercially available equipment is far more capable and perfectly affordable for even a small nation. Once you know the net effect of those currents after dropping a handful of charges is that they tend to land 2 miles north and east you position yourself two miles south and west of the cable and start dropping charges again until you strike home.

        I know some allied air raids in WWII had accuracy rates of only 30% or so and that was considered perfectly adequate. You just put more bombers in the air.

        • by Holi ( 250190 )
          Drop a coin in the water, Do it a hundred times. Where the coin lands will continue to be unpredictable.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Try it again with a marble.

          • A coin is flat and subject to a myriad of chaotic forces. Drop a round ball in the water and it will have a far higher consistency. Also ocean currents travel quite constantly at depth. We're not taking about waves lapping on a shore moving out then in then out etc. The repeatability will surprise you.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:23AM (#50802235)

      Not even close. The function of an underwater explosive is to destroy structures susceptible to shock waves - specifically, a depth charge is designed to affect any structure with a void that can be overcome with a spike in static pressure, like a manned submarine, which has an air void for the sailors to live in. Depth charges are designed to propagate a pressure wave over a relatively large 3D space using the gas generated in the explosion as a void in the water to instigate a cyclical event that will affect the target by the rising bubble of rapidly expanding and contracting gas, and since only a relatively small pressure differential is necessary to overcome the skin of a submarine, that charge is dispersed omnidirectionally for maximum range, since the position of a submarine is not always precisely known and dropping a depth charge directly on the sub is very difficult with an unguided system such as a depth charge. An underground cable is dense, lacks a meaningful pressure void, is VERY small at 3-5 inches diameter, and runs across (and sometimes slightly under due to tidal forces) the seabed floor where any explosive would have a VERY small surface area to attack. As such, any depth charge used against an undersea cable would need to be placed with extreme precision directly over the cable at a VERY close range (we're talking meters, if not centimeters), and have a shaped charge to funnel the blast energy directly into the cable structure to cut the cable, not just bounce a pressure wave off of it. So, basically, it would need to have exactly none of the characteristics of the "cheap bombs" you speak of, other than perhaps the "underwater" part. It would be much easier just to destroy the aboveground facility where the undersea cable makes landfall.

      • by eth1 ( 94901 )

        Not to mention bombs make noise, which carries for a long way under water. You'd probably attract a lot of unwanted attention very quickly if you started that.

        If I were trying to cut cables on purpose in deep water, I would probably go for a sled designed to be dragged across the sea floor with a hooked blade that penetrated a foot or so down. Maybe with some lights/cameras to verify a good cut.

        Then all you have to do is drive back and forth across the cable's known route until you snag it. Bonus if you ca

      • Unfortunately, even at great depth, underwater explosions in contact with any surface can easily be intense enough to induce substantial cavitation. The long duration impulse from the explosion is converted to a very short duration impulse on collapse. This impulse is sufficient to cut though plate steel at appropriate depths (at depths where the close proximity pressure wave intensity is greater than ambient pressure) . The confinement of the explosion impulse to a small area at greater depth allows a rela

      • Likely a more logical setup would be a shape charge installed at the cable, which is triggered by a depth charge when needed. The complicated leg work happens over time, and you just drop the charge or fire a missile at a time of conflict.

    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @11:38AM (#50803159)

      Anyone has such capability. No advanced equipment needed - just old-fashioned depth charges. If you master "underwater explosives", then you cruise along the cable and drop cheap bombs till you hit hit.

      Which is what will happen in a war with a low-tech opponent. Russian equipment may be able to cut a cable on the very first try - that doesn't make them more dangerous than a fishing boat retrofitted with with a dept charge launcher. This sort of warfare is too easy.

      Dang dude... Depth charges are way too expensive and would take too long for this... All you need is to drag along the bottom across the cable using something like an anchor or grappling hook. Once you snag the cable, just shear it into two by either cutting it or pulling on it really hard across a sharp hardened steal blade. Low tech and simple wins EVERY time.

  • Bullshit (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    just more fear-mongering and propaganda from a crazy government of a paranoid country. The U.S has been killing, murdering, over-throwing, meddling, and cyber-attacking countries, governments and corporations all over the planet, all while it constantly cries about how helpless it is and how the evil russians and chinese are attacking. Sickening.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And yet I'd put my very fate in the hands of America over Russia and China, any day. As much as the American government gets up to all sorts of terrible fuckery, they are angels in comparison. No amount of fuckery you can list will change that truth, and you are blind or brainwashed if you try.

      Signed, a non-American.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        My attitude as well. The US may sometimes come across as an evil overlord, but I'd pick that evil overlord over its evil overlord competition - even though I'd prefer a non-evil overlord, or better, no overlord at all ;)

        • My attitude as well. The US may sometimes come across as an evil overlord, but I'd pick that evil overlord over its evil overlord competition - even though I'd prefer a non-evil overlord, or better, no overlord at all ;)

          Am I sensing a bit of Stockholm syndrome?

          • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

            by mrvan ( 973822 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @10:43AM (#50802751)

            The police are keeping you in a protected witness facility because the mob is out to get you, and you start thinking the police might not be as bad as the mobsters --- that's not really Stockhold symdrome territory yet :)

            In other words, US supremacy is the worst thing that can happen to the world, apart of course from nazi german supremacy, Chinese supremacy, Putin or Stalin russian supremacy, and good lord just imagine EU supremacy. Death by a thousand red tapes, that one...

  • But there was an internet outage about two weeks ago, and it went unreported because it seemed to be a simple outage. It happened before 7AM, and early customers at our laundromat could not access their prepaid online balances. The TV only showed an unusual white-box error message about technical difficulties. The Russians had just resumed bombing supposed ISIS targets.

    The outage was early enough not to be noticed; it was about 5 minutes to 7 AM Eastern. What was cause for concern was for how long it lasted

  • Data theft (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While I don't trust Russia either, I am far more worried about the US presence near undersea cables, as there is actual documented evidence that suggests they sabotage undersea cables to wiretap overseas communications.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:58AM (#50802085)

    Only America is allowed to spy on the world.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      That was my first reaction, but then I hadn't considered the possibility of sabotage.

      The civilian economy of the US is critically dependent upon the Internet to the point where several undersea cables might well reflect single points of vulnerability unprecedented in Cold War terms.

      • Please tell me how the FUCK that would work out to Russia's benefit.
        • Putin believes the internet is something to be sectioned off and layered by each country. Cutting fiber lines to other countries is probably some weird Putin notion of blockading the US.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Please tell me how the FUCK that would work out to Russia's benefit.

          Well, according to that mindset warfare in general doesn't make sense. Nonetheless people still do it, to their own detriment or even destruction.

          The German Writer Berthold Brecht wrote in the aftermath of WW2:

          Great Carthage fought three wars;
          After the first it was still powerful;
          After the second it was still inhabitable;
          After the third nobody could find it at all.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The civilian economy of the US is critically dependent upon the Internet

        The infrastructure of which resides mainly within the USA. So I won't be able to get to EU web sites. And GITMO will be completely cut off. Boo Hoo.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:01AM (#50802103)

    Stop it!

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @09:35AM (#50802319) Homepage

    Is this a case of the US getting all whiny when someone else does the exact same shit they do?

    The issue goes beyond old Cold War worries that the Russians would tap into the cables -- a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago

    If so, you'll forgive the rest of the world for not giving a fuck.

    Boo hoo, teh Russians are going to spy on us the same way we spy on everyone else. Waahh, how unfair.

    Honestly, this clueless double standard is mind boggling. What the hell did you expect? Other countries to not do this stuff?

    • by eth1 ( 94901 )

      Boo hoo, teh Russians are going to spy on us the same way we spy on everyone else. Waahh, how unfair.

      Well, at least most of what the US intercepts this way, it would probably keep to itself. Anything Russia gets that's economically valuable (ID theft, etc.), I'd expect to end up in the hands of organized crime.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well, at least most of what the US intercepts this way, it would probably keep to itself. Anything Russia gets that's economically valuable (ID theft, etc.), I'd expect to end up in the hands of organized crime

        Of Course!

        The US has no organized crime. And it has never had a corrupt politician or a stolen election, or a made up war for profit...

        The imbecility in display here is baffling.

  • An old German saying (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @10:02AM (#50802497)

    It loses a bit in translation, but essentially it says "The knave thinks others are as he is, and expects likewise from them".

  • I am sure the remote-triggered shape charges are in place already... You never know.
  • It could be an entirely meaningless coincidence, the ship killing a bit of time, or doing some maintenance or a drill whilst out at sea in an area that happened to have a cable two miles below it, that is my option #1. It could be a bit of Russian research into whether they can find and disrupt these cables, that is option #2.
    If we want to go down the fantasy route, and accept that the Russians would not just try to find a cable to see if they could, but would contemplate actually disrupting a cable, then t

  • by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @11:04AM (#50802907)
    Occam's razor principle: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    It is a scientific ship. It is doing a scientific research. We know less abut ocean bottom than about Mars surface.

    Here is Russian submarines research the bottom of Geneva lake: http://www.spiegel.de/internat... [spiegel.de]

    But not to cut some ridiculous cables, but for science: biology, geography, history, etc.
    • You seriously think off shore the Eastern Seaboard is a hotbed of scientific research possibilities that might be of interest to the Russians?

      Yea, the Razor says this "research vessel" is really gathering intelligence like hundreds of other vessels concocting "research" world wide under the flags of various nations..... That this "scientific" part is really just a cover story...

      • by Max_W ( 812974 )
        I think they are building the comprehensive ocean floor map of the planet. Actually, I think it is a good idea.

        The radiation at other planets is to high. But oceans are quite livable.
    • When it comes to the words of diplomats in international politics, "telling the truth" is never the simplest hypothesis.
  • The Russians, Americans, French, British, Germans, and others all have active programs to disrupt undersea communications, and they have had them for a long, long time.

    This is not rocket science. A group of undergrad and graduate engineering students has demonstrated the use of low-end side scanning sonar and Rube Goldberg AUV tech to detect and track underwater cables for up to 2 weeks and 350 miles autonomously. The cables themselves are scarcely bigger than your thumb in deep water, and quite fragile (e

  • It's just the NSA complaining that the Russians took their parking spot near the cable.

  • Comsat wants you to know that they're here to help with all your non-undersea trans-oceanic communication.

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