Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some U.S. military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of conflict.
The issue goes beyond old Cold War worries that the Russians would tap into the cables – a task U.S. intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: In times of tension or conflict, 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.
Inside the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence agencies, the assessments of Russia’s increasing activities are highly classified and not publicly discussed in detail. U.S. officials are secretive about what they are doing to both monitor the activity and find ways to recover quickly if cables are cut. But more than half 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.”
Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific
“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 potential Russian plans for cutting the undersea cables.
In private, commanders and intelligence officials are far more direct. They report that from the North Sea to Northeast Asia and even in waters closer to U.S. 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 U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay.
$10 trillion amount per day carried in global business on cables
The role of the cables is more important than ever before. They carry more than $10 trillion a day in global business, including from financial institutions that settle their 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.