Dec 042012

As a general public reader of the WSJ, I seldom wander into depths of the Corporate News section. Thankfully this day I did. It brought to the surface a concern that really ought to be making the headlines: “Ship Accidents Sever Data Cables Off East Africa” (WSJ, Feb 28, 2012).

As reported in the article, a ship off the coast of Kenya dragged its anchor and severed a crucial fiber optic data transmission line between Djibouti and Zimbabwe. In itself this is an internet inconvenience. However it warrants more attention when this happens on the heels of the simultaneous severing at a depth of 650 feet of three even more important lines coming out of Djibouti that connects the middle east to much of the world.  It has been almost three years to the day that two of the world’s largest capacity cables, FLAG EUROPE ASIA and SEA-ME-WE-4[1] were severed near Alexandria, Egypt.[2]

The term “cloud computing” may instill the comfort of a “Beam me up, Scotty” satellite technology. The reality is that essentially the entire information highway consists of the “anchors aweigh” technology of over 500,000 miles of undersea fiber optic cables[3]. Its strategic vulnerability exhibited by this, as a spokesman for the affected lines said, “…very unusual situation,” is not lost on our military. Djibouti is a main transmission link for the global choke point of the massive undersea cables running right through the tough neighborhood of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Those serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa[4] there in Djibouti are well aware that the threat of terrorism and piracy exists not only upon the seas, but under it as well.

While globally we have our high-tech computing heads in the clouds, the down-to-earth concerns of a low-tech threat to the very cable web that links our world is very real.

[1] Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe

[3] The demand is growing very fast for long distance communication.

Over 800,000 km (500,000 miles) of fibre optic cable have already been laid on the seabed, and this number is increasing rapidly. International Cable Protection Committee, 2009


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