Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What cut cables can teach

Arguably, the most important, albeit not particularly spectacular, event of last week was the consecutive cutting of four major fibre optic communication cables in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and North of the Egyptian coast. I say, consecutive, because had they all been cut simultaneously, it would be unprecedented but could still be called an accident. As there was a considerable time lapse, however, the probabilities of an accident are slim, more so since the theory that the cables were cut by ship anchors has since been discredited with the confirmation from the Egyptian ministry of communication that no ships were present in the area at the time the cables were cut. This leaves sabotage or an act of war as the only other option. The fact that there were no immediate American condemnations of this as a terrorist act indicates that it had the tacit approval of the United States, a theory further supported by the fact that Israel and Iraq remained unaffected since there internet traffic is carried via a different route. Without wanting to speculate, however, a number of interesting lessons emerge from these events.

Firstly, the internet has proven surprisingly resilient, managing to compensate for the lost traffic routes without collapsing altogether. It also demonstrated the complicated nature of the worldwide web, with India most heavily affected by a break in communications located in the Middle East, which in turn affected the UK in particular, since most large UK companies have outsourced their call centres to India. There is, therefore, no way to disrupt the internet selectively without a knock-on effect elsewhere.

Secondly, the public appears to happily buy any story it is fed by mainstream media. Tell them a ship's anchor cut through the cables and they believe it. They won't ask why after such an "unforeseen" event no measures were put in place to prevent the same thing from happening again, or why suddenly so many lethal ship's anchors are floating around the ocean when previously they never caused a problem. This public lethargy does not bode well for the future.

Thirdly, today's wars are increasingly related to technology and communications. In a report to Congress, US National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell listed amongst his major concerns besides "Al-Qaeda" that Russia, China and oil producing countries were using their wealth to advance political goals (let's guess that the USA could never possibly be accused of such a heinous crime!) and that the threats faced by the US were global, complex and dangerous, including the vulnerability of computer systems. The truth is, that Iran's nuclear capability has never really worried the White House as they know too well Iran would not be stupid enough to use such destructive technology even if they had it. It is a smoke screen for allowing interference on account of much more conventional capabilities Iran has developed like, for example, the recently announced ability to launch its own rocket and soon send its own satellites into orbit.

In this context, there have been speculations that the cutting of the internet cables was intended to cut off Arab oil producing states from vital communication routes prior to another weapon in Iran's armoury, the long-awaited and heavily speculated about Iranian oil bourse which, by trading in Euro, would send the already free-falling dollar to depths from which it could never recover. Unlike the Arab states, for example, Iran and China seem to have understood that economic warfare can be much more effective in bringing down an enemy than military engagement. Of course, they are not alone, the US and the UK have been using economic warfare as part of their arsenal for many decades.

Those opposed to being enslaved by the world hegemony of corporate America under the guise of "globalisation" should take heart in the knowledge that the internet remains one of their most potent weapons to fight back - a weapon which cannot be wrestled from them by the big powers without those powers shooting themselves in the foot. At the same time, they must be even more alert and try to wake up the general public - hitherto sedated by consumerism and entertainment and frightened by purported threats of terrorism as well as the real threat of bankruptcy and economic loss. The US economy, and with it its political influence, is about to collapse, and we don't expect it to surrender any more quietly than a fish flapping violently after having been removed from the water.