Reports that a fifth undersea communications cable in the Middle East has been damaged in less than a week � further compromising Internet access in countries there, and knocking Iran off the grid entirely � are triggering wild conspiracy theories about who�s at fault, from Islamic extremists to the CIA. But BizTech readers can proceed with global business as planned: the reports aren�t true.So says Stephan Beckert, research director at TeleGeography, who studies these cables for a living. (Yes, there�s a chance Beckert is part of some vast conspiracy, but in this blog�s opinion, he knows what he�s talking about.) Beckert tells the Business Technology Blog that he hasn�t heard anything about a fifth cable from his sources in the industry and that the newspaper that reported the outage, the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, seems to have double counted two of the cables and missed a fourth one entirely. Beckert also tells us that one of the cut cables wasn�t cut at all � it�s down because of a power outage. And while Iran is experiencing Internet slowdowns just like the rest of the Middle East, it isn�t off line. (This site seems to be working fine.)Beckert says that the most likely explanation is that a fishing boat damaged the cables by catching them in its net or that a ship accidentally cut them with its anchor � these are responsible for 65% and 18% of cable problems respectively. The first two cables were only 400 yards apart, suggesting that they were damaged in the same incident. �It might have been sharks with laser beams on their heads but I�m guessing it�s not,� says Beckert. Viewed this way, it�s two incidents in a week, which is higher than average but not unusual � last year their were 50 damaged cables in the Atlantic alone.What about other conspiracy theories? Beckert doesn�t understand why the U.S. military would cut the cables, seeing as its service men in the Gulf use them to communicate with their families. And a lone saboteur is out of the question because the cables are �awfully deep for a wet suit.� And he�s ruling out Islamic extremists who want to disconnect the Middle East from the rest of the world. �All it�s done is demonstrate how tied to the rest of the world they are,� he says. That leaves an accident. Or those laser-equipped sharks.
… There�s some disagreement over how many cables have been cut: Beckert says it�s three; most news reports put it at four or five; this guy says it�s at least nine (although he�s also written books about alien-inhabited undersea bases, which we suppose also explains how the cables are getting cut.)
The other day we wrote that the most likely explanation was an errant boat anchor. And, indeed, we�ve just received word that Flag Telecom, which operates the cable that was cut between Dubai and Oman, found an abandoned five-ton anchor at the scene. We did allow that there was a chance � albeit slight � that the cables were cut by sharks with laser beams on their heads. But by and large, our goal was to persuade people to take off the tinfoil.
That didn�t stop BizTech readers from contributing conspiracy theories of their own. There were some obvious ones � the CIA, Mossad, Islamic terrorists � and some that we hadn�t thought of � Godzilla, Gamera and the monster from Cloverfield. Our favorite theory: �The citizens of Atlantis are pissed off about pollution, overfishing, and destruction of undersea habitat, and they aren�t going to take it any more!�
one off of Marseille, France
two off of Alexandria, Egypt
one off of Dubai, in the Persian Gulf
one off of Bandar Abbas, Iran in the Persian Gulf
one between Qatar and the UAE, in the Persian Gulf
one in the Suez, Egypt
one near Penang, Malaysia
initially unreported cable cut on 23 January 2008 (Persian Gulf?)