Third Party & Independents Archives

February 20, 2005

USS Jimmy Carter Opens New Age of Espionage

The Washington Post reports on a new US Submarine capable of tapping sub-ocean laser communications trunk lines all around the globe. The Wash. Post states: According to intelligence experts, it can tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them. The military has just opened the door to trade, business, and economic espionage on both our allies and enemies.

This submarine opens the door for the intelligence community to feed commercial communication by not only governments, but, corporate enterprises in foreign lands as well as here, to various agencies of the US government. Such espionage could prove very useful to the Commerce Department, State Department, and trade and tariff agencies within the US. Satellite communications espionage has been around for awhile, but, the safe haven of ocean bottom laser trunk lines will no longer be safe. Since the US has already demonstrated its intent to interpret treaties and international conventions for its own purposes (e.g. Geneva and Kyoto), there is no authority on earth capable of halting misuse of the USS Jimmy Carter communications taps for any purposes the White House dictates via the intelligence community.

The guise of monitoring flows of money as potential sources of funding for terrorist organization pretty much gives the US carte blanche to listen in on commercial communications of any organization or nation on earth. Given the rapidly deepening trade deficits, and ever lowering of the US dollar becoming major sources of contention between the US and allies, the lines between military and commercial espionage have been washed away. The new wars of the 21st century may now become military responses to trade relations which appear to be based on military espionage of foreign commercial activity.

Posted by David R. Remer at February 20, 2005 10:41 AM
Comment #44511

This isn’t really anything new: the U.S. has had the capability to tap undersea fiber cables for a number of years now.

The trick is to bend the individual fibers just enough to get some of the laser light to “leak” out. Done carefully, this should be nearly undetectable to the gear at either end of the fiber—especially since the telecom equipment isn’t designed to prevent this kind of tapping.

Posted by: Shivering Timbers at February 20, 2005 11:34 AM
Comment #44512

Shivering, I find myself hugely skeptical of your source of information. Bending the cable slightly to create leakage???? There are so many problems with this I don’t know where to begin. First, accidentally bending too much = the absence of covert surveillance. But, more importantly, have you seen one of these cables? The sheathing of the over all cable does not permit access. So, apparently your timbers were shivering for nothing in the past.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 20, 2005 11:41 AM
Comment #44517

Why is there a problem with tapping these lines if the same laws are used to prevent misuse from any type of tapping?
Of course there have to be standards set (if they aren’t already) to prevent the misuse of this technology.
I really want to know why we know this is going on anyway if it is going to be used for our national security?
It just reminds me of when the media lets us know about a ‘secret’ rocket launch the day before the launch.

Posted by: dawn at February 20, 2005 12:45 PM
Comment #44529

While I don’t know how it’s done, bending the lines, etc, I believe the ability to tap those lines has been in place for some time.

Posted by: phx8 at February 20, 2005 03:26 PM
Comment #44534


As a laser light show tech in a former life, I have used fiber optic cable to transmit laser light to a remote device. Granted, I was only using one fiber at a time, and these were comunication grade fibers from 50 microns (which is about the thickness of a human hair), to 200 microns.

Each separate fiber has an inner core of glass, sometimes surrounded by a layer of gel, surrounded by a protective layer of nylon or other material, surrounded by a Kevlar jacket, which is surrounded by a outer composite jacket.
I don’t see any way to tap into a solidly bundled group of fibers and monitor any data that would be passing through any single fiber, as this signal would be a light pulse that would need to be interupted and converted from digital light to an analog signal.
Also bending these bundles could be very damaging to the bundle as as each fiber bent would need to have a radius no less than 12”

That said, the light moving through the fiber is not infinite, as the there will be imperfections in the glass that the each fiber is made from and there is no way that you can manufacture a 3,000 mile long fiber bundle, and there is no way to make a splice in the fiber. That means that the fiber would need to be terminated which causes even more light loss and the light signal would need to be boosted at regular intervals.
It would have to be at these termination points that the integrity of any data on fiber is most vulnerable.

I don’t know if I could say that trying this would be imposible, but I would have to say that it would be highly unlikely.

Granted my information is only from my experience working with single fibers under controlled circumstances. I could be talking out my butt here, however this has been my experience.

Posted by: Rocky at February 20, 2005 05:08 PM
Comment #44535

Here is a link to the data on the USS Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: Rocky at February 20, 2005 05:18 PM
Comment #44536

Rocky, it is unlikely that we are going to know exactly how the eavesdropping technology works. However, I suspect you are right that the amplification junctures may be the tapping points as well, especially if amplification involves conversion from light to digitial sound back to light again, or some other variation of this.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 20, 2005 05:28 PM
Comment #44537

And here is a link to data from the 1992 TAT-9 Trans-Atlantic optical fiber.

Posted by: Rocky at February 20, 2005 05:30 PM
Comment #44538

I’m curious how this submarine actually does the eavesdropping. Seems to me, fiber doesn’t exactly release any ambient signal, especially undersea cables with, as David said, multiple layers of shielding. So how do they listen in?

Of course, it’s all fairly moot anyway, since anyone who really needs to keep a secret will use some pretty strong encryption, not to mention decoy information differentiated by some private signal. There are an infinite number of ways to keep the Feds guessing. Anyone ever read Cryptonomicon?

Posted by: Josh at February 20, 2005 05:39 PM
Comment #44551

It never ceases to amaze me. Articles get written about how technology may impact the fate of humans, or culture or society, and most folks just want to know how the technology works without any interest in the consequences and impact of using the technology. It is part of why voters don’t have control over their government.

Posted by: David R Remer at February 21, 2005 01:02 AM
Comment #44556

“It never ceases to amaze me.”, says David.

Me either.

Posted by: dawn at February 21, 2005 07:12 AM
Comment #44568

As a former Naval Cytologist and the veteran of some 15 submarine runs, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific, I can state that the Navy’s ability to tap into trans-oceanic communications cables is nothing new. While I cannot state how it is done for the obvious reasons I can state that it can and has been done in the past. It is a matter of public record.

The capabilities of the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter are not new to the U.S. Intelligence Community; the ability to tap undersea communications cable takes specialized equipment and that is what the submarines has been outfitted with.

And for the record, there are broad regulations and controls concerning what information can and cannot be gleamed from such missions.

Posted by: V. Edward Martin at February 21, 2005 03:47 PM
Comment #44571

Thanks, Mr. Martin for the update. It appears you are saying this is new technology for a submarine, correct? But, the technology to tap fiber comm. lines has been around for awhile?

Are you comfortable with broad regulations over what information can and cannot be used? We have broad regulations in the Geneva Convention too, but, they don’t seem to be a hindrance to the Bush Administration.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 21, 2005 04:02 PM
Comment #44575

I think at this point it’s pretty safe to assume that the government can and will listen in on anything and everything that anyone communicates. No information is private any longer. Whether we like it or not, we have no choice but to trust our increasingly untrustworthy government with anything and everything we say.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of effective countermeasures available to throw Big Brother off the scent.

I’m more interested in how that specific technology works because, frankly, the idea that nothing is private anymore is old news to me. That’s why I’m always careful to keep people guessing as to my motives, ideas, and identity.

Posted by: Josh at February 21, 2005 05:26 PM
Comment #44576

Mr. Remer,

The technology being fitted on the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter may or not be new, but it is specialized and not normally carried by a submarine of her class. It appears that the submarine will carry the equipment full time.

And when I say broad I misspoke, I should have said extensive and detailed. Indeed the rules are adhered to quite stringently. Not all, trans-oceanic communications cables are fiber-optic; they are very expensive to lay down.

Posted by: V. Edward Martin at February 21, 2005 05:28 PM
Comment #44577

Mr. Martin, please explain to me what oversight agency exists to oversee DoD and CIA concerted efforts to provide surveillance outside the regulations and prevent them from passing that non-sanctioned intel to the Whitehouse, and then from the Whitehouse to other departments of our government.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 21, 2005 06:48 PM
Comment #44594


After the launching of this ship, I just have to wonder.


Why does America feel the need to keep building ships like these?
Why does America feel the need to spy on it’s allies?
The cold war is over, who will we be fighting with atomic submarines?

Posted by: Rocky at February 22, 2005 02:03 AM
Comment #44604

David, spying is illegal. If it’s illegal, the US is obviously not doing it - no matter what capabilities we have.

In his book, Richard Clarke describes Clinton, Gore, and the White House counsel discussing the legality of snatching a suspected terrorist inside another country,

Gore exclaimed, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law. That’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab is ass!”

The same type of thinking guides our international spying. A really interesting book (it’ll become obvious why a spy sub is named after Carter) is “Blind Man’s Bluff”.

BTW, David. No communication is safe. Ever hear of “Echelon”? Luckily, there are some pretty good encryption models available - for email, anyhow. ;)

Rocky, we’ll be fighting the Chinese. Over here in SE Asia, they’re all nervous as hell about current tensions between the US and China over Taiwan.

Posted by: American Pundit at February 22, 2005 09:00 AM
Comment #44676


I am not in a position the name the agency responsible for oversight, sufficed to say that there are tight controls imposed on these type missions governed by law, and we were strictly held to them. I will say this, there is one overarching agency headquartered in Ft. Geroge S. Meade MD responsible for communications, and electronics intelligence…


We would be foolish to believe that just because the Cold War is over the threat form outside our boarders is diminished; 9/11 proved that. The Chinese are the next big threat and we would do well to keep more then a few eyes (and ears) upon them.

Posted by: V. Edward Martin at February 23, 2005 10:21 AM
Comment #44677

Mr. Martin, I don’t think I can accept that answer. A secret agency in the gov’t. charged with the oversight of insuring that military espionage is not revealed to other sources of the government? Let’s be real here, eh?

If the oversight agency is secret, that insures that there is no oversight at all. Under the new Intelligence community design, directly under the whitehouse, this whole scenario becomes even more potentially dangerous in terms of future actions which our enemies and allies deduce could only have been planned and execututed on the basis of communications tapping.

China and India will not sit still for it if they find us acting economically or commercially on such tapped communications. Japanese probably wouldn’t sit still for it either.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 23, 2005 10:34 AM
Comment #44682


While it may be good to keep our eyes and ears open, if we want to give our “enemies” any reason to take us to task, this would be it.
BTW, on Sept. 11 alQeda didn’t fly a submarine into the World Trade Center.
Just how many nuclear weapons platforms does America need?

Posted by: Rocky at February 23, 2005 12:38 PM
Comment #44801

Why is this any different then the ‘Magic” intercepts used before World War II? In those, the United States had successfully decrypted Japanese diplomatic messages. During the war, Navy intelligence used cryptography to predict Japanese Naval movements, notably during the Battle of Midway.
Before the World War II, the US used crytograhpy. A perfect example is the famous “Zimmerman” telegram,in which the German ambassador was instructed to offer aid to Mexico if Mexico would declare war on the United States in 1917.
You may find such tactics immoral, but morality and international affairs are by no means synonomous.
As for why a submarine, I would suggest you read the book “Blind Man’s Bluff”.
Furthermore, the US may gain invaluable intelligence from such tapping operations. For example, if we were able to decrypt or get access to unecrypted tranmissions from mainland China, we may get accurate views of the North Korean nuclear program. If that lead to intelligence on a possible sales of North Korean nuclear material to third parties, would that change your mind?
I can understand fear of the US goverment spying on it’s citizens, but in this case, it would be foolish of our goverment not to do this.

Posted by: Pete Rowe at February 24, 2005 10:35 PM
Comment #44825

Pete, it would appear you would rather give up liberty and privacy in order to feel secure. That is a position held by many millions of scared Americans. I personally don’t believe fear should justify sacrificing liberty and privacy so many died and suffered in the past to protect.

When folks talk about America as the home of the brave, they must be referring to those in the middle and on the left who do not fold in concession of their freedom and privacy because possible threats exist.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 25, 2005 10:07 AM
Comment #44871

I don’t see how a submarine potentially tapping foreign lines is that much of a threat to my civil liberties. I can understand about treating goverment actions with caution, but this appears to be one of the last intrusive government intelligence operation that I can think of.
How does a tap on the Sea of Okhotsk pose a significant threat to my privacy or civil liberties?
As far as threats to my privacy, the USS Jimmy Carter is irrelevant. “Echelon”, an NSA program that intercepts all cell phone calls, poses a much larger threat. An even bigger threat is the Supreme Court’s ruling that conversations on cordless phones do not have an expectation of privacy. Those decisions impact my privacy far more that a nuclear submarine.
Futhermore, national security is perhaps the most basic function of goverment. In this regard, the activities of the Jimmy Carter have a much greater probability of increasing my safety. I expect and demand that the US gather intelligence on potential enemies and even our allies. Such intelligence is far more likely to increase my safety, then intrude on my privacy.

Posted by: Pete Rowe at February 25, 2005 07:09 PM
Comment #44875


All this will make us less secure in the long run.
Just as flexing our muscles and pounding our chest militarily.
The world is indeed a scarey place.
We are the scariest country on it.

Posted by: Rocky at February 25, 2005 07:38 PM