National Undersea Security

by Hilary H. Minkler
Printed with Permission

In order to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice the intelligence community must continue to look forward into new spheres of intelligence and information sharing. The Department of Defense has begun to develop an outfit to counter the threat to American cyber security, and while these individuals gain training and knowledge, one of the most fundamental structures in this apparatus continues to be physically targeted due to its immense vulnerability (Starosielski 2015).  Submarine fiber optic cables span the ocean floor, straddling thousands of miles and reaching depths greater than mount Everest- with no security feature. These cables traverse the globe and connect us all to each other through data transmission, essentially powering our internet, and can easily be cut or tapped by any adversary.

As of 2015 these cables were responsible for over 99% of all international data transfers, illuminating the importance and reliance on the undersea network. In recent events a cable was cut in Vietnam, disconnecting this cable causes lack of connectivity specifically effecting embassies and government buildings ability to communicate with other nations’ (Hinck 2017). While this is a meniscal issue typically, during an emergency of any sort this would cause vast second and third order effects for nations partnered specifically who provide Quick Reaction Force (QRF) support. This information is leverageable by those countries or individuals targeting a nation or government, as it can completely isolate a community/nation. As stated in the introduction, these cables are not guarded within the ocean and can be easily cut, however repair is much more tedious depending on where the cable is cut. When citing the doctrinal targeting process known as F3EA, (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit and Analyze) you can annotate that the adversary would easily be able to find and fix the cable with minimal risk in regard to capture concerning the finish step in the process.

Probing of undersea cables is already occurring currently as depicted in the Washington Post article, “Russian submarines are prowling around vital undersea cables. It’s making NATO nervous” (Birnbaum 2017).” Russian wiretapping historically occurred as they attempted to counter hydrophone arrays, an apparatus that was used during WWII and the cold war for antisubmarine warfare but largely discontinued in 1994  (Davenport 2012). Currently hydrophone arrays are used to listen to undersea mammals for studies, while minimally still used for tactical surveys. The vulnerability of these cables and configuring a plan to counter those who attempt to attack these networks is of radical importance.

In example, the TPC-5 was developed and installed in 1996 out of Keawaula Cable Landing Station on the western shores of Hawaii, a site owned by AT&T (as of 1995) ( Staff n.d.). TPC-5 has over 78 owners or rather investors, however it only directly ties into 5 Cable Landing Stations; Oregon, Hawaii, Guam, California and two in Japan; depicting an inclusive agreement of capability sharing and notification of natural emergencies between numerous partners globally. The cable is one of the first variants to be self-healing, as it has two major fiber lines surrounded by a four-layer casing, these fiber optic cables span over 22 kilometers undersea ( Staff n.d.). All of this is directly tied into a Cable landing site as previously listed through a duct connecting the to a beach manhole, some being over 285 meters in depth. The site itself, Keawaula Cable Landing Station, is extremely secure as noted in open source reporting, with a United States Air Force Security Force guards pulling security to enter the road the site is on then controlled entry with a fence around the perimeter. However, the lowest manhole towards the cable is not secure, and the fiberoptic cables lying on the ocean floor also do not have a security apparatus.

The intelligence community continues to provide feedback in regard to the way ahead of our corps and the issues that will face us in the future, one superior issue being that we have overdeveloped the community with numerous redundancies. As we work to correct this issue through intelligence sharing and cooperation, we must acknowledge what facilitates that process, and that is the physical cyber infrastructure or submarine fiber optic cables. The argument will eventually result in a “chicken or the egg” discussion, as in how do we increase productivity without increasing security? Submarine fiber optic cables will likely become the next arms race globally, ensuring our ability to secure these networks will ensure our position as one of the most advanced and capable intelligence apparatuses and a leading global power player.




Birnbaum, Michael. 2017. Russian submarines are prowling around vital undersea cables. It’s making NATO nervous. December 22. Accessed January 6, 2018.

Davenport, Tara. 2012. “Problems in Law and Practice.” Submarine Communications Cables and Law of the Sea 48: 201-242.

Hinck, Garrett. 2017. Cutting the Cord: The Legal Regime Protecting Undersea Cables. November 21. Accessed January 5, 2018.

NYU Staff. n.d. Faculty: Nicole Starosielski. Accessed January 05, 2018.

PriMetrica, Inc. n.d. Telegeography: Submarine Cable Map. Accessed January 8, 2018.

Starosielski, Nicole. 2015. The Undersea Network. Duke University Press. Staff. n.d. TPC-5. Accessed January 7, 2018.

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