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Thread: Experts: New submarine can tap fiber-optic cables

  1. #1
    Just a Virtualized Geek MrLinus's Avatar
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    Sep 2001
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    Experts: New submarine can tap fiber-optic cables

    Now, I've known for a few years that FO could be tapped. I remember reading it somewhere, basically removing a small section and then inserting a sniffer. (I can't seem to find the paper in question so if someone has it handy and post the link here that'd be nifty!). It's interesting to see this being done and being so public about it. Maybe it's just me but isn't this just TMI?

    Source: CNN

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The USS Jimmy Carter, set to join the nation's submarine fleet Saturday, will have some special capabilities, intelligence experts say: It will be able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them.

    The Navy does not acknowledge that the $3.2 billion submarine, the third and last of the Seawolf class of attack subs, has this capability.

    "There are limits to what I can say on the sub's capabilities, but let's just say the Jimmy Carter is uniquely capable to perform missions vitally important to the war on terror," said Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican and former CIA officer whose district includes Groton, Connecticut, where the sub was built.

    But intelligence community watchdogs have little doubt: The previous submarine that performed the mission, the USS Parche, was retired last fall. That would happen only if a new one was on the way.

    Like the Parche, the Jimmy Carter was extensively modified from its basic design, given a $923 million hull extension that allows it to house technicians and gear to perform the cable-tapping and other secret missions, experts say. The boat's hull, at 453 feet, is 100 feet longer than the other two subs in the Seawolf class.

    "The submarine is basically going to have as its major function intelligence-gathering," said James Bamford, author of two books on the National Security Agency.

    Navy public information lauds some of the Jimmy Carter's special abilities: In the extended hull section, the boat can provide berths for up to 50 special operations troops, like Navy SEALs. It has an "ocean interface" that serves as a sort of hangar bay for smaller vehicles and drones to launch and return. It has the usual complement of torpedo tubes and Tomahawk cruise missiles, and it will also serve as a platform for researching new technologies useful on submarines.

    The Jimmy Carter, like other submarines, will also have the ability to eavesdrop on communications -- what the military calls signal intelligence -- passed through the airwaves, experts say. But its ability to tap undersea fiber-optic cables may be unique in the fleet.

    Communications worldwide are increasingly transmitted solely through fiber-optic lines, rather than through satellites and radios.

    "The capacity of fiber optics is so much greater than other communications media or technologies, and it's also immune to the stick-up-an-antenna type of eavesdropping," said Jeffrey Richelson, an expert on intelligence technologies.

    To listen to fiber-optic transmissions, intelligence operatives must physically place a tap somewhere along the route. If the stations that receive and transmit the communications along the lines are on foreign soil or otherwise inaccessible, tapping the line is the only way to eavesdrop on it.

    The intelligence experts admit there is much that is open to speculation, such as how the information recorded at a fiber-optic tap would get to analysts at the National Security Agency for review.

    During the 1970s, a U.S. submarine placed a tap on an undersea cable along the Soviet Pacific coast, and subs had to return every few months to pick up the tapes. The mission was ultimately betrayed by a spy, and the recording device is now at the KGB museum in Moscow.

    If U.S. subs still must return every so often to collect the communications, the taps won't provide speedy warnings, particularly against imminent terrorist attacks.

    "It does continue to be something of a puzzle as to how they get this stuff back to home base," said John Pike, a military expert at GlobalSecurity.org.

    Some experts suggest the taps may somehow transmit their information, using an antenna or buoy -- but those modifications are easier to discover and disable than a tap attached to the cable on the ocean floor.

    "Unless they have some new method of relaying the information, it doesn't serve much use in terms of warning," Bamford said. He contended tapping undersea communications cables violates a number of international conventions the United States is party to. Such communications could still be useful, though the task of sorting and analyzing so many communications for ones relevant to U.S. national security interests is so daunting that only computers can do it.

    The nuclear-powered sub will be commissioned in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday at the submarine base at New London, Connecticut. The ceremony marks the vessel's formal entry into the fleet. The former president, himself a submariner during his time in the Navy, will attend.

    After sea trials, the ship will move to its home port in Bangor, Washington.
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  2. #2
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    Jul 2003
    I had an interest in fibre optic tapping at one time, and instead of cutting the cable it is possible, with a varying degree of sucess to bend the cable in such a way that you can place another piece of fibre next to it and use this as the tap.

    the obvious disadvantage to this is that the cable might lose signal, as it would with cutting and inserting a device, and this can be monitored for easily.


  3. #3
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    Here's a good read about subs and their stuff:

    Blind Manís Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage
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  4. #4
    Regal Making Handler
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    Jun 2002
    Maybe not the paper you are looking for , MsM.

    Here is a news article from 2001
    And some discusion on Slashdot
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  5. #5
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    The metod to check fiber optic cable is passive
    and is called a TDR or Time Domain reflectotometer
    And if the fiber is monitor for taps as stated above
    you would see the blip of the tap even when done
    passively.... fiber is not cut when tested passively...
    it is a clip that bends the fiber and some light is picked up
    by the TDR. Most cable and telcos have this equipment
    and is rather easy to set up..

    You can, with the proper equipment, tap fiber cable
    and insted of using a TDR you use the pick up of the TDR
    and then send it to an amp and then to a decoder of some
    That will be the trick.... decoding, not tapping fiber cable,
    but who knows what tricks the Navy has....
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  6. #6
    AO Senior Cow-beller
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    Originally posted here by Highlander
    ...fiber is not cut when tested passively...it is a clip that bends the fiber <snip> Most cable and telcos have this equipment and is rather easy to set up.
    I met a vendor at this conference a few years ago who was demonstrating a TDR tap...because they sold a signal strength monitor package to help alert you if a TDR had been placed. A TDR (if that is what they showed me was called, there is more than one method I believe) will not interfere with the data, necessarily, unless the signal is degraded to the point of corruption. Basically, you strip a few inches of shielding off the FO, and bend it gently around something, and the TDR has receptors along the bent FO to catch electrons (? Photons?) that are leaked by the exposed strand. It's a pretty elegant physical solution to a technical issue.

    That will be the trick.... decoding, not tapping fiber cable, but who knows what tricks the Navy has....
    It's not the Navy you should be concerned with necessarily...the NSA, the FBI, the IRS (believe it or not...although not so much these days), and several other agencies, with or without names we know.

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    -- William Shakespeares Hamlet (I, v, 166-167)
    MsMittens, as for TMI...you know who Tom Clancy is? He's never served a day in his life, IIRC. The common story is he does (and now has his grad students, haha do it) tons of research. Public record. Just because it's not on the front page of The Post doesn't mean it's classified. There are alternate theories that say Clancy didn't write a word fo Red Storm Rising or The Hunt For Red October, that it was all US Naval propoganda and he was paid to be the 'front man'. Personally, it all sounds too much like conspiracy theory luncay to bother paying much attention. But the point is, there is a lot of information, such as specifications of warcraft, their roles and capabilities, etc. that is freely and legally available if one knows where and how to look.
    "Data is not necessarily information. Information does not necessarily lead to knowledge. And knowledge is not always sufficient to discover truth and breed wisdom." --Spaf
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  7. #7
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    Hum, while I am convinced it is possible to "sniff" out fibre links by bending the fiber, a TDR is used to locate faults (distance from the TDR) along the fibre (or copper) cable...

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  8. #8
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    Jul 2003
    ammo: yea thats what I thought, ive searched and searched for TDR related fibre stuff but havent come up with anything?


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