back to article Egyptian navy captures divers trying to cut undersea internet cables

A spokesman for the Egyptian military has reported that three scuba divers have been arrested in the Mediterranean as they tried to cut a submarine data cable owned by local telco Telecom Egypt. Egyptian submarine cable saboteurs Looks like a pretty low-tech operation Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his Facebook page that …

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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    The mystery of the mysterious operatives

    > They now face interrogation as to their motivation.

    I think that would "interrogation" . Of the kind we used to outsource to places like Libya and Syria before they got onto the shitlist for some reason.

    > the same line that was damaged in 2008 by a ship's anchor

    Hmm........

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Richard Boyce

        Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

        The don't seem to have the facial hair of religious zealots. A simple explanation is that they're would-be metal thieves who assumed the cables were made of copper. Thieves tend not to be very bright. At this stage, there's no need for conspiracy theories.

        1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

          Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

          You don't go scuba diving in the precise location of a fiber-optic cable to steal copper.

          It is plain old sabotage.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            The other possibility is that they were innocently scuba diving and happened to be in the wrong place.

            "Innocent until proven guilty" and all that.

            At this point, it's not clear how much (if any) evidence the Egyptians have, other than "they were in a boat, with scuba kit, near a cable".

            1. Rampant Spaniel

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              In a week or two they will have a full confession irrespective of guilt. I doubt the US are behind it, more likely one of the more extreme anti western education / technology lot.

              1. Phalamir

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                Alabamans?

            2. Tom 7 Silver badge

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              Not a lot of cutting gear in the pictures.

              1. Thomas 4

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                So purely from an academic angle, what *would* you need to cut through a major submarine cable? Does it vary from country to country (i.e. American ones being hardened more than Middle Eastern ones)?

                1. Psyx
                  Happy

                  Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                  An anchor, one would suggest, based on prior form!

                2. PhilDin

                  Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                  I'm also curious about this but also, how do you repair one once it's been cut or more generally, how do you join two pieces of fibre optic cable?

                  1. DF118
                    Pint

                    Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                    I'm also curious about this but also, how do you repair one once it's been cut or more generally, how do you join two pieces of fibre optic cable?

                    Unsurprisingly, you do it with a specialised vessel and a metric fuckton of cash.

                    Video

                    As to the actual fibre splicing process? Dunno but I'd wager heat is involved somewhere along the line.

                3. Nigel 11

                  Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                  what *would* you need to cut through a major submarine cable?

                  I've seen a cross-section of such a cable. They are built somewhat like an onion. Protective plastic sheath, layer of poisonous gunk to kill marine worms that eat throuth the sheath, layer of piano wires for strength. Repeat several times. Finally a very skinny core containing the optical fibres. Can't recall anything copper. Stainless steel would be a better bet for resisting seawater.

                  You could probably hack through such a cable with big manually operated wrecking shears (big lever, gears, ratchet type of thing - distant relative of a bolt cutter). A saw or knife would be foiled by the first layer of piano wires. Above water an angle grinder would probably also work.

                  BTW those marine worms are persistent little bastards. After the first attackers have died, the water will wash away the poison and corrode through the wire. And then they'll be back for another go. Iterate to eventual destruction, if a turbidity flow doesn't kill the cable first.

            3. Nigel 11

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              The other possibility is that they were innocently scuba diving and happened to be in the wrong place.

              Possibly. OTOH if they were apprehended diving with cable shears or similar, probably not. Hopefully someone in the Egyptian security forces will check this before interrogating them. Also that they'll bear in mind that one wouldn't get far attacking an armoured submarine cable with a standard diver's emergency knife, so if that's the only blade in the picture they may well be innocent.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                " Also that they'll bear in mind that one wouldn't get far attacking an armoured submarine cable with a standard diver's emergency knife "

                Karate chop?

          2. Don Jefe
            Happy

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            You also don't do much diving work with the typical "zealot" beard. Glorious beards don't help the seal on your mask.

            1. Psyx
              Stop

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              Many divers have beards. It keeps your face a bit warmer in cold water.

              You just use Vaseline on it to stop your mask leaking.

              I'd like to see some more pics of their kit if possible. Might be a better pointer to motivation/funding.

          3. John Tserkezis

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            You don't go scuba diving in the precise location of a fiber-optic cable to steal copper.

            You don't go banging against an oil pipeline with an axe to empty the contents into a bucket either.

            Yet it still happens. Oddly enough, the only ones who get caught stealing oil are the ones who generated enough sparks to light it. They're the charred bodies left behind - one over there, the other over there... You get the idea.

            Been said before: Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

            1. Grikath

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              More intriguing:

              Even though there are plenty of Idorts in Need of Undorking in the more fanatic [#diety] segment who would believe simply cutting a cable would cure the Evil of the Internet, and would be quite happy to give their lives to have a go at it...

              You. Just. Do. Not. Cut. A. Major. Cable. With. Your. Bare. Hands.

              Given the power and traction you have underwater you need some serious equipment to get the job done. There's nothing in the pictures, or the other reports about this that shows:

              -highly specialised equipment to do a clean cut.

              -acetylene burners to do a rough job.

              -explosives ( of the rather sophisticated variety, but it would look like a packaged turkey to most punters.)

              YMMV regarding fanaticism, but this sounds like either a red herring, or a truly botched job.

              1. Triggerfish

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                Underwater cutting tends to be a bit dangerous as well, good chance of build up of explosive gas bubbles around you from what I remember.

                1. Dana W
                  FAIL

                  Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                  For a start we had no reason to, and secondly. We have operatives trained for this sort of thing. Most major powers do.

                  Again WHY would we do it? There is no reason why we would, and no evidence that we were involved in any way at all. All you have is the current "Americans are icky" trend that is fashionable with the tinfoil hat crowd.

                  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
                    Trollface

                    Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                    For a start we had no reason to

                    Are you writing out of the State Department?

                    The one that puts out stuff about Ghaddafi handing out viagra for better rape?

              2. IglooDude

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                The Egyptian Navy probably apprehended the divers by virtue of stationing a patrol boat within a few hundred meters of the dinghy and waiting for them to surface. The divers, surfacing and seeing authorities (patrol boats look much bigger when viewed from two inches above sea level through a divers mask, trust me), deliberately or in panic disconnected/dropped whatever they might have been using back down to the seabed.

                The Navy is presumably getting their own divers to search the local seabed for whatever evidence is actually there, or whatever they need to plant to convict these divers of whatever crime they're charging them with.

                The point being, the current lack of evidence really isn't indicative either way.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            "You don't go scuba diving in the precise location of a fiber-optic cable to steal copper."

            Sure you do. Submarine communications cable does have copper in it; usually a copper tube. It could also be aluminum though. Then there are more stands of metal and more metal tubing. So there is more than just fiber optics in an underwater fiber optic cable.

            1. Psyx
              Stop

              Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

              Umm... don't they have steel sheathing to protect them, too?

              And just how much stolen metal can you get in a dinghy anyway?

              Theft was clearly not a motive, because they didn't have a big enough boat to carry much away.

              1. DavCrav Silver badge

                Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

                "Theft was clearly not a motive, because they didn't have a big enough boat to carry much away."

                Are you saying that they're gonna need a bigger boat?

          5. ZanzibarRastapopulous

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            Cables appear on charts as anchoring hazards, the precise configuration and purpose of the cable generally does not.

        2. Greg J Preece
          Meh

          Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

          The don't seem to have the facial hair of religious zealots.

          ........

          ...By jove, Sherlock, I think you've cracked it!

        3. Frankee Llonnygog

          Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

          Judging by the picture, they appear to be cardboard cutouts

          1. ravenviz
            Boffin

            Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

            Looks like a photo of a photo.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @The lone lurker

        "Agreed, I will not be surprised if the 'interrogation' reveals a large payment of US dollars into their bank accounts shortly before the job was carried out."

        Wen I first read this comment, I thought it was really stupid. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized it was even stupider than it first appeared.

        But just for the sake of amusement, why not give us your delusional reasoning as to why the US would want Egypt's internet cable cut.

        1. gisabsr

          Re: @The lone lurker

          Cut on the very same day that England draws New Zealand in the third test? Coincidence? I don't think so, and if you do you're clearly a Mossad/CIA/US Coastguard running dog capitalist lackey.

          And stuff.

        2. Dana W
          Meh

          Re: @The lone lurker

          If for some reason we wanted to cut cables we have Navy Seals, three guys in junk gear who didn't know enough to not get caught wouldn't cut it.

          The whole "A bad thing was done, must be the US" thing is getting stale. Tinfoil hat stuff, like the people who think we invented aids.

          Like you said, I'd like to see the the twisted reasoning for that. The US did it, of course, twirling their black mustaches and for an encore, tied their girlfriends to the railroad track and to finish up blew up the old sawmill.

          1. Psyx
            Stop

            Re: @The lone lurker

            "three guys in junk gear who didn't know enough to not get caught wouldn't cut it."

            Seriously?

            Yeah, because guys with basic equipment have never been able to pull off anything that Americans have done and no criminal who ever got caught was capable of committing the crime in the first place.

            I fail to see why having old air cylinders somehow makes these guys incompetent. I mean; I can fix a car, but my toolbox looks like the business end of an oil rig and a Snap-On tool has never even been within ten feet of it.

    2. sirhan

      Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

      At least the Egyptians have said expertise in house. No need for costly rendition flights!

      1. Katie Saucey
        Meh

        Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

        Judging by the look of their cylinders, they didn't get that hypothetical "payment in US dollars" in advance. They probably would have drown if the authorities hadn't shown up.

        1. Gaius

          Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

          Judging from the state of the cylinders they're obviously members of BSAC.

      2. kain preacher Silver badge

        Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

        No but outsourcing is still all the rage.

    3. Anonymous (Noel) Coward
      Boffin

      Re: The mystery of the mysterious operatives

      > But just for the sake of amusement, why not give us your delusional reasoning as to why the US would want Egypt's internet cable cut.

      Think "Google".

      1. Turtle

        @Anonymous (Noel) Coward

        "> But just for the sake of amusement, why not give us your delusional reasoning as to why the US would want Egypt's internet cable cut.

        "Think "Google".

        You're gonna have to spell it out because your answer makes no sense.

        The only people I could imagine wanting the cable cut would be Islamic fundamentalists. Under certain circumstances which are not operative at the moment (i.e. political unrest threatening to lead to the overthrow of the government) one could cast suspicion on the Egyptian government - but the Egyptian government would probably know better than to apprehend itself - especially if the people who *caught* the saboteurs are essentially the same people whom the Egyptian government would have tasked with committing the sabotage..

  2. Ross K Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Wow

    Now that's what you call 'denial of service',

    Could only be the work of their batshit insane US-funded neighbours,..

    I see 220 volt nipple clamps in those three blokes future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow

      The Libyans?

      1. Ross K Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Wow

        Of course! You didn't think I meant those nice upstanding folk to Egypt's east, did you?

        If they wanted to kill your internet connection they'd write a virus or send a few helicopter gunships to do the job.

        Now where's my tinfoil hat?

        1. thedarke
          FAIL

          Re: Wow

          If they wanted to do that, they'd do it in international waters (it's an international cable dude) and they'd have something a bit better than an f'ing dinghy.

          As for the idiots who are saying 'Evil Americans, blah, blah, blah' - learn your history. If the US wanted to do this (no geopolitical reason, but hey, Bay of Pigs), they'd have outrigged. Crappy looking fishing boat with serious gear beneath it and have a bunch of SEALs on board dressed as Hippies/Gaza Blockade Runners/Evacuating Russian Gangsters from Cyprus. Did that little trick to lay the trans Pacific Submarine monitoring cable (listening for Comrade subs) in the 80s.

          If not just yokels looking to steal then my money is on Iran or Syria- feeds the Middle East- not just Egypt. Won't find out, and you'll never hear from these guys again unless your the cleaner at the facility in downtown Cairo.

  3. southpacificpom
    Devil

    I think I saw those blokes hovering around the roadside cabinet near my place, no wonder my bloody internet is so slow - bastards!

  4. Jon Massey
    Headmaster

    Those cylinders don't look like they're in test...

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      amen, I would not want to fill those let alone use them.

  5. Winkypop Silver badge
    FAIL

    "Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his Facebook page"

    World.

    Gone mad.

    1. Maty

      Re: "Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his Facebook page"

      Um , I think the false premise here is that the world was ever sane.

  6. JaitcH
    Unhappy

    An alternative is to tell fishermen to ...

    clear the old copper cabes so they can make a little money on the side.

    They did this is southern VietNam, off Ving Tau

    Unfortunately, the fishermen being fishermen and not technicians, could tell the differnce btween old-style copper cables and the new fibre-optics, and as a result our InterNet speeds fell through the floor.

    Recently fishermen from the Phils have been busy in the East China Sea, unless it was the Chinese fighting over the Spratly Islands, and our sea cables to Hong and further east have suffered damage.

    1. PC Paul
      FAIL

      Re: An alternative is to tell fishermen to ...

      "the fishermen being fishermen and not technicians, could tell the differnce btween old-style copper cables and the new fibre-optics"

      COULDN'T tell the difference. COULD NOT.

      The NOT is important. It changes what you're saying from being "right" to being "wrong".

      It all started with 'couldn't care less' being replaced with 'could care less' which at least has a slight justification, but has spread to many places where it's just WRONG. Stop it.

      #maybeALittleLessCoffeeWouldHelp

      1. Matthew 3

        Re: An alternative is to tell fishermen to ...

        #HashtagsDon'tDoAnythingHereExceptShowAnAbsenceOfSpacesBetweenWords.

  7. frank ly

    Cable location

    Just north of the port of Alexandria, hmm. That sounds like a silly place to put an undersea cable in the first place.Why not lay it in a place where ships are not likely to drop anchor in an emergency or just because it seems sensible at the time?

    1. Mayhem

      Re: Cable location

      That particular cable goes Alex > Cairo > Suez, presumably to avoid being run through the unstable parts of the Nile delta as much as possible, and to avoid the high traffic area near Port Fuad. The area just north of Alex is pretty quiet in terms of commercial shipping, as opposed to the other side of the delta which hosts the Suez Canal.

    2. Tim #3

      Re: Cable location

      Also the cable needs to come ashore in Alexandria, where the Cable Station is a very critical point on the whole global undersea cables network. Interesting article here, albeit long, on the whole subject http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass.html

      As for their motives, with Egypt's renewed relations with Iran there are numerous more possibilities than before.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How bizarre...

    Is it usual for Egyptian divers to go diving in their daily clogs ? Looking at the picture, I see a leather vest, a hoodie, and other 'casual attire'. Is this a regular outfit in those waters ? Or does the Egyptian PADI equivalent require a diver to carry an emergency suitcase with overnight necessities at all times ?

    1. Psyx
      Pint

      Re: How bizarre...

      "Is it usual for Egyptian divers to go diving in their daily clogs ? Looking at the picture, I see a leather vest, a hoodie, and other 'casual attire'. Is this a regular outfit in those waters ? Or does the Egyptian PADI equivalent require a diver to carry an emergency suitcase with overnight necessities at all times ?"

      Yes: You dive in shorts and maybe a T-shirt in the Middle East and then maybe throw a hoodie on over the top if it's cold, like it is in -say- March. Why wear a wet-suit or even a shortie if it's gloriously hot and the dive is shallow. Heck: The deepest part of the dive is quite refreshing if it's 30C on the surface.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How bizarre...

      It is actually normal. Having done quite a lot of diving in the Red Sea our Egyptian guides usually just wore a pair of old shorts and a t-shirt

  9. Anomalous Cowshed

    Bastard scuba diving scum depriving our great people of their internet - we'll show them

    Once upon a time there was a naughty President who elected himself and lorded it over his subjects for 30 years, backed by a powerful army. Then he got a bit too old and greedy, and he didn't want to go away, so there was a completely spontaneous and genuine revolution of the people and the army,,,against the police. This revolution ushered in a tremendously democratic government which then proceeded to secure the achievements of the revolution by passing laws which would make it impossible for people to challenge, criticise or remove them from power - in order to protect the fledgling democracy.

    Some people grumbled. They dared to say that this was not good. That this was not what they'd "fought for in the streets". They started worrying that this government might "take away their newfound freedoms" or something like that.

    But that's fixed now. We found the people who were trying to take away your newfound freedom, honourable comrades of the revolution, and we're telling it to you the way you want to hear it: on facebook. Three dastardly scuba divers with significantly non-Egyptian facial features were found at the bottom of the sea, trying to cut your internet cable. We are interrogating them and I promise you, we will find out who sent them, and deal with them appropriately. We'll keep you posted on facebook. Tada. YOUR friendly revolutionary gov.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prison will do them good

    If not shot first, prison should change their attitude.

    1. moonface

      Re: Prison will do them good

      After watching The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis. It appears a tough stint in an Egyptian prison changes their attitude alright! Dehumanising prisoners appears to create monsters, ala Sayyid Qutb and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    2. Psyx
      WTF?

      Re: Prison will do them good

      Yeah, because we'd love Egypt to be a forward-thinking country that guns people down for crimes before even finding them guilty in court. Good to see that you want to bring these 2nd world nations up to our standards of justice.

  11. Robin 3

    profit?

    Short stocks of internet reliant firm.

    Cut cables.

    Profit.

  12. Bill the Sys Admin
    WTF?

    Facebook Page....

    "Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his Facebook page"

    Maybe it was just me but I found this very very funny!

  13. RainForestGuppy

    A proper old school denial of service .

  14. timsvengali
    Mushroom

    This is terrifically exciting

    Only last week the same colonel was using social media to reveal another threat against the Egyptian state. Washington Times:

    "Egyptian military officials suspect members of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas may be involved in a rash of fabric thefts that could be used for subterfuge, to copy uniforms...“The armed forces are urging the Egyptian masses to watch out, be attentive and alert … in case of impersonation,” said Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali on the military’s Facebook page."

    I'm looking forward to the episode where Col. Ahmed gets sent into space

  15. zmobariz
    Megaphone

    That could be a lie!

    I don't believe how come 3 divers with 3 tanks that air would last them only 45 minutes under water would cut the such a cable!!! I would believe a big ship or something huge.

    The cable consists of 8 layers:

    - Polyethylene

    - Mylar tape

    - Stranded steel wires - melt at 800c, you can't just cut it

    - Aluminium water barrier

    - Polycarbonate

    - Copper or aluminium tube

    - Petroleum jelly

    All the above are for protection from chemicals, temperature, shocks, shark attacks etc... and the last is "Optical fibers" - what actually transfer data.

    Tell me how those poor 3 divers would be able to do that? if their intentions to piss-off the government there are easier ways to piss them off rather than cutting the cable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That could be a lie!

      "The cable consists of 8 layers:" etc.

      3 people with 45 mins each is just over two hours of hacksawing. And if sabotage is your only purpose you only need to cut through half the cable. Seems doable to me.

      1. Nigel 11
        FAIL

        Re: That could be a lie!

        Have you ever tried hacksawing through mere piano wire? Or a padlock hasp?

        Underwater?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That could be a lie!

          « Have you ever tried hacksawing through mere piano wire? Or a padlock hasp?

          Underwater? »

          I'm adding that to the "hobbies" section of my CV.

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: That could be a lie!

        Depending on how deep the cables are you may not be able to stay down that long, especially if you are diving just on air, plus one of the tricks of staying down for a long time is less minimal effort in everything you do, sawing away for 45 minutes at depth would burn through your supply pretty quickly I would think.

    2. pyroweasel

      Re: That could be a lie!

      Is that protection enough from sharks with frikkin' lasers?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bloody gypo's...

    ...........will try and nick anything.

    (If they're not guilty, may the lord have mercy on them because I suspect the authorities won't)

  17. asdf Silver badge
    Trollface

    can't help myself

    So I guess Blighty is not the only place with overzealous pikeys looking to nick cables for the copper.

  18. DF118
    Trollface

    Marine cable repair co making their own business perhaps?

  19. Dropper

    Maybe..

    Perhaps they were trying to solve their bandwidth problems by stopping the internet from leaking out of their country.

  20. Roger Mew

    is everything you read actually true?

    Supposing, just supposing that this is a cover for hacking into the cables to monitor useage. This can be done without damage to said cables per se.

    Frankly I am EXREMELY suspicious that further info is not forthcoming.

    1. John McCallum
      Devil

      Re: is everything you read actually true?

      Then why do it underwater when it would be easier to do it where the cable comes ashore.

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