'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator

We just might notice if you cut our cables

The washup from yesterday's Dotcom-Snowden-Greenwald saga rolls on, with Southern Cross Cable Network angrily denying that New Zealand's spooks, the NSA, or anybody else for that matter has worked a tap into its cables.

The company's response came in response to Glenn Greenwald's accusation that New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau was involved in inserting taps onto the SCCN cable underwater.

In describing an operation identified in Edward Snowden's documents as “Speargun”, Greenwald clearly believes the taps were inserted underwater. Here is a quote from an interview he gave to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The World Today program on Monday, September 16:

“You would not go into the ocean and tap into those cable lines, unless this program has been implemented and approved beyond just the business plan stage” (emphasis added).

This, Southern Cross has said in a statement sent to media, is “total nonsense”. CEO Anthony Briscoe notes that to install any such device would mean cutting the cable – something that not only the cable operator would notice, but also any of its customers that weren't buying a protected service to give them access to both SCCN routes.

“It is a physical impossibility to do it without us knowing”, Briscoe says in the statement. “There isn't a technology in the world, as far as I am aware, that can splice into an undersea fibre optic cable without causing a serious outage and sending alarms back to our network operations centre that something's wrong”.

It's no secret that cable operators have to agree to cooperate with law enforcement as a condition of their licenses – such documents are published by the FCC in the US.

Southern Cross' statement acknowledges this: “Southern Cross is obligated to comply with the well-established and public lawful surveillance requirements in the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and related laws in the United States,” the statement says. “However there is no equipment installed in the New Zealand or United States landing stations, or on the cable itself, which could result in mass interception of communications.”

The Register notes that snooping of traffic from other submarine cables is carried out at on-shore facilities, such as we documented here. ®

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