Christopher Dickey -
Maybe the three scuba divers were just idiots. Or spies. Or saboteurs.
It’s hard to tell from the Egyptian military’s statements about the men it arrested this week for allegedly cutting an undersea fiberoptic cable carrying vast amounts of Internet traffic between Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
But whatever the motive, the incident underscores once again just how vulnerable global communications really are.
According to the official Egyptian news agency, the three divers said they were doing underwater salvage work less than a kilometer off the coast from the city of Alexandria.
There have been violent protests there in recent days, raising the question of a possible link.
Religious zealots often rage against the openness of the Internet. (Saudi Arabia is threatening to shut down Skype and other encrypted services.)
And there are always many Egyptians who see the hand of Israel in supposedly nefarious plots.
But according to the Egyptian news report on this incident, these three were basically just diving for junk.
And when they saw a cable about the diameter of a garden hose on the floor of the Mediterranean they decided to take a chunk of that, too.
The effect was a little like rats chewing an electric wire, but instead of a few lights flickering, the divers disrupted Internet service in Egypt and far beyond.
So, if that was by accident, just imagine what a terrorist might do on purpose: 95 percent of the world’s voice and data traffic travels through undersea cables.
Only about 5 percent goes via satellites, and they could never take up the slack if a major part of the cable infrastructure were shut down.
Just for example, more than a trillion dollars' worth of international banking transactions is conducted through fiberoptic cables every day.