Did Chinese Repair Ships Sabotage Undersea Cables

The State Department started considering the possibility of Chinese repair ships sabotaging undersea cables after SB Submarine Systems, a state-owned Chinese company that fixes underwater cables, withheld information about the location of their ships.

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A group of Wall Street Journal reporters were briefed by State Department representatives about the growing possibility that communications cables beneath the ocean could be used for spying.

When SB Submarine Systems, a state-owned Chinese company that fixes underwater cables, mysteriously and frequently withheld the location information of its ship from radio and satellite tracking systems, the officials were alarmed. The ship’s concealment of its position, according to them, “defied easy explanation.”

Nearly three months have passed since “damaged” underwater telecommunications cables connecting Europe and Asia between Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti, East Africa, were discovered in the Red Sea. This warning concerning possible espionage or even sabotage of undersea cables was issued.

A report indicated that a mysterious Iranian spy ship was operating near the incident area. David Asher, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, commented, “The Qods Force is operating a spy ship named ‘Behsad’ in the Gulf of Aden, close to where the undersea cables were cut. This ship likely carries a special underwater warfare unit capable of executing an undersea cable attack.”

A US defense official recently cautioned Silicon Valley giants like Google and Meta Platforms about the increasing threats posed by China to US-owned cables.

US officials have told companies, including Google and Meta, about their concerns that Chinese companies could threaten the security of US-owned cables, a person familiar with the briefings said. In some cases, the conversations have included discussion of Shanghai-based SB Submarine Systems, the person said. -WSJ

More details on the Chinese maintenance company that fixes damaged internet lines were revealed by WSJ:

Senior Biden administration officials have also received briefings in recent months about the risks posed by Chinese companies, including SBSS, working on repairs to undersea cables, according to the person.

The security of undersea cables “is rooted in the ability of trusted entities to build, maintain, and repair” them “in a transparent and safe manner,” the National Security Council said in a statement, noting that satellite ship tracking “is one such measure that supports vessel monitoring and safety.”

Examining SBSS in greater detail reveals a network of relationships the business has, including multiple significant risk concerns, according to data from Sayari, a leading counterparty and supply chain risk intelligence provider.

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Sayari’s web platform lists Global Marine Systems Ltd. as one of the risk factors, with the company “possibly owned (minority, majority, or wholly) by” and “listed in the USA Department of the Treasury Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies.”

According to Sayari data, SBSS is “possibly owned (minority, majority, or wholly) by a sanctioned entity up to 3 hops away via direct shareholding relationships with 10% or more controlling interest” based on China United Network Communications Group Co.’s data.

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Concerning US defense officials is the fact that one of the ships in question, named “Bold Maverick,” has been intermittently turning on and off its transponder data in locations where there are underwater cables.

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“The data gaps were unusual for commercial cable ships and lacked clear explanation,” according to officials.

Concerns about organizations like SBSS accessing or even cutting undersea cables are growing among defense officials and large IT corporations.

The most recent reminder of these growing threats to national security was the Red Sea cable severing event that occurred earlier this year.

GreatGameIndia recently reported that, according to Al Mayadeen News, the Houthis had knocked out several undersea internet cables, causing significant damage, particularly in the Gulf countries and India.

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