Code name "Killer Rabbit": New Sub Can Tap Undersea Cables

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Fri Feb 18 17:47:02 PST 2005


WCBS 880 |

Experts: New Sub Can Tap Undersea Cables
	* 	USS Jimmy Carter Will Be Based In Washington State
Feb 18, 2005 4:55 pm US/Eastern

 The USS Jimmy Carter, set to join the nation's submarine fleet on
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 the $3.2 billion submarine, the third and
last of the Seawolf class of attack subs, has this capability.

"That's going to be classified in nature," said Kevin Sykes, a Navy
spokesman. "You're not going to get anybody to talk to you about that."

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

Like the Parche, the 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 Carter'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 touts some of the 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 Carter, like other submarines, will also have the ability to eavesdrop
on communications-what the military calls signals 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-attenna type
of eavesdropping," said Jeffrey Richelson, an expert on intelligence

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

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

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, although 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, Conn. 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 some sea trials, the ship will move to its home port in Bangor, Wash.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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