US and Western officials are increasingly troubled by Russia's interest in the 400 fiber-optic cables that carry most of world's calls, emails and texts, as well as $10 trillion worth of daily financial transactions. "We've seen activity in the Russian navy, and particularly undersea in their submarine activity, that we haven't seen since the '80s," Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the US European Command, told Congress this month, per the AP. All told, there are 620,000 miles of fiber-optic cable running under the sea, enough to loop around the earth nearly 25 times. Most lines are owned by private telecommunications companies like Google and Microsoft. Their locations are easily identified on public maps. While cutting one cable might have limited impact, severing several simultaneously or at choke points could cause a major outage.
Rep. Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat, said of the Russians, "The mere fact that they are clearly tracking the cables and prowling around the cables shows that they are doing something." Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan said Moscow's goal appears to be to "disrupt the normal channels of communication and create an environment of misinformation and distrust." Undersea cables have been targets before. In the Cold War, the US Navy sent American divers deep into the Sea of Okhotsk off the Russian coast to install a device to record Soviet communications. More recently, British and American intelligence agencies have eavesdropped on fiber optic cables, according to documents released by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor. Russia's Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.