American officials fear Russia might sever underwater Internet cables during a possible conflict, plunging the West—including its governments, economies, and citizens—into chaos. More than a dozen officials tell the New York Times that concerns over cable-cutting are being voiced at the Pentagon, particularly after Russian submarines and spy ships were spotted near underwater global communications cables in the North Sea, northeast Asia, and off the American East Coast. Last month, for example, a Russian spy ship traveling to Cuba sailed slowly near an East Coast cable that lands near Guantanamo Bay. The ship—which Russia claims is an oceanographic vessel—was carrying deep-sea submersibles capable of cutting cables hidden miles deep at sea.
"I'm worried every day about what the Russians may be doing," says a Navy commander. Undersea cables carry more than 95% of daily communications, reports the Times, and "the risk here is that any country could cause damage to the system and do it in a way that is completely covert, without having a warship with ... cable-cutting equipment right in the area," says a researcher who's studied the security of cables. While he says "cables get cut all the time—by anchors that are dragged, by natural disasters," these breaks usually occur close to shore and repairs take just a few days. Cuts at harder-to-reach greater depths are much more concerning. Officials say Russians may also be searching for secret cables perhaps used by the US for military operations. (Read more Russia stories.)