Monday, July 10, 2023

"Inside the subsea cable firm secretly helping America take on China"

A deep dive, so to speak, from Reuters, July 6:

SubCom, a New Jersey company born out of a Cold War spy project, has become a key player in the U.S.-China tech war. It’s laying internet cables on the ocean floor to boost Washington’s economic and military might, including a clandestine mission to a remote island naval base, Reuters can reveal.

On Feb. 10 last year, the cable ship CS Dependable appeared off the coast of the island of Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean atoll that’s home to a discreet U.S. naval base.

Over the next month, the ship’s crew covertly laid an underwater fiber-optic cable to the military base, an operation code-named “Big Wave,” according to four people with direct knowledge of the mission, as well as a Reuters analysis of satellite imagery and ship tracking data.

The new super-fast internet link to Diego Garcia, which has not previously been reported, will boost U.S. military readiness in the Indian Ocean, a region where China has expanded its naval influence over the last decade.

The CS Dependable is owned by SubCom, a small-town New Jersey cable manufacturer that’s playing an outsized role in a race between the United States and China to control advanced military and digital technologies that could decide which country emerges as the world’s preeminent superpower.

SubCom, a company born out of a U.S. Cold War project to spy on Soviet submarines, is living a double life.

Publicly, it is one of the world’s biggest developers of undersea fiber-optic cables for telecom firms and tech giants like Alphabet’s Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Meta Platforms.

Behind the scenes, SubCom is the exclusive undersea cable contractor to the U.S. military, laying a web of internet and surveillance cables across the ocean floor, according to the four people with knowledge of the matter: two SubCom employees and two U.S. Navy staffers. The individuals asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the operations.

This dual role has made SubCom increasingly valuable to Washington as global internet infrastructure – from undersea cables to data centers and 5G mobile networks – risks fracturing into two systems, one backed by the United States, the other controlled by China.

SubCom is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, a New York-based private equity firm that has invested in defense contractors and national security assets. Last year, Cerberus paid $300 million for a Philippine shipyard on a former U.S. Navy base close to the South China Sea, beating out Chinese competitors for control of a strategic site in a region where Beijing has been flexing its military muscle.

Cerberus is headed by Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire political donor whom former President Donald Trump drafted onto the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which counsels the commander-in-chief on U.S. foreign intelligence matters.

SubCom, Cerberus and Feinberg did not respond to requests for comment.

Presented with Reuters’ findings, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet confirmed the existence of a new high-speed undersea internet cable to Diego Garcia. It was the first official acknowledgement of that cable.

“The resiliency, redundancy, and security of our communication infrastructure represents a top priority for U.S. Pacific Fleet,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The statement said the Navy could not discuss specifics for operational security reasons. The Navy did not respond to Reuters’ questions about SubCom or name the company in its statement.

SubCom’s journey from Cold War experiment to global cable constructor and now a shadowy player in the U.S.-China tech war is detailed in this story for the first time.

Reuters is revealing details of the Diego Garcia project and SubCom’s deepening ties with the Pentagon. The news agency is also the first to report on a confidential contract the company secured from tech giant Google to build the world’s largest private undersea internet network....