The Dentith Files – The Middle-East’s Communication Problem

Between 2008 and 2010, Matthew Dentith first joined 95bFM’s Simon Pound, then José Barbosa, on Sunday mornings to talk about conspiracy theories. Listen, as they say, again!

We ran well over time this week and so the Middle East was a little truncated. Next time, Freemasons. Everyone loves the Freemasons. The time after that, Chem-trails. Because poison is fun.

The Dentith Files

This week our resident conspiracy theory expert, Matthew Dentith, talks to Simon about the further ‘terror raids’ arrests and the conspiracies around this, internet troubles in the Middle East, and in a move that will make both conspiracy theorists and conspiracy sceptics happy, the British Government being forced to reveal that the dossier used to justify the British-assisted invasion of Iraq was indeed doctored.

Thanks Matthew! Check out his blog for more exciting conspiracy info:

(Here follow the notes that lead to Sunday the 24th of February’s exciting discourse)

Three things:

One: More raids-slash-arrests over the October 15th “Terror” Raids. News of this, which leaked on Tuesday, is already creating claims of some state-level conspiracy against the people of Tuhoe. I’ll be keeping an eye out on this one and keep you up to date as more news comes to hand.

Two: In a move that will make both Conspiracy Theorists and Conspiracy Sceptics happy, the British Government have been forced to reveal that the dossier used to justify the British-assisted invasion of Iraq was indeed doctored… by a Downing Street PR doctor and the information that Blair said made it a moral imperative to invade Iraq, that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction against the UK within 45 minutes, was a late minute amendment. Certain Conspiracy Theorists (which, in this case, isn’t really a pejorative label because I suspect most of us agree with them) will be happy because it proves exactly what people have been talking about for quite some time whilst Conspiracy Skeptics will be arguing that this, once again, proves that not only with the truth come out but that even seemingly well-oiled Governments can’t organise a five year old’s surprise birthday party without the child being in on it.

Finally, today’s topic of attention, the Middle-East and the Internet.

At the end of January two underwater cables (carrying the oh-so precious internet) failed, causing intermittent internet access to countries from Dubai to India. There was immediate reaction (mostly from the Blogosphere) accusing either Al Qaeda or the American Government cutting the cables deliberately. When two more cables subsequently failed the knives were out; the USA (Al Qaeda seems to have been excused from the picture) was deliberately causing troubles for Iran (and Pakistan, and India, incidentally) or preparing for a fake terrorist attack on the Superbowl (thanks, 9/11 Truthers, for that theory).

Let’s quote Conspiracy Theorist (and 9/11 Truther) Richard Saunder’s article “Connecting the Many Undersea Cut Cable Dots”:

Three things stand out about these incidents:

1) all of them, save one, have occurred in waters near predominantly Muslim nations, causing disruption in those countries;
2) all but two of the cut/damaged cables are in Middle Eastern waters;
3) so many like incidents in such a short period of time suggests that they are not accidents, but are in fact deliberate acts, i.e., sabotage.

The evidence therefore suggests that we are looking at a coordinated program of undersea cable sabotage by an actor, or actors, on the international stage with an anti-Muslim bias, as well as a proclivity for destructive violence in the Middle Eastern region.

Now, obviously to prove such a conclusion you need more than just those three premisses (especially since one of those premises [#3] is the conclusion anyway); the argument rests upon the assumption that someone (the USA, for example) had the means and the motive(s) to cause the cables to fail, but what could these be?

So, what about the means? First you need to understand the “nature”, if you will, of underwater cables; they fail a lot, especially in areas with a high level of shipping activity. Ships either run through them or the action of their movements, combined with ocean currents, cause the cables to rub on the ocean floor and eventually fail. So, given that we should expect cable failures we have to ask, is four failed cables a statistical anomaly? Well, maybe. A lot of analysts, such as Professor Steve Bellovin (of Columbia University) and Todd Underwood (of Renesys) thought the breakages were unusual but not necessarily in such a way to denote malicious activity. So the answer to the means question is a little vague; it may have been intentional or it might just be a statistical blip (and perhaps not even much of one). Indeed, to really understand whether the cable failures indicate a planned and malicious act you would need to not only analyse just how often cables in this area of the world fail but compare that rate to other similar regions. It may well be the case that, yes, all these cables failed in waters near pre-dominantly Muslim nations but the same has happened elsewhere. Indeed, given the overall trend of cables failing due to wear and tear, perhaps this isn’t quite the statistical anomaly that it seems like (when we take into account past incidences and the like).

Which means we really have to ask about the motive(s) to decide whether the cable failures were caused intentionally. Why would someone deliberately cut these cables?

One argument was that it would cut off the ‘net to Iran, although reports from Iran, filed from the ‘net users, seemed to show that it’s access wasn’t affected much, if at all. Because most Conspiracy Theories focus, at the moment, on just evil America is, the issue shifted from “Is America trying to cause trouble to Iran?” to “What else might America be doing to Iran?” (which, given America’s interest in the Middle East might be a plausible assumption to bring to bear, but it is just an assumption at this stage, even if some Conspiracy Theorists will posit it as a gods-given truth). Were the Americans trying to perform a wire tap on the cables to monitor Middle Eastern communications? If so, then, well, four obvious cable failures seems a little too cack-handed. Possibly the plan was to cut cables and force communications through one particularly cable which was easily monitored, although this plan has the flaw in that the cut cables would be (and have been) fixed within a few weeks. But maybe, by the time the cables are fixed, secret wire-tapping technology will have been attached to them by the US Navy Seals.

Which is all very hypothetical and rests upon a particularly problematic assumption that these fibre optic cables can be tapped into, which it seems they cannot, at least to the limits of our public knowledge. Maybe the US have special, secret technology, but if they do we don’t know about it. This story seems a little flimsy.

Of course, it’s not just the States that have been implicated; Israel has also had the finger pointed at it. The country to suffer the most from the cable cuts was Egypt, which lost somewhere between 70 and 76% of its internet access when one of the cables to Alexandria failed. Egypt has recently refused to allow Palestinians to settle in Sinai, which, regardless of whether you believe there is a conspiracy at work or not, must be a bit of a disaster for the Israeli government.

These motives are all examples of inferences to any old explanation, a fallacious move. These explanations take some piece of data, the failed cables, and posit stories that seek to show that the cables failed for a reason, that it wasn’t normal wear and tear, wasn’t merely what you might expect, but were the results of a conspiracy by a NeoCon-Zionist alliance seeking to destabilise the Middle East and, presumably, give America, Israel and its allies reason to invade and impose its hegemony.

Which, may well be the case, but the evidence, as it stands, isn’t up to supporting those stories.

About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.