Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pentagon wants Guantánamo fiber-optic cable to someday serve Cuba

Posted on Friday, 09.20.13

Pentagon wants Guantánamo fiber-optic cable to someday serve Cuba

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The Pentagon plans to one day extend
to the entire island of Cuba its under-construction $40 million
fiber-optic cable linking this base to Florida, a senior Defense
Department official testified Friday at the war court.

Ronald Bechtold, the chief information officer at the office of
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, was talking about Pentagon efforts to
shore up computer security for defense attorneys preparing for the Sept.
11 death-penalty trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed
and four accused co-conspirators.

He said the base now relies on slow satellite transmissions to the
mainland. But, he added, in "probably two years" the base will be served
by a fully functioning, fiber-optic cable funded by the U.S. Southern
Command in South Florida — the Pentagon's outpost for military
operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"It's going to be for the entire island in anticipation that one day
that they'll be able to extend it into mainland Cuba," he testified
under questioning by the 9/11 case prosecutor Joanna Baltes, a
Department of Justice secrecy expert.

The 45-square-mile base of about 6,000 military and civilian residents
functions like an island, cut off from the rest of the country by a
17.4-mile U.S. Marine-run fence-line and Cuban military minefield.

The Navy outpost severed ties to Cuban utilities in the early 1960s amid
tensions with Fidel Castro. Today, it's a communications backwater with
no U.S. cellphone service, limited military-run Wi-Fi and slow Internet

Defense officials have described the fiber-optic cable as a plan to
bring base telecommunications into the 21st century.

Bechtold described it as a "gigantic bundle" well beyond the tiny base's
fiber-optic cable needs "because, frankly, when they do it, it's just
not cost-effective to do a tiny little fiber link for us."

He's a career Defense Department employee with the equivalent civilian
rank of a general who leaves the job Nov. 1. He testified Thursday that
he runs a staff of 14,000 members who keep the Pentagon's Washington,
D.C.-area computers running, as well as "shape our national policies,
review our weapons systems, development programs, and to assemble our
budget and defend our budget request to Congress."

"There is no plan for the Southcom to provide fiber-optic communications
support to mainland Cuba," Army Col. Greg Julian said Friday afternoon
by email from Southcom in Doral. He said the goal of the "enclosed
[Department of Defense] fiber-optic node is to improve communications"
for the workers actually stationed here.

The Miami Herald first disclosed plans for the undersea cable more than
a year ago, quoting sources as saying it would be put under the sea from
this base in southeast Cuba through the Windward Passage to an
undisclosed link in South Florida. No official at that time described
plans for island-wide expansion.

At that time, then-base commander Navy Capt. Kirk Hibbert told the Miami
Herald he had alerted Cuban military officials that a surveyor ship
would be off base waters and got no opposition from Cuba. He said he
characterized it this way: The U.S. is setting up "reliable, more robust
communications" to update the "antiquated system we have now."

Even before that, Hibbert said, U.S. officials sent a diplomatic note to
Havana, notifying Cuba about the fiber-optic program.

Source: "GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba: Pentagon wants Guantánamo
fiber-optic cable to someday serve Cuba - Guantánamo -"

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