The Suez Canal and other global infrastructure exploits

21.11, Thursday 25 Mar 2021

There’s a large cargo vessel stuck in the Suez Canal right now, the 200,000 tonne Ever Given. It might be deliberate (although it’s probably not) and it’s definitely disruptive. It may take weeks to clear. From VesselFinder’s recent update:

There are 14 gas carriers (LNG and LPG tankers) stuck south from the Suez Canal behind the marooned Ever Given and another 7 carriers from the north, and there are already signs the blockage is beginning to disrupt global gas flows.

Around 8% of the global supply of fuel passes through the vital waterway, and the only other option is a trip around Africa that would add 2 weeks more to the journey.

I do wonder about these points of vulnerability in global infrastructure.

We’re now semi-accustomed to the idea that deliberate, state-sponsored disinfo has been disrupting politics in the UK and US since the early/mid 2010s, having targeted the engagement algorithms in social media to sow division.

I don’t think the disinfo has had any other objective than disruption – and that’s enough. Disruption in one arena makes it hard for countries to act in others.

So when a new point of vulnerability is revealed - such as the Suez Canal - my thought process goes:

  • Could this have been purposeful?
  • If so, what did it achieve? What was learnt? What could it be a trial for?
  • If not, assume that others will learn from it. So what else do we now know is vulnerable?

e.g. the Panama Canal. e.g. any other supply chain bottleneck.

This idea of “disruption” is highlighted in this 2018 report from the RAND Corporation:

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) now characterizes and understands modern warfare as a confrontation between opposing operational systems rather than merely opposing armies. Furthermore, the PLA’s very theory of victory in modern warfare recognizes system destruction warfare as the current method of modern war fighting. Under this theory, warfare is no longer centered on the annihilation of enemy forces on the battlefield. Rather, it is won by the belligerent that can disrupt, paralyze, or destroy the operational capability of the enemy’s operational system. This can be achieved through kinetic and nonkinetic strikes against key points and nodes while simultaneously employing a more robust, capable, and adaptable operational system of its own.

Long story short, I keep a note of vulnerabilities when I hear about them.

Here’s an old one, from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1977: CIA Link to Cuban Pig Virus Reported.

With at least the tacit backing of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials, operatives linked to anti-Castro terrorists introduced African swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971.

Especially relevant given the Covid-19 lab leak hypothesis refuses to go away. Wherever Covid sits on the scale from deliberate to Act of God, it’s now possible to quantify the level of disruption. In the next major international treaty negotiation, watch out for one of the teams going down with flu all at once at a critical moment. It would be simple to plant influenza in a hotel, and now everyone’s seen how viruses work.

Another: The 2018 Athens wildfires that killed 86 people. There is serious evidence of arson for the Athens wildfires in East and West Attica, the Greek government said during a press conference. It’s grim to contemplate, but worst case scenario: What could this be a prototype for?

Weather, generally, is a big one, as previously discussed. Climate change is in the interest of at least some countries – if you’re geographically less susceptible to flooding, for example. Or if your economy is already able to shift away from carbon quickly, you can distract everyone else for a couple of decades by ramping up the urgency faster. Climate change can also be regionally targeted: increased weather volatility would make it simpler to tip a food-producing region into drought for a few years using secret cloud seeding.

There was that Icelandic volcano in 2010 that knocked out European air travel for a little over a week. I bet there’s a cost-benefit study, somewhere, based on that event, that assesses the impact on Europe’s GDP versus the difficulty of an artificial ash cloud and the possibility of performing it with plausible deniability.

Technology is its own thing which I won’t even go into. But there was that weird period in 2019 where, in short order, there were major outages at Google/Google Cloud, Apple, Facebook, Cloudflare, Stripe, Slack, Twitter, and Galileo (the European GPS equivalent with satellite network and ground stations) was down for 4 days. It felt like a systems test, or the cyber equivalent of running “exercises.”

So I wonder how much of this is already happening. Or at least, how much already exists in the form of planning – perhaps we’re even now in the middle of World War V(irtual), lasting tens of years already, with project plans and not ICBMs being lobbed across the planet, nothing ever enacted but an intricate standoff of exchanged complex system exploit threats.

I know this gets into proper tinfoil hat territory, and I honestly don’t know why I devote so many of my clock cycles to thinking about it.

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