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Justice Department Recommends That the FCC Deny the Proposed ARCOS Cable Segment Connecting Florida and Cuba

Proposed link between the ARCOS undersea cable and Cuba.

In September 2020, I wrote a post on a proposed 56-kilometer link between the ARCOS undersea cable and the north coast of Cuba, near Havana. The Trump-appointed Justice Department Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector was to conduct a 120-day security review of the proposal.

Since it is US policy to “amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services,” I assumed the proposal would have smooth sailing, but it stalled. I followed up with several people but got no explanation.

When President Biden was elected, I argued in favor of the proposal, pointing out that it was consistent with our stated policy, would benefit the Cuban people, would improve our standing in the region, and would be popular with many Florida voters.

Yesterday a Justice Department press release stated The Committee had finally recommended that the FCC deny the ARCOS application. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said, “as long as the government of Cuba poses a counterintelligence threat to the United States, and partners with others who do the same, the risks to our critical infrastructure are simply too great.”
The Justice Department recommendation cites three risk factors (paraphrased):

  1. ETECSA, Cuba’s government-run telecommunication monopoly, would own the landing station in Cuba and could therefore have access to all traffic over a segment to Cuba.
  2. The Cuban government could perform a BGP hijack to misdirect non-Cuban Internet traffic to themselves for interception.
  3. The Cuban government has close ties to China and Russia and could share intel learned from #1 and #2 with them.

Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Kentik refuted the claims, pointing out that all traffic to/from Cuba goes through ETECSA, and nothing stops them from misdirecting or sharing information with China and Russia now. Madory concludes, “I suppose this was a political decision because the rationales listed in this announcement are completely nonsensical from a technical standpoint.”

The report mentions a classified annex, and considerable “confidential business information” is redacted, critical information, but from what we can see, as Madory says, this seems political.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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