The undersea fibre-optic cable technology that Botswana is eagerly waiting for is said to be a Trojan horse which, according to The Guardian of the United Kingdom, can aid spying.
According to the paper, “Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).”
Through the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation, Botswana has invested millions of pula in this telecommunications technology as part of effort to secure reliable, faster and cheaper bandwidth connection.
Alongside Namibia, Botswana has plugged into the 14 000-kilometre West African Cable System (WACS) which links South Africa with the UK. The system’s landing in Namibia last year was inaugurated in Swakopmund at a ceremony that was attended by both presidents Ian Khama of Botswana and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia.
Speaking at the event, Khama said that this technology will benefit social and economic developments in Botswana and that Internet enabled citizens to both know and understand how the world is progressing and be able to reap the benefits from such change. For his part, Pohamba said that WACS’ connectivity will not only develop the economy, but will also present opportunities to more Namibians to participate in the economy.
While all that is true, this technology may also enable western intelligence agencies to reap intelligence benefits from Botswana’s telecommunications traffic. Edward Snowden, an American IT expert who was contracted to work for the NSA and is now at the centre of an intercontinental spy saga that is still playing itself out, told The Guardian that GCHQ collects and stores vast quantities of global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories and calls, and shares them with the NSA. GCHQ is said to be able to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted through and analysed. That operation, codenamed “Tempora”, has reportedly been running for some 18 months now. The Guardian says that Britain’s geographic position on Europe’s western fringe gives it natural access to many of the fibre-optic cables as they emerge from the sea. That WACS terminates in the UK which, it was recently revealed, spied on South Africa during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, will come as cold comfort to African governments.
Details of this method of spying emerged as early as 2001 when it was reported that NSA agents had tapped undersea cables using a special spy submarine to descend hundreds of feet into one of the oceans and slice into a fibre-optic cable. The agents are said to have brought a length of cable inside a special chamber of the submarine and fiddled with it.
BTC has also committed millions to the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System, a 10 000km submarine fibre-optic cable system deployed along the east and south coast of Africa that links South Africa with Sudan via landing points in Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.