Southcom: No fiber-optic contract yet; cable to Cuba to be dropped in 2015


Verbatim | From the court transcript

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s chief information officer Ronald Bechtold: “It would benefit the entire base. And frankly, industry would love to do that, because when they put a cable down here, it’s not going to be for the base, 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. ... And Southcom decided that they needed it because they had — other people on the island had needs. And I was told that that was a funded project and it would probably be implemented in about two years.”

Later, “It will be a gigantic bundle. It will be a big cable. And like I said, they will physically drag it all the way here. They will only use some fibers inside for our needs, because, frankly, when they do it, it’s just not cost effective to do a tiny little fiber link for us.”

A senior Pentagon official testified last week that a fiber-optic communications cable linking Florida to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, “would probably be implemented in about two years.” At Southern Command, a spokesman says the contract has yet to be awarded and the work won’t start until after that Defense Department official departs government service.

Broadly, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, a Southcom spokesman, agreed with the two-year timetable that the chief information officer at the Secretary of Defense’s office, Ronald Bechtold, testified about at a military commissions case Friday.

But Flanders said the bidder “probably won’t start laying the cable until 2015” with a goal of completion “around January 2016.”

Flanders was unable to say Wednesday how many firms had bid on the project.

“The work will start in January, though, and it will be a long process,” Flanders said by email this week from the Southern Command in Miami, the Pentagon regional division in charge of the project.

A surveyor ship has already mapped the path along the ocean floor to establish the route the cable will follow, said Flanders. Once the contractor is chosen, it then builds the actual cable and puts it on a giant spool, he said. Bechtold described the cable as a “gigantic bundle” big enough to one day serve the entire island.

Other work will require building ground delivery stations on both sides of the Florida Straits where the cable emerges on land.

None of that starts until after a bidder is chosen, and until after Bechtold leaves government service on Nov. 1.

Bechtold brought up the cable while talking about Pentagon efforts to shore up computer security for defense attorneys preparing for the death-penalty trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accused co-conspirators.

At the 9/11 trial, the prosecution team has proposed a Sept. 22, 2014 trial date, a timetable the judge has not adopted and defense attorneys have said is unrealistic in the complex, five-man conspiracy prosecution that seeks to execute five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Judge James L. Pohl has not yet set a provisional trial date. He’s now considering a defense motion to abate the proceedings to let the alleged terrorists’ Pentagon-paid lawyers set up a computer system they consider consistent with their confidentiality obligations.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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