In a low-tech sabotage affecting nearly a million people in three counties of Silicon Valley, saboteurs hacked through underground fiber-optic cables of AT&T at several locations, which disconnected land lines, cell phones and the internet, crippling operations in banks, ATM's, hospitals, businesses, stores and emergency services.
Saboteurs cut 10 fibre optic cables in the southern Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties of California late on Thursday night by just opening the manhole covers, going underground where the fibre optic cables are laid, severing the them in one clean cut and escaping.
AT&T, whose cable lines are leased to Verizon and Sprint Nextel were also cut, immediately offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the saboteurs but later raised the reward to $250,000 as the full scope of the sabotage became clearer.
Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conducting the investigation are looking at traffic-camera footage taken near one of four sites, where the cables were cut in hopes of finding clues to the saboteurs.
Police say that the saboteurs used the right tools to remove the heavy manhole covers and cut through the thick cables, which are protected by a heavy plastic sheath, but refused to say that this was done by disgruntled employees of AT&T as most of the tools used, are easily available in any hardware store.
Currently AT&T is negotiating with its contract employees, who maintain the fiber-optic cables, for concessions on health care costs, among other things but the union said that none of its members would indulge in sabotage and would cooperate with the investigation authorities.
''We have zero tolerance for any criminal who would attack our network and the many customers – both consumers and businesses – who depend on the services the network delivers,'' said John Stankey, president and chief executive officer of AT&T operations.
''We are aggressively working with law enforcement authorities to see that those responsible for this willful act are apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,'' he added.
AT&T, within twenty four hours of the sabotage, repaired the cables by fusing the fibre optic cables and by Friday morning had restored all the lines of its customers.
Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, AT&T's networks were declared National Critical Infrastructures in recognition of their importance to the national security. Anyone who tampers with, destroys or disrupts the company's network or its components is in violation of both federal and state laws.