Yet the boundaries of the telegraph station were porous. Men and women came in and out, and cultures mixed on the empire’s frontier. Social boundaries could also become unclear. Protecting the undersea network entailed regulating the body of the cableman, ensuring that he would uphold strict standards of performance, both in and out of the station. This was achieved by encouraging men to see themselves as part of a tight-knit “cable family,” which reinforced their loyalty to fellow operators and the network itself.
During the telephone cable era, concerns about network protection shifted away from the cableman’s body to the walls of the station. As in the case of Keawaula, many Cold War stations were “hardened,” regulated, and closed off to outsiders. One author remarked: “Growing up in Heart’s Content in the 1950s, unless your father worked at the cable station you probably never got to see inside the door.” Entry was highly selective and carefully monitored.
In this period, a wave of “superstations,” as some transmission engineers described them, were built around the world. These housed an enormous amount of equipment and were designed to endure immense force. Keawaula was required to withstand overpressures of at least 50 pounds per square inch, equivalent to a wind of over 900 miles per hour. In other places, the outside of the station was disguised to look like part of the landscape in case of enemy attack. While access to the interior was limited, cable stations were still promoted as a point of national or local pride. At the commemoration of one cable station, on Guam, the governor announced publicly: “The station is a most welcome addition to our island, both functional and beautiful in its thin-shell, barrel-vault roof design—the first of its kind on Guam.”
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The development of fiber-optic cable stations, which support today’s Internet traffic, yet again reflect the contemporary landscape of security. Instead of a fear of bombs from above, stations are protected from tactical terrorist attacks on the ground. Instead of hardening station walls, companies secure the environment around the station, termed “the buffer zone.” Thinking about the security of one station, a cable entrepreneur narrates his thought process: “Can it take a light plane crash? It’s got a really heavy-duty double-skinned roof. Can it take an 80-kilometer-an-hour, 20-ton truck? Yes, it can because of the way it’s been constructed. What if someone decided to take you out? Could they?”
At some stations in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security conducts site assessments and suggests increased security measures. On the list of changes they would like owners to make, for example, is clearing out the trees between the station and the coastal landing point in order to enable better visual surveillance of the cable route. At another station, the department recommended moving the road back from the building, making it more difficult to access from the street. Today’s cable stations often remain unmarked and without signs. Some do not list their addresses. Others are indicated in policy documents only by coordinates. These strategies—monitoring security cameras, withholding information, and regulating the buffer zone—manipulate a station’s field of vision, keeping the network secure by amassing information about its activities and letting very little of this information out.