25 April, 2013
They’re stealing copper wiring from streetlights, stripping it from electrical substations, and burrowing into the ground for it as if mining precious metal. Always a problem, metal scavengers have become more brazen in the economic downturn, authorities said, sometimes endangering public safety across Georgia and even in thea USA: Philadelphia and South Jersey.
The crime has become so prevalent that the police says it affects national security by disrupting the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating,
and security and emergency services. Utility companies such as Georgia Power and telecom companies mark their new wiring so it can be identified when stolen. They’re working closely with area police departments, using the Internet to track thefts, and alerting area scrap yards to be on the lookout for stolen items.
An elderly Georgian woman in April 2011 was scavenging for copper to sell as scrap when she accidentally sliced through an underground cable and cut off internet services to all of neighbouring Armenia.
The woman, 75, had been digging for the metal not far from the capital Tbilisi when her spade damaged the fibre-optic cable on 28 March, 2011.
As Georgia provides 90% of Armenia’s internet, the woman’s unwitting sabotage had catastrophic consequences. Web users in the nation of 3.2 million people were left twiddling their thumbs for up to five hours as the country’s main internet providers - ArmenTel, FiberNet Communication and GNC-Alfa – were prevented from supplying their normal service. Television pictures showed reporters at a news agency in the capital Yerevan staring glumly at blank screens.
Large parts of Georgia and some areas of Azerbaijan were also affected.
“It was a 75-year-old woman who was digging for copper in the ground so that she could sell it for scrap,” a spokesman for Georgia’s interior ministry said back in April, 2011.
Dubbed “the spade-hacker” by local media, the woman – who has not been named –was investigated on suspicion of damaging property.
The damage was detected by a system monitoring the fibre-optic link from Western Europe and a security team was immediately dispatched to the spot, where the woman was arrested.
Pulling up unused copper cables for scrap is a common means of making money in the former Soviet Union. Some entrepreneurs have even used tractors to wrench out hundreds of metres of cable from the former nuclear testing ground at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.