The company that laid the first part of it was called the Falmouth, Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph Company, which is odd because the cable never went to Falmouth – a major port some 50 kilometers from Porthcurno. Enough anchors had hooked cables, even by that point, that “major port” and “submarine cable station” were seen to be incompatible, so the landing site was moved to Porthcurno.That was just the beginning: the company (later called the Eastern Cable Company, after all the segments between Porthcurno and Darwin merged) was every bit as conscious of the importance of redundancy as today’s Internet architects – probably more so, given the m4a4 skins unreliability of early cables. They ran another cable from Porthcurno to the Azores and then to Ascension Island, where it forked: one side headed to South America while the other went to Cape Town and then across the Indian Ocean. Subsequent transatlantic cables terminated at Porthcurno as well.

Many of the features that made Cornwall attractive to cable operators also made it a suitable place to conduct transatlantic radio experiments, and so in 1900 Guglielmo Marconi himself established a laboratory on Lizard Point, which is directly across the bay from Porthcurno, some 30 kilometers distant. Marconi had another station on the Isle of Wight, a few hundred kilometers to the east, and when he succeeded in sending messages between the two, he constructed a more powerful transmitter at the Lizard station and began trying to send messages to a receiver in Newfoundland. The competitive threat to the cable industry could hardly have been more obvious, and so the Eastern Telegraph Company raised a 60-meter mast above its Porthcurno site, hoisted an antenna, and began eavesdropping on Marconi’s transmissions. A couple of decades later, after the Italian had worked the bugs out of the system, the government stepped in and arranged a merger between his company and the submarine cable companies to create a new, fully integrated communications monopoly called Cable & Wireless.

On a sunny summer day, Porthcurno Beach was crowded with holiday makers. The vast majority of these were scantily clad and tended to face toward the sun and the sea. The fully clothed and heavily shod tourists with their backs to the water were the hacker tourists; they were headed for a tiny, windowless cement blockhouse, scarcely big enough to serve as a one-car garage, planted at the apex of the beach. There was a cs go items sign on the wall identifying it as the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy and stating that it is open only on Wednesday and Friday.

This was appalling news. We arrived on a Monday morning, and our maniacal schedule would not brook a two-day wait. Stunned, heartbroken, we walked around the thing a couple of times, which occupied about 30 seconds. The lifeguard watched us uneasily. We admired the brand-new manhole cover set into the ground in front of the hut, stamped with the year ’96, which strongly suggested a connection with FLAG. We wandered up the valley for a couple of hundred meters until it opened up into a parking lot for beach-goers, surrounded by older white masonry buildings. These were well-maintained but did not seem to be used for much. We peered at a couple of these and speculated (wrongly, as it turned out) that they were the landing station for FLAG.