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Washington-Moscow Hotline
Direct Communications Link (DCL)

The Washington-Moscow Hotline is a Direct Communication Link (DCL) between the US and the Soviet Union, that allows the two countries to contact each other quickly in case of a crisis (e.g. during the Cold War). The line was established in 1963, a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly led to the outbreak of a nuclear war. The hotline initially consisted of a double teleprinter link (telex), but was later replaced by facsimile units and eventually by modern computers [1].

Contrary to popular believe, the Hotline was never a red phone that could simply be picked up to speak with the leader at the other end. Although speech conversations are possible nowadays, probably using the Direct Voice Link (DVL), these links are not part of the Hotline (DCL). We are indebted to Peter Koop [1], who's excellent blog and help have inspired us to compile this page.
 
History
The idea for a hotline between the USA and the USSR dates back to 1954, when both powers realized that a direct communication line was needed in order to prevent a nuclear war. Both countries had created enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons immediately after WWII had ended and the Cold War had begun. Both countries were also in a constant state of readiness [2].
 
Thousands of long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear charges were buried deep underground in silos and were carried aboard submarines. At any given moment, the world was no more than 30 minutes away from an all-out nuclear war.

Although several parties and individuals had warned the two countries, and both of them took part in the Conference of Experts on Surprise Attacks in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1958, not much happened in the following years.
  
Russian SS-5 SKEAN intermediate range ballistic missile. Many of these were installed in Cuba. (Copyright unknown)

The cog wheels moved very slowly during the Cold War, and military advisors at both sides didn't want their leaders to communicate directly. All that changed during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. For two weeks the world balanced on the edge of war, whilst US President John F. Kennedy had to decide whether to attack, or negotiate through alternative diplomatic channels.
 
Kennedy decided to take the diplomatic route, but faced serious communication problems when negotiating with the USSR. It took the US, for example, nearly 12 hours to receive and decode the initial settlement message that contained approx. 3,000 words. By the time the message was decoded and interpreted, and an answer had been prepared, another - more agressive - message had been received.

Kennedy rescued the situation by ignoring the second letter, pretending he never received it, and answering the first one instead. It worked, and the Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end.
  
President John F Kennedy amidst his military advisors during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Copyright The Daily Banter.

Once the dust of the event had settled, it was decided that a more direct line of communication between the US and the USSR had to be established. It would allow the leaders of the two countries to contact each other in the event of a serious threat, a malfunction or an accident.
 
1963: Teleprinter link
Both countries recognized the necessity of creating a direct line, and after some negotiations, an agreement was signed in Geneva (Switzerland) on 20 June 1963. The link became operational less then a month later, on 13 July 1963, and was officially called Direct Communications Link (DCL). The communication link was also known by US technicians as the MOLINK (Moscow Link).
 
The first implementation of the hotline consisted of two full-duplex teleprinter links, one of which was a backup. Each side got two teleprinters with the Latin alphabet and two with the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. At each side, the lines were protected by four ETCRRM cipher machines.

Rather than using American or Russian cipher machines for the encryption of the messages, the ETCRRM machines were built in Norway by STK 1, who was considered neutral and impartial. STK delivered the machines with sufficient supplies for one year and full documentation.
  
ETCRRM cipher machine, built by STK. Click for further information.

The image above shows the Hotline terminal room of the NMCC at the Pentagon on 9 July 1976. Two pairs of (black) ETCRRM machines, in a mirrored arangement, are clearly visible. Each pair is accompanied by a Teletype machine for messages in the American language and an East-German T-63 2 in a wooden cabinet (at the foreground) for messages in Russian (Cryllic, see note 2) [12]. Barely visible at the extreme left, are two Siemens M-190 cipher machines that had already been installed and were under test at that time. A few years later they would replace the ETCRRMs.
 
As the ETCRRM is a One-Time Tape machine (OTT), it uses the principle of the One-Time Pad (OTP). When used in combination with truely random key tapes, an OTT machine is absolutely safe and unbreakable. As the Russians insisted on producing their own keys, it was decided that each side would create their own key tapes.

These key tapes were then delivered by special couriers to the embassy at the other end, who then delivered it at the other party's terminal [9]. So, the American Embassy in Moscow delivered their key tapes at the Moscow hotline terminal.
  
Air Force Sgt. Hohn Bretoski (left) and Army Lt. Col. Charles Fitzgerald (right) during a test of the Cyrillic teleprinters. Copyright AP, 1693-1967.

Both Latin and Cyrillic teleprinters were installed at either end, allowing each party to write in their own language. This was considered good practice, as it would avoid miscommunications and allowed some extra time for correct interpretation of the messages. The first message that was sent by the Americans on the opening day, was the well-known test message THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPED OVER THE LAZY DOG'S BACK 1234567890, a line that contains all letters of the alphabet. The Soviets replied by sending a poetic description of the setting Moscow sun.

Close of of the keyboard of the East-German teleprinter shown in the image above
Layout of the keyboard of the Russian teleprinter at the Pentagon [13]


The image above shows the layout of the keyboard of the Russian teleprinter, which was in fact an East-German T-51 [12], that was delivered to the Pentagon in Washington on 26 August 1963. The image was released as a press photo by AP Wirephoto [13], with the following text:
 

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 --ONLY THE NUMBERS ARE THE SAME-- This is the
    keyboard of a Soviet teleprinter delivered to the Pentagon in
    Washington today for use on the Washington-Moscow "hot line" of
    communications. Russian alphabet characters are on the bottom three
    lines of keys. Numbers at the top are the same as in English.
    Messages will be sent and received in both Russian and English as a
    protection against translations errors.

The physical link between the two terminals, ran from Washington to London, using the first Transatlantic Cable No. 1 (TAT-1) [5], and from there via Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki to Moscow. Although the link was cryptographically safe, it was accidently cut several times, for example when a Finnish farmer accidently ploughed it up with a bulldozer [1].

Route of the landline and the radio link of the first Hotline

In London, the line was routed through a secure telephone exchange in the Kingsway Tunnels, a large underground complex. The complete route is shown in the image above. Apart from the cable link described above, there was a full-duplex radio link that was used as a backup. It ran from Washington via Tangier (Morocco) to Moscow and vice versa. This alternative route is dotted in the above drawing. It was also used for service communications. Both links were tested daily.
 
  1. At the time, STK was an independent subsidary of the American ITT company.
  2. It is sometimes erroneously thought that the Cyrillic T-63-RU teleprinter was made by Siemens in East Germany. This was not the case however, as there was no Siemens factory behind the Iron Curtain at the time. The T-63 was built by VEB Messgerätewerk Zwönitz, but was based on the earlier Siemens T-37, which was called T-51 in East-Germany. It could switch between Latin and Cyrillic characters [12].
1978: Satellite links
On 30 September 1971, the US and the USSR agreed to improve the reliability of the DCL (Hotline) by giving up the radio link and installing two additional circuits: one installed by the US via the commercial geosynchronous Intelsat IV Satellite System, and other one installed by the USSR using four of their Molniya II Satellites in a high elliptical orbit. [6]. Installation and testing of the new links took several years, but finally they became operational on 16 January 1978. The new satellite links appeared to be far less vulnerable than the original cables through Europe.

At the same time the number of terminals was increased on each side, to a series of terminals at unspecified locations. In the US, there were the usual terminals at the NMCC, the ANMCC and at the White House [6]. The locations of the Soviet terminals are currently unknown. It was agreed that any messages received via the DCL would be communicated to the 'head of government'.
 
1980: New teleprinter equipment
In 1980, the DCL received a facelift when the Teletype terminals were replaced by newer models and the valve-based ETCRRM cipher machines were replaced by compatible solid-state Siemens M-190 units. Although the M-190 was rather old (it was developed in the early 1960s), it was relatively modern in comparison to the ETCRRM that was developed some ten years earlier. The M-190 units had been installed at the opposite wall of the room as early as 1976, and had been tested for several years before they were released for duty and moved to the current position.

Washington-Moscow Hotline, 27 August 1985 [4].

The image above shows the DCL room in the NMCC at the Pentagon. The Siemens M-190 is clearly visible in the foreground, whilst an operator is typing a message on one of the Teletype machines. The picture was taken on 2 August 1985, shortly before the next upgrade of the DCL.
 
1985: Facsimile equipment
On 17 July 1984, the US and the USSR signed an agreement to upgrade the DCL with facsimile equipment, following negotiations that had started in May 1983 on the initiative of President Reagan. It was agreed that identical Group III faxes, running at 4800 baud, were installed at both ends. In addition to printed text, the fax was capable of sending handwritten messages, charts, maps and photographs, and could transfer a page in 6 to 15 seconds, typically 12 times faster than a teleprinter. Mid-1985 the links became operational and were tested for several years.

At the same time, the USSR upgraded their part of the link to a newer geosynchronous Gorizont-class satellite, as a result of which the Americans no longer had to switch between Molniya satellites every four hours. In 1996, the Russians would upgrade to a new Molniya III satellite.

Washington-Moscow Hotline, 14 November 1985 [5].

The image above shows the opposite wall of the DCL terminal room in the NMCC at the Pentagon on 14 November 1985, a few months after the facsimile equipment had become operational. Below each fax machine, an IBM PC is installed for the One-Time Pad (OTP) encryption of the data. For this purpose, the US also supplied the IBM PCs and the fax machines to the USSR.

In the foreground, the Siemens M-190 cipher machine is still visible, which proves that the picture was taken in the same room as the previous one. For several years the M-190 teleprinter line remained the primary link between the US and the USSR, until the fax link was found reliable enough to replace it. Finally, in 1988, the teleprinter link was shut down [1].
 
2007: Secure e-mail
In 2007, work started on another upgrade of the Direct Communication Link (DCL). The earlier data link was replaced by a dedicated computer network with e-mail and chat functionality. While the chat function is used by the operators for the coordination of the link, e-mails are used for the official part. The e-mail system allows text messages, scanned images and files to be sent.

At the same time, the old cable link was replaced by a new optic-fiber link, allowing the two satellite links to be used as redundant circuits. Back in 1996, the Russians had already upgraded their part of the satellite link by replacing the Gorizont satellite channel by a Molnyia III one. The upgrade became oprational in 2008 and allows messages and data to be sent near to real-time.

Washington-Moscow Hotline, August 2013 [14].

The image above was taken at the event of the 50th anniversary of the Hotline on 30 August 2013, and shows what it looks like today. The old teleprinters and IBM PCs have made room for modern computers with secure e-mail. The man standing towards the rear is Lt. Col. Charles Cox, the senior presidential translator. Sitting in front of him is Navy Chief Petty Officer John E. Kelley, a presidential communicator.
 
Terminals
For safety reasons, there were three Hotline terminals on the American side:
 
  • Pentagon
    The primary terminal is at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the Pentagon. It is manned 24/7 in four 8-hour shifts by NMCC personnel and is under control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The NMCC is responsible for the daily testing of the link and for the translation of any messages that are transmitted or received.

  • White House
    Initially, there was no terminal at the White House, but when the Russians sent their first message in 1967 (at the event of the Six Day War between Egypt and Israel), Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ordered a quick patch from the Pentagon to the White House. This temporary link was later replaced by an ancillary terminal that was installed in the Military Communications Center of the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The White House terminal has an override facility that allow it to lock-out other terminals.

  • Raven Rock Mountain
    A third terminal was located at the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC), the Pentagon's backup site, located in the Raven Rock Mountain. It is operated by NMCC personnel and is tested periodically.

According to a SECRET directive of September 1985, signed by President Ronald Reagan, the President could at any time appoint new locations for additional Hotline terminals, the location of which would be classified as SECRET. Whether or not this has happened is currently unknown.
 
  • Moscow
    At present it is unclear what the exact location of the terminal in Moscow was. Although it was meant to be in the Kremlin, close to the office of the Prime Minister, there are indications that it was instead opposite the Read Square at the Communist Party Headquarters [1]. Unlike in America, the Russian terminal was operated by civilians.

Red phone
Contrary to popular believe, the hotline was never a red phone that was used for voice (speech) communication between Washington and Moscow in the event of an emergency. Nevertheless, a typical red phone is on public display at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta (USA).
 
The image on the right shows that particular red phone. The phone has no dial (which is common for hotline phones) and is mounted on a pole with a placard at the bottom, claiming that it was used on the Moscow-Washington hotline during the Carter Administration in the White House.

Unfortunately, the sign is wrong as this was never the case. Although it is entirely possible that the phone was used for another kind of hotline communication during the time of the Carter Administration, for example for a direct link with the Pentagon, it was definitely not used on the DCL; the Washington-Moscow Hotline.
  
Red phone at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum that is erroneously claimed to have been part of the Washington-Moscow Hotline. Photograph via Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, the idea of a red phone being used for hotline communication persisted, not least because of the many blockbuster movies in which the world leaders contact each other in crisis situations. For this reason, the Washington-Moscow Hotline is often referred to as the Red Phone.

There are several reasons for not having direct voice communications at times of crisis. First of all, it was very difficult, if not impossible, during the 1960s to have reliable secure voice encryption on such lines, without revealing (secret) technology. The most important reason however, is to avoid misunderstandings caused by the language barrier. Sending written messages (by teleprinter, fax or computer) allows time for proper translation and interpretation.
 
Direct Voice Link (DVL)
Since the 1990s, it is possible to have a direct voice conversation with the other end, but this is not considered part of the Hotline. It is likely that for voice coversations the so-called Direct Voice Link (DVL) is used. This link has terminals at both ends near the offices of the Presidents and is routed (multiplexed) over the same satellite links as the DCL. The DVL is normally used for diplomatic and scheduled traffic, but can be used in crisis situations by special arrangement.
 
Incidents
The Hotline was mainly intended to inform the other party in case of incidents, (nuclear) accidents and unexpected moves of fleet and troups, which the other party could see as a provocation or as an act of war. Only a few months after the DCL became operational, it was first used by the Americans on 22 November 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was murdered.

The Hotline was used during the following international conflicts:
 
  • 1963  Assasination of President Kennedy
  • 1967  Six Day War between Egypt and Israel.
  • 1971  War between India and Pakistan
  • 1973  Yom Kippur War
  • 1974  Turkish Invasion of Cyprus
  • 1979  Russian Invasian of Afganistan
  • 1981  Threat of Russian Invasion of Poland
  • 1982  Israeli Invasion of Libanon
  • 1991  Gulf War
  • 2003  Aftermath of Iraq War
The first official use of the Hotline by the Russians was on 5 June 1967, at the outbreak of the Six Day War between Egypt and Israel. It was the first of a total of 20 messages that were exchanged during this event. Three of these messages were related to the so-called Liberty Incident [10]; the apparantly accidental attack of the USS Liberty by the Israeli Defence Forces on 8 June 1967.
 
Letter by A. Kosygin to the US President via the Hotline on 5 June 1967. Declassified 7 Feb 1996. Translated letter by A. Kosygin to the US President via the Hotline on 5 June 1967. Declassified 7 Feb 1996.

The leftmost image above shows the first message that was sent by the USSR via the Hotline, informing the US that they were seeking to end the conflict as soon as possible, and asking the US to do the same. The letter is written in Russian and is signed by Minister A. Kosygin. At the right is the official translation of the letter, created by the White House interpretors [11].
 
Glossary
NMCC   National Military Command Center
Responsible for operation, maintenance and testing of the Hotline (DCL). Also the primary terminal of the US side of the Hotline. Located at the Pentagon in Washington. (Wikipedia)

ANMCC   Alternate National Military Command Center
Backup command center of the Pentagon, also the backup terminal of the Hotline (DCL), located in Raven Rock Mountain. (Wikipedia)

WHCA   White House Communications Agency
Official communications agency of the White House. Also responsible for operating the secundary terminal of the US side of the Hotline (DCL). (Website) (Wikipedia)

DCL   Direct Communications Link
Official name of the Washington-Moscow Hotline. (Wikipedia)

DVL   Direct Voice Link
Voice communication link, running on the same network, but not part of, the Hotline.

References
  1. Peter Koop, The Washington-Moscow Hot Line
    Retrieved January 2013.

  2. Matt Dattilo, Washington-Moscow Hotline Established, June 20, 1963
    21 June 2011. Retrieved January 2013.

  3. AP, Photograph of Siemens M-190 and teletypes in the Hotline room
    27 August 1985. Retrieved November 2012. Image kindly supplied by [1].

  4. Scott Davis, Images of Us-Soviet Hotline
    © Time Inc. LIFE magazine, 14 November 1985, Arlington, VA, USA.
    Retrieved January 2013.

  5. Wikipedia, TAT-1, Transatlantic Cable Number 1
    Retrieved Januari 2013.

  6. Ronald Reagan, National Decision Directive Number 186
    4 September 1985. SECRET. Declassified 10 June 2011.

  7. US Department of State, Agreement Between the USA and the USSR to upgrade the DCL
    17 July 1984. Retrieved January 2013.

  8. Dan Merica, If these Walls Could Talk: Installing a direct line to Moscow
    CNN Politics website, 27 August 2012.

  9. Hugo Ryvik, Thales, On a Secret Mission. 50 years of Norwegian cryptology.
    Thales, private publication, 2005.

  10. A. Jay Cristol, The Liberty Incident
    July 2007. Retrieved Januari 2013.

  11. NARA, Letter from A. Kosygin to the US President via Soviet Molink
    5 June 1963. Confidential. Declassified 7 February 1996. Translation...

  12. Joachim Beckh, Blitz & Anker, Band 1: Informationstechnik - Geschichte und Hintergründe
    Backgrounds on the T-63 teleprinter (German). [Thanks to Jim Meyer for pointing this out]
    ISBN 3-8334-2996-8. p. 119.

  13. AP Wirephoto, Image of Russian keyboard
    26 August 1963. AP Wirephoto #b21455kwg. Crypto Museum archive #CM301762.

  14. US Army, Hotline, now 50 years old...
    Website. Retrieved September 2013.

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