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 The Truth Behind the 'Red Phone': How the U.S. and Russia Really Connect

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PostSubject: The Truth Behind the 'Red Phone': How the U.S. and Russia Really Connect   Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:24 pm

New tensions between the United States and Russia have resurfaced an old myth about the Cold War foes' emergency communications link, known as the "Red Phone."

But it is not a phone. It never has been.

That false image, perpetuated in popular culture ("Dr. Strangelove," "Fail Safe,") and campaign ads ("3 a.m.") masks a less evocative reality: secure teletypes, faxes and computer links transmitting encrypted text messages between the Kremlin and Pentagon.

But their purpose is no less urgent: avoiding war between the world's two biggest nuclear powers.
It isn't used very often. But President Obama resorted to it in October, to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against using hackers to disrupt the U.S. election.

Obama delivered his message by email over a secure satellite connection, a far cry from the wire telegraph that served the first transmissions a half-century ago.

Back then, the United States had a relatively new system of hotlines used to defend America against a nuclear attack. These phones, operated by the Continental Air Defense Command, were often red, to distinguish them from the everyday black.
That may be where the "red phone" myth began.

The real Washington-Moscow hotline was created in 1963, after President John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev came to the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a showdown aggravated by communication delays.
The system used teletype and telegraph terminals manned by military translators, tasked with relaying messages from their commanders-in-chief through a transatlantic cable. The American terminal was in the Pentagon, where it remains.
The first test message from Washington to Moscow, on Aug. 30, 1963: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy's dog's back 1234567890."

Over the years, the systems were updated with advances in technology: satellites, fax machines, computers, email. The point was to exchange information quickly, but never verbally, to avoid misunderstandings.
The first American president to reportedly use it was Lyndon Johnson, who in 1967 communicated with the Soviets' Alexei Kosygin on the unfolding Six Day War in the Middle East. Richard Nixon reportedly used it four years later to discuss tensions between India and Pakistan with Leonid Brezhnev, and again in 1973 during another Middle East flareup. Jimmy Carter reportedly used it to discuss the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Ronald Reagan reportedly used it often and not only in crisis situations.

The end of the Cold War diminished the urgency of having the direct link, but the need did not fade. The system continued receiving upgrades into the Obama administration, and to this day operators on both sides test it hourly.
In 2013, the Obama administration added a channel intended to send email messages and attachments about cyber incidents. The president never used it — until days before the 2016 election.
Several intelligence officials told NBC News the use of the system communicated just how serious the Russian hacking situation had become.
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The Truth Behind the 'Red Phone': How the U.S. and Russia Really Connect

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