Donate for the Cryptome archive of files from June 1996 to the present

14 October 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis Communications

A response to the National Security Archive release on October 12, 2012: "Cuban Missile Crisis Reveleations: Kennedy's Secret Approach to Castro -- Declassified RFK Documents Yield New Information on Back-Channel to Fidel Castro to Avoid Nuclear War."

Related on Russian SIGINT:

To: coldwarcomms[at]
From: "OZOB99" <ozob99[at]>
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2012 13:54:33 -0000
Subject: [coldwarcomms] Cuban Missile Crisis Comms

As the 50th anniversery of this event approaches, here is an update to a post I made 10 years ago,with anecdotes of activities at the AT&T Norfolk Central Office, arguably the epicenter of military telco circuit activity for this crisis.

"Norfolk probably had more involvment in telecommunications than Washington because it was the STC (serving test center) for CINCLANT/SACLANT, TAC HQ Langley AFB, and CONARC Ft. Monroe; with augmented circuits to their subordinate commands and bases, as well to the NCA and other NS/EP entities.

An unusual increase in expedited new circuits,mainly to Southern bases, was evident in the week or so prior to 10-22-62; but we had no way of knowing the nature or gravity of the situation, just that South Florida was a "hotspot", & Cuba was likely involved due to previous sabre rattling in the news.

By the time Kennedy made his announcement we had established a hand-picked 24/7 "task force" of tech's (including many additional brought in) expediting circuit provisioning (C&P Telco had similar groups installing on local channels and the customer premises). Circuits that normally had a 3-5 week interval were being established in 3 days or less!; all circuit info & engineering (with the Government Communications sales & engineering folks on an unprecedented 24/7 schedule also) was phoned/TTY in day & night, & posted on a large status chalk board, with the various workgroups copying their portion & running with it; an unbelievable beehive of activity that actually worked well considering the confusion, because we all knew now this was possibly a doomsday scenario without being told so specifically.

The small AT&T office at Key West, along with Homestead, were overwhelmed with circuits from TAC & CINCLANT; these normally "sleepy" little offices had never seen anything like this! The quantities of circuits weren't as great as Norfolk but the intensity of activities certainly was. Naturally there were additional employees brought in to handle the workload.

In the space of a few weeks hundreds of new circuits were established radiating out of Norfolk, most to Southeastern military bases. A large number of the voice circuits were "C2" conditioned (amplitude & envelope delay) for KY9 encryption, utilizing strings of delay equalizers at various points on the layout. Despite lengthy & detailed calculations for these equalizers many circuits would not support encrypted voice (going green) due to having to use any channel available and many sections in tandem. These were re-engineered by trial & error/SWAG on the spot as they were being installed, some would only work with no equalization! (an anomaly explained by a chance combo of facilities that happened to have the right characteristics of delay. There were a few circuits on C carrier(open wire) that never could be conditioned for encryption.

Many existing voice circuits were upgraded to C2 conditioning for encryption; some of the voice grade data circuits required C2 conditioning but were more forgiving.

Many of the telegraph grade circuits were encrypted for KW-8 et al; these didn't require conditioning but were difficult to trouble shoot.

A portable "Quick Start" package of Lenkurt 76 radio and 45B carrier was shipped in for additional local channels to the Norfolk Naval Base in case cable pairs ran out; also a wide band Quick Start package of LMX modems & 303 data sets for additional wide band channels to the Naval Base, presumably for KY-3 encryption.

AT&T also loaned DOD (Army I believe) some transportable microwave to fill in some gaps in their networks. (I've never found out whether it was TD-2,TE or the Lenkurt Quick start; nor where it was needed.)

In the course of implementing & troubleshooting these circuits we overheard some scary dialog, along with some intense salty curses & oaths.

Being "insiders" to a degree, we were more scared than the general public, and more relieved than most when the Russians blinked.

If asked ahead of time if that quantity of circuits could be established in those few days I think everyone would have said "no way"!; it seems even a stodgy heirarchy can do anything when you have to, replacing the bell shaped heads with virtual helmets."