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:
From: "OZOB99" <ozob99[at]yahoo.com>
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
Many existing voice circuits were upgraded to C2 conditioning for encryption;
some of the voice grade data circuits required C2 conditioning but were more
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."