Thursday, August 30, 2007

August 30, 1963:

The Hot Line Established

Hollywood has it that the hot line between the United States and the Soviet Union consisted of a pair of red telephones, one in the White House, the other in the Kremlin. The actually hot line, of course, was (and is) not like that.

The system was first established on August 30, 1963, less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. A contemporary New York Times article described it: "The decision to establish the 'hot line' is a direct outgrowth of the serious delays that developed in diplomatic communications between the two capitals during the Cuban crisis last fall. Diplomatic messages are now sent over normal commercial channels to the United States and Soviet Embassies in Moscow and Washington.

"With the time consumed by transmission, coding and decoding, translation and delivery, hours are often required before a message reaches its destination.

"The direct link, which is available 24 hours a day, will make it possible for the heads of the two Governments to exchange messages in minutes.

"A message from President Kennedy to Premier Khrushchev, for example, will be sent to the Washington terminal of the link in the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. There American Teletype operators will type the message on a teleprinter and a punched tape.

"After checking the typed message against the original copy, the Teletype tape will be fed into a Teletype transmitter. As the message goes out, it will be encoded by a "scrambling device" to prevent anyone from reading it at relay points along the 10,000-mile cable circuit.

"In Moscow, the message will go through a decoding device and appear on a Teletype machine in the Kremlin near the office of Premier Khrushchev."

President Kennedy never got to use it; nor, for that matter, did Nikita Khrushchev. According to CCN's The Cold War series: "The first message sent on the hot line came into Washington from Moscow in the early hours of June 5, 1967. In his memoirs, President Lyndon Johnson recalled picking up the phone in his White House bedroom -- and hearing the voice of his defense secretary, Robert McNamara.

" 'Mr. President,' said McNamara, 'the hot line is up.'

"Several hours earlier, war had broken out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Soviet premier, Aleksei Kosygin, wanted to know if the United States had taken part in Israel's surprise attack on Egypt -- which was receiving Soviet support at the time. Johnson denied any involvement and said the U.S. was calling for a truce in the conflict.

"For the next several days, until a cease-fire was reached, the two sides sent as many as 20 messages over the hot line, to make sure that what later became known as the Six Day War would not escalate into a global nuclear war. "

No comments: