Sunday, 30 August 2020

red telephone

Despite its conception in the popular imagination the Washington-Moscow Direct Communications Link or hotline, which first went into operation on this day in 1963, was a text-only emergency channel as spoken communication was considered too prone to misunderstanding.
Engineers first recognised the need for an expedient exchange between the leaders of the polarised world in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the previous summer when it took US diplomatic and military staff nearly twelve hours to receive and decrypt the initial settlement message from Nikta Khrushchev and deliver it to John F. Kennedy, with a nod to the direct link as portrayed in Red Alert, the 1958 novel that Doctor Strangelove (1964) is based on. The superpowers could initially send teletypes to one another—the equipment tested hourly by exchanging passages from William Shakespeare and Mark Twain (with selective quotations from the former and A. A. Milne as they were considered Soviet cultural property) for excerpts from Anton Chekhov and other literary figures, with messages of greetings and congratulations sent instead on New Year’s and on 30 August, the anniversary of the hotline’s launch. In 1986, the system was upgraded to facsimile machines and finally in 2008 to an extra secure form of email.