THE COMMUNICATOR – A BREED APART
By Thurlow E. (Buck) Arbuckle
Director, Telecommunications Division,
Department of External Affairs (Ret'd).
In the beginning, there was nothing. The fledgling Department of External Affairs had a few embassies in such major centres as London, Paris, Washington and New York and relied heavily on British services, i.e., The Diplomatic Wireless Service and the Diplomatic Courier Service to carry correspondence. In the early stirrings of communications, Washington and New York were favoured with leased circuits and these were given a measure of security with a device known as Telecrypton.
Supply and Services, a division of External Affairs, hired a few communicators and opened up a small section known as Communications. This comcentre was provided with book cipher, a tedious two-man system for encipher and similarly two for decipher. At embassies, secretaries frequently assisted in the process. One of the early communications in Ottawa was a gentleman who worked on book ciphers for one dollar a year while awaiting a suitable assignment as ambassador abroad. His name was Tommy Stone. This book cipher system involved looking up individual letters or words in code books and substituting them for five number groups which were then subtracted from another five number group. The result had to be typed for transmission, or, in decipher, typed for circulation. Maximum speed – perhaps five words per minute.
Those were lean years. Like school children, communicators were issued with a pencil and only when that pencil was worn down to 1½ inches could they turn it in for a new one. If it were necessary to visit another building on business, he could apply to Supply and Services for a bus ticket. But it was not all bad. Communicators as a group often found Prime Minister Mackenzie King 3. at the wicket enquiring about the status of a telegram. Many other senior officials in the department were well known to the communicators but were strangers elsewhere.
Anxious for something better, the comcentre acquired a British developed electro-mechanical device known as Typex. This Typex machine had many similarities to the German Enigma, developed before the Second World War, which proved very secure indeed. Typex used rotating code wheels with inserts and plug boards and the machine was programmed for each message. When the communicator typed into the machine it produced a printed result on a gummed tape. This tape was then stuck onto a page to be retyped for transmission or circulation. A good communicator with all the associated typing might process a message at an amazing 10 words per minute. This was a vast improvement on book cipher, less labour intensive, and less prone to error.
A peculiarity of the Typex system was that negatives were always repeated in telegrams to ensure the meaning was not lost through error to transmission corruptions. Vowels were omitted. The receiving communicator had to look at a string of consonants and reinsert vowels to try to re-establish a readable text for distribution. Most of the time, he accomplished just that. This procedure shortened the message, saved transmission time and costs which were increasingly important because communicators were filing more and more telegrams commercially via CN/CP Telecommunications. Sending coded telegrams commercially often meant that code groups were received corrupt, transposed or even omitted. Corruptions were the bane of communicators who spent much time seeking corrections and repeats in order to solve unintelligent portions of corrupt messages.
As communications improved, so the Department placed increasing dependency upon communicators. Dispatches through the diplomatic bag were slow and as they decreased, so comcentre traffic increased. More leased circuits were installed. Although the Department was limiting its use of the Diplomatic bag to send dispatches, the Canadian Diplomatic Courier Service was expanded to handle shipments of communications material.
About that time, in the late 1940’s, a new machine arrived on the scene. It was Rockex and it employed a measure of electronics in conjunction with mechanical drives. It was this machine which caused an establishment change. The little comcentre became a separate division, and, influenced by the influx of electronics, was renamed the Telecommunications Division. Over the years, perhaps two hundred Rockex were bought, which indicates the extent of the expansion of the communicators work at home and abroad.
The Rockex used a cryptographic key tape which, when combined with a paper tape input, produced either five letter groups or plain language text. This output was collected on a punched tape for transmission and on a page copy for distribution as necessary. These machines reduced the manual input of the communicator as compared to book cipher or Typex but there was still much typing and attendance on machines geared for sixty words per minute.
Traffic volumes multiplied. More and more circuits were leased. London and Paris were turned into relay centres, each relaying traffic for numerous area posts. New circuits meant more equipment and space in Ottawa, London and Paris comcentres was at a premium. Particularly in Ottawa, Communicators were stressed out running around the comcentre tending circuits. Tape relay equipment arrived and offered more compact work stations. This eased the situation somewhat but traffic volumes continued to increase relentlessly.
Rockex influenced other areas. Equipment had to be transported securely to embassies. Cryptographic key tape shipments to all posts were urgent and never ending. The Canadian Diplomatic Courier Service was extended to meet demands and communicators, who understood the requirement, were recruited into the service.
Soon Departmental expectations exceeded the current processing capacity of Rockex. Key generators seemed a promising alternative. Transparent to the communicators and hard wired into transmission circuits, they cruised at 100 words per minute. Communicators received telegrams from the various divisions, typed them into the communications format and simply transmitted them on the appropriate circuits. Key generators did the encryption and decryption automatically. These machines provided an added level of security in that they fed a continual stream of characters down the circuits whether or not there was any traffic. Thus any would-be interceptor was unable to tell when a message began or ended, or even whether a message was actually being transmitted.
But as one problem was solved others required attention. Many messages had multiple addresses. This demanded that a prepared message had to be transmitted on a number of circuits, increasing the handling time for a single message many times over. Message switches were new on the market and CN/CP Telecommunications were contracted to supply, program and install the necessary equipment. Communicators, with their experience and expertise in handling traffic were very much involved in programming and testing of the hardware. Leased circuits were established direct from Ottawa to most embassies and the relay operations in Paris and London were repatriated. Message switching was a huge success and acted as a spring board for future developments but it also retired a big chunk of the communicators work load.
But typing was still a communicator’s chore. Telegrams were first typed by secretaries, then handed to communicators who they re-typed them into the communications format. Why not change the telegram form and have the secretary’s type telegrams in the communications format in the first place? Electronic readers were provided which read the new form and converted the telegram into electronic impulses for transmission. The communicator’s job was shrinking fast. The final blow came with a decision to move the telecommunications terminal out of the comcentre onto the desk of the Foreign Service Officer. These officers reluctantly became communicators and the communicators work was finished.
The Diplomatic Courier Service was also hit hard. No longer was it necessary to ship great quantities of classified communications material to posts, and, as electronic transmission replaced the need to dispatch many documents by bag, the courier service was largely disbanded.
Communicators had been called upon to tackle many different tasks and they met the challenge. Half of the officer complement of the division were former communicators. The divisional secretary was a reclassified communicator. Communicators figured prominently managing divisional accounts. The courier service was staffed by communicators who, in turn, took over the budgeting and management of the whole courier service.
Unfortunately, the communicator, who breathed life into the department, advanced and worked themselves right out of existence. But their 50 year contribution will always be remembered with admiration for their steadfast devotion and dedication to duty. In 1995, Parliament adopted legislation that formally recognized the name change from External Affairs Canada to Foreign Affairs Canada .
CRYPTO SYSTEMS USED BY FAC
This list will summarize, in chronological order, the various crypto systems that were used by Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) and including the present. For a historical perspective on this era, select this link.
In 1954, Lester B. Pearson, the Secretary of State For External Affairs, began to realize that Canada
should begin an effort to provide all, but the smallest of diplomatic posts, with cypher machinery in case an emergency should develop either of local or general nature.
By March 1956, there was a concerted effort by FAC to introduce ciphered, teletype-based communications to replace the diplomatic pouch and improve the efficiency of sending messages. Colonel W.W Lockhart spearheaded this program which commenced in the summer of 1955. Once example of improving efficiency was to have a decoded message sent to a Teletype machine which would print on mimeograph (aka Ditto) paper. Numerous copies could then be produced and distributed from the master. In this time frame, the department's teletype equipment was on line 16 hours per day, 6 days per week. A one-half hour would be lost at the beginning and end of each day setting up new codes and shutting down the operation for the night.
(Table under construction)
CRYPTO SYSTEM/MACHINE NAME IN SERVICE OUT OF SERVICE OTFP and OTLP 1930's Spring of 1984 (1) Typex 1946 1968 BID 590 (Noreen) 1962-63 Early 1980's Rockex 1950's 1983 BID 610 (Alvis) 1965 November 1990 CID-610 1965 1990 STU-II Secure Phone 1977 1986 (2) BID 770 (Topic/Tenec) Note 5 1978 1992 KG-30 1978 1988 STU-III Secure Phone 1986 2008 (2) KL-43D 1988 1991 (3) Race 1984 Never put into active service Aroflex 1984 1989 DUCS (Dial-up Crypto System) April 1990 1992 (4) KG-84C 1988 2004
1. OTFP and code books fell into disuse when electronic messaging systems came on-line, however, they were retained as a backup system in case OCAMS or NOCAMS was down for an extended period of time. Book Cypher remained at overseas missions until the early 90's.
2. Ray White indicates "The STU-II and later STU-III secure telephones were used in secure facsimile operations (SFAX). Prior to this, the KG-30 was for used for SFAX which was a point-to-point service and did not go through any message switch".
3. Made by TRW. It was also the last standalone crypto unit to be used by DFAIT before they switched over to the SIGNET system entirely. The KL-43D's were valued at US$225 each in 1994 but no more than a few units were purchased by the late 1980s.
4. No longer used when SIGNET came on-line. This date is in need of refinement.
5. Topic was the British name for BID770. Tenec was DFAIT's acronym which stood for "Telecom Equipment New for Embassies and Consulates.
NETWORKS USED BY FAC
Various crypto machines were being utilized at the times these networks were in place.
NETWORK NAME IN SERVICE OUT OF SERVICE OCAMS Fall 1974 Likely after 1978 to overlap with NOCAMS in-service date NOCAMS By 1978 August 18, 1997 COSICS Phase 1- 1989 (DEC VAX based) Dec 6, 1996 (Last message) SIGNET 1992 - First operational release.
1995 - Deployment completed worldwide.
To present day
Bob Brill who was the Deputy Director of Operations at the time, recalls the last messages sent by the NOCAMS system. "At approximately 1830 GMT August 18, 1997 the dear old servant NOCAMS served us for the final time. The activity was presided over by Tom O'Quinn when he downloaded the final messages to the LOG circuit. For Tom, it was difficult task, and for many others, a very sad event. NOCAMS served the Department well and those who managed her very complex operations provided tremendous service to the department. We shall remember NOCAMS as being "now that was a computer" as she was away ahead of her time. She led in the microcomputer era for governmental secure communications and certainly served CN/CP well in their development and exploitation of technology. I hope that someday one of the more knowledgeable will write a history on NOCAMS and all that she did".
|The first (unclassified) COSICS test message sent from Ottawa to Washington on November 30, 1989. Click to enlarge. (From the collection of David Smith)|
These vintage photos illustrate some of the equipment rooms found at Canadian embassies and missions in various countries around the world. Unless otherwise noted, all photos have been submitted for use in this web document by Ray Fortin.
Encryption/decryption activities were always carried out in areas completely separate from those areas with live communication circuits. In Foreign Affairs, the area where the communications circuits were terminated was called a Line Room. Crypto work was performed in the area referred to as The Back
Room. The only activity between the Line Room and the Back Room was the hand-carrying of encrypted 5-level paper tape.
|Beijing Comm Centre - Line room circa 1972. (Photo submitted
by Ray Fortin)
|Cairo circa 1976 - radioteletype terminal consisting of: (L-R) TMC
transmitter and ITT receiver in cabinet; Dollman radioteletype controller
(small blue box); Model 28 KSR Teletype. On top and to the left is
the antenna rotor control for the HyGain LP1010 log
periodic antenna. To its right is a Bird wattmeter.
Radio teletype became a priority for Cairo when Foreign Affairs Canada began to encounter serious leased land-line and Telex outages in Baghdad. Cairo had reasonable land line service and was selected as a relay for Baghdad and later Tehran. (Photo by Stan Fockner)
|New Delhi, India - Comm Centre left side of room, circa 1965. A
the left is a Teletype Model 15 (60 wpm). A Rockex
machine is evident in the centre bottom . (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
|New Delhi, India -Comm Centre, right side of room, circa 1965. More
TTY15's and Rockex units are in evidence. (Photo submitted by
|New Delhi, India - Typex equipment circa
1965. The left print drum printed the plain language version of what was
typed while the right hand drum printed the encrypted text. This machine
type was withdrawn from service in either late 1970 or 1971 and replaced
with Rockex. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
Left to right against the wall: a) The Incoming Line Printer was connected to a dedicated circuit from the Pearson Building in Ottawa to the Canadian Embassy Baghdad. This device was akin to a Siemens T1000 teleprinter but without the reperforator b) Outgoing Line Printer with a reperforator. This fed into the OCAMS system (Ottawa Communications Automated Message Switch). When the work day finished, an operator would advise Ottawa that the embassy was closing for the day. The duty communicator in Ottawa would acknowledge receipt of the message. This way, there was an assurance that the day's messages had not been sent into the netherworld. The Iraqis of course handled the terminating end of the circuit in downtown Baghdad. Believe it or not, but the circuit was fairly reliable c) a Telex machine.
In the right-hand lower corner, nearest the Telex machine, is an
unclassified fax and next to that is a secure fax machine. The stand
under the line printers was fabricated by the Embassy carpenter.
Note the Murray code sheet on the wall 1 . (Photo
by David Smith)
The black cable going up through the left centre of this photo connected the business equipment to the PSATCOM (TCS9000 sat comm link) along with the controller (under the bulletin board). The twin black phones are secure STU III's interfaced to the PSATCOM as were the secure and regular fax machines. Added to that, a laptop PC was used to access a Bulletin Board System (BBS2 ) in Ottawa and messages would be passed to family members. At $US 15.00 per minute, the use of the satellite link was very brief and to the point.
There was also a high-speed tape punch that was used by the secretaries
so that messages could be produced on a floppy disk. All that was needed
was the addition of message headers for the OCAMS system. This was the
beginning of computerized communications and the beginning of the end for
Canada's Foreign Service Communicators as they were known in Foreign Affairs.
Four years later, in 1995, the era of Communicators was over.
|Baghdad: Canterm system radio link (1,000 watts) -
Long out of use radio equipment was used to communicate with Cairo when
the Iraqi's would pull the plug on the circuits feeding the line and Telex
equipment. (Photo by David Smith)
|The HyGain LP1010 log-periodic antenna
atop the Baghdad embassy. It had a gain of 4.8 dbD over the frequency range
of 10-30 MHz and could handle up to 4 kw PEP. The longest element was nearly
49 feet. (Photo by David Smith) . More
|The is the SIGNET server room at a Canadian embassy in Central America
and was typical of SIGNET installations in medium size embassies around
the world. SIGNET stands for Secure Integrated Global Network, which
is an encrypted e-mail system. (Photo by David Smith)
|In 2000, the embassy in Havana Cuba received a new satellite dish which was substantially larger than its old predecessor at the right. The new, larger dish is awaiting alignment. (Photo by Howard Abbott)|
David Smith, a former Foreign Service Communicator, relates his experiences in Baghdad prior to Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. "Some of the equipment in our Baghdad embassy such as the secure and plain text FAX'es, PC's and STU III secure phones, were connected to a satellite phone terminal atop the building roof . The dish was hidden by a hut fabricated by former Canadian hostages. Backup diesel generators would provide power for all of this equipment during power failures or when the power was intentionally cut.
Many oil workers and engineers in Kuwait were taken hostage when Iraq invaded in August of 1990. They were forcibly brought to Baghdad by the Iraqi armed forces and incarcerated in various locations - some in jails, others in hotels. It became our duty to locate them and then argue with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry for their release. We were ultimately successful. As we gained their release from Iraqi "hospitality", we would house them in our Embassy staff quarters as well as the Ambassador's residence (he graciously bunked in with nine "guests"). They became very useful to our daily operations of maintaining staff quarters and both the official residence and Embassy building, helping out with balky generators, water pumps and so on. Finally, in mid December, Saddam became tired of the hostage game and decreed that all foreigners formally from Kuwait could now leave Iraq. Within two days, they were gone.
We stayed on in Baghdad, gradually downsizing the staff until there were four of us left - the Ambassador, a second officer, my wife who was a secretary to the Ambassador at the time. We remained until January 12, 1991 when we took what was probably the last Iraqi airways plane ever to fly. We arrived in our hotel in Ottawa on January 16th. No sooner had we arrived and turned on the television, the bombing in Iraq began. It was very distressful. I returned to Iraq 6 weeks after Desert Storm to determine the state of our embassy, housing and vehicles. etc. On my return to Ottawa, I made plans for a another visit along with the second officer mentioned above. We returned to a very different Iraq in June of 1991 and stayed for three months although our mandate was for only for three weeks . At the time of writing this copy (December 2005), the Embassy has not reopened".
|This photo shows a classified diplomatic bag with the traditional linen tag and wax seal. It was used for the transport of classified documents to and from Ottawa. In this instance it was a retirement gift sealed in a "red diplo" bag. (Photo by Lou Berube)|
Destruction kits were shipped to all missions when it was realized that not every mission had a set of tools that would allow destruction of the crypto gear in the event of an evacuation or other reasons. As such, HQ assembled a destruction kit and at the top of the board it was labelled CDCS (Canadian Diplomatic Communications Service) Destruction Kit. All missions with crypto gear had such a kit. They were all identical and complete with safety goggles but they always seemed to be a bit large but they did get the job done. Tools from this kit were actually used to destroy the TENEC device in Baghdad when the Embassy closed just prior to the start of Desert Storm in 1991.
|This was the destruction kit issued to all missions. This photo was taken in the Capetown SA location in 1990. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
Not many Embassies required their crypto gear to be totally destroyed but in Baghdad and a few other locations, it was prudent to have one on hand. There were specific instructions for destroying specific crypto units. As an example, the little KL43-D only needed about three swipes with the hammer to render it unserviceable.
At one point, when the Rockex system became obsolete, there was a "retirement" party for the machine type. Folks were invited to the farewell party and were given a chance to say good bye with a full sized sledge hammer. It was only symbolic but destroying a machine that served reliably for many decades wasn't always easy.
Many of the photos taken of Canadian Embassy communications rooms in the 1990s show a plastic tarp atop the equipment cabinets. The purpose of the tarp is not to protect the equipment from a leaky roof but rather to hide it from unauthorized eyes.
|In Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast, Africa) a red diplomatic bag was used to hide the equipment. Delhi used an orange tarp; Capetown had blue while Mexico City used a white plastic drop sheet. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
Normally, access to the crypto centre was off limits except for authorized personnel. Theoretically, the Head of Mission (Ambassador or High Commissioner) could be granted access but since there was rarely any need to do so, it was almost never happened. The odd time, perhaps external contractors such as electricians or cleaning staff might need access so in this instance, the crypto gear (the only classified gear in the centre) would be covered. It didn't have to be a blue tarp. A diplomatic bag - either Red, Green or White was usually used.
Various embassies and missions used Isolator Transmission Line equipment as depicted below. It was not crypto gear in the strictest sense of the word but had to be kept hidden from unauthorized eyes because it was classified. BAsically, the ITL protected the sensitive line equipment from spurious voltages on the leased lines. It was today's equivalent of a surge protector.
|The racks in this cabinet were called ITL's (Isolator Transmission Lines). Normally a mission would just have a set of ITL's for communications with Ottawa but Capetown, depicted here was a special case. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
Not all Embassies or Missions could entertain reliable commercial power as experienced by North American dwellers. As a result it was necessary to fit the communications rooms of Embassies and Missions with an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) . The device specified by DFAIT was the Pylon Model UPS1000. In places where only 220 VAC commercial mains were available, it was necessary to provision a 220 to 120 VAC ( 1.5 KVA) step-down transformer ahead of the UPS.
|This UPS in theMoscow embassy required the use of a 220 to 120 VAC stepdown transformer which sits atop the UPS.|
|This photo of the UPS in the Pretoria SA office offers some sense as to the type of enclosure.|
|Both photos from the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool.|
DISPOSAL OF CLASSIFIED WASTE
Any message which was decoded by a crypto device was considered to be classified no matter how mundane the content might be. Special care had to be taken when disposing of these hard copy messages since they could not be thrown out along with the regular trash. The first step in the process was to collect all the waste paper or punched tape messages and place everything in a burn bag. The bag was then sealed and either burned or shredded.
Some Embassies and High Commissions had incinerators which were housed in a stand-alone structures. In these cases, the waste was burned under the watchful eye of an attendant. Where incinerators were not available, the waste was shredded. For example, in Korea, the Embassy was on the 17th floor of high rise building. In these cases, the waste had to be shredded using an industrial strength unit.
Baghdad was equipped with an industrial strength "disintegrator". An attendant could toss complete files an lots of them in to the hopper but the device produced a huge amount of noise. Since Baghdad was a compound of sorts it didn't really matter if it got noisy.
Beijing had a small incinerator which resembled a communal oven used to bake bread in. One way or the other, there was lots of materiel to be destroyed - key tapes, copies of classified communications plus the "weeding" of obsolete files which was constant.
|Taken in the Hague Embassy perhaps around 1990, the burn bag sits inside a trash bin. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
|A closer view of the Model 28 reperforator in the Capetown S.A. embassy taken in 1990. From its users, it was called the "Blind Punch". Once the DUCS gear was in, there was no need for anymore teletype equipment. For the communicators it was truly the end of an era with teletype. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
|TELETYPE CORP PRODUCTS USED AT CANADIAN EMBASSIES|
|Model 28 Product Line||Model 28 Page Printer|
|LPR tape Punch||LDD Trans-Dist|
|All brochures courtesy Teletype Corp. circa 1959. Click on image to launch PDF file.|
|Model 28 gear in full force at one of the embassies. (From the Foreign Service Telecommunications photo pool)|
Additional information about Canada's Foreign Service Communicators can be found at: Association of Former Foreign Service Communicators
1. The original 5 level Baudot code became known as the International Telegraph Code No. 1. Sometime around 1900, another 5-bit code called the Murray Code was invented. The Murray Code eventually displaced the Baudot Code and became known as the International Telegraph Code No. 2. Unfortunately, everyone was hopelessly confused by this time -- to the extent that Murray's name sank into obscurity, while Baudot's name became associated with almost every 5-bit code on the face of the planet, including the International Telegraph Code No. 2. (From http://www.maxmon.com/1880ad.htm)
2. Bulletin Board System (BBS) - An electronic message center. Most bulletin boards serve specific interest groups. They allow users to dial in with a modem, review messages left by others, and leave their own messages if desired. As the Internet grew, BBS's declined in popularity.
3. Mackenzie King was Canada's Prime Minister for three separate terms. 1921 - 1926; 1926 - 1930 and 1935 - 1948).
Credits and References:
Back to Canadian Communications Centre
1) David Smith <drdee(at)sympatico.ca
2) Foreign Affairs web page http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/department/history/history-11-en.asp
3) Ray Fortin - Foreign Affairs Electronic Technician (retired). e-mail: raymondfortin(at)rogers.com
4) T.E. Arbuckle, Foreign Affairs Canada
5) Mackenzie King web page http://www.collectionscanada.ca/primeministers/h4-3250-e.html
8) Lou Berube <mberube(at)magma.ca>
9 Jim Rogers
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