By David Smith
Web master: This historical account of communications at Canadian Embassies was written by David Smith  in the Spring of 1991 using the prevailing  knowledge at that time.


1.  In no other area, has the advancement of technology in External Affairs (the name in 1991) played a more significant role than in the field of telecommunications. To more fully appreciate and understand why significant technological upheavals have caused consternation to some communicators, a historical look backward should provide some insight. Suffice to note that whereas areas such as the secretarial stream have had to contend with little more than the transition from typewriters to word processors and computers, and where clerical support has seen very little change in their field, especially abroad, the communications branch has evolved from the stone-age of technology to the space-age, all in a relatively short span of time. A review of past technology will underline the considerable transformation of communications during former years.

2.  In the beginning Departmental communications utilized a little known low-level coding system called "Government Telegraphic Code". This was later replaced by a much more secure but completely manual system known as book cypher. The complexities of book cypher were little. Other than the ability to be able to read, add and subtract, there was no technology involved in this art. Indeed, it was slow, inefficient, cumbersome and where bad circuits existed, unreliable. It was pure drudgery and no one more than the CM (Communicator)  was happy to see it slowly phased out of service.  There existed, with many CM's however, a degree of pride in the speed in which book cypher could be accomplished. Interestingly, book cypher in fact still remains today. Cypher systems meanwhile progressed in the 50's to a mechanical/electrical form of cypher known as "TYPEX". In comparison to book cypher, this was a quantum leap forward. Although it was subject to both mechanical and human error, in terms of speed and efficiency and in comparison to its predecessor, it was a vast improvement. In comparison with today's technology, the "Iron Chinaman" was a behemoth and few tears were shed with its retirement in 1968. Still in the 50's, yet another addition to the world of cryptography was introduced (and welcomed). This machine not only encrypted messages but prepared a teletype tape while doing so. It was known as "Rockex". An electro-mechanical device which had more vacuum tubes than a dozen radios, it nevertheless provided an efficient and vastly more pleasurable means of protecting the governments secrets. The immediate benefit of Rockex was the total elimination of manually preparing a coded tape. A significant increase in production resulted but it still required rather laborious actions on the part of the communicator before the final result was achieved. Meanwhile, in 1962-63 yet another crypto device was introduced. The much smaller and quieter "Noreen" machine was an ideal machine to take the place of the ponderously slow book cypher. Supplied with acid batteries, it had its draw-backs, not the least of which were a number of communicators with acid-washed pants, long before they became fashionable. A large benefit however, was the fact that Noreen and Rockex were compatible and messages encrypted on one could be decrypted on the other. This was the first time the Department had different systems which would "interface" with the other. As they had with Rockex, communicators quickly adapted from "Book" and "Typex" to the relatively easy operation of Noreen. The glaring deficiency of Noreen however was the requirement, (especially for those abroad) to re-type the cypher groups and prepare a tape which could be transmitted, either by commercial means or by telex. In those days leased lines were not the norm. With so many relay points and a variety of offices handling the transfer of these transmissions, little wonder that the end result was at times, far removed from that of the original. Training during these times was limited. Many missions at the time had multi-CM Comcentres and on-the-job training was still possible. Noreen had been a significant player in the world of cryptography but was retired by the Department in 19__. Rockex was phased out in 1983 highlighted by a "retiring ceremony". In 1965, the first "on-line" cypher equipment, BID610, was put into service. With the only requirement being a continuous circuit to either Ottawa or another mission, communicators simply prepared a plain-language tape from a hard copy provided by the secretaries. The equipment itself was easy to learn. Adapting to this technology was simple and every CM who had been present during the days of book cypher considered that the ultimate in technology had arrived. It would have been impossible to imagine the future technological evolution. With "on-line" facilities being the flag-ship of communications, it was interesting to note that book cypher was still employed in some missions and was in fact in use up to 1984. There were no less than four and at times, five different coding devices and processes in use for the encoding and decoding of telegraphic traffic. BID610 remained an integral part of the Departments communications crypto equipment until November of 1990 when it was finally replaced by the modern technology of today.

3.  In 1975 computer automation was introduced. Three large main-frames, then known as OCAMS, were purchased and the benefits derived from this new technology were unparalleled. Few communicators were involved in the beginning and to this day, only a few communicators work in what is now called NOCAMS.  In addition to the many benefits provided by NOCAMS, it also served as a platform for the introduction of computers to communicators.  In 1978, a new coding system called Tenec arrived. Here was yet another "on-line" system. This time however, it was never used abroad in an "on-line" configuration. In essence, although the technology was there, we regressed to off-line usage. To this equipment's defence however, was the introduction of working with a monitor, the first in the history of Departmental communications. This was a significant improvement in the preparation of telegrams but the steps which required typing, encoding and transmitting worked out to approximately 20 minutes per page. At the time, Teletype Corporations Model 40 was the best thing since sliced bread. (In 1981, the development of the Personal computer was to have significant consequences in later years.) In the meantime, additional coding equipment was purchased. In use at the present time is a Siemens T1000 teleprinter connected to a crypto unit called Aroflex. This was purchased after considerable research and trips to the factory in Holland. At the same time, yet another device called Race was purchased but this equipment was never placed in full service. A few people were trained in 1983 but it never gained acceptance. Finally, and at long last, in 1988, a possible replacement for book cypher, which was still listed on many missions inventories, arrived. The KL43D was intended as a small computerized back-up system and if one compares it to book cypher, it was a giant stride forward in the realm of communications. With the exception of the Race, the use of all this equipment has been learned by many CM's and utilized by a good number of them. The cutting edge of technology was about to surface and bring another dimension to the world of all communicators, digital communications. That a communicator had to be extremely adaptable goes without saying. As for other staff, most secretaries were still using typewriters as they always had, while the tools of the trade for other groups were the same as they always had been.

4.  The advent of electronically transmitted communications in digital form has created another world for those in the specialized field of communications. In 1981 the first true Personal computer arrived. This equipment would have profound effects on communications the world over and External Affairs could not afford to lag behind. During the latter part of the 1980's, our purchase of Personal computers gained momentum. Little wonder when one considers the prospect of using a typewriter and of having to type and re-type numerous drafts. With the introduction of the PC, the changing, addition or deletion of any portion of a document became little more than a few keystrokes. Composing and editing became a breeze, so much so that many originators now prefer to draft their own correspondence rather than hand-writing or dictating as had been past practice. It was within this context that the dream of desk-to-desk communications was formulated and the result was an enormous project known as Cosics. While the idea for Cosics developed, Tempest-compliant personal computers introduced into the communications division meant that not only would these computers replace the now outmoded Model 40 teletype machines, but that all supervisors and managers would now have their own computer and no longer have to draft correspondence by hand and then wait while the secretarial typing pool prepared the final version. By the spring of 1989, typewriters in MIT did a disappearing act and it was "Pc's for everyone". As with many things in today's hi-tech world however, one could not just turn a computer on and begin to use it. Contrasted with typewriters where one functioned basically the same as another, computer technology had to be studied, learned and practised. At the same time, computers were already being installed in the Ottawa Communications centre. Training was slow to get off the mark. With no training area nor tools of the trade, the use of this new technology was restricted to a handful of communicators. Eventually, (and one might add, unofficially), a training centre allowed more and more managers, supervisors and communicators to operate within a more complex environment. The computer revolution had arrived.

5. The concept of desktop to desktop communications was now much more than a dream. Powerful mainframe computers now allowed the connection of many "dumb terminals".  The concept was no longer just a paper drawing and in 1989 the first group of 16 Communicators was selected for Phase I training in an entirely new field of communications. No longer would these individuals be expected to type, code and decode and prepare messages. Their tasks were to manage a system which, when complete would encompass the world and consist of thousands of terminals, an wide area network of enormous proportions which would serve as a model for other Foreign services. From the world of book Cypher to the world of Cosics, another era had been bridged. In terms of human resources, the number of communications PY's ( Person Years) were to be reduced from an original strength of over 300 to around the 150 mark. The financial savings would be enormous leaving the cost of Cosics less traumatic as a result. In the high-tech world, nothing remains constant for very long and Cosics would appear to be no exception. Various theories and scenarios as to the considerable delays and possible downsizing have been expounded upon but if there is one overall contributing factor to any possible decrease in the original scope of Cosics, it will be that of costs. The Department's requirements for good, fast, reliable and secure communications remains however and it is this issue which will now be addressed in some detail.

The need for a "Super CM": The Communications Systems Manager

1.  Computers and other highly advanced technical devices have now been introduced into the Communicator's world and this decision is irrevocable.  While the specialized art of communicating is far removed from that of previous eras, there is still an overwhelming requirement for an individual who is not only at ease with the latest technology but at the same time is dedicated to retaining the security of our Department's correspondence. In the way we view the duties of a Diplomatic Courier who strives to provide the utmost protection to the sanctity of the diplomatic bag, the same must be expected from those who are entrusted with our cryptographic devices, regardless of how simple the operation. We must always be cognizant of the fact that there are those who would benefit from any reduction in our constant guard against such intrusions. CM's in the past have been dedicated to the protection of communications equipment and crypto devices. To suggest that the future will allow a relaxation of our vigilance would be folly indeed. Powerful computers which are capable of computing billions of combinations and permutations are no longer a figment of one's imagination. Whereas computers can make codes, they can also break codes. This is no secret nor should it be.  The integrity of the technical aspect of communications equipment is left to those professionals whose job it is to ensure no breakdown or penetration occurs. This leaves, as will always be the case, the integrity of our human resources.

2.  In recent years we have seen enormous change and growth in the way and means with which we can communicate. From something as simple as E-mail via modem to other more complex forms using portable satellite dishes, we have an enormous task in ensuring that people are properly trained to perform their duties in a manner which will allow the best possible method of communicating and still ensure a high degree of protection against unauthorized intrusion. The introduction of Tempest computers to communications centres as well as serving as a replacement tool for a secretary's non-Tempest typewriter or computer has opened many possibilities. The concept of Cosics, which was to provide secure desk-to-desk communications, is now in jeopardy. The alternative, and one which is quickly being adopted, is the use of networking. Local area networks (LANS) have become a viable alternative to the Cosics philosophy. Simply from a point of view of cost, the concept of a number of Pc's interconnected would appear to provide many benefits. The overwhelming argument for individual networks spread throughout our missions abroad as opposed to a worldwide area network (WAN) is considerable. It will be of benefit to explore the various options and use of existing equipment now available in the marketplace, and in many cases already in place.

3.  In the past year, a system known as DUCS (Dial-up Crypto System), has been developed to the point where it has now replaced the obsolete BID610 system. For computer-wise personnel, the relative simplicity of this system using existing computer and crypto technology is attractive. With the addition of a document scanner, this system will prepare, encode/decode and transmit/receive telegrams with a high degree of automation and security. While the system can be considered operationally simple for those trained in today's world of advanced technology, there is, without question the need for an individual who can operate, manage and preserve the integrity of what will be the system of choice for many years in the future. The rapid introduction of computers, scanners, networks, and computerized telephone systems into the workplace has created an unquestionable dilemma for any communicators who, while having a great deal of experience in adapting to changing technologies, find themselves in a much more complicated world. Fortunately, it is a world where their background and training places them in good stead for the future.

4.  The duties of our CM's are quickly evolving. The typing and coding/decoding of telegrams which traditionally formed the bulk of their duties is no longer the case. What is now required is an individual who is able to control, assist, train, enhance and manage a plethora of computerized equipment while at the same time, ensuring not only the integrity of such equipment, but also the security of transmitted data.  Guarding against computer viruses is one thing, guarding against foreign intrusion is another. For years the personnel of the Telecommunications Division have been, by the very nature of their job, the most security conscious individuals in the Department and certainly in our Embassies abroad. This must be taken advantage of. Let us explore then, the requirements for the transformation into a "Super CM".

5.  The rapid introduction of computers into the workplace has left a considerable number of employees without proper training. Indeed, experience has shown that in many cases, end-users have received little, if any training. This can and does have serious security implications. To address not only this issue but the requirement for having a knowledgeable individual capable of providing support to all members within an Embassy goes without saying. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Today's communicator is quickly becoming computer-wise in a far more meaningful manner than many end-users will be. The alternative to Cosics is obvious. Individual Lans and/or the Ducs system with management by a former Communicator will not only be inherently cheaper but utilizes personnel with experience in the field of communications. Such experience is impossible to obtain with just a few weeks training. In terms of security consciousness and an overall understanding of communications, the years of experience which communicators bring to the job cannot be ignored.

Communications personnel of the 90's must have previous and extensive back-ground experience in the operation of a world-wide communications system. They must be fully cognizant of all security requirements and of the implications in using high-tech equipment in a sometimes hostile environment.

6.  Let us look at what will be required of the CM of the 90's and where training should be concentrated.
a) The understanding and operation of Personal Computers and assorted software. The ability to act as a computer advisor and manager of hardware/software (ordering, inventory control). The ability to perform first-line maintenance.
b) The operation and management of PC's in a communications environment (DUCS, modems, scanners, software, crypto equipment, telephone line circuitry).
c) The operation and management of Local Area Networks (LAN's) (Software, servers, modems, packet switching) (Unclassified environment).
d) The operation and management of a Cosics Wide Area Network (WAN) (Unclassified/Classified environment).
e) The understanding and operation of various security equipment (Personal safety radios, intrusion protection equipment, locks and their repair).
f) The programming of new telephone networks and PBX's at missions abroad.

7.  There is no question that training is both time-consuming and in certain areas, costly. There is also little argument that the degree of employee professionalism is directly related to their training. With the exception of sub-para (c) (LANS), training now for all above areas can presently be accomplished in-house. Indeed, with LAN equipment already on hand in MITF, it would only be necessary to develop a LAN trainer. In-house training by Departmental personnel has distinct advantages in that Departmental trainers have far greater insight into the exact requirements of the trainees than those from outside. Time is money and there is no substitute for cost-effective training. The concept of COSICS training by in-house personnel has already been identified. The following paragraph takes another approach to this particular aspect of our communications facilities.

8.  We perhaps can profit by reviewing the former concepts and philosophies on the integration of Cosics and its operation. If, as it presently appears, the prospect of Cosics as a world-wide network is in some doubt, it would then appear to make less sense to have two separate systems operated and managed by two different categories of communicator. More logical would be to consider integrating both sides into one group. Those presently trained in Cosics should have little difficulty in the operation and management of LAN's and DUCS and in continuing with duties similar in some instances to what is required of them now. As time passes, more and more emphasis will be placed on the "management" of network systems rather than simply the operation of a Communications link. As traditional operational duties decrease and CM management skills increase, this then brings the field of communications much closer to those views expounded upon by PS2000, and especially that of the FSE concept.

9.  The idea of the Foreign Service Employee being a singular group where traditional job descriptions are blended into one is becoming more attainable as technology replaces much of the manual requirements of the past. PS2000 has emphasized the idea of the FSE concept. This is not a new idea. In fact, a number of years ago, half a dozen missions participated in a pilot project. It was not successful. The reasons for its demise were many. On the one hand, few clerical staff could type and during those times, typing was a prerequisite. Whereas communicators were able to carry out clerical duties, the same was not true for traditional clerks and secretaries. The lack of high-tech in communications centres of that period contributed greatly to the failure of the FSE concept. Attitudes also played a significant part. No one of that era actually wanted to "share their job" with other employees. It was simply an idea ahead of its time. People's attitudes change and at no time is this more apparent than now. While it is still too early to conceive of job-sharing in the area of communications, it is not unrealistic to consider in the future as more and more communicators become comfortable with new methods of communicating.

Many factors will contribute to the rethinking of how Departmental telecommunications in the 90's and beyond are accomplished. Unquestionably, there remains the requirement for a streamlined, adaptable, flexible and highly automated system. Cosics II will provide enhancement of ideas originally envisioned for COSICS. Tempest-equipped local area networks, interfaced to the workspace of the "communicating work-station" enhanced by high-tech and automated crypto facilities is quickly becoming a preferred system. Not only is the cost factor significantly less than Cosics I, but because of the use of an operating medium already familiar to a great many Departmental employees, it can be introduced and utilized almost immediately. Existing CM and locally-engaged systems managers can be eliminated and replaced by a "Communications Systems Manager" (CSM), the communicator of the 90's. A CSM will be an individual who is fully conversant with all types of equipment, systems and security. They will be capable in assisting and training end-users, are familiar with popular software packages currently in use, will be well-versed in data transfer and in trouble-shooting and replacement of computer peripherals, and will be equipped to deal with inevitable data line difficulties as they occur. Whether in Headquarters or at those missions where Cosics has already been introduced, they will be able to work with CAMS or with the traditional NOCAMS until its future elimination. At the same time, as non-communications personnel become familiar with new Systems, the CSM will train other staff to assist or substitute for themselves during periods of illness or leave. In so doing, the dream of PS2000, can and will be realized.

As a postscript to the story, COSICS didn't last very long and was replaced by SIGNET which had yet to be named at the time of writing.

Credits and References:

1) David Smith <drdee(at)sympatico.ca

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