January 30, 2013

Dutch queen Beatrix' phone

The day before yesterday, queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced that she will abdicate on April 30, when she will have been on the throne for exactly 33 years. Her efficient, professional and even perfectionist style is also reflected by the telephones which are in her office in the palace of Huis ten Bosch: a simple modern white phone from the Unifoon series:

Queen Beatrix in her office at her last meeting with prime minister Mark Rutte
Notice the white Unifoon against the wall and the prime minister having two mobile phones
while the queen only has paper and pencils in front of her (April 22, 2013).
(Photo: Minister-president @ Flickr)

Allthough the Netherlands is a very liberal society, the government and the royal family are still less open. Opposite to the United States, where we can get almost day-to-day pictures of the president and the White House, pictures of queen Beatrix and her surroundings are quite rare.

The Dutch queen Beatrix in her office at the Huis ten Bosch palace in 1987
On the right side of her desk we see a white Unifoon telephone
(Photo: Thuring/RVD)

Queen Beatrix in the same office and with the same phone more recently


The Unifoon was one of the standard telephones sold by the Dutch national telephone administration PTT during the eighties, and therefore could be found in many homes during the last two decades of the 20th century. The phone, which also appeared in the 1979 James Bond-movie Moonraker, was available in white, ivory, beige and red. There were also some modified versions, for example for usage with a small private branch exchange (PBX).

The phone at the queen's desk is also connected to an internal network for the palace. Besides that, her Unifoon has no other functions, like for example programmable memory buttons. This fits her style too, as it's known that queen Beatrix isn't very fond of modern technology, apparently she didn't even had a mobile phone for many years. It fits also with the predominantly ceremonial role of the queen of the Netherlands, working at a certain distance of the actual government.

The Unifoon telephone, as advertised in a 1987 brochure
from the Dutch national telephone administration PTT
(the 149,- guilders would now be 67,- euro)


The Unifoon was developed and initially made by the Nederlandse Standard Electric Maatschappij (NSEM), a company providing telephone equipment to the Dutch national telephone administration. The roots of this company go back to the Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company (BTMC), which started to make telephone equipment for the Dutch and Belgian markets at a plant in Antwerp in 1882.

By the end of the 19th century nationalistic policies favoured local manufacturers, and so there came a plant of BTMC in The Hague, for providing equipment to the Gemeentelijke Telefoondienst Den Haag and the Rijkstelefoon. This plant became independent in 1940 and was named Nederlandse Standard Electric Maatschappij (NSEM), manufacturing telephone sets and exchanges from 1948 to 1983.

In 1984 or 1985 this company was taken over by ITT and renamed ITT Nederland NV. After the merger of the telecommunications divisions of ITT and CGE, the name was changed to Alcatel Nederland BV.

Noordeinde palace

Besides her office at the palace of Huis ten Bosch, which is the place where she lives, queen Beatrix also has an office at the palace of Noordeinde, which is in the city center of The Hague. Pictures of the interior of this palace are very rare, but from a 2008 book about the palace, we have one great picture of her spacious office room:

The office of queen Beatrix at the palace of Noordeinde

Unfortunately we can't recognize what kind of phone is on the desk, but it seems to be different from the Unifoon which is at the palace of Huis ten Bosch.


Queen Beatrix will be succeeded by her eldest son Willem-Alexander, who will be installed as king of the Netherlands on April 30. In the years to come we will see what will be the telephone equipment of his choice.

According to for example this picture, we now know that Willem-Alexander bought and used an iPhone for several years. Also, after he was installed as the new king on April 30, 2013, he sent an SMS-message to the major of Amsterdam, thanking him for all his efforts.

- MaximumPC.com: Unredacted WikiLeaks Cables Include Dutch Queen's Residential Phone Number (2011)

January 19, 2013

The Israeli prime minister's red phone

(Updated: December 29, 2015)

Based upon popular culture, many people think both the US and Russian presidents have a red telephone on their desks, as part of the famous Hotline between both countries. In a previous article we showed that the Washington-Moscow Hotline is not even a telephone line, let alone there are red phones at both ends. But, as we can see in the picture below, the prime minister of Isreal does have a red phone on his desk:

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and defence
minister Ehud Barak hold talks in the prime minister's office
(Photo: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90, November 2012)

The dark gray phone at the right, which Netanyahu is using, is a high-end Nortel M3904 executive phone - a model which is also used at the NSA headquaters and at the office of the British prime minister. Nortel was a big Canadian telephone equipment manufacturer, but was dissolved in 2009. The Enterprise Voice and Data division of Nortel was bought by the US telecommications company Avaya (formerly Lucent)

The red telephone seems to be a phone from the UD-series of the Taiwanese manufacturer Uniphone, but remarkable is that it has no cord! That makes it looks like this phone was placed there more like a prop, demonstrating the (military/nuclear) power of the Israeli prime minister.

However that may be, in the video below we get an ever closer look at the red phone set. There it sits next to two black phones, one used by Netanyahu for calling the Russian president:

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu calling the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin
thanking for Russia's assistance in fighting the fire in Israel's North
(December 3, 2010)

The flat black phone is the Telrad Executive Phone 79-100-0000 from the Israeli telecom equipment manufacturer Telrad. This phone can also be seen at the sitting corner of the prime minister's office and in the office of the defense minister. Therefore that phone must be part of the internal private branch exchange (PBX) system of both ministries. At least at the desk of the prime minister they were replaced by the Nortel M3904 by November 2012.

It's not clear what the red telephone is for, but a likely option is that it's connected to a military command and control telephone network, just like the Defense Red Switch Network (DRSN) in the United States, for which long ago also red phone sets were used.

On December 29, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported about NSA's spying activities against Israel, saying that they had "a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office".

January 14, 2013

A White House staff phone

(Updated: January 17, 2017)

Earlier, we discussed some of the phones which are used by the US president in his Oval Office. Now we have a picture of a telephone set which was used by White House staff members, presumably in the years around 1990, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush:

A White House staff phone from around 1990.
(Click for a bigger version)

This is a quite common corded telephone from the 900-series of AT&T. It has standard buttons for program, pause, flash, mute, hold, redial, volume and speaker, and also 16 programmable buttons for two entries each. Red lights indicate when the mute, hold and speaker functions are enabled.

Most distinctive is the big, customized sticker with the security warning "OFFICIAL USE ONLY - WHITE HOUSE NON-SECURE TELEPHONE - DO NOT USE FOR CLASSIFIED OR SENSITIVE INFORMATION"

Allthough there's always a small chance such a sticker could be fake, in this case it's most likely real. Apart from the fact that in real life such warnings are often different from what most people think based upon popular movies, we can also compare this phone with an earlier White House staff phone, which is shown below. On that phone we see almost exactly the same warnings (in black and red capitals) as on the first phone, only slightly different arranged:

A White House staff phone from the eighties.
(Click for a bigger version)

The phone in this picture is probably the same one as being displayed in the Icelandic Telecommunication Museum, and which seems to be left there by the presidential staff after the Reagan-Gorbatchev Reykjavík Summit in 1986.

For a nice overview of all earlier phones used in the White House, check the website of Adam Forrest. As we can see there, the president had another telephone in the Oval Office: a Western Electric 18-button Call Director, a type of phone which dates back to the 1960's.

The white AT&T phone in our first picture was probably used until 1996, when the White House got a completely new telephone system. This consisted of an automated private branch exchange (PBX) with black executive phone sets (models 8410 and 8520) from Lucent.

Only by then, the old Western Electric at the president's desk was replaced by a high-end Lucent 8520 telephone. Except for a break of a few years, this phone is still there today. White House staff members nowadays also still use the Lucent/Avaya 8410 and 8250 phones.

From 2015-2016, the internal White House telephone system was modernized and both the president and staff members were equipped with the latest Cisco IP phones, see: The presidential communications equipment under Barack Obama.

See also:
- Muckrock: FBI file indicates the Bureau had better information sharing with phone companies than with the White House
- Daily Mail: Texan spends $200,000 turning his drive-way into an exact replica of the Oval Office oomplete with presidential cutlery and phone

In Dutch: Meer over het wetsvoorstel voor de Tijdelijke wet cyberoperaties