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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The labels are needed because some thought the color scheme of "white phones" were secure/encrypted phones.
In 1980's' NSA had recruitment brochures with pictures showing black AT&T desk phones besides grey AT&T desk phones. There is an video segment of Barbara Walters interviewing George H.W. Bush who used a white AT&T desk phone with NO Keypad or Dial -- it was a Secure phone to connect to an attendant-gateway with a STU-III phone who would place the ''secure call'' for him.
Some black Motorola SECTEL-1500 phones had "secure" or "STU-III" labels on the handset. Thanks for the website.

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