November 27, 2017

Trump's communications equipment outside the White House

(Updated: December 9, 2017)

On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day and one of the traditions is that the US president addresses members of the military services that are deployed abroad.

President Trump did so for the first time last Thursday, speaking to the five branches of the US military by video teleconference from his residence Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

The press photos released for this occasion offer a clear view of the communications equipment that is used by the president when being outside the White House or travelling.

President Trump addresses the military from Mar-a-Lago, November 23, 2017
(click to enlarge)

Video teleconferencing

The big screen for video teleconferencing (VTC) is the Cisco TelePresence System EX90 with high-definition video screen and camera. The device has been modified for TEMPEST protection by CIS Secure Computing: we can see that the screen has an additional metal encasing with silver labels to prevent and detect tampering. The VTC system includes a smaller touchscreen device which is used to control the video teleconference calls and can be seen right in front of the big screen.

During the videoconference, Trump was connected to members of the military services at oversea bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, the USS Monterey at sea, and the US Coast Guard vessel Wrangell in Kuwait. Accordingly, the video screen was divided into six segments, with the President Of The United States (POTUS) himself in the lower middle section, surrounded by a red border. He also has a note that says who's who:

President Trump addresses the military from Mar-a-Lago, November 23, 2017
On the phone displays, the names associated with the direct line buttons were blacked out
(White House Photo/Shealah Craighead - click to enlarge)

Secure telephones

On both sides of the video teleconference screen, there are telephone sets which can be recognized as common Cisco 7975 unified IP phones, which are also modified by the communications security company CIS Secure Computing. Most visible is that instead of the standerd silver bezel or faceplate, these phones have a bright yellow one, which is the color code for the highest classification level: Top Secret/SCI.

This color shows that these phones are part of the highly secure Executive Voice over Secure IP-network, which connects the US president with all major decision makers, like the secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security as well as the Director of National Intelligence. The phones themselves have no encryption capability - they are connected to a central network encryptor, probably from General Dynamics' TACLANE familiy.

Also clearly visible is that these Cisco IP phones have a custom molded plastic housing, which provides TEMPEST protection against the leaking of electromagnetic emanations, but also includes two 1 Gigabit SC Fiber ports so the phone can be used in a fiber-optic network. These phones also meet Telephone Security Group (TSG) standards to make sure that they cannot by any means be caused to produce or transmit audio when the handset is on-hook.

The data stream of the video teleconference seems to be routed through the phone on the left, which has no handset and has the red "microphone mute" light on. As can be seen in a high-resolution photo, the VTC screen has an icon that shows that the connection was not encrypted:

Other locations

The same modified Cisco telephone sets can be seen in the photo below, which is from a room in the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, where Trump was staying last September for the UN General Assembly and meetings with leaders from Africa and the Middle East. Additionally, there's a newer Cisco 8841 IP phone, which is modified by Advanced Programs, Inc. (API) to provide on-hook security for the handset and the speakerphone. This phone is for any non-secure calls and is also used in the White House.

President Trump in a phone call with FEMA Director Brock Long regarding
Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico, September 20, 2017
Note the bulletproof glass plates in front of the windows
(White House Photo/Shealah Craighead - click to enlarge)

When former president Obama was on vacation, the same "yellow" Cisco phones were installed, although without the fiber-optic connections and the TEMPEST-proof encasing:

President Obama talking with his national security advisor Susan Rice following
foreign leader phone calls at Martha's Vineyard, August 11, 2014
(White House Photo - click to enlarge)

When Obama was staying in more hostile environments, these phones for the presidential telephone network were equipped with the additional security features we already saw in the Trump pictures:

President Obama talks on the phone with Russian president Putin while in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, with John Kerry and Susan Rice listening in, March 28, 2014
(White House Photo/Pete Souza - click to enlarge)

During Trump's second Thanksgiving address in November 2018 it appeared that the Cisco 7975 IP phone for secure calls had been replaced by a new modified Cisco IP phone 8841, see: A new secure phone for outside the White House

No Mar-a-Lago SCIF?

For the Thanksgiving photo op, the communications equipment was set up in the large living room of the Mar-a-Lago estate, most likely to provide a grand, if not to say regal decor for the press photos, but it may also indicate the absence of a dedicated secure communications room. At least it seems to show that the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) considers Trump's vacation residence less secure than Obama's.

President Trump addresses the military from Mar-a-Lago, November 23, 2017
(photo: Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post - click to enlarge)

Ever since Trump started using Mar-a-Lago regularly as his "Winter White House", there was speculation whether a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) was created, which means a room that is protected in such a way that classified Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) can be stored, processed, viewed and/or discussed without being intercepted from the outside.

In April of this year, the White House press secretary tweeted a photo showing president Trump meeting with his national security staff in a provisionary situation room at Mar-a-Lago, which was apparently intended to look like a SCIF but may actually just have been a temporary set-up. The mysterious devices seen in that photo were discussed here earlier.

Links and sources
- [Video & Transcript] President Donald Trump Thanksgiving Message to the Military via Video Teleconference


Edgar C. Jones said...


Elie Hirschfeld said...

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