September 17, 2018

Trump's telephones in the Treaty Room

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the White House became much less transparant than under previous administrations: most information has been stripped off the White House website and hardly any photos from behind the scenes are published. Therefore we see very little of how the White House rooms and West Wing offices are currently used.

But a new photo, released by the president's social media director a few days ago, now shows a glimpse of the so-called Treaty Room, in which president Trump and vice-president Pence received an update call on the emergency preparedness concerning the impact of Hurricane Florence:

Vice-president Pence and president Trump in the Treaty Room, September 15, 2018
(White House photo - click to enlarge)

The Treaty Room

The Treaty Room is on the second floor of the main building of the White House, the residential mansion, which includes both the ceremonial rooms and the private quarters of the president. The room is named after the peace treaty between the United States and Spain, which was signed here on August 12, 1898, ending the Spanish-American War. The signing is depicted in the large painting by Theobald Chartran.

Previous presidents used the Treaty Room as their private study where they could work during evening hours, as it is on the same floor as their private rooms. The picture below shows president Obama working behind a large table, which president Trump turned into the position it had under George W. Bush, along the wall on the west side. Given how empty the table and the credenza are, it seems that Trump doesn't use the room frequently.

President Obama in his private study in the Treaty Room of the White House. We see two black
Avaya/Lucent 8410 phones, a computer screen and an HP laser printer. March 2009.
(Callie Shell/Aurora Photos - click to enlarge)

The telephone equipment

In the recent photo with vice-president Pence en president Trump we see that on the large table in the Treaty Room there are the following three telephone sets:
- A Cisco 8851 IP phone (with a box on the back) for non-secure calls
- A Cisco 8851 IP phone for secure calls
- An IST-2 red phone

The two Cisco phones are the same ones as on the president's desk in the Oval Office, where they gradually replaced the older Cisco telephones.

Behind the two Ciscos there's a large gray telephone that can be recognized as an Integrated Services Telephone version 2 or IST-2, a device that was designed by Raytheon and subsequently manufactured by Telecore, Inc.

This IST is a so called "red phone", which means that it's connected to the Defense Red Switch Network (DRSN). This is the main secure telephone network for military command and control communications and connects all mayor US command centers and many other military facilities.

A special feature of the IST-2 is that one can make both secure and non-secure calls through this one single device. The phone itself has no encryption capability: any secure calls are encrypted in bulk before leaving the secure building, enclave or compound.

As part of a military telephone network, the IST-2 also has the distinctive 4 red buttons which are used to select the four levels of a system called Multilevel Precedence and Preemption (MLPP). This allows to make phone calls that get precedence over ones with a lower priority.

It's not really clear why there's an IST-2 in the Treaty Room and (at least visibly) not in the Oval Office. The two Cisco IP phones should be sufficient for any secure or non-secure phone calls, but it is possible that for connecting to military commanders it is still easier to use the IST-2 with its many direct line buttons.

> More about the president's IST: The telephone contacts of president George W. Bush

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