March 25, 2019

The phones of former FBI Director Robert Mueller

(Updated: March 30, 2019)

Last Friday, March 22, special counsel Robert S. Mueller ended his investigation on possible Russian influence in the 2016 United States presidential elections.

Before he was appointed special counsel in May 2017, Mueller served 12 years as director of the FBI, from September 2001 to September 2013.

Here we take a look at the telecommunications equipment used by Robert Mueller when he was leading the FBI, based upon some rare photos of his office.

The office of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller, June 4, 2010.
(photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The FBI Director's office

The office of the Director of the FBI is on the seventh floor of the FBI headquarters, the brutalistic J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington D.C. Pictures of this room are very rare, but in 2010, The Washington Post provided some views of Robert Mueller in his office, which appeared to be rather small and with remarkably old-fashioned furniture.

Next to the director's office is a small executive conference room, also with 19th century furniture and a sign that looks as if it's from a Western movie, saying "Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation". On the wall there's large world map, where for a domestic security service like the FBI one would rather expect a map of the United States:

The conference room next to the director's office, June 4, 2010.
(photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images - click to enlarge)

Telephone systems

In the photos we can see that in the office of FBI director Mueller there were four phones, which belong to three different telephone systems, two for secure and one for non-secure calls:

IST phone

The first phone from the left is a big white Integrated Services Telephone (IST), which was designed by Electrospace Systems Inc. (ESI) and manufactured by Raytheon. This 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.

Although this IST phone looks very futuristic, it has already been replaced by the newer IST-2, which was introduced in 2003. The new IST-2 was also on the president's desk in the Oval Office, before it was replaced by a Cisco IP phone for the new Executive Voice over Secure IP-network, which provides a highly secured link between the President and his senior cabinet members.

It's interesting to see that there's no such new IP telephone in the office of the director of the FBI, which means that he has no direct line to the president - according to the fact that FBI falls under the Department of Justice and the director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General.

STE phone

Next to the IST there's a big black telephone called Secure Terminal Equipment (STE). It's made by the American defense contractor L-3 Communications (since 2016: L3 Technologies) and is capable of encrypting phone calls up to the level of Top Secret/SCI. There's also an STE phone at the small drawer chest in the director's conference room.

STE phones can be used to make encrypted calls to anyone with a similar or compatible device and there are an estimated 400.000 STE users. STE is the successor of the almost legendary STU-III secure phone system from the late 1980s.

These STE phones can be used for secure communications with everyone working for the US government, the military, its contractors, and also foreign partners who can not be reached through a more select secure telephone network, like the aforementioned DRSN.

Nortel M5216

Finally, there were two Nortel M5216 Meridian telephones in former director Mueller's office: one with two additional 22 button key expansion modules on the desk, and one without these modules on the standing desk alongside the wall. These phones were used for any non-secure calls inside and outside the FBI headquarters.

The M5216 telephone sets were manufactured by the former Canadian company Northern Telecom or Nortel and look rather outdated as they are probably from the mid-1990s. The Nortel telephone system itself is even older: it goes back to the SL-1 PBX from 1975, which was gradually enhanced and renamed Meridian-1 in the late 1980s.

The system provides advanced voice and data features for applications ranging from 60 to 16.000 lines and also has Centrex capability. It became the first fully digital PBX on the global market and it was one of the most widely used business telephone systems, with an estimated number of 43 million installed users worldwide.

Computer networks

Besides the four telephone sets, there's also a computer in the office of former FBI director Mueller, which can be seen right behind the ubiquitous Aeron office chair. A KVM-switch allows him to use a single set of Keyboard, Video and Mouse to access multiple FBI networks on different classification levels, like:

- Law Enforcement Online (LEO), which is a web-based system for sharing information among the law enforcement community that is running over the internet, classified For Official Use Only.

- Federal Bureau of Investigation Network (FBINet), which is the FBI's intranet and can only be accessed through an FBI computer.

- FBI Secret Network, which can be accessed from any US government computer that is connected to the Intelligence Community's INTELINK-S network that is running on the Defense Department's SIPRNet infrastructure, classified up to Secret.

- Sensitive Compartmented Information Operational Network (SCION), which is the FBI's designation of the Intelligence Community's INTELINK-TS network that is running on the Defense Department's JWICS infrastructure, classified up to Top Secret/SCI.

Former FBI director Mueller working in his office, June 4, 2010.
(photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images - click to enlarge)

Links and sources
- The Washington Post: Federal government cancels costly, decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters (2017)
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence: IATCG Intelligence Guide (2011)

See also:
- The phones of US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
- NSA director Alexander's phones
- US State Department red phones
- Commander Petraeus' phones

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