March 3, 2021

The telephone contacts of president George W. Bush

Always wanted to know who are on the contact list of the President of the United States? In the George W. Bush Presidential Library one can see the telephone from the president's desk in the Oval Office with a clear view of all the speed dial buttons from the final years of the Bush presidency.

Here I will tell a bit more about this special telephone set, followed by a list and a short discussion of all the contacts behind the over 40 speed dial buttons. Finally, the phone used by president Bush is compared with the one from the first years of Barack Obama.

The IST-2 phone at the president's desk in the George W. Bush Presidential Library
(photo: Ron Plante - click to enlarge)

The George W. Bush Presidential Library

Like all US presidents since Herbert Hoover, president George W. Bush also established a presidential library which holds the papers, records, collections and other historical materials from his presidency. Several presidents have been buried on the grounds of their library, which will also happen after the death of George Bush and his wife Laura.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was opened in April 2013 and is located on the campus of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) near Dallas, Texas. Like other presidential libraries, it includes an exact replica of the Oval Office in the White House. This allows visitors a close look at the paintings and the furniture and they may also sit behind a reproduction of the Resolute desk for a photograph.

Some visitors of the replicated Oval Office took a photo of the telephone on former president Bush' desk, probably not only because it's a quite impressive device, but also because it has all the names of the president's contacts on its many speed dial buttons.

A visitor tries the phone in the replica of the Oval Office
in the George W. Bush Presidential Library
(photo: instagram/t.ryanmartinez - click to enlarge)

The IST-2 telephone

What most visitors of the Bush Presidential Center won't know is that the phone is an Integrated Services Telephone version 2 (IST-2), which is a so-called "red phone". Unlike the popular image, such a red phone isn't used for the Hotline between Washington and Moscow, but for secure communications with military command centers through the Defense Red Switch Network (DRSN).

For this network there are large telephone consoles which can be used for both secure and non-secure calls. However, the encryption of classified calls isn't done by the phone, but by a separate network encryptor. The IST-2 was designed by defense contractor Raytheon and subsequently manufactured by Telecore Inc., a small company from Richardson, Texas, that took over the production of these telecommunication devices somewhere around 2003.

As part of a military telephone network, the IST-2 also has the distinctive 4 red buttons for 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, with "Flash Override" to allow the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to preempt any other traffic in the network.

The speed dial buttons on Bush' Oval Office telephone

The IST-2 telephone on president Bush' desk in the Oval Office had 50 line buttons, with labels for the following contacts, grouped according to the colors of the labels:

• BOLTEN - Joshua B. Bolten, White House Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2009.
• FIELDING - Fred F. Fielding, White House Counsel from 2007 to 2009.
• GILLESPIE - Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President from 2007 to 2009.
• HADLEY - Stephen J. Hadley, National Security Advisor from 2005 to 2009.
• GOTTESMAN - Blake L. Gottesman, Deputy Chief of Staff from 2008 to 2009.
• JACKSON - Barry S. Jackson, Senior Advisor to the President from 2007 to 2009.
• JEFFREY - James F. Jeffrey, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor from 2007 to 2009.
• KAPLAN - Joel Kaplan, Deputy Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2009.
• LUTE - Douglas E. Lute, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013.
• MEYER - Daniel P. Meyer, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs from 2007 to 2009.
• PERINO - Dana M. Perino, White House Press Secretary, 2007 to 2009.
• THIESSEN - Marc A. Thiessen, Director of Speechwritng from 2008 to 2009.
• TUBB - Richard J. Tubb, Physician to the President from 2002 to 2009.
• WAINSTEIN - Kenneth L. Wainstein, Homeland Security Advisor from 2008 to 2009.
• YANES - Raul F. Yanes, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary from 2006 to 2009.

• VICE PRESIDENT - Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States from 2001 to 2009.
• Secretary Of STATE - Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009.
• Secretary Of DEFENSE - Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011.
• DNI - Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence from 2007 to 2009.
• Director CIA - Michael V. Hayden, Director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009.

• VP HOME - The house of Vice President Cheney, the Naval Observatory in Washington.
• BOLTEN HOME - The house of Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten.
• HADLEY HOME - The house of National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
• RICE HOME - The house of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
• GILLESPIE HOME - The house of Counselor Ed Gillespie.

• Situation Room - The Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing.
• HOS Conference - Head of State Conference call.
• SIGNAL OPERATOR - Operator at the Signal Switchboard for non-secure calls.
• Secure OPERATOR - Operator at the Signal Switchboard for secure calls.
• White House OPERATOR - Operator at the White House switchboard for unclassified calls.

• MRS BUSH - Laura Bush, wife of the president.
• 41 - George H. W. Bush, 41st president of the United States and father of the president.
• JWB - Jenna W. Bush, daughter of the president.
• BPB - Barbara P. Bush, daughter of the president.
• CRAWFORD - The Prairie Chapel Ranch of president Bush near Crawford, Texas.
• Secretary EVANS - Donald L. Evans, Secretary of Commerce from 2001-2005.

• ROBERT - ?
• JARED - Jared Weinstein, special assistant and personal aide from 2006 to 2009.
• SAM - ?
• KAREN - (Karen Hughes?)
• ASHLEY - (Ashley Kavanaugh?)
• USHERS - Stephen W. Rochon, Chief Usher of the White House from 2007 to 2011.

• LINE 1 - Outgoing or incoming phone line
• LINE 2 - Outgoing or incoming phone line
• LINE 3 - Outgoing or incoming phone line

President Bush' primary contacts

The names on these speed dial buttons give us some insights into the people president Bush was in contact with. In the first place, represented by the first two rows of buttons, this were West Wing staff members, like the Chief of Staff, his deputies, seniors advisors and assistants. In the third row we see the press secretary and the president's speechwriter as well as the Physician to the President.

The buttons of the fourth row show that president Bush had direct lines only to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. The same group includes buttons for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), despite the fact that in 2005, the newly created DNI replaced the director of the CIA as a Cabinet member.

George W. Bush using the IST-2 telephone for calling the
British prime minister Gordon Brown, October 7, 2008
(White House photo by Eric Draper - click to enlarge)

The next five speed dial buttons show which people president Bush could call directly even when they were at home: Vice President Cheney, Chief of Staff Bolten, National Security Advisor Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Counselor Ed Gillespie.

After these first five rows, there's one row in which the buttons are blank - apparently there were no more people who president Bush needed to call directly (unlike Obama, who used all 50 buttons - see below).

The lower half of the speed dial buttons were used for mixed sets of contacts:

Five buttons positioned in an L-shape connected the President to the various communication centers of the White House: first the famous Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing, which is not only a conference room, but also includes a watch center that is operational 24/7.

Another button was labeled "HOS Conference" which means it was used to conduct phone calls to foreign Heads Of State (HOS). These are conference calls because translators, advisers and staffers from the National Security Council (NSC) listen in to translate and take notes of the content of such conversations.

Aides listening in to a phone call by president Obama, March 29, 2009.
(White House photo by Pete Souza - click to enlarge)

The next three speed dial buttons are for switchboard operators, who can connect the President to anyone who cannot be reached through one of the direct line buttons on the Oval Office phone:
First there's the so-called Signal switchboard operated by military personnel of the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The phone buttons show that this switchboard has an operator for non-secure calls and one for secure communications.

A third button is for the operator of the White House Switchboard, which manages the internal telephone system of the White House which is used for internal and external unclassified phone calls.

Another group of buttons is for family members of president Bush: his wife Laura, his father ("41"), and his daughters Jenna and Barbara, as well as Bush' ranch in Crawford, Texas. Interesting is the button for Donald L. Evans who seems to be included here not because of his job as Secretary of Commerce from 2001-2005, but because of his longtime friendship with Bush.

This brings us to the final group of buttons, with labels that only mention first names, probably of Bush' more personal advisors. One of them was Jared Weinstein, his special assistant and personal aide, but it's less clear who the other four (Robert, Sam, Karen, Ashley) were. When readers of this blog post think they can identify them, please leave a comment.

A final speed dial button is for the ushers of the White House, led by the Chief Usher, who is the general manager of the building and oversees the butlers, maids, housekeepers, chefs, cooks, doormen, and many others.

The IST-2 telephone under Obama

In January 2009, the office of President of the United States was taken over by Barack Obama. On his desk in the Oval Office he found an IST-2 telephone like the one used by his predecessor, but now of course with labels for all the new staff members, cabinet secretaries and other people who Obama liked to call.

The IST-2 telephone on Obama's desk, March 29, 2009
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

Another difference with the IST-2 used by president Bush was that the speed dial buttons on Obama's phone had a different color scheme: while under Bush there was a different color for each type of contacts, under Obama the buttons were only yellow or green. The arrangement, however, was roughly the same, as can be recognized by the three line buttons, which were pink under Bush and white under Obama.

Comparing the other buttons indicate that the colors on Obama's IST-2 represent the classification level: green for Unclassified and yellow for Top Secret/SCI. This is confirmed by the three buttons above the white line buttons: Signal Operator: green; Secure Operator: yellow; White House Operator: green. It shows that most of the president's contacts could be reached via a secure line, likely not much different than under Bush.

The IST-2 phone on Obama's desk, March 24, 2009 - photo turned for comparison
(photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images - click to enlarge)

Although it was certainly useful to have just one telephone for both secure and non-secure calls, the IST-2 was probably found a bit too military looking for Obama. Maybe the speed dial buttons also attracted a bit too much attention, so a custom cover plate was made in order to prevent visitors from seeing who the president's primary phone contacts were:

Obama's IST-2 telephone with cover plate, August 31, 2010.
(photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP - click to enlarge)

In the Spring of 2011, the IST-2 on Obama's desk was eventually replaced by two more common, commercially available phone sets: a black Avaya/Lucent 8520T that had been part of the internal White House telephone network already since 1996, and a Cisco 7975G Unified IP Phone for the new Executive Voice over Secure IP-network which is used for Top Secret phone calls.

Links and sources
- Weblog: About The White House Communications Agency from 1965 to 1974... and Beyond
- Jerry Proc: Hotline Telephones - Making Sense of the Colours and their Use (2018)
- Cryptome: Obama Phones (2012)