Communicators and the Canadian Foreign Service

THE COMMUNICATOR - A BREED APART

By Thurlow E. (Buck) Arbuckle
Director, Telecommunications Division,
Department of External Affairs (Ret'd).

cdn_embassy_arbuckle.jpg In the beginning, there was nothing. The fledgling Department of External Affairs had a few embassies in such major centres as London, Paris, Washington and New York and relied heavily on British services, i.e., The Diplomatic Wireless Service and the Diplomatic Courier Service to carry correspondence.  In the early stirrings of communications, Washington and New York were favoured with leased circuits and these were given a measure of security with a device known as Telecrypton.

Supply and Services, a division of External Affairs, hired a few communicators and opened up a small section known as Communications.  This comcentre was provided with book cipher, a tedious two-man system for encipher and similarly two for decipher.  At embassies, secretaries frequently assisted in the process.  One of the early communications in Ottawa was a gentleman who worked on book ciphers for one dollar a year while awaiting a suitable assignment as ambassador abroad.  His name was Tommy Stone.  This book cipher system involved looking up individual letters or words in code books and substituting them for five number groups which were then subtracted from another five number group.  The result had to be typed for transmission, or, in decipher, typed for circulation.  Maximum speed - perhaps five words per minute.

Those were lean years. Like school children, communicators were issued with a pencil and only when that pencil was worn down to 1 inches could they turn it in for a new one.  If it were necessary to visit another building on business, he could apply to Supply and Services for a bus ticket.  But it was not all bad.  Communicators as a group often found Prime Minister Mackenzie King 3. at the wicket enquiring about the status of a telegram.  Many other senior officials in the department were well known to the communicators but were strangers elsewhere.

Anxious for something better, the comcentre acquired a British developed electro-mechanical device known as Typex. This Typex machine had many similarities to the German Enigma, developed before the Second World War, which proved very secure indeed.  Typex used rotating code wheels with inserts and plug boards and the machine was programmed for each message.  When the communicator typed into the machine it produced a printed result on a gummed tape.  This tape was then stuck onto a page to be retyped for transmission or circulation.  A good communicator with all the associated typing might process a message at an amazing 10 words per minute.  This was a vast improvement on book cipher, less labour intensive, and less prone to error.

A peculiarity of the Typex system was that negatives were always repeated in telegrams to ensure the meaning was not lost through error to transmission corruptions.  Vowels were omitted.  The receiving communicator had to look at a string of consonants and reinsert vowels to try to re-establish a readable text for distribution.  Most of the time, he accomplished just that.  This procedure shortened the message, saved transmission time and costs which were increasingly important because communicators were filing more and more telegrams commercially via CN/CP Telecommunications.  Sending coded telegrams commercially often meant that code groups were received corrupt, transposed or even omitted.  Corruptions were the bane of communicators who spent much time seeking corrections and repeats in order to solve unintelligent portions of corrupt messages.

As communications improved, so the Department placed increasing dependency upon communicators. Dispatches through the diplomatic bag were slow and as they decreased, so comcentre traffic increased.  More leased circuits were installed.  Although the Department was limiting its use of the Diplomatic bag to send dispatches, the Canadian Diplomatic Courier Service was expanded to handle shipments of communications material.

About that time, in the late 1940's, a new machine arrived on the scene.  It was Rockex and it employed a measure of electronics in conjunction with mechanical drives.  It was this machine which caused an establishment change.  The little comcentre became a separate division, and, influenced by the influx of electronics, was renamed the Telecommunications Division.  Over the years, perhaps two hundred Rockex were bought, which indicates the extent of the expansion of the communicators work at home and abroad.

The Rockex used a cryptographic key tape which, when combined with a paper tape input, produced either five letter groups or plain language text.  This output was collected on a punched tape for transmission and on a page copy for distribution as necessary.  These machines reduced the manual input of the communicator as compared to book cipher or Typex but there was still much typing and attendance on machines geared for sixty words per minute.

Traffic volumes multiplied.  More and more circuits were leased.  London and Paris were turned into relay centres, each relaying traffic for numerous area posts.  New circuits meant more equipment and space in Ottawa, London and Paris comcentres was at a premium.  Particularly in Ottawa, Communicators were stressed out running around the comcentre tending circuits.  Tape relay equipment arrived and offered more compact work stations.  This eased the situation somewhat but traffic volumes continued to increase relentlessly.

Rockex influenced other areas. Equipment had to be transported securely to embassies. Cryptographic key tape shipments to all posts were urgent and never ending.  The Canadian Diplomatic Courier Service was extended to meet demands and communicators, who understood the requirement, were recruited into the service.

Soon Departmental expectations exceeded the current processing capacity of Rockex.  Key generators seemed a promising alternative.  Transparent to the communicators and hard wired into transmission circuits, they cruised at 100 words per minute.  Communicators received telegrams from the various divisions, typed them into the communications format and simply transmitted them on the appropriate circuits.  Key generators did the encryption and decryption automatically.  These machines provided an added level of security in that they fed a continual stream of characters down the circuits whether or not there was any traffic.  Thus any would-be interceptor was unable to tell when a message began or ended, or even whether a message was actually being transmitted.

But as one problem was solved others required attention.  Many messages had multiple addresses.  This demanded that a prepared message had to be transmitted on a number of circuits, increasing the handling time for a single message many times over.  Message switches were new on the market and CN/CP Telecommunications were contracted to supply, program and install the necessary equipment.  Communicators, with their experience and expertise in handling traffic were very much involved in programming and testing of the hardware.  Leased circuits were established direct from Ottawa to most embassies and the relay operations in Paris and London were repatriated.  Message switching was a huge success and acted as a spring board for future developments but it also retired a big chunk of the communicators work load.

But typing was still a communicator's chore.  Telegrams were first typed by secretaries, then handed to communicators who they re-typed them into the communications format.  Why not change the telegram form and have the secretary's type telegrams in the communications format in the first place?  Electronic readers were provided which read the new form and converted the telegram into electronic impulses for transmission.  The communicator's job was shrinking fast.  The final blow came with a decision to move the telecommunications terminal out of the comcentre onto the desk of the Foreign Service Officer.  These officers reluctantly became communicators and the communicators work was finished.

The Diplomatic Courier Service was also hit hard.  No longer was it necessary to ship great quantities of classified communications material to posts, and, as electronic transmission replaced the need to dispatch many documents by bag, the courier service was largely disbanded.

Communicators had been called upon to tackle many different tasks and they met the challenge.  Half of the officer complement of the division were former communicators.  The divisional secretary was a reclassified communicator.  Communicators figured prominently managing divisional accounts.  The courier service was staffed by communicators who, in turn, took over the budgeting and management of the whole courier service.

Unfortunately, the communicator, who breathed life into the department, advanced and worked themselves right out of existence.  But their 50 year contribution will always be remembered with admiration for their steadfast devotion and dedication to duty. In 1995, Parliament adopted legislation that formally recognized the name change from External Affairs Canada to Foreign Affairs Canada .


CRYPTO SYSTEMS  USED BY FAC

This list will summarize, in chronological order, the various crypto systems that were used by Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) and including the present.

In 1954, Lester B. Pearson,  the Secretary of State For External Affairs, began to realize that Canada
should begin an effort to provide all, but the smallest of diplomatic posts, with cypher machinery in case an emergency should develop either of local or general nature.

By March 1956, there was a concerted effort by FAC to introduce ciphered, teletype-based communications to replace the diplomatic pouch and improve the efficiency of sending messages. Colonel W.W Lockhart spearheaded this program which commenced in the summer of 1955.  Once example of improving efficiency was to have a decoded message sent to a Teletype machine which would print on mimeograph (aka Ditto) paper. Numerous copies could then be produced and distributed from the master. In this time frame, the department's teletype equipment was on line 16 hours per day, 6 days per week. A one-half hour would be lost at the beginning and end of each day setting up new codes and shutting down the operation for the night.

(Under construction)

CRYPTO SYSTEM NAME
IN SERVICE 
OUT OF SERVICE 
OTFP and OTLP 1930's Early 1980's (1)
Typex    
BID 590 (Noreen) Early 1960's  Early 1980's 
Rockex 1975
BID 610 (Alvis)    
CID-610    
STU-II Secure Phone   (2)
BID 770 (Topic/Tenec)    
KG-30    
STU-III Secure Phone   (2)
Pace    
Race    
Aroflex    
KG-84C  
OCAMS Fall 1974   
NOCAMS By 1978  Switched off between 1996 and the fall of 1997
COSICS Phase 1- 1989 Dec 6, 1996 (Last message)
SIGNET 1992 - First operational release.
1995 - Deployment completed worldwide.
To present day

Notes:

1. OTFP and code books fell into disuse when electronic messaging systems came on-line, however, they were retained as a backup system  in case OCAMS or NOCAMS was down for an extended period of time.

2. Ray White indicates "The STU-II and later STU-III secure telephones were used in secure facsimile operations (SFAX). Prior to this, the KG-30 was for used for SFAX which was a point-to-point service and did not go through any message switch".



These vintage photos illustrate some of the equipment rooms found at Canadian embassies and missions in various countries around the world. Unless otherwise noted, all photos have been  submitted for use on this web document by Ray Fortin.

Encryption/decryption activities were always carried out in areas completely separate from those areas with live communication circuits. In Foreign Affairs, the area where the communications circuits were terminated was called a Line Room.  Crypto work was performed in the area referred to as The Back
Room.  The only activity between the Line Room and the Back Room was the hand-carrying of encrypted  5-level paper tape.

cdn_embassy_beijing_comcentre_line_room1972.jpg
Beijing Comm Centre -  Line room circa 1972. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
 
cdn_embassy_cairo_1976.jpg
Cairo circa 1976 - radioteletype terminal consisting of: (L-R) TMC transmitter and ITT receiver in cabinet; Dollman radioteletype controller (small blue box);  Model 28 KSR Teletype. On top and to the left is the antenna rotor control for the HyGain LP1010 log periodic antenna. To its right is a Bird wattmeter.

Radio teletype became a priority for Cairo when Foreign Affairs Canada began to encounter serious leased land-line and Telex outages in Baghdad. Cairo had reasonable land line service and was selected as a relay for Baghdad and later Tehran. (Photo by Stan Fockner)

Other Cairo photos
 

crypto/cdn_embassy_delhi_commcenter_left.jpg
New Delhi, India - Comm Centre left side of room, circa 1965. A the left is a Teletype Model 15 (60 wpm). A Rockex machine is evident in the centre bottom . (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
 
cdn_embassy_delhi_commcenter_right.jpg
New Delhi, India -Comm Centre, right side of room, circa 1965. More TTY15's and Rockex units are in evidence. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
 
 
cdn_embassy_delhi_line_room.jpg
New Delhi, India - Line equipment room circa 1965. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)


 

cdn_embassy_delhi_tech_workshop.jpg
New Delhi, India - Equipment repair room circa 1965. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)


 

cdn_embassy_delhi_typex.jpg
New Delhi, India - Typex equipment circa 1965. The left print drum printed the plain language version of what was typed while the right hand drum printed the encrypted text. This machine type was withdrawn from service in either late 1970 or 1971 and replaced with Rockex. (Photo submitted by Ray Fortin)
 
cdn_embassy_baghdad_line_equip_1990.jpg
Baghdad  - Line equipment in 1990 - Photo 1 

Left to right against the wall:  a) The Incoming Line Printer was connected to a dedicated circuit from the Pearson Building in Ottawa to the Canadian Embassy Baghdad.  This device was akin to a Siemens T1000 teleprinter but without the reperforator b) Outgoing Line Printer with a reperforator.  This fed into the OCAMS system (Ottawa Communications Automated Message Switch). When the work day finished, an operator would advise Ottawa that the embassy was closing for the day. The duty communicator in Ottawa would acknowledge receipt of the message. This way, there was an assurance that the day's messages had not been sent into the netherworld. The Iraqis of course handled the terminating end of the circuit in downtown Baghdad. Believe it or not, but the circuit was fairly reliable  c) a Telex machine.

In the right-hand lower corner, nearest the Telex machine, is an unclassified fax and next to that is a secure fax machine. The stand under the line printers was fabricated by the Embassy carpenter.  Note the Murray code sheet on the wall 1 . (Photo by David Smith)
 

cdn_embassy_baghdad_line_equip2_1990.jpg
Baghdad  - Line equipment in 1990 - Photo 2  (Photo by David Smith)

The black cable going up through the left centre of this photo connected the business equipment to the PSATCOM  (TCS9000 sat comm link) along with the controller (under the bulletin board). The twin black phones are secure STU III's interfaced to the PSATCOM as were the secure and regular fax machines.  Added to that,  a laptop PC was used to access a Bulletin  Board System (BBS2 )  in Ottawa and messages would be passed to family members. At $US 15.00 per minute, the use of the satellite link was very brief and to the point.

There was also a high-speed tape punch that was used by the secretaries so that messages could be produced on a floppy disk on a floppy disk. All that was needed was the addition of message headers for the OCAMS system. This was the beginning of computerized communications and the beginning of the end for Canada's Foreign Service Communicators as they were known in Foreign Affairs. Four years later, in 1995, the era of Communicators was over. 
 

cdn_embassy_baghdad_radiolink.jpg
Baghdad:  Canterm system radio link (1,000 watts)  -  Long out of use radio equipment was used to communicate with Cairo when the Iraqi's would pull the plug on the circuits feeding the line and Telex equipment. (Photo by David Smith)
 
 
cdn_embassy_baghdad_logperiodic.jpg
The HyGain LP1010 log-periodic antenna atop the Baghdad embassy. It had a gain of 4.8 dbD over the frequency range of 10-30 mHz and could handle up to 4 kw PEP. The longest element was nearly 49 feet. (Photo by David Smith) .  More Baghdad photos

 

canadian_comm_center_b.jpg
The is the SIGNET server room at a Canadian embassy in Central America and was typical of SIGNET installations in medium size embassies around the world.  SIGNET stands for Secure Integrated Global Network, which is an encrypted e-mail system. (Photo by David Smith)
 
 
cdn_embassy_havana_satdish.jpg
In 2000, the embassy in Havana Cuba received a new satellite dish which was substantially larger than its old predecessor at the right. The new, larger dish is awaiting alignment. (Photo by Howard Abbott)
David Smith, a former Foreign Service Communicator, relates his experiences in Baghdad prior to Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. "Some of the equipment in our Baghdad embassy such as the secure and plain text  FAX'es,  PC's and STU III secure phones, were connected to a satellite phone terminal atop the building roof . The dish was hidden by a hut fabricated by former Canadian hostages. Backup diesel generators would provide power for all of this equipment during power failures or when the power was intentionally cut.

Many oil workers and engineers in Kuwait were taken hostage when Iraq invaded in August of 1990. They were forcibly brought to Baghdad by the Iraqi armed forces and incarcerated in various locations -  some in jails, others in hotels.  It became our duty to locate them and then argue with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry for their release. We were ultimately successful.  As we gained their release from Iraqi "hospitality", we would house them in our Embassy staff quarters as well as the Ambassador's residence (he graciously bunked in with nine "guests").  They became very useful to our daily operations of maintaining staff quarters and both the official residence and Embassy building, helping out with balky generators, water pumps and so on.  Finally, in mid December, Saddam became tired of the hostage game and decreed that all foreigners formally from Kuwait could now leave Iraq.  Within two days, they were gone.

We stayed on in Baghdad, gradually downsizing the staff until there were four of us left - the Ambassador, a second officer, my wife who was a secretary to the Ambassador at the time. We remained until January 12, 1991 when we took what was probably the last Iraqi airways plane ever to fly. We arrived in our hotel in Ottawa on January 16th. No sooner had we arrived and turned on the television, the  bombing in Iraq began. It was very distressful.  I returned to Iraq 6 weeks after Desert Storm to determine the state of our embassy, housing and vehicles. etc. On my return to Ottawa, I made plans for a another visit along with the second officer mentioned above. We returned to a very different Iraq in June of 1991 and stayed for three months although our mandate was for only for three weeks .  At the time of writing this copy (December 2005), the Embassy has not reopened".

Additional information about Canada's Foreign Service Communicators can be found at the following web pages:

a)  Association of Former Foreign Service Communicators
b) Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians

FOOTNOTES:

1.   The original 5 level Baudot code became known as the International Telegraph Code No. 1. Sometime around 1900, another 5-bit code called the Murray Code was invented. The Murray Code eventually displaced the Baudot Code and became known as the International Telegraph Code No. 2. Unfortunately, everyone was hopelessly confused by this time -- to the extent that Murray's name sank into obscurity, while Baudot's name became associated with almost every 5-bit code on the face of the planet, including the International Telegraph Code No. 2. (From http://www.maxmon.com/1880ad.htm)

2. Bulletin Board System (BBS) - An electronic message center. Most bulletin boards serve specific interest groups. They allow users to dial in with a modem, review messages left by others, and leave their own messages if desired. As the Internet grew, BBS's declined in popularity.

3. Mackenzie King was Canada's Prime Minister for three separate terms. 1921 - 1926; 1926 - 1930 and 1935 - 1948).

Back to Canadian Communications Centre


Credits and References:

1) David Smith <drdee(at)sympatico.ca
2) Foreign Affairs web page http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/department/history/history-11-en.asp
3) Ray Fortin - Foreign Affairs Electronic Technician (retired).  e-mail:  raymondfortin(at)rogers.com
4) T.E. Arbuckle, Foreign Affairs Canada
5) Mackenzie King web page http://www.collectionscanada.ca/primeministers/h4-3250-e.html
6) http://www.knobstick.ca/jpgs/post_article.jpg
7) http://www.knobstick.ca/museum/lbp_memo.htm

This page is a mirror from Jerry Proc's Crypto Machines web site.

May 12/06

© 2001, 2009 George McKeever / Laurenzerberg IceWorks
Last Updated December 30, 2009
Some Rights Reserved. Please refer to the legal fine print on the home page of this web site.
Website templates
Home Page
Contact
Guestbook
Final Comps
Join the AFFSC
Life & Style
Links
Lost Trails
Members
Museum
News and Events
Who We Were