Despite Harrison Ford's best attempts to enlighten us, Air Force One remains a mysterious place. Pretty much the only time you get to see the inside of the president's awesome airplane is when the White House photographer offers a peek. Ever notice how weird the phones look?
The SIGINT nerds over at Top Level Communications just published a deep dive into the phone system on board Air Force One, and boy is it weirdly interesting. It's actually straight up interesting but also weird how weirdly, wonderfully detailed this blog about hyper secure communications is. (Their explainer on how President Obama's BlackBerry was secured is also a must read.) One doesn't often get the chance to wonder, how exactly does President Obama run the country from the air? Very securely, it turns out.
The phone system currently on board Air Force One will be two years old next month. Made by the defense contractor L-3 Communications, the so-called Airborne Executive Phone (AEP) plugs into L-3 Communication's Global Secure Information Management Systems (GSIMS) which uses its own IP-based architecture to secure connection. This is not the standard airplane phone slash credit card reader you saw on your last flight to Miami.
While there are a few different models of phone on board, the most cinematic of them all look like they're made out of the same material as an Iron Man suit. (It may very well be!) With angular rubber grips to keep the commander-in-chief in charge even in heavy turbulence, the wired handsets look about as cool as a wired handset can look. They even feature lights on the back to indicate when the president is on a non-secure line, unencrypted:
Versus when he's on a secure line, heavily encrypted:
Head over to Top Level Communications for more details about the current and past telephone systems aboard Air Force One. And rest assured that White House aids know when the boss is on an important call. Just don't ask him who he was talking to. [Top Level Communications via @pbump]
Images via Wikipedia / White House / Pete Souza