On Aug. 29, Fort Detrick hosted a 50-year commemoration of the Direct Communications Link, more widely known as the Washington-Moscow Hotline at the Community Activities Center.
The link was first established by the U.S. and Soviet governments via undersea cable in August 1963, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the early 1970s, an agreement was signed to utilize satellite communications in the “Hotline” system and a special earth station was built at Fort Detrick to operate over the Russian satellite system. After an extended test period in August of 1978, the Detrick Earth Station became part of the “Hotline” system.
The communications channels provided by the Detrick Earth Station have the highest visibility in both the U.S. and Russian governments. In addition to the Direct Communication Link between the American and Russian presidents, the Detrick Earth Station provides communication links with the Russian Federation in support of the State Department’s Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, a special link connecting the U.S. Secretary of State with their counterpart in Moscow, as well as circuits for the White House Communications Agency, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “The system is very robust, as you might imagine,” said Craig Bouma, civilian executive officer of the Detrick Earth Station. Workers at Detrick have daily interactions with their Russian counterparts via electronic exchanges.
The celebration brought two distinguished speakers who shared their experiences in the Soviet Union and the importance of communication. The first speaker, Jack Foust Matlock, Jr. was a specialist in Soviet affairs during some of the most tumultuous years of the Cold War, and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991. His 35-year-career encompassed much of the Cold War period between the Soviet Union and the United States. His first assignment to Moscow was in 1961, and it was from the embassy there that he experienced the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, helping to translate diplomatic messages between the leaders.
Roald Sagdeev spoke next about his time as a former director of the Soviet Space exploration program and now a professor of physics at the University of Maryland. The next crisis could be just around the corner, said Roald Sagdeev.
“It’s very important to make sure we can keep this, especially at the time of what’s happening in Syria,” he warned.