841. 731/2159: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Kennedy) to the Secretary of State

2246. Your 1331, October 30, 8 p.m.,73 and 1238, October 17, 8 p.m. We have been pressing the Foreign Office for some time for favorable and quick action and I discussed the situation personally with Lord Halifax on October 31. We have now received a memorandum setting forth in full the views of the British authorities in this matter and it is quoted below. The Foreign Office informs me that these authorities would welcome any practical suggestions we might be able to make to meet the difficulties set forth in the memorandum.

“The treatment of code telegrams under censorship conditions presents special problems to the Censorship Organization and to the telegraph service. In 1914 public codes were not admitted until about 3 months after the institution of censorship and it was generally assumed that some similar interval would elapse on a future occasion.

[Page 278]

The reasons for such an interval may be summarized as follows:

The Censorship Organization must settle down to working expeditiously under plain language conditions before the extra burden of handling code traffic is placed upon it. All code telegrams must be decoded or a decode supplied with the original and with something like 16,000 code telegrams a day this is a problem of considerable magnitude.
A few codes must be selected with due regard to the current needs of the business community as a whole and adequate supplies of code books must be made available at all censorship stations within the Empire. The facilities must be made as general as possible to avoid giving an unfair advantage to some firms.
The censorship is coordinated throughout the Empire and it is a complicated business introducing modifications.
It is necessary to recruit and train an adequate staff of decoding clerks to assist the censors. The number of clerks necessary will depend partly upon the extent to which the telegraph companies are able to transmit by wire decodes of outward telegrams between their provincial stations and London. Discussions with the companies of the technical difficulties involved are proceeding.
The Post Office, in collaboration with other Government departments concerned, has been actively pursuing the code question since the early days of the war.
The censorship is concerned not only with stopping improper information but also with detecting infringements of the many restrictions on exports, imports and currency operations. For this and other reasons it is not practicable to use a permit system for so-called ‘reputable’ firms to use code. A good deal of valuable information as to firms’ activities is derived from an examination of their cables which must, therefore, all be decoded.
It would be no use introducing code if the delay in the decoding were likely to be excessive. The emergency arrangements must settle down before concessions are made.
General Post Office must notify all foreign countries as to what sort of telegrams they will accept. It is obviously impossible to do this piecemeal.
The International Telegraph Service is governed by comprehensive international regulations to which this country is a party. These regulations, which are essential as a modus vivendi, are not academic but are based on the practical needs of the service. They are in the main strictly observed throughout the world and we impose them on the telegraph companies operating in this country. If we did not proceed in accordance with the regulations we should have difficulties with the companies; our telegrams might be challenged abroad and we might be faced with reciprocal action.
There are something like 14,000 offices all over the country and each one has to have specific instructions as to what is permitted and what is not. We could not possibly contemplate anything except a reasonably stable scheme if it is to work at all satisfactorily. The admission of private codes would involve even more serious difficulties in decoding and is not contemplated.

The telegraph companies, and particularly Cable and Wireless Ltd. are anxious to postpone the introduction of code for a month or so. [Page 279] It would be unfortunate if we reintroduced code and then had to stop it again because we could not handle it.

Registered addresses. It is essential for a censor to know for whom a telegram is intended and by whom it is sent, partly for security and partly for information purposes. A registered abbreviated address does not normally afford any clue to the identity of the holder or of his trade or profession, and since it is impossible to supply the censorship stations with up-to-date particulars of all registered addresses in the world, the censorship regulations forbid the use of a registration, either as the address or as the signature of a telegram.

It might be practicable to supply censors in this country with directories of addresses registered in the United Kingdom, although it would be very difficult to keep such lists up-to-date. We could not ask administrations abroad to accept registered addresses in telegrams for this country and to refuse to accept outward telegrams with such addresses.

The inconveniences involved in these prohibitions is fully appreciated. On the other hand it is better to have a reasonably reliable and quick service in plain language than a very erratic service in code.”

  1. Not printed; it asked for an early answer to No. 1238, October 17, 8 p.m. (841.731/2149).