How Norway Became the First Country Outside the US to Connect to the Grid

As mentioned in the previous


, the first ARPANet network between four US research centers was formed in late 1969. Just four years later, what would later become the Internet reached across the Atlantic to … Norway. Which became the first country outside the United States to gain access to the network. Not neighboring friendly Canada, not Britain with its powerful scientific centers and its own NPL experimental computer network, but a distant northern country.

▍ Why did it happen?

In 1973, the US was doing very badly. The Vietnam War, conceived as an effective way to stop the expansion of communism in Asia, turned into huge losses of American troops, colossal casualties for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and then a heavy military and political defeat for Washington. American society was imbued with anti-war sentiment and became extremely critical of its authorities and elites. Outside the United States, even its closest NATO allies tried to distance themselves from everything related to the American military machine and defense programs. President Nixon had to go to Moscow and Beijing to convince Brezhnev and Mao of America’s readiness to reconsider its militant anti-communism and move towards a détente in international relations.

However, the Cold War continued. Washington feared that the USSR would launch a global counteroffensive and wanted to know as much as possible about its actions. Including nuclear tests. The main Soviet test site for atomic weapons was located in the north-east of the Kazakh SSR near Semipalatinsk – but the test site on Novaya Zemlya was second in importance by the beginning of the 70s. It is located more than two thousand kilometers from Oslo, the capital of Norway. For seismic waves, not so far.

Back in 1968, under an agreement between the United States and Norway, NORSAR was created in Hjeller near Oslo: Norwegian Seismic Array, a Norwegian group of seismic receivers (sometimes mistakenly called a “seismic antenna array”). It has collected and continues to collect data on seismic waves from earthquakes and nuclear explosions. NORSAR was a civilian institution, but together with similar centers in Iran, South Korea and Alaska, provided the US with surveillance of all nuclear tests in the space of the Eurasian continent. Formally, all this worked in the interests of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but in reality, not only.

On the American side, ARPA (aka DARPA) was responsible for the project: the same US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that created ARPANet (and gave it a name). In it, in 1972, the idea arose to pair the two projects, and stretch the ARPANet communication channel across the ocean to the Norwegian seismic station. Initially, it was assumed that the channel would first connect the NPL British experimental computer network at the UK National Physical Laboratory to ARPANet.

However, political obstacles arose on this idea: in the realities of the early 70s, even official London tried to distance itself as much as possible from everything related to Pentagon projects. And ARPANet developed precisely as a military project – it was based on the logic of nuclear war and the need to maintain the operability of a military computer network even in the conditions of the death of most of its nodes in the flames of atomic strikes. The British leadership chose to refrain from direct communication of state research centers with the American ARPANet.

In Norway, too, there were enough political problems: following the results of Vietnam, anti-American and anti-war sentiments raged in the country, left-wing and left-wing radical movements and parties gained strength. However, the leadership of Norway agreed to host the ARPANet node: on the condition that it be hosted in a civilian institution and officially serve the purposes of monitoring compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Actually, NORSAR was an ideal institution for this, convenient for all parties from a formal, political and practical point of view. The key figure in the project was the Norwegian nuclear physicist Pål Spilling, who also had to master computer technology in the process. As he later wrote, almost all work on connecting NORSAR to ARPANet was carried out by emphatically civilian specialists – but with “some attention” from the US military and at their expense. Spilling completed fellowships in computer technology in the US and UK, studying both the US ARPANet and the UK’s NPL, which reached 768 Kbps, with a particular focus on packet switching issues.

TIP equipment in NORSAR

By June 1973, TIP: Terminal Interface Processor, an ARPANet terminal processor based on a Honeywell H316 minicomputer, was installed at the NORSAR center in Hjeller. And they extended a fixed line of 9.6 Kbps to SDAC-IMP: a seismic data analysis center in Virginia, USA. On June 25, 1973, the first inclusion took place: Norway became the second country in the world connected to the future worldwide network.

Just a month after the connection of Norway, in July 1973, Britain also connected to ARPANet. But not through the state National Physical Laboratory, but through the independent UCL: University College London. Formally, this was a contact not with the Americans, but with the Norwegians, and even purely in the interests of science and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

By the end of 1973, two more events shook the world: the brutal military coup by General Pinochet in Chile, behind which the interests of the United States were clearly visible, and the attack of the Arab countries against Israel in the Yom Kippur war, which the same Americans helped to resist. In response, the Arab countries sharply raised oil prices – and the world plunged into a severe fuel and economic crisis. The already strong anti-American sentiment intensified even more.

Already in 1974, the first scandal shook the communications center in Hjeller: Norwegian military intelligence officer Anders Hellebust stated that the true purpose of connecting NORSAR to ARPANet was to transmit in real time seismic information about the success of the first wave of a nuclear strike on the USSR in order to correct the choice of targets in subsequent strikes. . At the same time, he accused NORSAR of transmitting data from the American long-wave radio navigation system Loran-C, and acoustic tracking systems for the movement of Soviet submarines through the Faroese-Icelandic anti-submarine line. Paul Spilling, in turn, argues that this was out of the question, and that data from these systems was transmitted to the United States through completely different channels. And a channel of 9.6 Kbps for such data streams would be too narrow. The Norwegian parliament created a commission to investigate Hellebust’s allegations, but its work did not produce clear results.

However, the work continued. At the end of 1974, Paul Spilling became one of the key contributors to the work at the University of California on the creation of a new data transfer protocol called TCP: it will become one of the fundamental foundations of the future Internet.

By the end of 1975, the data laboratory of FFI, the Norwegian Center for Defense Research, was connected to the network under the direction of Paul Spilling. As Spilling recalls, there were two computers in the lab, produced by the Norwegian Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk. One was used for ARPAnet operation and for packet switching. The two devices had 64 KB of memory, which could only be used on one machine, and only when “the machines were in a good mood.” They had a card and paper tape reader, a fast line printer, but no hard drive to store the operating system, software, or other information.

Paul Spilling:

“Assemblers, links and loader had to be read from tape every time they were to be used. My programs at the development stage were punched onto cards and then read through a card reader. If the programs worked satisfactorily, they were recorded on perforated tape. A small challenge for those who previously had little experience in FORTRAN programming.”

In parallel to the first communication line, two lines were laid to the satellite communications center in the Swedish border Tanum. Thanks to this, through Intelsat satellites, it was possible to provide an additional data transmission channel between Hjeller, London and Virginia at 48 kbps.

In 1976, Paul Spilling, after an internship at the British UCL, began to implement TCP / IP on computers at FFI. The new machine was NORD-10 from Norsk Data with SINTRAN operating system. True, the replacement of the machine meant that much of the previous work had to be redone to fit the new machine. It also turned out that SINTRAN is not very convenient as an operating system for exchanging data between processes, and the computer as a whole was rather unstable.

Along the way, the research institute of the Norwegian state telecommunications agency Televerket, the Faculty of Informatics at the University of Oslo and other scientific organizations were connected to ARPANet. However, in the 70s, the Norwegian scientific community, which then had a pronounced left and anti-American attitude, showed surprisingly little interest in the possibilities of ARPANet that opened up to them. Adding to the skepticism, according to Paul Spilling, was the fact that any participation in the work of the ARPAnet by Norwegian specialists not through NORSAR or FFI had to be pre-approved by the Americans from DARPA.

As a result, Norwegian scientists focused on their own developments and the study of European experience in creating computer networks – including the Swiss CERN. Already in 1976, Norwegian computer scientists began to develop, and in 1979 they launched Uninett, a national computer network for academic organizations that still operates today. Well, in 1983, the University of Oslo was one of the first to connect to the newly created Usenet. However, that’s another story.

Well, Paul Spilling in 1988 became known as “the man who not only connected Norway to the Internet, but also turned it off.” Then the first mass infection with self-replicating code occurred in ARPANet: the Morris worm, which could install several copies of itself on the same computer, causing a complete shutdown of infected systems. American colleagues called Spilling to warn him. Faced with a threat to the entire computer network in Norway, which was then still hanging on the channel through NORSAR, he simply pulled out the cable. And disconnected Norway from the rest of the Internet, preventing its computers from being infected.

So it goes.

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