Lewis Bush seeks London radio listening posts

Crosley-Dial-BlackAndWhitePhotographer, Lewis Bush, is seeking ham radio stations and shortwave listening posts in the London, England area. Lewis writes to the SWLing Post:

I’m working on a project which involves trying to locate and map possible broadcast sites for numbers stations (confirmed, suspected, and some highly unlikely) for an eventual book on the subject. These satellite maps (22 in total) are going to be displayed alongside spectrograms of an assortment of shortwave broadcasts and noise, but the final element of the project which I’d really like to include are photographs of ham shacks and shortwave radios themselves.

These photographs would be without people in them and could be as anonymised as the owners like. It’s also not important to me whether the owners are themselves interested in numbers stations. The main thing I’m interested in is really the equipment and the spaces that people listen from.

You can read a little more about the project and see some sample images here: http://www.lewisbush.com/category/numbers-in-the-dark/

If you’re willing to help Lewis, please contact him via email:  lewis@lewisbush.com

Jack Barsky: KGB spy who relied on numbers stations

JckBarsky

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Anthony, for forwarding this CBS/60 Minutes video: an interview with former KGB spy, Jack Barsky. During the interview, Barsky mentions that he received encrypted KGB “radiograms” via a numbers station he believed to be in Cuba. He admitted that the messages could take an hour to copy, then an additional three hours to decode. This is a fascinating story–well worth watching.

Here is the intro via 60 Minutes:

“Tonight, we’re going to tell you a story you’ve probably never heard before because only a few people outside the FBI know anything about it. It’s a spy story unlike any other and if you think your life is complicated, wait till you hear about Jack Barsky’s, who led three of them simultaneously. One as a husband and father, two as a computer programmer and administrator at some top American corporations and three as a KGB agent spying on America during the last decade of the Cold War.

The FBI did finally apprehend him in Pennsylvania but it was long after the Soviet Union had crumbled. What makes Jack Barsky’s story even more remarkable is he’s never spent a night in jail, the Russians declared him dead a long time ago, he’s living a quiet life in upstate New York and has worked in important and sensitive jobs. He’s now free to tell his story…as honestly as a former spy ever can.”

Click here to view the video via CBS online, or you can simply watch via the the embedded players below:

Part 1

Part 2

Numbers Stations: A bad day to be a Cuban spy

SWLingPost-Spy-Numbers-Station

While band scanning last Sunday (September 8, 2014) I stumbled upon the Cuban numbers station HM01 on 11,530 kHz at 17:30 UTC.

It’s always intriguing to hear shortwave numbers stations, but I prefer those that stick to pure vocal number strings; HM01 has numbers with digital bursts between number sets, which is a more fatiguing listening experience.  Nonetheless, I kept it playing in the background as I tooled around the radio room Sunday afternoon, putting away supplies from my recent three week road trip.

WFL_015Several times during the HM01 broadcast, I heard the audio (not the AM carrier) drop in the middle of numbers sets and digital bursts. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard hiccups on HM01 (see this post from last year, for example), so I wasn’t terribly surprised. Then, close to the top of the hour, HM01 audio dropped for a minute or so, then switched back to five-number sets with no digital bursts between; though I wasn’t copying the message, I suspected that someone in the studio intentionally, perhaps in frustration–or else accidentally–started the broadcast from the beginning again.

At this point, I started recording. The five-number sets continue for about a minute, then the carrier unexpectedly drops:

Since it was near the top of the hour, and HM01 broadcasts only tend to last one hour, I didn’t expect to hear the broadcast repeat–and it didn’t, at least on 11,530.

Via a little band scanning, I discovered that HM01 had unexpectedly migrated 105 kHz higher, to 11,635 kHz. This broadcast audio also begins a little awkwardly. You’ll hear the audio drop; I scan for a few seconds,  then return to 11,635, and HM01 comes back. And this time, the numbers set sounds cleaner, with fewer problems. Here’s the recording:

I couldn’t help but chuckle over this…

Evidently, this message had some important content–otherwise they wouldn’t have re-broadcast the entire set the following hour, 105 kHz up from the original frequency (most likely protocol after technical difficulties). I imagine spies huddled around their radios, cursing at the interruptions and frustrated they had to listen for an additional hour; and I imagine the confusion at the broadcast site as they tried to diagnose the problem in a live broadcast. It’s during these little mistakes that numbers stations inadvertently tell us who they are (Radio Havana Cuba content has accidentally been played before on Cuban numbers stations).

Numbers stations featured in Highbrow Magazine

towersMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Richard Cuff, who shares this link to a numbers station piece in Highbrow Magazine; one of the more comprehensive numbers station articles I’ve read in a while.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Many nights, Spooks turn on their shortwave radios and drift through the frequencies. On any given night, one can hear amateur radio stations broadcasting church sermons, utility traffic for aircrafts – with the right equipment, you can hear/contact the International Space Station. Yet one of the most eerie, mysterious uses of shortwave is that of the numbers stations: stations that feature ominous – sometimes robotic – voices saying seemingly random number patterns.

Shortwave radio boomed in the 1920s: For decades, it was the only way to receive transmissions from far way. Numbers stations, as they are called now, have been around since World War I, though many of the most famous transmissions took place during the Cold War. These mysterious stations are all, to date, unlicensed. Some feature automated voices, others have what sound like children’s voices, another with a sultry woman announcing numbers. One station – a Moscow-based broadcast during a Communist party coup – featured only the number five repeated for hours.

Numbers stations and use of shortwave have declined after the Cold War, but there are still transmissions heard every day – the shortwave decline has not been as pronounced as one would expect. Part of the reason for this is that it is a secure means of one-way communication. Since the airwaves are being released out into the ether – the intended recipient is completely untrackable. Presumably, spies would carry a one-time pad, which would have the encryption code to be used (ideally) for just one broadcast (hence one-time). This makes decryption from pedestrians and enemies nearly impossible unless that one-time pad is misused or corrupted.

Almost all of the information we have on these numbers stations is due to hobbyists listening, sourcing, and sometimes attempting to decode the stations with their own radios. The communities of hobbyists are vast – and their logging can be prolific. There is the Spooks Spy Numbers Station Mailing List, the Conet Project (which compiles recordings of shortwave), the Spy Numbers Station Database, and many others. They keep track of the frequency, the time, the numbers, and sometimes record audio each time spooks hear a Numbers broadcast. These shortwave enthusiasts sometimes spend hours trying to locate the source of these broadcasts – sometimes, to no avail.”

Continue reading “Numbers Stations, Shortwave Radio, and Their Role in the Intelligence Community”…

Cold War Echo: RT investigates UVB-76

UVB-76-via-RT(Source: Russia Today via YouTube)

“From a lonely rusted tower in a forest north of Moscow, a mysterious shortwave radio station transmitted day and night. For at least the decade leading up to 1992, it broadcast almost nothing but beeps; after that, it switched to buzzes, generally between 21 and 34 per minute, each lasting roughly a second—a nasally foghorn blaring through a crackly ether.

The signal was said to emanate from the grounds of a voyenni gorodok (mini military city) near the village of Povarovo, and very rarely, perhaps once every few weeks, the monotony was broken by a male voice reciting brief sequences of numbers and words, often strings of Russian names: “Anna, Nikolai, Ivan, Tatyana, Roman.” But the balance of the airtime was filled by a steady, almost maddening, series of inexplicable tones.”

Click here to watch the video on YouTube, or view via the embedded player below:

If you can’t hear UVB-76 from where you live via shortwave radio (4,625 kHz), you can always listen to this live stream.

Numbers station presentation by Peter Staal

Many thanks to Jonathan Marks who discovered the following video–a lecture by Peter Staal at TU Delft–on the topic of numbers stations:

Note that they attempt to sort out a technical problem in the first three minutes of the lecture.

Check out Jonathan’s post on Critical Distance for his comments and videos of Speech Morse Generators: the machines behind the numbers.

Numbers Stations in the news

towersThere have been a lot of numbers in the news lately.

Earlier this week, David Goren’s numbers station radio documentary was featured on the ABC Radio National show, Sounds Like Radio.

Click here to listen.

This morning, I also noticed this excellent BBC News Magazine piece on numbers stations, which includes an interview with Akin Fernandez, the creator of the Conet Project.

Here’s an excerpt from The spooky world of the ‘numbers stations’:

“This is the era of hyper-tech espionage, encrypted emails and mindboggling cryptography. But you can hear a very old-fashioned form of espionage on shortwave radio.

It is 13:03 on a Tuesday in a little crammed room of the BBC Monitoring building in Caversham and what is suddenly heard on a shortwave receiving station is a 10-minute message in Morse code.

There is a small community of aficionados who believe messages like this are a throwback to the era of Cold War espionage. They are the mysterious “numbers stations”.

At the apex of the Cold War, radio lovers across the globe started to notice bizarre broadcasts on the airwaves. Starting with a weird melody or the sound of several beeps, these transmissions might be followed by the unnerving sound of a strange woman’s voice counting in German or the creepy voice of a child reciting letters in English.

[…]Times have changed and technology has evolved, but there’s evidence that this old-fashioned seeming method of communication might still be used. Shortwave numbers stations might seem low-tech but they probably remain the best option for transmitting information to agents in the field, some espionage experts suggest.

“Nobody has found a more convenient and expedient way of communicating with an agent,” says Rupert Allason, an author specialising in espionage issues and writing under the pen name Nigel West.

“Their sole purpose is for intelligence agencies to communicate with their agents in denied areas – a territory where it is difficult to use a consensual form of communications,” Allason says.

A former GCHQ officer, who does not wish to be named, whose duty was to intercept signals towards the UK and search for these numbers stations in the 1980s is also adamant that these were broadcasts to agents in the field or in residencies or directed to embassies.

It was “one-way traffic” – the transmitters broadcast numbers to the recipient. The recipient did not reply.”

[…]”This system is completely secure because the messages can’t be tracked, the recipient could be anywhere,” says Akin Fernandez, the creator of the Conet Project – a comprehensive archive of the phenomenon of numbers stations. “It is easy. You just send the spies to a country and get them to buy a radio. They know where to tune and when,” he says.

Continue reading on the BBC Magazine website…

If you would like to know more about numbers stations, click here to read other numbers posts.

Click here to go to David’s website, Shortwaveology.net.