Tag Archives: BBC

Was Morse Code the smoking gun for this spy with no name?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares this story from the BBC News via Matthew M. Aid‘s blog:

[…]It was a cold Saturday morning in April 1988 when a van full of detectives arrived outside the North London home of Erwin van Haarlem. The self-employed art dealer, 44, lived alone in sleepy Friern Barnet, a smattering of brick homes beside the grim North Circular ring road.
The Dutchman’s apartment building on Silver Birch Close had become the centre of an investigation led by the British intelligence agency MI5. It suspected that Van Haarlem – whom neighbours described as an “oddball” – was not in the art business at all, but a sinister foreign agent.

Inside, Van Haarlem was hunched over a radio in his kitchen. He was still wearing his pyjamas, but his hair was parted neatly to one side. He was tuned in, as he was every morning, to a mysterious “number station”. In his earpiece, a female voice recited numbers in Czech, followed by the blip-bleep of Morse code.

At 09:15 detectives from Special Branch, the anti-terror unit of London’s Metropolitan Police, crashed into his apartment. Van Haarlem tried to lower his radio’s antenna. It jammed. When he pulled open a drawer and grabbed a kitchen knife, an officer tackled him, and yelled: “Enough! It is over! It is over!”

Hidden among his easels and paintings, detectives discovered tiny codebooks concealed in a bar of soap, strange chemicals, and car magazines later found to contain messages written in invisible ink. Investigators suspected Van Haarlem was not really from the Netherlands, but was a spy for the UK’s Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union.

[…]Mrs Saint, 61, who co-ordinated the local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, said she telephoned the police in November 1987 to report strange noises and a “Morse code” interference which affected her television reception every night at 21:20.[…]

Click here to read this fascinating in0depth story on the BBC Magazine website.

“The Threat to the BBC Monitoring Service”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jonathan Marks, who shares his latest post from Medium.com:

Open Source Stupidity: The Threat to the BBC Monitoring Service

Media Network, the weekly communications magazine formerly on Radio Netherlands, is set to return as an independent podcast in 2017, resuming its analysis of international broadcasting.

The first time we visited BBC Monitoring was in August 1989. That broadcast is sitting in the Media Network Vintage Vault. During the previous lifetime of the programme (1980–2000), we worked closely with colleagues from World Broadcasting Information at BBC Monitoring. Search for contributions from Richard Measham and Chris Greenway in the vintage vault of around 450 half-hour programmes.

By way of a prequel to the new series, we asked John Fertaud, who has worked at BBC Monitoring in the past, to analyse and comment on a new UK government report about the future of the service. Here is his analysis.

Click here to read Jonathan’s full post and to listen to his Vintage Vault audio.

Will Green Bank soon become a little less radio quiet?

GreenBankTelescope(Source: BBC News via Richard Langley)

Disturbing the peace: Can America’s quietest town be saved?

There’s a town in West Virginia where there are tight restrictions on mobile signal, wifi and other parts of what most of us know as simply: modern life. It means Green Bank is a place unlike anywhere else in the world. But that could be set to change.

“Do you ever sit awake at night and wonder, what if?” I asked.

Mike Holstine’s eyes twinkled like the stars he had spent his life’s work observing.

“The universe is so huge,” he began.

“On the off chance we do get that hugely lucky signal, when we look in the right place, at the right frequency. When we get that… can you imagine what that’s going to do to humankind?”

Holstine is business manager at the Green Bank Observatory, the centrepiece of which is the colossal Green Bank Telescope. On a foggy Tuesday morning, I’m standing in the middle of it, looking up, feeling small.

Though the GBT has many research tasks, the one everyone talks about is the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. The GBT listens out for signs of communication or activity by species that are not from Earth.

[…]Green Bank sits at the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile (33,669 sq km) area where certain types of transmissions are restricted so as not to create interference to the variety of instruments set up in the hills – as well as the Green Bank Observatory, there is also Sugar Grove, a US intelligence agency outpost.

For those in the immediate vicinity of the GBT, the rules are more strict. Your mobile phone is useless here, you will not get a TV signal and you can’t have strong wi-fi? -?though they admit this is a losing battle. Modern life is winning, gradually. And newer wi-fi standards do not interfere with the same frequencies as before.[…]

Read the full article on the BBC News website.

Additionally, if you have access to the BBC iPlayer, click here to watch the Click episode featuring Green Bank.

BBC Director-General’s goal? “A Netflix of the spoken word”

Lord Tony Hall (Source: BBC)

Lord Tony Hall (Source: BBC)

(Source: BBC via Richard Langley)

“With our world-class content, we could use our current output and the richness of our archive to create a Netflix of the spoken word,” said Lord Hall.

“One of the big challenges I have set my teams is just that: to enhance our global audio offer. The BBC makes the best radio in the world. It is one of our crown jewels, and we have an extraordinary wealth of audio riches at our disposal.

“It’s one of the things that will help the BBC carry the full weight of Britain’s culture and values, knowledge and know-how to the world in the years ahead. And say something really important about modern Britain.”

BBC World Service to launch 11 new language services

(Image source: BBC)

(Source: BBC News)

The BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services as part of its biggest expansion “since the 1940s”, the corporation has announced.

bbc-newlanguageservices

The expansion is a result of the funding boost announced by the UK government last year.

The new languages will be Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

The first new services are expected to launch in 2017.

[…]The plans include the expansion of digital services to offer more mobile and video content and a greater social media presence.

On Wednesday the BBC launches a full digital service in Thai, following the success of a Facebook-only “pop-up” service launched in 2014.

Other expansion plans include:

  • extended news bulletins in Russian, with regionalised versions for surrounding countries
  • enhanced television services across Africa, including more then 30 new TV programmes for partner broadcasters across sub-Saharan Africa
  • new regional programming from BBC Arabic
  • short-wave and medium-wave radio programmes aimed at audiences in the Korean peninsula, plus online and social media content
  • investment in World Service English, with new programmes, more original journalism, and a broader agenda

The new language services mean the BBC World Service will be available in 40 languages, including English.

Lord Hall has set a target for the BBC to reach 500 million people worldwide by its centenary in 2022.

Click here to read the full article…

In addition, Mike Terry, posted a link to this Leading Article  from The Times which focuses on the BBC expansion. This content is behind a paywall (though you can register to read two free items per week) but here is an excerpt from the conclusion that I found particularly interesting:

“The radio may seem an irrelevance in the age of the internet but it is the most intimate of the so-called mainstream media and as such poses a challenge to authoritarian rule. Radios are cheap, ubiquitous and can whisper truths under the bedcovers. There is nothing that dictators hate more than direct access to the ears of their subjects.”

Indeed.