Tag Archives: Conet Project

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.

David Goren’s numbers station installation audio

DG-Performance-ShortwaveTwo months ago, I posted that David Goren, talented radio producer and shortwave radio artist, created a Numbers Station installation in the Secret Wars exhibition at the Proteus Gowanus gallery in Brooklyn, NY.

David has recently published the audio that accompanies his installation.

Take note that this is not a radio documentary–rather, it’s an expansion of his original piece, and part of his sound installation at Proteus Gowanus.  Enjoy:

Coded message from WWII carrier pigeon structured like numbers station communiqué

The message contains the all-too-familiar 5 character groupings we’re used to hearing in numbers station broadcasts

This news story about a recently discovered WWII carrier pigeon message has been floating around the Internet over the past few days.

(Source: CNN)

Not even the British spy agencies that inspired James Bond can solve the mystery of a secret World War II message recently found on the skeleton of a carrier pigeon in a house chimney.

The meaning of the encoded message apparently died about 70 years ago with the wayward pigeon that David Martin found in his smokestack in Bletchingley, Surrey County, England.

Martin recently discovered the bird’s remains with the surprisingly intact message inside a small red canister attached to a leg bone.

[…]Hand-written on a small piece of paper labeled “Pigeon Service,” the note consists of five-letter words. Those words don’t make sense: The jumble begins with “AOAKN” and “HVPKD.” In all, the message consists of 27 five-letter code groups.

Indeed, the only hope the UK intelligence agency, the GCHQ, stands in deciphering the message (click here to see the full message) would be to find the appropriate, specific decipher key. Most likely, this message–like numbers station (a.k.a. spy numbers) messages–was a one-time communiqué, with a one-time decipher key. This type of encryption is incredibly effective as they provide little to no context for deciphering.

But again, that’s a part of the magic and mystery many of us find so fascinating about numbers stations.  The messages are (still) everywhere and broadcast publicly, yet, we have no clue of the meaning.

If you’ve never heard a numbers station, check out this audio of the numbers station, “The English Man” I recorded earlier this year:

Also, you should check out the many numbers station audio files in the Conet Project on Archive.org. Listen to a sample in the embedded player below:

Slate Magazine explores how Russian spies used shortwave radio


It may seem like the digital era of spy technology has passed the Russians by. In the Washington Post, columnist Jeff Stein tittered that “the FBI must have been clapping its collective hands when it discovered the primitive radio techniques the Russians were using.” But they aren’t the only ones using short-wave radio for espionage. Great Britain has publicly admitted that its foreign intelligence agency, MI6, still uses “numbers” stations. And scientists have tracked numbers broadcasts to transmitters at government sites in Israel and (until they went silent in the late ’90s) the United States…

…The reason this dusty method is still ideal for espionage is that, even if you locate a spy station’s transmitter, you have no idea who’s tuning in across the hemisphere. Unlike telephone or Internet connections, receiving a radio signal leaves no fingerprint, no traceable phone connection, no IP address, and no other hint as to where the recipient might be.

Read the full article on Slate Magazine’s website and my previous post about the Russian spies who were recently headline news in the US.