Tag Archives: Cuban Spy Numbers Station

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).

Cuban Numbers Station HM01: serving up a little confusion

WFL_015On occasion, I hear the Cuban numbers station HM01 on 5,855 kHz on weekday mornings.

It seems that many of the mornings as I listen, I hear HM01 making mistakes or at least experiencing “technical difficulties” (click here for a recent case in point).

Though I don’t often record HM01, I did record it on the morning of September 20, 2013––and, yet again, I heard what seemed to be HM01 tripping over its own tongue.

Instead of the broadcast starting with numbers to identify the transmission, then implementing intermittent RDFT data bursts as per usual, this broadcast begins in the middle of a data burst, then shuffles awkwardly into a “normal” broadcast.  I imagine an operative in the field scratching his or her head…

But hear this for yourself.  Either click here to download an MP3 of the recording, or simply listen via the embedded player below:

How to decode that RDFT in numbers station HM01? Roland explains

DIGTRXA few weeks ago, I published a post with a recording of the Cuban numbers station HM01, a “Hybrid Mode” numbers station which interchangeably broadcasts both voice and a digital mode called RDFT with each transmission. I had suggested using an application called “DIGTRX” to decode the data bursts.

I then received  a comment on that post from the author of the DIGTRX program himself, Roland. He has actually created a page in English which describes in detail how to decode the RDFT in HM01.  Note that this page was originally in Roland’s native Portugese, and he kindly translates it into English for us: http://www.qsl.net/py4zbz/eni.htm

[While this means that we can decode the transmissions, it doesn’t mean we can necessarily decipher them, however.  At least, not yet.]

Imagine that a spy numbers station is using an application you, yourself, authored to send coded messages. What are the odds?  This apparently happened to Roland, when he discovered that HM01 was, in fact, using his application DIGTRX. What?!?

Actually, it makes sense to me that numbers stations would use DIGTRX. After all, it’s open source. Operatives in the field can download the application without raising awareness. If it were a proprietary application, either commercially or of their own design, it would add to the complication of downloading and using it (on both ends). As you’ll read in Roland’s tutorial, HM01 has built in robust redundancies by using RDFT and DIGTRX. Very interesting.

Thanks, Roland, for sharing!

Shortwave Radio Recordings: Listen to Cuban Spy Numbers Station HM01

WFL_015Numbers stations have always been a dark oddity that pop up from time-to-time in the course of shortwave radio listening. There is unquestionably an air of mystery and intrigue which surrounds them. With the release of the movie The Numbers Station, many non-SWLers may be enticed to explore the HF bands.  A good thing, as it may draw fresh interest to this classic radio hobby.

I have heard numbers stations since I first started listening to shortwave radio broadcasts some thirty years ago, and I find that I often pause to listen (and to wonder) when I come across one on the bands.  The numbers station I hear most often, though the country of origin cannot be confirmed, is in Cuba–well, at least, we’re pretty certain of that. The same female voice, reading numbers in Spanish, has been Cuba’s calling card in the spy numbers world for some time.

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning between 10:00-11:00 UTC, I captured the Cuban spy numbers station widely recognized as HM01 (Hybrid Mode Number 01) on 5,855 kHz. HM01 broadcasts a mixture of AM voice and digital file transfer modes intermixed within the same transmission. The voice heard is the familiar Spanish female voice described above; the digital portion of the broadcast uses a mode called RDFT, a differential phase shift keying mode that has never become popular or standard in the ham radio world. If you’re feeling adventurous, the Windows software DIGTRX (download here) can decode RDFT.  Let us know what, if anything, you discover…

You can click here to download the entire HM01 broadcast as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded player below: