Shortwave Numbers Stations on The Daily Beast

SWLingPost-Numbers1

Interest in shortwave numbers stations seems to wax and wane. We’re currently going through a period of increased interest (again) as I’ve been receiving quite a few messages from new readers asking where to find spy numbers and what type of shortwave radio is needed. Truth is, there are fewer and fewer numbers stations still on the air, though some are still quite reliable (like HM01).

The following article by Shane Harris at The Daily Beast is one of the better, more detailed, articles I’ve read in the popular press.

(Source: The Daily Beast via Southgate ARC)

The Stupidly Simple Spy Messages No Computer Could Decode

by Shane Harris

When I was 10 years old, I found a shortwave radio in a crumbling old leather trunk where we kept family photos and other memorabilia.

As I spun the dial, tinny, modulating noises, like the song of an electronic slide whistle, emanated from the radio’s small speaker. Staticky cracks and pops competed for airtime. The sounds swished and swirled, unintelligible and unremarkable. But then, emerging through the clamor, was a voice.

I might have run right over it with the dial, but the voice’s rhythmic, steady pacing caught me up short. It wasn’t a deejay. Nor a commercial. And he wasn’t singing. He was just speaking. The same line, over and over again.

“7…6…7…4…3.” Pause. “7…6…7…4…3.”

I don’t remember if those were the exact numbers. But they were numbers. A repeated sequence which had no obvious meaning, and was entirely devoid of context. To find him here, amidst the screeches and howls of the shortwave frequencies, was like coming upon a man standing in the middle of a forest, talking out loud to no one.

How long had he been here? Who was he talking to? He had that officious tone of the recorded telephone operators who chastised you for dialing a wrong number. “Please hang up, check the number, and dial again.” And the same distracting static I’d heard in those messages filled the background. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking live, or if he’d been recorded and set loose to play into the air.

But there was an urgency to his tone. And a purpose. As if he were talking to me. Imploring. Listen. Hear me now. 7…6…7…4…3. Did you get that? 7…6…7…4…3.

I was simultaneously terrified and captivated.[…]

Continue reading at The Daily Beast…

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.

North Korean numbers station detected; possible submarine instructions?

The website Intellihub.com features an Op Ed piece regarding a recently detected numbers station supposedly originating from North Korea. The station, reported by a ham radio operator, is in single-side band and adjacent to the Voice of Korea.

Below is an excerpt from this Op Ed piece; note my comments following:
NorthKoreaMap

(Source: Intellihub.com)

Within hours of South Korean news sources breaking a story that several Sang-Ho class submarines had disappeared from their North Korean bases, a ham radio operator named Tim, picked up a “numbers station” broadcasting on the same frequency as “The Voice of Korea” propaganda station. [check out our recent post]  What makes this even more interesting is that at the tail end of the numbers transmission there was a long duration digital transmission as well.

So what makes this number station significant is the proximity in timing to the disappearance of the San-Ho class submarines, as well as the digital transmission.

[…]What is more significant is the digital signal at the end of the transmission.  Digital transmissions such as this one may indicate the presence of a burst transmission which contains a compressed and encrypted message bound for some covert force, somewhere.  Typically a burst transmission is used to minimize the download time at the end point to prevent discovery.  The unusual part of this potential burst transmission is being attached to a numbers station as well as the length and the power of the broadcast.  Normal burst transmissions are in the one second to two second range.  This transmission was in the 10 to 15 second range which is almost unheard of, unless the end point is a submarine.

[…]The ham operator who picked up this particular transmission was located in the Midwest of the United States, and he reported the transmission was received 4 by 5 indicating a significant power was used to send the transmission.  That level of power coupled with the length and possible submarine end point opens up a new and alarming tangent to this escalating conflict. It is important to point out that the numbers are being read in Spanish but that is typically done to confuse the original source of the transmission.  In this case the transmission was detected on a upper side band of the AM range used by the Voice of Korea so while the numbers are Spanish the transmission does appear to originate in North Korea.  That fact coupled with the missing submarines seems to provide evidence of the nature of the transmission despite being in Spanish.  Its also important to note that the numbers being in Spanish could also be used to employ a different set of codes in the operatives code books.

Short digital bursts, as they describe, are not necessarily that uncommon since the Cuban numbers station,HM01, has been doing this for years.  (Indeed, perhaps North Korea got a little help from Havana?) You can hear audio from HM01 here and here and learn how to decode RDFT (HM01’s digital mode) here.

Read the full opinion article on Intellihub.com.

Thanks to Dan for the tip!

Even numbers stations make mistakes

WFL_015On February 5th, 2013, the Cuban numbers station widely known as HM01 struggled to maintain its composure following an awkward studio error.

In this particular case, I started recording a few seconds prior to the carrier, at which point you’ll hear a couple of minutes of “dead air” (silence). The broadcast starts around 2:25, cutting into the middle of a data burst; the station then goes silent before it comes back on at 5:15 with numbers, then abruptly stops. At 6:15 the station restarts the numbers broadcast in earnest.

Download the MP3 of the full recording by clicking here, or listen via the embedded player below:

Click here to view the Archive.org with original audio files.

Deutsche Welle: spies received secret messages on their shortwave receiver

towersIf you’ve ever been curious who listens to and acts upon the coded messages we hear in numbers stations (a.k.a. spy numbers stations), follow this German-based couple who are being accused of spying on NATO and and the EU:

(Source: DW)

A spectacular trial at a Stuttgart court is about to begin, involving a German-based couple accused of spying on NATO and the EU for decades on Russia’s behalf. Neighbors say they knew something was fishy.

It reads like a John le Carre novel: “dead mail boxes,” secret radio signals, encrypted messages hidden in plain sight on the Internet.

According to accusations, a married couple has been spying in Germany for more than 20 years – first at the behest of the Soviet Union and thereafter for its post-Soviet incarnation, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

On Tuesday (15.01.2013) 54-year-old Andreas Anschlag and his 48-year-old wife, Heidrun, will stand trial in Stuttgart. Federal prosecutors accuse them of “secret agent activity” and of “forgery of documents.”

[…]The history of the purported agent couple begins at a time when the Soviet Union still existed and the Cold War was still cold. According to accusations, Andreas Anschlag traveled to West Germany in 1988 with the help of a forged Austrian passport. His wife did the same in 1990. Both were supposed to have been born in South America. The two settled in Aachen, close to the western border with Belgium, where Mr. Anschlag studied mechanical engineering.

[…]The files were delivered via “dead mail boxes,” according to official charges, to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in Moscow. The couple apparently received further commands through an agent radio network and sent their own messages via satellite and through an internet video platform.

When they were arrested in October 2011, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the woman was sitting in front of a shortwave receiver, writing down secret messages. At that point the pair was living in a house in Michelbach, a small community in the German state of Hesse.

“Suddenly we had this spy thriller taking place right outside our window – it was better than the movies,” one of the neighbors told DW.

Read the full article on DW’s website.

Note that this story reads much like the Russian couple who spied on the US a few years ago.