Sam asks: Are antenna arrays found on DC embassies operational?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Sam Alcorn, who writes:

A query:

Many of the embassies in Washington, D.C., have impressive-looking antenna systems. Pictured (above) is the array atop the Romanian Embassy on 23rd St. NW. It looks well maintained and I’ve been wondering if they, and others, are operational – especially in this Internet era. Can anyone here shed any light on these operations? Are they still used? Frequencies? Power?

Sam Alcorn
Washington, D.C. 20009

Thank you for your inquiry Sam. I, too, have noticed impressive antenna arrays on some of the DC embassies. Perhaps someone in the SWLing Post community can shed a little light? Please comment!

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22 thoughts on “Sam asks: Are antenna arrays found on DC embassies operational?

  1. adi

    I live in TelAviv and like Sam, not far off many embassies. while it may make sense that these antennas will be for receiving signals from the “Home land” and as such do not need a license, if used for transitions then under what regulation?

    1. Alexander, DL4NO

      The answer is simple: These are extraterritorial properties. For example the US embassy in Israel is effectively US soil. Israeli laws do not apply.

      I could imagine that respecting the band plans of the guest country is good style, nothing more.

      1. Alexander, DL4NO

        For receiving purposes such large antennas are not needed. You only need them for transmitting purposes.

        BTW: Jamming is not as easy as it appears: At both ends of the connection separate transmitting frequencies could be used. Add frequency hopping every second or so and jamming gets quite ineffective.

  2. Sam

    Thanks, folks, for all the great replies! I’ve always been intrigued with these embassy antenna farms and I see them everywhere on my daily walks and/or bike rides around town. I’m hoping one of these days to get in to visit the ham station at the World Bank – 4U1WB – which is just a few blocks from my home.

  3. Bill Walch

    Here’s a thought, directed to any of these Embassies that watch/read this list, is how about a “Foreign Embassies Radio Day”, where like exotic places like Christmas Island, one day a year, have a QSL/QSO day, on ham bands, that SWL’s and Hams can participate in. Surely, there must be ham radio operators in these embassies that have access to these HF systems. Just a thought.

    1. Alexander, DL4NO

      I do not think that this will happen: From cold war times I know that many transmitters of the other side could be identified by individual quirks.

      People that were involved is such listening activity are very reluctant to talk, even today. But one once told an example: The Russians had RADAR equipment with such quirks that could be detected over quite some distance. If such equipment was moved to another site, they would find out. This might have been quite important information.

  4. Mike Agner

    Another place you will find occasional logs of embassies is the Utility DXers Forum reflector at By no means is this an everyday thing, but clearly at least some are active. I would suspect they’d use digital modes that would be difficult to read. As an example, Egyptian embassies have been reported to use CODAN and SITOR A and B modified for the Arabic alphabet

  5. Bill Walch

    I’d assume that these days, secure satellite and/or internet (via terrestrial or satellite) is the primary method of comms. However, as was mentioned, these can be blocked, even if the satellite comms are on their nations own satellites (i.e. Russia, China, India, etc.). HF could be a backup, but that too obviously could be jammed as well.

  6. Caesar

    Hi! Most of the guides and books publicly listed usually include a wide variety for embassy frequencies. However, I believe the HF antennas at DC are now practically considered to be “historical monuments” .

    The involved agency was the NTIS (not the FCC). The older licences used to be restricted under the burden of the International Law’s principle of “reciprocity”. So there were specific time frames and modulation modes (CW, even though most of them were “automatized stations”).

    The best way of obtaining them would be to file a request under the freedom of information act, in order to be able to determine which ones might still be active today.

    Hope this is helpful!


  7. Kris Partridge

    This post reminds me of when I first cam to London (UK) in the early 1970’s. Many of the embassies had HF antenna. Some beams, some wire. Not all are exist today. I regret not doing what I’d once planned, a photo expedition to record what was on & above those buildings.
    The antenna above one building, not an embassy, was of interest. It was a wide band receive antenna. The building had as a “resident” a branch GCHQ. Well the ground wave from the HF transmissions in Central London would be well received in Earls Court.

  8. Ivan - NO2CW

    The utilities guides list quite a few frequencies for diplomatic services on HF so they are active. In the 90s I lived near a Turkish consulate with an HF yagi on top of the building and they were active as i conformed it with a “near field receiver”. I don;t know if they make these near field receivers any longer but it was a nice gadget.

  9. Alexander, DL4NO

    I am sure that most of these antennas are operational. But it is in the nature of their task that you will not find any official information about these installations.

    The task is clear: The embassy must remain in contact with its government, no matter what. The traditional means for this is shortwave. Most often they might use satellite links. But even those could cut off, for example by the US government.

    1. Bob W6ACU

      Your description of the TASK is well stated! IN the past I had some personal experience with these, especially in second and third world countries. Having back-up HF communications was the ultimate last resort if everything else fails.

      1. Alexander, DL4NO

        That is also why my rig has a longer-term solar battery supply and Winlink connectivity.

        Every power outage creates a “black hole” that hardly any information can leave. The officials might have their means like satellite phones. Until external help comes, we local hams are about the only ones able to communicate actively for the public.


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