[…]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.[…]
Two weeks ago this Friday, I caught and recorded the numbers station often referred to as the English Man. He was found in the pirate radio watering hole (of 6,925-6,990 kHz) on 6,949 kHz.
After sifting through more spectrum recordings taken the following evening by the Microtelecom Perseus, I realized that I caught him once again at the exact same time and frequency. I have his full transmission in the recording below.
Note: The English Man was broadcast in AM, but I had to dig the signal out of the noise. I used a tuning technique I referred to last year in a post–click here for more info.
While listening for pirate radio stations last night, I recorded a numbers station. I found it on 6,949 kHz at 1:30 UTC, 26 May 2012. It was broadcast in USB for almost exactly ten minutes. The ID was sent for a full four minutes of that time. I have a full recording below.
With a quick check on SpyNumbers.com, I’m pretty sure this is a station called, the “English Man.”
If you’re not familiar with numbers stations, check out this previous post where Shortwaveology author, David Goren, explores numbers stations.
If you have trouble listening to the embedded player below, simply click here to listen to the mp3 file.
The bizarre, constant audio output of one particular mysterious Russian “Numbers Station” has changed, for the first time in 20 years. This might mean something bad is about to happen, or simply that someone finally remembered to switch tapes.
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.
September, 22 2011: Out of SWLing Post archives–David Goren Explores Numbers Stations:
David Goren, independent radio producer and shortwave enthusiast, has produced a radio documentary about numbers stations for The Lost and Found Sound Series. It has been recently picked up by L.A. Theatre Works.
What are numbers stations? I wish I knew–but if you’ve been listening to shortwave radio for long, you’ve undoubtedly stumbled upon these mysterious broadcasts of strings of supposedly meaningless numbers, too.
When I tune to a numbers station, I stop and listen for several minutes. Why? I’m not sure. Is it that I imagine a spy in some foreign country, huddled up to a radio with pen in hand, ready to decode a secret message on the back of an envelope? Or is it that I think I’m actually hearing the pulse of the shortwave bands over the ether? I’m not exactly sure, but I now know they’ve been part of the SWLing experience since the Cold War (or longer), and that I’m not alone in my curiosity about them.
David also produces and mixes his own fascinating brand of “sonic, aesthetic, and cultural resonances of the shortwave radio spectrum” at his site, Shortwaveology.
Listen to “Atencion: Seis Siete Tres Siete Cero: The Shortwave Numbers Mystery” by visiting Shortwaveology.