Tag Archives: Spy Numbers

Numbers stations featured in Highbrow Magazine

towersMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Richard Cuff, who shares this link to a numbers station piece in Highbrow Magazine; one of the more comprehensive numbers station articles I’ve read in a while.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Many nights, Spooks turn on their shortwave radios and drift through the frequencies. On any given night, one can hear amateur radio stations broadcasting church sermons, utility traffic for aircrafts – with the right equipment, you can hear/contact the International Space Station. Yet one of the most eerie, mysterious uses of shortwave is that of the numbers stations: stations that feature ominous – sometimes robotic – voices saying seemingly random number patterns.

Shortwave radio boomed in the 1920s: For decades, it was the only way to receive transmissions from far way. Numbers stations, as they are called now, have been around since World War I, though many of the most famous transmissions took place during the Cold War. These mysterious stations are all, to date, unlicensed. Some feature automated voices, others have what sound like children’s voices, another with a sultry woman announcing numbers. One station – a Moscow-based broadcast during a Communist party coup – featured only the number five repeated for hours.

Numbers stations and use of shortwave have declined after the Cold War, but there are still transmissions heard every day – the shortwave decline has not been as pronounced as one would expect. Part of the reason for this is that it is a secure means of one-way communication. Since the airwaves are being released out into the ether – the intended recipient is completely untrackable. Presumably, spies would carry a one-time pad, which would have the encryption code to be used (ideally) for just one broadcast (hence one-time). This makes decryption from pedestrians and enemies nearly impossible unless that one-time pad is misused or corrupted.

Almost all of the information we have on these numbers stations is due to hobbyists listening, sourcing, and sometimes attempting to decode the stations with their own radios. The communities of hobbyists are vast – and their logging can be prolific. There is the Spooks Spy Numbers Station Mailing List, the Conet Project (which compiles recordings of shortwave), the Spy Numbers Station Database, and many others. They keep track of the frequency, the time, the numbers, and sometimes record audio each time spooks hear a Numbers broadcast. These shortwave enthusiasts sometimes spend hours trying to locate the source of these broadcasts – sometimes, to no avail.”

Continue reading “Numbers Stations, Shortwave Radio, and Their Role in the Intelligence Community”…

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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.

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Numbers station presentation by Peter Staal

Many thanks to Jonathan Marks who discovered the following video–a lecture by Peter Staal at TU Delft–on the topic of numbers stations:

Note that they attempt to sort out a technical problem in the first three minutes of the lecture.

Check out Jonathan’s post on Critical Distance for his comments and videos of Speech Morse Generators: the machines behind the numbers.

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Miami Herald: Cuban spies and shortwave numbers

towersI should note that we have several recordings and frequencies for the numbers station HM01, which is mentioned in this article. Very happy to see that they interviewed Chris Smolinski:

(Source: Miami Herald)

Even if you’re not a Cuban spy, you too can receive secret messages sent by Havana to its spooks in Miami, Washington and around the world.

Every week, one short wave radio station in Cuba broadcasts 97 messages coded in fax-like tones. A computer program easily available to the public changes the tones into numbers, and the Cuban spies then decode the numbers into words.

A second Cuban spy station transmits 16 messages per week in the dots and dashes of the 175-year-old Morse code – secret messages to Havana spies who may be older or less technologically savvy.

[…]The busiest Cuban station these days, and the only spy station in the world that uses the fax-like tones, has been baptized as HM01 by amateur eavesdroppers who run Web pages like Spooks List, Spynumbers, ShortwaveSchedule and Enigma2000.

It transmits 11 to 14 messages per day, a total of 96 per week, on the same schedule each week but using a dozen different short wave frequencies, said Chris Smolinski, 41, a Maryland software engineer who monitors the spy stations as a hobby.

Each message almost always has 150 five-digit groups, so that eavesdroppers cannot measure the true length of the text. And some of the 10-minute transmissions are phonies, designed to mask the real number of spies receiving them.

Anyone can hook up a radio receiver to a computer, where the DIGTRX program – widely used by ham radio aficionados to send and receive lengthy texts, turns the tones into numbers. Spies then use secret computer programs to turn numbers into text.

“HM01 is an ideal system because you don’t have to teach any to anybody. The computer does all the work,” said Smolinski.

For the less computer-savvy spooks there’s the M08a station, which broadcasts 16 messages in Morse code, developed for the telegraph in 1836, on a set weekly schedule and on many of the same frequencies as Hm01.

Read the full article on The Miami Herald website…

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Reuters: “Beethoven and numbers on Korean shortwave”

FlagNorthKoreaNumbers stations get some spotlight in the wake of Jang Song Thaek’s removal from power:

(Source: Reuters)

Dec 9 (Reuters) – As a scratchy rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 8 fades into a sea of shortwave radio static, a robotic female voice starts speaking in Korean.

“Number 1913, number 1913, incoming message,” the voice says, before reading out seemingly random sets of numbers.

“68360, 75336, 80861, 94409, 03815,” it continues in an eerily authoritative tone.

The broadcast, a method of sending one-way secret messages to spies, dates back to the French Resistance in World War Two and is still in use on the Korean peninsula, where human intelligence remains the most important way of gathering information.

Blanket electronic surveillance and satellite imagery offer only limited penetration in isolated North Korea, where the use of mobile phones and the Internet is far below global standards. But reliance on antiquated methods and human sources has meant that the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s spy agency, has a patchy record on finding out what is going on in nuclear-armed and unpredictable North Korea, with which it is still technically at war.

The agency may have scored a coup last week, however, by informing the world that Jang Song Thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had been removed from his positions.

[…]The radio messages have been used by the South for decades, say sources with knowledge of how the country’s secret agents operate.

“It’s classic – the safest way to deliver messages, it leaves no trace,” said former agent Yeom.

The messages work by sending strings of seemingly random numbers over shortwave radio signals to an agent in the field, armed only with a radio, pen and an easily concealed pad with corresponding letters on it that can be used to decrypt the messages.

“The first time I heard the South Korean numbers station now known as V24 was probably in the early 1980s,” said a radio hobbyist who only identifies himself by his call sign, ‘Token’.

Long-time listeners like Token say V24’s unique power signature and signal strength place its origin somewhere south of the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.

An official at the NIS who deals with media requests said he could not confirm anything related to the operation of South Korean numbers stations.

But hobbyists say the secret station is being used less frequently.

“In July 2013, I received 62 messages, most of them in the first half of the month,” said Token, who monitors the signals from his location in the Mojave Desert in the United States. “However, in the first ten days of November, I only received three.

“I have never seen traffic anywhere near this low. This station could be winding down operations,” he added.[…]

Read the full article at Reuters by clicking here.

Also, on the topic of of Jang Song Thaek, check out this video from Radio Free Asia:

If you would like to hear audio from numbers stations, check out some of these posts and recordings.

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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:

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Russian spies used shortwave numbers stations and satellites inside Germany

towersThanks to Andrea Borgnino for sharing this article:

(Source: Der Spiegel)

A pair of Russian agents was convicted on Tuesday of spying in Germany for more than 20 years. Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally conducting the negotiations for a potential exchange, but now a new case is straining German-Russian relations.

A treasure in the exhibit room at the German Federal Criminal Police Office in the western city of Wiesbaden has aroused a great deal of curiosity among the world’s intelligence agencies. It looks like an ordinary, black laptop bag. It contains a Siemens hard drive, or at least it looks that way. But a notch reveals that it is not an off-the-shelf product. It’s a high-frequency satellite transmitter, with an antenna hidden in the flap of the bag.

The device is state-of-the-art military technology, a “top quality intelligence product,” raves an expert. In the spy wars, German authorities haven’t gotten their hands on anything this important in years. The significance of this high-tech device, however, approaches that of the legendary Enigma code machine from World War II. Domestic intelligence officials at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) in Cologne are eager to examine the device. The American intelligence agencies, the CIA and the NSA, as well as Israel’s Mossad have also asked for permission to inspect the miraculous piece of equipment.

The satellite device served Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag as a connection back home. They were Russian spies who lived as agents in Germany for more than 20 years, until they were arrested in October 2011.

[…]In their dispatches, which the couple received with a shortwave radio, the agent controllers in Directorate S of the SWR referred to the Anschlags as “Pit” and “Tina.” They were given the state-of-the-art satellite equipment during a trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow. They also attended a course on the use of a decoding program called “Sepal” and an encoding program called “Parabola.”

This enabled “Pit” and “Tina” to establish a secure connection to Moscow. All they had to do was pay attention to the times when one of the six to eight satellites sent into space by Russian intelligence for spying activities came into range. A red light on their radio device signaled to the Anschlags that the satellite was approaching, while a blue light indicated the transmission of encoded messages.

Sometimes, when the equipment failed, the Anschlags placed the transmitter below one of their attic windows, among the fruit trees in the garden or on a nearby hill. The hills directly behind the house proved to be unsuitable, because nearby wind turbines apparently interrupted communication with the satellite.[…]

Read the full article “In the ‘Land of the Enemy’: Spies Strain German-Russian Ties” at Der Spiegel Online International.

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