Messages to Spies Are Coded but Not Hidden

Good article about number stations in the Washington Post.  I remember this first time I ever heard a number station – my family was on vacation in Warsaw, Poland back in 1976 and there was a shortwave radio in the hotel room.  We were messing around and happened upon a strange voice reciting numbers.  We had no idea what it was, but my grandfather had a sneaking suspicion that it was a coded message.

It turns out that anybody can tune in to the world’s top spy agencies talking to operatives. All you need is a cheap shortwave-radio receiver, the kind available at any drugstore.

Tune it to 6855 or 8010 kHz.

On the hour, you might hear a girlish voice repeating strings of numbers monotonously in Spanish. “Nueve, uno, nueve, tres, cinco-cinco, cuatro, cinco, tres, dos . . .,” went one seemingly harmless message heard last month on a Grundig radio.

It was the Cuban Intelligence Directorate or Russian FSB broadcasting coded instructions from Havana to spies inside the United States.

Turn the dial up to 11545 kHz, and you might hear a few notes of an obscure English folk song, “Lincolnshire Poacher,” followed by a voice repeating strings of numbers. That’s believed to be British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, broadcasting from Cyprus.

On 6840 kHz, you may hear a voice reading groups of letters. That’s a station nicknamed “E10,” thought to be Israel’s Mossad intelligence.

Chris Smolinski runs SpyNumbers.com and the “Spooks” e-mail list, where “number stations” hobbyists log hundreds of shortwave messages transmitted every month. “It’s like a puzzle. They’re mystery stations,” explained Smolinski, who has tracked the spy broadcasts for 30 years.

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About Kevin

Kevin Jarnot is a technologist who lives just South of Boston, MA. He is currently employed as Chief Technology Officer at DebtX, a financial services technology company based in Boston.
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