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Cold war warriors may remember those strange, live and open radio broadcasts they picked up in the field on an ordinary transistor radio in [https://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/BAOR BAOR]. As discussed on the Army Rumour Service more than once: Bavarian yodellers and sexy females --among others-- feature in such comical radio nonsense; radio hams know them as [http://www.numbers-stations.com “numbers stations”].
 
Cold war warriors may remember those strange, live and open radio broadcasts they picked up in the field on an ordinary transistor radio in [https://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/BAOR BAOR]. As discussed on the Army Rumour Service more than once: Bavarian yodellers and sexy females --among others-- feature in such comical radio nonsense; radio hams know them as [http://www.numbers-stations.com “numbers stations”].
  
A few have ceased broadcasting, some may still be on the air. An article on [http://www.arrse.co.uk/ ARRSE] in 2013 ([https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/radio-identification-signals-and-numbers-stations.204668/ ''Radio Identification Signals and Numbers Stations'']) held that ''the numbers stations were believed to be sending one time code, the internet and more sophisticated satellites made it pretty much redundant.'' Nowadays that statement is up for debate: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yxmZ6D7mXA Introduction To Numbers Stations] (Feb 2018). [https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/whats-new/posts/168724/ ARRSE] leads the way: when this page was posted during February 2018, the BBC mysteriously decided to discuss Numbers Stations on YouTube and on its [https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-42819704/numbers-stations-the-spy-radio-that-anyone-can-hear website].
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Number stations transmit encrypted messages in groups of numbers, or less commonly letters, using either automated voice in many languages, Morse or digital signals. While encryption methods are generally unknown, some have used a one-time pad - mathematical addition of a set of random numbers (the key) to the plaintext, which can be used only once, and must be destroyed after usage. Some of the stations are believed to transmit pre-defined codebook instructions (source [http://priyom.org/number-stations priyom.org]).
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A few have ceased broadcasting, some may still be on the air. An article on [http://www.arrse.co.uk/ ARRSE] in 2013 ([https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/radio-identification-signals-and-numbers-stations.204668/ ''Radio Identification Signals and Numbers Stations'']) held that ''the numbers stations were believed to be sending one time code, the internet and more sophisticated satellites made it pretty much redundant.'' Nowadays that statement is up for debate: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yxmZ6D7mXA Introduction To Numbers Stations] (Feb 2018). [https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/whats-new/posts/168724/ ARRSE] leads the way: when this page was posted during February 2018, the BBC mysteriously decided to discuss this subject on YouTube and [https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-42819704/numbers-stations-the-spy-radio-that-anyone-can-hear online].
  
 
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https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/radio-identification-signals-and-numbers-stations.204668/.
 
https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/radio-identification-signals-and-numbers-stations.204668/.
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"Number stations": http://priyom.org/number-stations.
  
 
''Numbers Stations Research and Information Centre'' (NSRIC):  http://www.numbers-stations.com.
 
''Numbers Stations Research and Information Centre'' (NSRIC):  http://www.numbers-stations.com.

Latest revision as of 22:40, 12 July 2019

Cold war warriors may remember those strange, live and open radio broadcasts they picked up in the field on an ordinary transistor radio in BAOR. As discussed on the Army Rumour Service more than once: Bavarian yodellers and sexy females --among others-- feature in such comical radio nonsense; radio hams know them as “numbers stations”.

Number stations transmit encrypted messages in groups of numbers, or less commonly letters, using either automated voice in many languages, Morse or digital signals. While encryption methods are generally unknown, some have used a one-time pad - mathematical addition of a set of random numbers (the key) to the plaintext, which can be used only once, and must be destroyed after usage. Some of the stations are believed to transmit pre-defined codebook instructions (source priyom.org).

A few have ceased broadcasting, some may still be on the air. An article on ARRSE in 2013 (Radio Identification Signals and Numbers Stations) held that the numbers stations were believed to be sending one time code, the internet and more sophisticated satellites made it pretty much redundant. Nowadays that statement is up for debate: Introduction To Numbers Stations (Feb 2018). ARRSE leads the way: when this page was posted during February 2018, the BBC mysteriously decided to discuss this subject on YouTube and online.

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Targeted Messages

Radio phenomenons have always baffled wireless enthusiasts, and military forces. In the past, anonymous shortwave (HF) AM radio stations around the world have apparently broadcasted targeted messages regularly at pre-set times or randomly, on specific shortwave frequencies just above the medium wave AM broadcast band.

Priyom.org defines Numbers Stations as "Intelligence, military and diplomatic communications via shortwave radio". Transmissions may be unique in length, pitch and content, and sent by machines.

For more than 30 years the Shortwave radio spectrum has been used by the worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages. These messages are transmitted by hundreds of Numbers Stations (Conet Project). Often with an intro and an outro accompanied by monotonal tunes and unique robotic voices, they sometimes sound lifelike.

Shortwave Radio

The advantages of using shortwave radio lie in its dozen or more bands, and global reach. It's used by military forces, aeronautical and maritime, and by the BBC World Service. Anonymous shortwave AM radio stations are another phenomenon which most governments – and pirate stations - won't acknowledge even exist, whilst the rest of us are bound by laws and licensing.

Transmission sites have been monitored and located in East Germany (DDR), Russia, North Korea, and Cuba. Numerous configurations of unique tones, digital voices and numbers, have been sent in different modes; they're usually themed and apparently tinged with irony and humour.

Not a Joke

They're not a joke: Times have changed and technology has evolved, but there's evidence that this old-fashioned seeming method of communication might still be used. Shortwave numbers stations might seem low-tech but they probably remain the best option for transmitting information to agents in the field (BBC Magazine, April 16, 2014). Radio 4 discussed this in ""Tracking The Lincolnshire Poacher" (2005).

Mysterious Broadcasts

These mysterious broadcasts are variously made from a list of numbers, Morse code, voices or polytones. Numbers stations have transmitted ciphers by tape machines, identifying whom the message was for. Nicknames and “Enigma ID” have been given to scores of stations using language, digital modes and Morse, depending on the content in their broadcasts.

“The English Lady”, “Cherry Ripe” and “Cynthia” are just three of the weird phenomena out there. Radio Station “UVB-76” was thought to operate on 4625.0 kHz, just a few miles northwest of Moscow. "The Buzzer" broadcasted the same signal for over 20 years: a buzzing tone repeated 25 times a minute.

In recent years, societies and investigators in the ham universe have researched, gathered, published, and popularised these shortwave radio numbers stations worldwide (number-stations.org). To them it’s exciting stuff; to most people it’s extraordinary conspiraloon tinfoilhattery. The BBC Magazine has also written about it; these numbers stations hiding in plain sight have attracted a lot of interest.

Utilising Neglected Radio Bands

Shortwave radio bands are ignored by commercial broadcasters because of their low fidelity, but they've been used by Voice of America and Radio France Internationale, and for propaganda broadcasts from Radio Havana and Radio Free Iraq. Long distance shortwave radio seems an ideal medium, and who would worry about someone with an innocuous bog standard radio that leaves no traces. During any such broadcast, there may be only two people in the entire world who understand them. Even if these coded transmissions were recorded, you'd need to decipher them.

Some of these numbers stations are downright creepy, but when you consider the mechanics of the system then it does have a few useful advantages even over modern technology. Shortwave radios can be used in situations where Internet or satellite communications are not available or practical. Let’s not give away more help to an enemy, and anyway this stuff is all over the public domain nowadays.

Classification of Stations

Number stations are usually classed under their broadcast modes and researchers believe there are over 30 “various language” stations in addition to dozens of English, Slavic and German broadcasts in this discipline. Many of them seem to be inactive and some numbers stations broadcast in modes not used by others.

Station “G03” is given the name “Gongs or Chimes” because its intro and outro signal sound like gongs. “The Lincolnshire Poacher” (inactive) a.k.a. “E03” (emission mode USB or Upper Sideband above 10 MHz) was accompanied by a woman’s voice; the opening interval music was the first verse of the English folk tune “The Lincolnshire Poacher”, played to sound like a calliope machine (used in antique carousels and traction engines).

Morse stations might not have nicknames if there is nothing to differentiate one from another. E03 transmissions were last logged in the summer of 2008, its sister E03a (or E04) went off air in 2009 (numbersoddities.nl). Some 27 English language numbers stations and roughly the same number of German stations have been logged by the NSRIC. Digital Mode polytone and pseudo-polytone stations have been ascribed to Russia and Cuba; less is known about them though they too have been linked to specific agencies.

Purposes and Advantages

Number stations offer a powerful advantage in the modern world: practically complete anonymity. The recipient of the message can be almost anywhere on the planet, receiving instructions without fear of being traced through a phone call or internet connection (priyom.org, 2018). All the recipient needs is a shortwave radio and to be in the right place at the right time; numbers would be transmitted perhaps twice, in sets for instance. All you need is a bog standard radio and an open sky. It’s obvious to some how they might be used and how secure they are, but again let’s not give away the decoding process. With all the radio, telephone and internet monitoring going on now, someone somewhere will be listening and watching. These old systems and tricks aren’t so secret and infallible any more. Or are they?

Conclusions

Perhaps this system could be used to transmit one-way ciphers, anything at all in virtually guaranteed secrecy, to anyone who was supposed to listen and act on messages. Long distance shortwave radio seems an ideal way to do it, and who would worry about someone with an innocuous transistor radio that leaves no traces. No-one else would understand a random bunch of numbers either. During any such broadcast, there may be only two people in the entire world holding the keys.

Shortwave radio isn't so practical and reliable in urban areas with electronic pollution and noise, but that's not always a problem. While shortwave numbers stations seem low-tech now, they probably remain the best option for transmitting information to agents in the field, some espionage experts suggest (Sorrel-Dejerine; BBC Magazine, Apr 2014). A multitude of short-wave frequencies serve all sorts of purposes: maritime ship-to-shore communications, air traffic control, military and defence, weather information, and allegedly spy stations and radio pirates. Radio Moscow --a.k.a. Voice of Russia and Radio Sputnik-- has used shortwave bands.

Radio technology, modes, and broadcasting are constantly changing; Numbers Stations have ceased, or took a break before starting up again. Broadcasters normally use AM (some use digital), other shortwave frequencies are either digital or single sideband (SSB). A specialist receiver is required to listen to some global-reach darkside radio stations and off-limits broadcasts (Ofcom). Yet Pirate radio and freaky global-reach numbers stations have always carried on regardless.

References

https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/radio-identification-signals-and-numbers-stations.204668/.

"Number stations": http://priyom.org/number-stations.

Numbers Stations Research and Information Centre (NSRIC): http://www.numbers-stations.com.

The spooky world of the 'numbers stations': http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24910397, 2014.

Music in Number Stations (1960s-2009) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9I6s6QKnfI.

BBC Radio 4 Broadcast of "Tracking The Lincolnshire Poacher : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvr6o7fBcTY.

The Conet Project - Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations : https://archive.org/details/ird059 .

Numbers stations on shortwave radio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xPDv6L4ViQ.

Note: External references accessed January 2018)