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Number Stations

Article #193 • Written by Jason Bellows

Short wave radio enthusiasts worldwide have heard of the strange and elusive Numbers Channels. It is a name that refers to any one of several of unusual broadcasts that usually start at a very specific time, though often from different locations. The broadcasts contain some odd elements like excerpts of music, a regular attention message, and a sting of phonetic letters or numbers—for which they are named. For the most part, the signals make no sense—at least not to most people—the messages are fairly random, and there is not enough information in the broadcast itself to allow one to decipher it.

Such transmissions are fairly common. They are most often reported in Europe, but can be found anywhere. Each adheres to a strict schedule, and often begin at either the hour or half-after. Most of the time the voice reading these letters is female, though sometimes male or a child’s. Despite being without any obvious function, they seem pretty harmless. So why does no licensed radio station admit to sending them, no government will admit to sanctioning them, and no one will confess to being responsible for them?

According to The Conet Project, a group which has taken to sampling and distributing recordings of these stations, this type of transmission has been observed since World War I, making them one of the first and oldest of all radio broadcasts. With no evident source or purpose for these signals, imaginations have taken reign, and a wide number of ideas have spawned ranging from plausible to tittering-alone-in-the-woods-wacky.

Among the most popular and most viable theories is that the Numbers Stations are a covert means by which government spy agencies use to maintain contact with their operatives. That would explain the need for the official obfuscation of their source, and why the messages are so cryptic; an extremely high level of coding would be required for spies. Perhaps the transmitters must occasionally move as the field agents relocate in the course of their duties.

Another theory is that these are the messages of drug smugglers. They too have reason to prevent unwanted listeners from hearing what they have to say, and there is no reason to think that these operations are less organized than a government job. Some propose that the garbled information is purely disinformation, and if that is the case it is working brilliantly. Perhaps it's just an ongoing joke perpetuated by a small group of malformed senses of humor.

There are also tales of these being messages from those lost in the Bermuda Triangle, or MiB telling each other who to harass, but as tantalizing as such tales are, there is nothing to support them.

In fact, only the theory about communication with spies has ever garnered any official support, and that in the form of the US government accusing the government of Cuba of using the well-known "Atención" Number Station to instruct agents working in the states. The case included having found one of the spies' laptop computers, and the decryption program thereon. With that program they were able to understand the otherwise befuddling messages. Further—if empirical—evidence of this theory is that since the end of the cold war the occurrences of Numbers Stations have greatly reduced.

When a Numbers Station is found there are some diligent souls who take it upon themselves to break out their radio gear and attempt to track the broadcast to its origin, but few are ever found. In the cases where a suspect site is located, no one has been waiting there to claim responsibility. So the search continues.

Article written by Jason Bellows, published on 04 June 2006. Jason is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Edited by Alan Bellows. Article suggested by Panagiotis Angeloudis.

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83 Comments
Prince
Posted 04 June 2006 at 07:05 pm

Lol, when somethings a mystery, blame it on Cuba


RichVR
Posted 04 June 2006 at 07:24 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-time_pad

Seems simple enough to me.


chrislewis
Posted 04 June 2006 at 10:18 pm

Lost, anyone?


sleepwalker
Posted 04 June 2006 at 11:04 pm

i always hear them too but with more static.

i live in the coast of south china sea in barbaza, antique, and radio is the everyday entertainment.

i hear more than those. i simply take it as a broadcast test.


cartman
Posted 04 June 2006 at 11:57 pm

This is awesome... I wonder if I could pick up these stations in Mexico....


Sen.McCarthy
Posted 05 June 2006 at 12:13 am

I've never heard these before, but I don't think there are many spies out in the plains of Texas these days.


rp2
Posted 05 June 2006 at 12:50 am

Thats too cool. But those samples are seriously creepy...


bernietbb
Posted 05 June 2006 at 01:33 am

guess you've also been following the code on craigslist


HunterKiller_
Posted 05 June 2006 at 01:42 am

Interesting stuff... ofcourse.
I would really like to know who are broadcasting these... I don't see in this modern day of technology how it could be hard to track the sources down.


Furnace
Posted 05 June 2006 at 03:44 am

Hmmm... sounds like a soundbite buffet for death metal and techno groups.


kysportsfan
Posted 05 June 2006 at 05:27 am

If this has been going on since WW I days, hasn't technology improved enough for this to be an outdated method of communication? Also, seems like it would be easier to track down the origins with modern technology.

Interesting story, but seems like there are better ways for overt communication.


Marius
Posted 05 June 2006 at 05:48 am

Unless there have been huge advances in radio technology of which I am unaware(not a terribly unlikely scenario, btw) in order to track down a transmitter you need at least three recievers in three different locations to accurately triangulate the transmitters' position, and since short wave transmissions can travel for thousands of miles, it would take a concerted effort to find the broadcasters, and it doesn't sound like they pose enough of a threat to expend the resources. Of course, I could be way wrong on that. Damn interesting, though. :-)


debbiebf
Posted 05 June 2006 at 05:49 am

If the broadcasts are short, and the broadcaster has a mobile station, it would be tough to track down. You would have to have at least two radio operators listening with directional antennas and a quick way to get where they meet, and even so the directional antennas aren't that accurate.

Ham radio operators enjoy their Saturday morning "fox hunts" where a ham is the fox and broadcasts every once in a while from a mystery location. It always takes several hours to find him, and he doesn't move around!


Dave
Posted 05 June 2006 at 06:40 am

For a fixed station, it's just a matter of having two reception points that you can determine the bearing from. In the case of a distant station, that usually means two different teams. However, for more localized transmissions, it can be a single team that is mobile. Such was the case for the location of the "Yosemite Sam" transmissions of a little over a year ago. This was an interfering signal in one of the amateur radio bands. The signal was quickly traced to a military lab in Arizona. It's a rather interesting story:

http://www.spynumbers.com/YosemiteSam.html

http://www.southgatearc.org/news/mar2005/ham_spy.htm

Dave


MikeyToo
Posted 05 June 2006 at 06:56 am

On Saturday a friend of mine told me about a recent item. It seems someone posted a message on Craigslist NY with a phone number attached. When you called the number there was a recording of some music then a voice reading off number groups. Exactly like a Number Station.

http://blog.wired.com/27BStroke6/index.blog?entry_id=1492231


VegasGuy
Posted 05 June 2006 at 09:25 am

Seems to me if you had specifically formatted information that you needed to pass to someone on a regular basis, numbers might be the way to go. These items might include weather, equipment/personnel status, overall readiness etc. The numbers provide a relatively unambiguous means for communicating the necessary information. Although in this day of instant digital communication it's hard to believe, a LOT of organizations and governements don't have access to advanced digital information systems down to the lowest levels, and still rely on voice, and in some cases morse code transmissions to deliver routine data. As Rick_VR points out, use of a one-time pad could help secure the transmission if that was deemed to be necessary. The fact that most of these transmissions occur in the shortwave spectrum can be attributed to range, reliability and the availability of relatively low-cost equipment. I would even suspect that the abundance of Soviet-era HF equipment still in use around the world might be a factor. Damn interesting!


Xcalibur
Posted 05 June 2006 at 09:45 am

really creepy...


another viewpoint
Posted 05 June 2006 at 10:02 am

...come on people...these are extra-terrestial sports scores!

Now, it is your job, should you decide to accept it or not, to figure out where the aliens are from and what their sport is!


just_dave
Posted 05 June 2006 at 10:45 am

Last week there was a SlashDot article and a subsequent Gadgetopia post about numbers stations going VoIP.

Gadgetopia had a link to a site that keeps track of numbers stations: SpyNumbers.com.


AKALucifer
Posted 05 June 2006 at 11:04 am

Sounds to me like some people with cheap radio equipment doing this as a hoax. Although the fact that it's a woman's voice is interesting as most telephone companys still say that a womans voice is easier to understand over a telephone I suppose that's true over radio as well or perhaps a 50-year-old geek coming on and announcing the numbers wouldn't be as creepy.

I'm sure this was started by the government but others took over. It at least merits a bit of funding so someone can do a TV programme about it where they track a broadcast down.


Grey
Posted 05 June 2006 at 01:08 pm

As far as Direction Finding. The US Military has had large DF Sites(Direction Finder) setup and in operations for many years around the world. I would say that the US should be able to track them pretty easy and quickly. I would think it would be more of a matter of getting someone to the transmitter site before they shutdown or abandoned it.

The advantage of using shortwave is that for the most part the reciever can't be tracked unlike most digital systems that have to send various types of 'handshake'/sync signals.


just_dave
Posted 05 June 2006 at 01:57 pm

Grey said: "As far as Direction Finding. The US Military has had large DF Sites(Direction Finder) setup and in operations for many years around the world. I would say that the US should be able to track them pretty easy and quickly. I would think it would be more of a matter of getting someone to the transmitter site before they shutdown or abandoned it. "

That's provided they don't already know where they are, or have a desire to track them down.

As for me, (krinkle, krinkle) I'll just slide into my tinfoil hat, just to be safe. ;o)


hal
Posted 05 June 2006 at 04:04 pm

Hmmm.....

Sekrit codes on da radio... fer da guv'mint... run by Native Americans...

Re-deja-vu?

Of course, I hope they are better at codes than they are at services -- I don't think we need:
"Indentured Parts Lists" [indented, maybe]


ballaerina
Posted 05 June 2006 at 08:34 pm

"tittering-alone-in-the-woods-wacky"

I love that.


didinskee
Posted 05 June 2006 at 10:02 pm

Any of you guys watch 'Lost'? Maybe this is where they got the idea for the show.


apology
Posted 06 June 2006 at 02:57 pm

If this was only english stuff I would probably say yeah, maybe spy, maybe hoax. I just listened to one of the broadcasts, because I recognised the title of a famous song from the commie days "Ciocarlia". The number broadcast is in Romanian and it definately smells like secret service code, or in any case a coded message, as the message ends with "terminat terminat terminat" which would translate into "stop stop stop" similar to a "stop" on a telegram.

This definately sounds like secret service transmissions to me, but the voice on the one I've head more than likely places it in communist times, so it's more than conceivable. Now wether recent transmissions (how recent are we talking?) are fakes is uncertain, but it strikes me odd why anyone would waste time on it obviously without being able to take any credit. And if so, how can it be so widespread that it occurs in different parts of the world?

I'm gonna take a look at the numbers just out of curiosity.


apology
Posted 06 June 2006 at 03:16 pm

Well the numbers are 5FG so most likely secret service messages.
I'd still be curious to hear audio of more recent trasmissions.


Kafka
Posted 11 June 2006 at 09:44 pm

I'm sure these number stations have a purpose. It's unlikely that there is a global group of pranksters who are willing to keep these stations up for decades. As to who is running them and why, that's very unclear. Government? Army? Maybe even private organizations and companies? Criminal organizations? All of these have been mentioned in the above article, and I think it's unlikely that we're going to find out (although I really think it has something to do with the government, or if not them, organized crime), unless we catch someone in the act of setting up a Number Station. Which might never happen. After all, they have been evading people for decades, and they've gotten pretty good at it.


Sunette
Posted 15 June 2006 at 01:44 am

I completely agree with apology, only i also heard 6,7 in romanian or german, over and over, so i'd have to go with the secret service thing.


jlsilo
Posted 18 June 2006 at 01:03 am

omg I experienced this kind of stuff few years ago. During evening, I was playing a computer game, when suddenly these weird transmission radio sound came out of my speaker. My speaker is quite old, so it always picks up music from a radio station. But this time, it was really strange and freaked me out. First it's those transmission sounds then comes really weird voice. It sounds like a gurgling jibberish kind of speech. It didn't sound like radio AT ALL. For few moments, I thought the sounds were actually sounds from the game, but I realized it's really something else. I haven't listen to the samples yet, so I 'm not sure if this story correlates to my experience, but reading this article is giving me chills.


jlsilo
Posted 18 June 2006 at 01:15 am

My speaker picks up radio when it's turned on, and when the volume is 0. But I'm very sure the weird sounds I experienced weren't the normal music radio station. Furthermore, that sound came even when the speaker's sound was high, because I was playing the game. This is seriously creepy. And yes, there were voices, sometimes human and sometimes unrecognizable.


jlsilo
Posted 18 June 2006 at 01:46 am

Oh and because I was creeped out, I turned off my speakers, but the sound kept coming.


Rain
Posted 18 June 2006 at 08:36 pm

I read about something like this a while ago though it actually focused on a copyright issue. The band Wilco has a song called "Poor Places" which ends in scary guitar distortion and a woman with a possibly English accent repeating the words "Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot." Apparently the sample was officially recorded by someone who tried to sue Wilco over the rights to the shortwave radio recordings. The full recording went something like: "Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot, Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot. Message, Message. Group 1, 3. Group 1, 3. Check, Check" It is truly eerie.

One theory I heard was that shortwave was able to "bounce" off things for a very long time and still remain in tact. So it might actually be very old messages bouncing back.


Fishindog
Posted 16 July 2006 at 11:07 pm

Wow - very weird.

Fishin Dog


lokster
Posted 11 September 2006 at 04:20 am

I think, that once I have encountered such broadcast. This was long time ago - before almost 10 years. I was tuning my FM radio reciever, and somewhere, around 107MHz there was a male voice who was saying numbers in english language. This was strange, since I live in Bulgaria.


solitas
Posted 14 February 2007 at 09:29 am

(from today's - 2/14/07 - header: Sorry for the re-run, we had an unpleasant emergency arise last night. This article was originally published 04 June 2006.)

Alan - I hope everything works-out okay.


rev.felix
Posted 14 February 2007 at 10:37 am

Same here, Alan. I hope it wasn't(isn't?) too serious.


Tink
Posted 14 February 2007 at 10:39 am

solitas said: "(from today's - 2/14/07 - header: Sorry for the re-run, we had an unpleasant emergency arise last night. This article was originally published 04 June 2006.)


Alan - I hope everything works-out okay."

Yes Jason, and Alan, your fans would like to know what happened last night. That would be more Damned Interesting than this article, ;).
(Though it was cool-er the first time 'round).

Sending happy thoughts and well wishes your way, on this Valentines Day.

Second!


Alan Bellows
Posted 14 February 2007 at 02:21 pm

Thanks for the concern guys. The emergency was pet-related... My four-year-old cat Luna suddenly showed signs of extreme distress yesterday (gasping, stumbling), so I took her to an emergency vet clinic. Their best guess so far is that she has a heart defect which triggered coronary failure. She's ok(ish) for now, but if it's a heart problem, her improvement will likely be temporary. Blah.


Radiatidon
Posted 14 February 2007 at 02:50 pm

Alan Bellows said: "Thanks for the concern guys. The emergency was pet-related…"

Hey A.B. Glad to hear your emergency was not related to Trolley Square. I too became concerned when I read your apology for the repost. Not to belittle your cat’s problems, since I know how such a problem can affect you.

I had a dog suffer GDv (Gastric dilatation-volvulus) or commonly known as bloat. Poor thing swelled up like a balloon and was in extreme agony. We rushed her to the closest vet over eight miles away but unfortunately, we were too late. The damage was too severe for a possible comeback. The hardest part was holding her head as the drug took her life.

Hope your furry friend is doing better.


afeeney
Posted 14 February 2007 at 03:43 pm

Ugh, poor Luna, I hope everything goes well for her.

Best wishes heading your way.


Krull
Posted 14 February 2007 at 04:33 pm

jlsilo said: "Oh and because I was creeped out, I turned off my speakers, but the sound kept coming."

Aaah! now I'm even more creeped out than I was!
Only listened to 3 of those clips.. too creepy. The whole idea doesn't really scare me though, just hearing those sounds, they're just weird. It has to be spies or something, what else could it be like!

ps Sorry to hear about your cat, I really hope she's ok.


Phill
Posted 14 February 2007 at 05:27 pm

Varmint, I'ma Gonna Blow Yah T'Smithereens if it ain't the Illuminati. =)


DI Doe
Posted 14 February 2007 at 06:51 pm

Poor kitten. Best wishes from me and my eight furpeople.


Wyle_E
Posted 14 February 2007 at 06:57 pm

It is likely that governments, criminal organizations and pranksters are all running different numbers stations. With the worldwide spread of the Internet, I wonder how much of the spam that clogs Usenet newsgroups and email channels is really commercial spam, and how much is encrypted broadcast traffic. In many places, Usenet is more reliable than intercontinental HF radio, and you don't have to listen at specific times. You can also post a reply through an anonymous remailer network with little chance of being traced and no need to own something as expensive and incriminating as a high-power HF transmitter.


another viewpoint
Posted 14 February 2007 at 07:13 pm

...and now if you will all grab your Ovaltine secret decorder rings, you might be able to decipher the following secret message...

NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9....(gotta love them Beatles!)


Tink
Posted 14 February 2007 at 07:57 pm

Awww, poor puss;( A broken heart on valentines, too sad.

Hope the prognosis is better soon. Keep her away from the chocolate! Hope you all have a blessed and loving day. Hugs "((()))"

another viewpoint said: "…and now if you will all grab your Ovaltine secret decorder rings, you might be able to decipher the following secret message…

NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9….(gotta love them Beatles!)"

Oh thats funny! You reminded me of the story in news a few years ago. A fellow with schitzephrenia attacked Dan Rather ( I think it was he) and was screaming "What is the frequency, Dennis?" over and over.... Now I probably have both the newsman's name wrong as well as the exact correct quote here, but am sure one of you all could set it strait...A band made a song about the incident later on... Anyone know of what I'm trying to tell here?


Tink
Posted 14 February 2007 at 08:14 pm

Todays badder-Meinoff moment, brought to you by Ziggy:

http://news.yahoo.com/comics/uclickcomics/20070214/cx_zi_uc/zi20070214


Old Man
Posted 14 February 2007 at 08:57 pm

If these really were messages to covert agents, would it not be reasonable to expect most of them to be saying, 'All clear. Continue as normal.' (in effect)? Perhaps the recipient could construe all four-number transmissions that include two or more even numbers to mean 'OK'?

And perhaps to give the date/time/frequency of the next transmission?

The messages I listened to seemed too short to be actually giving words in code. Plus conserving OTP pages would be important, considering supplying new ones was (is) so risky?

I would love to know what the choice of music means. A chapter reference? A mere frequency confirmation? A message in musical code? Is the length important?

Sorry to get carried away. I love the spy stuff. Anyone wanna form a spy outfit? We could devote ourselves to a new world order, quasi-socialist Islamic utilitarianism, and swapping Japanese porn via deaddrops.

Just broadcast 'Heart of glass' followed by a flat-voiced string of numbers and I'll be in touch.


mickie81
Posted 15 February 2007 at 03:08 am

Enter your reply text here.


Dr. Evil
Posted 15 February 2007 at 05:20 am

wow...i just listening to one as i type this
it sound like sumfing a serial killer would talk like...(ever seen saw?)


HarleyHetz
Posted 15 February 2007 at 05:33 am

Tink said: "Todays badder-Meinoff moment, brought to you by Ziggy:


http://news.yahoo.com/comics/uclickcomics/20070214/cx_zi_uc/zi20070214"

ROFLMAO!!

Sorry to hear about your kitty guys...here's hoping she feels better.


CanDea
Posted 15 February 2007 at 07:25 am

Hey Alan... sorry to hear about your cat. Love the picture of her though, and the fact that the other cat's name is Fat Bastard. :) Keep us updated! (As a veterinary assistant, I'm interested and genuinely concerned.)


FireDude
Posted 15 February 2007 at 08:03 am

Tink said: " Oh thats funny! You reminded me of the story in news a few years ago. A fellow with schitzephrenia attacked Dan Rather ( I think it was he) and was screaming "What is the frequency, Dennis?" over and over…. Now I probably have both the newsman's name wrong as well as the exact correct quote here, but am sure one of you all could set it strait…A band made a song about the incident later on… Anyone know of what I'm trying to tell here?"

It was Dan Rather, and the actual quote (as reported by Rather to the police) was "Kenneth, what's the frequency?". The song by REM was entitled "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" off the Monster LP. A summary of the (DI?) story can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_the_Frequency%2C_Kenneth%3F

More on topic, never heard of these before. Nifty.


Wolfie
Posted 15 February 2007 at 08:39 am

I believe its the mole people trying to communicate and there getting really peed off that were not answering!!!

Get well soon Luna


Tink
Posted 15 February 2007 at 06:58 pm

FireDude said: "It was Dan Rather, and the actual quote (as reported by Rather to the police) was "Kenneth, what's the frequency?". The song by REM was entitled "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" off the Monster LP. A summary of the (DI?) story can be found here:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_the_Frequency%2C_Kenneth%3F

More on topic, never heard of these before. Nifty."

Thanks FireDude! I knew someone would come up with a great referance, and yall most certainly did! Great link, much appreciated!

Glad you liked the Ziggy laugh too, HarleyHetz!


paalexan
Posted 15 February 2007 at 09:17 pm

"Such was the case for the location of the "Yosemite Sam" transmissions of a little over a year ago. This was an interfering signal in one of the amateur radio bands. The signal was quickly traced to a military lab in Arizona."

Make that New Mexico...


dziban303
Posted 15 February 2007 at 10:15 pm

I tune in to some of these occasionally, and they never fail to give me goosebumps.

-KE7DCZ


trillian
Posted 15 February 2007 at 11:15 pm

Gaa, why does this creep me out so much?


darkwulf888
Posted 16 February 2007 at 10:21 am

chrislewis said: "Lost, anyone?"

Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking. So...Let's triangulate the signals eh...


Meijin
Posted 18 February 2007 at 09:58 am

After reading this article I decided to look into this myself. My dad has been a HAM operator for years, so I passed this along to him and his friends. This is the reply they sent me:

These all appear to fall into the "clandestine" category. There have been a number of these transmissions tracked to their source, and the people responsible have been identified. By no means have all of 'em been hunted down, but there's a variety of explanations.

Some of them are simply pirates. If one hunts around on the Internet for a bit, one can find users groups focussed on listening to and sending off to get QSL cards from, these pirate stations. In many cases the "weird" codes are clues to those in the know as to when and at what frequency the pirate intends to appear for a "regular" broadcast.

Others are various universities and private research groups involved in developing science and technology having to do with wireless communications that are testing and calibrating equipment. Still others are involved in the development of commercial applications that are prone to emit radio signals as they function, and the manufacturers are conscientiously trying to devise ways that their product(s) can be offered to consumers without the problems of unwanted radio emissions that could cause interference with other radio-sensitive devices, not necessarily limited to radio and television receivers.

Then of course there are the occasional instance where some of these mystery signals really are clandestine communications between spies and their handlers. Everyone knows all governments do it, but of course no government is going to admit it officially. How we know this happens is the occasional operative retires and then goes semi-public with his or her "memoirs" or who tells a trusted outsider bits and pieces of the puzzle. Motivation for such tattle-tail behavior varies quite a bit.

All of the above are, it turns out, valid explanations for some of these mystery transmissions, but there are others that aren't explained. Some of those who wrote some of the guesses that accompanied the article don't seem to understand that there still are legitimate uses for technologies that go back to the second and third decades of the Twentieth Century and that the recent developments in ultra-sophisticated, high-tech comms does not negate those older technologies. After all, AM radio has been around forever and still finds millions of folks listening in to "ancient modulation" on the daily commute and at other times as well. Rush is heard on more AM stations by far than via any other medium...not a sterling recommendation for AM radio, I admit. It's all very interesting, is it not?


Eleventeen
Posted 19 February 2007 at 02:58 pm

Old Man said: "If these really were messages to covert agents, would it not be reasonable to expect most of them to be saying, 'All clear. Continue as normal.' (in effect)? Perhaps the recipient could construe all four-number transmissions that include two or more even numbers to mean 'OK'?

And perhaps to give the date/time/frequency of the next transmission?

The messages I listened to seemed too short to be actually giving words in code. Plus conserving OTP pages would be important, considering supplying new ones was (is) so risky?

I would love to know what the choice of music means. A chapter reference? A mere frequency confirmation? A message in musical code? Is the length important?

Sorry to get carried away. I love the spy stuff. Anyone wanna form a spy outfit? We could devote ourselves to a new world order, quasi-socialist Islamic utilitarianism, and swapping Japanese porn via deaddrops.

Just broadcast 'Heart of glass' followed by a flat-voiced string of numbers and I'll be in touch."

The reason they won't broadcast a 'no message' or 'all clear' is to prevent the intercepting party (enemy) from performing traffic analysis. If the sending party only sent messages when real information was to be passed on to field agents, the intercepting party would be on notice to watch for signs of espionage. By sending out regular messages, the intercepting party never knows whether the coded message contains an order or fluff. With a one time pad, an agent can listen for a particular set of prefaces and learn to ignore the ones that aren't real messages. In effect, they are hiding messages in plain sight.

They don't give out the next time and date because these are, for the most part, regular transmissions. Each station has pretty clear schedule, might not always be 5pm daily, but just about every station has a schedule table that has been worked out by the Engima guys. Most stations operate on numerous frequencies and broadcast different days and times, but at least have a predictable schedule.

The code sequences are short because each five letter group (encoded) can actually stand for a predefined message. ABCDE or 12345, say, could mean 'Meet in front of the embassy', or 'Don't meet your contact today' or even just 'No message'. ABCDE is then enciphered using the one time pad. They can send huge amounts of phrases because there's almost limitless variety in the five letter groups.

I've heard that the reason they use musical sequences is so that the receiving party can quickly lock onto the frequencies the codes are being sent over. The radios that the agents are using (at least, as it was during the Cold War) were often unsophisticated, with frequencies hard coded into the radio, a user could quickly determine whether or not the radio was set correctly merely by listening for a familiar musical passage, 'Lincolnshire Poacher' for instance, is one of the more recognizable songs, it's thought that this one is broadcasted by the British government.


needles
Posted 19 February 2007 at 03:01 pm

Am I the only one who thinks it's ironic the very first sample is "Taps?"


n4lb
Posted 22 February 2007 at 06:47 pm

I started listening to number stations when I was a kid in the 1940's. Lots of them in the 40's 50's and 60's. Still around. A few of us ham operators have DFed them in the past. Some were in the US and some in Cuba and many in Europe. I've always wondered why they are still around with the new technology we have. I've heard of some people who have the newer ham radios that will transmit outside the ham bands to put out false numbers transmissions just for fun. A lot of the time the music before the numbers are transmitted will indicate what part of the world it is coming from I think.


dogu4
Posted 27 February 2007 at 07:01 pm

I actually read numbers on high frequency radio broadcasts. It was cool. My number sets were synoptic weather data in bundles of 5 numbers and some alpha numberics. I did this while working as a radio operator (non-technical type) at a remote Antarctic station. Occasionally we'd hear the number readers too and the woodpeckers (over the horizon radar, we presumed) and a few other noteworthy electromagnetic acoustic effects. But I'd never known it was such a worldwide mystery, or just another reflection of the rest of the worldwide mystery all around us.


sirfalas
Posted 08 March 2007 at 06:48 am

I should have posted this comment a long time ago but I just registered and I hope someone reads this.

I downloaded one of the samples and the filename is tcp_d1_13_new_star_broadcasting_irdial.mp3

I kept playing it and then I kept hearing something very familiar. I kept continuing and then I realized something. There is a person speaking in Chinese in the message. She (the person sounds like a female) first speaks something which I can't decipher because I am not chinese and I only know very basic chinese.

Anyway, from the 4:44 mark of the sound, she starts reciting numbers in chinese in groups of 4. For example, forward to 4:57, you will hear the words 'Chi Liow Sun Er' which means '7632'. For a reference, see below

Numeral Chinese Pronounciation
1 (Eee)
2 (Err)
3 (Sun)
4 (Ser [the r is silent] )
5 (woooo [the w is silent but pronounce the ooo in the same manner as you would 'wooooo'])
6 (Liow)
7 (Chiii)
8 (Paaa)
9 (Chiow)
10 (Shi)

My pronunciations may not be accurate but you get the idea. You should be able to decipher the other numbers. But what I think is, either the spies somehow transmitted codes in chinese or it was some random waves caught up somewhere.


FoolsGold
Posted 08 March 2007 at 05:17 pm

Many of these 'numbers stations' are located aboard nondescript apparently tramp steamers. It is generally felt that the vast majority of the transmissions are garbage meant to make message detection difficult. From time to time radio 'hams' often attempt analysis of some of the intercepts. Whether it is "the intelligence community" or "drug smugglers" or both is not really known though language and signal analysis seems to indicate some of the ships are most probably operated by drug smugglers despite most drug cartels having access to encrypted satelite phones for direct and immediate voice communication.


E-hero
Posted 20 March 2007 at 04:58 am

"Perhaps it's just an ongoing joke perpetuated by a small group of malformed senses of humor." I think they have a pretty damn good sense of humor, if they did do this, they just confused hundreds of people! That's pretty funny if you ask me.


borisbadenov
Posted 11 April 2007 at 05:16 pm

I heard them myself, growing up in Southern California. I was interested in solar energy and my parents got me a solar radio kit for my birthday. When I put the thing together, all I got was a lady reciting a series of long numbers, punctuated by the words, "Radio please, Orange County."

It's not what anyone would have expected.
I figured I had goofed in putting the kit together. Trying different things, I turned the diode around and got commercial radio. Go figure. About a week later, I turned it back around and got nothing.
This was in 1962. Probably no drug smugglers doing this back then.


krstguy
Posted 02 August 2007 at 08:28 pm

I have heard some type of transmission tonight over a dozen times on my computer speakers, my husband has heard the same transmission on his computer at work, they seem to be happening alot more frequetnly. I have even heard the same one over the TV and in the radio of my car. I listened to tons of samples on this site, and some sound some what like what I am hearing, but not exact. It is really weird. I started searching this out and came across this site. I am glad to see that I am not crazy and that there may be an explanation for this, but why so often tonight? I live in TX...and it is funny how it is always the same one and at all times of the day.


mumified
Posted 15 August 2007 at 05:58 am

I want to say that on the fourth disk, the track named "tcp_d4_2_yt_irdial.mp3" is Yugoslavian, or in any other case Croatian or Serbian. I live in Croatia and I can recognize the numbers very well, although very unclear.

here is what I have heard from the transmission:
92,
3,
grupa (translates as Group),
1,
5

And then begins

0 0 0 0 2,
204? 0 4 5,
1 4 0 4 5,
33? 5 7 0,
8 6 3 4 9,
5 1 4 1 4,
1 5 4 3 7,
7 0 5 6 9,
3 4 5 2 0,
5 6 0 4 0,
7 3 7 ? ?,
6 5 7 2 2,
4 0 4 29?,
7 403? 9 3,
3 5 7 4 5,
3 3 8 9 6.
{sme noises like morse code and then end transmission}

I reckon that each line had 5 onedigit numbers but there are a few of them who have 2 or 3 digits. But I hate listening to these... All those distorted sounds give me chills...


ulzha
Posted 27 September 2007 at 02:34 pm

DFI. I read this article a few days ago. Now today I remembered that in a party once someone intrigued us with a strange SMS she had received from an unknown person. It was numbers in series of 5. Back then we just thought of a prank like sending similar dummy numbers in response, for good laugh.


Undershaft
Posted 13 March 2008 at 09:33 pm

This is pretty wild. I think it's a combination of many factors. Some number stations are government related, some are organized crime/smugglers, some are HAM enthusiasts having a spot of fun. I'll have to hook up my old GE vacuum tube radio from the forties and see if I can pick these up!


lizdini
Posted 29 October 2008 at 11:03 pm

Has anyone ever heard of the broadcasts being heard on the phone? I work in a call center and once after the caller hung up a woman's voice came on saying a string of numbers in a robotic monotone. I didn't think to write down exactly what she said. It certainly creeped me out, though.


lizdini
Posted 29 October 2008 at 11:04 pm

oh, and I was thinking, could it be police bands? Listing codes for dispatch?


Foozwah
Posted 09 December 2008 at 06:45 pm

sirfalas said: "I should have posted this comment a long time ago but I just registered and I hope someone reads this.

I downloaded one of the samples and the filename is tcp_d1_13_new_star_broadcasting_irdial.mp3

I kept playing it and then I kept hearing something very familiar. I kept continuing and then I realized something. There is a person speaking in Chinese in the message. She (the person sounds like a female) first speaks something which I can't decipher because I am not chinese and I only know very basic chinese.

Anyway, from the 4:44 mark of the sound, she starts reciting numbers in chinese in groups of 4. For example, forward to 4:57, you will hear the words 'Chi Liow Sun Er' which means '7632'. For a reference, see below

Numeral Chinese Pronounciation

1 (Eee)

*rest of numbers snipped for brevity*

My pronunciations may not be accurate but you get the idea. You should be able to decipher the other numbers. But what I think is, either the spies somehow transmitted codes in chinese or it was some random waves caught up somewhere."

You're absolutely right that it's Chinese, but you could have saved yourself some trouble if you'd also downloaded the accompanying PDF document from the Irdial site about the Conet Project, where you grabbed that mp3 from.

On page 47 it identifies that sample as being from, "One of the few Chinese language stations, operated by Taiwanese Intelligence. Poor reception in Europe, on 8300."


Priyombowen
Posted 17 September 2011 at 02:51 pm

This is a very good article!

Just to let you guys know, me and a group of like minded people run a website devoted to number stations.

http://www.priyom.org

Hope you enjoy it, and make sure to log onto our irc on the website to join in and help out with research :)

Thanks guys
Bowen - Priyom lead designer


Selrahc4040
Posted 22 April 2012 at 10:25 am

Call me weird, but I personally believe that number stations could be used as post-apocalyptic communication resources. Especially if, say, anarchy develops and you want to keep your communications coded.


MDZhB
Posted 09 January 2014 at 07:56 am

Number stations come from everywhere. I have heard some from Russia, Poland, Israel, and various other places. Also, some of the messages are very long, but are encrypted with a one time pad, meaning there is a different key for each letter, making it literally unbreakable. Not all of them are voiced, some are in morse, a digital mode, or use polytones. Also, there is a lot of good evidence for the stations being used by spies. It is actually fairly easy to track the origin of the signal, and many of them are tracked to military bases or other government grounds. Also, spies have very often been found with one time pads and a simple shortwave radio, which is all you need, along with a pencil and paper, to decrypt these messages. Without the one time pad, however, it is impossible to decrypt the messages.


Thom
Posted 16 January 2014 at 01:06 am

Yep, I used to hear this all the time in the Saudi Arabian oil fields. The numbers being used for message was the first thing that I thought of when I heard it, This was the first article I have seen about it.


Kyle
Posted 21 March 2014 at 03:27 am

It is secret agents plotting how to form the New World Order and organize terrorist attacks! Some succeed and others either half succeed or fail.

The USA gets money from the drug trafficking department which is why they 1. Don't take our border situation seriously on the Mexico side and 2. We always seem to have the same kind of President with a different face since the Cold War era.

Elections are rigged on both sides and the outcome is determined LONG before you go vote and they often count dead people in the vote.

The Liberals have been caught using fake names like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck to squeeze in extra votes to vote in Obama the first time around and Conservative Talk Hosts had a good laugh about it but nobody did anything serious about stopping it.

However how can you stop it with the same kind of mindsets that started it?


Kyle
Posted 21 March 2014 at 03:28 am

I hope my comment dosen't get banned from thinking *outside the box* due to knowing not only scripture but other prophecies in other ancient groups where there is many similarities if you look hard enough.


0411213
Posted 24 April 2014 at 04:51 pm

0411213.19 20 12 1 11 17.2 14 12


END OF COMMENTS
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