notanearlyadopter said:

Talk to me about numbers stations! I don't know much about them.


Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations that broadcast either strings of numbers or morse code. Most of them are in female voices, but some are men or children (or speech synthesis). They’re generally said to have started after WWII, and are mostly used to transmit information to and from spies. There is also some evidence that the more transient numbers stations are used for drug-running.

Some of them are exceptionally stable and have been around for decades, and others are only around for a few weeks. Some are sporadic, going silent for months or even years, before becoming active again. Others have a frequent and set broadcast schedule.

No government has technically acknowledged that they use them for espionage, but in 1998, a spokesperson for the department in charge of radio broadcasting in the UK told The Daily Telegraph ”these [numbers stations are what you suppose they are. People shouldn’t be mystified by them. They are not for, shall we say, public consumption.” which is not exactly keeping it on the dl, guys. And apparently in the late ’80s, a group of amateur hobbyists actually tracked a transmission signal to the Warrenton Training Center, which is a classified facility used by the CIA and NSA among others, along with a relocation bunker. And then, knowing they basically couldn’t deny it, the FCC was just like “lol, no comment. Shut up.”

Among enthusiasts, there are some that have been consistent and unique enough to gain a reputation. A few of my favorites:

  • The Lincolnshire Poacher- which played the folk song as an interval signal (everyone is pretty sure it was run by the SIS out of Cyprus)
  • Cherry Ripe - same deal as above, but out of Australia or Guam.
  • Magnetic Fields - maybe Algerian?, plays Jean Michel Jarre as an interval signal
  • The Buzzer (UVB 76) - it’s mostly a buzzing noise, occasionally punctuated by number strings, but the buzzing seems to be manually generated because sometimes you can hear voices or banging noises in the background. Was located by some Russian urban explorers, but the outpost was abandoned by the time they got there. Still broadcasts today.
  • Yosemite Sam - broadcast an extremely short data burst followed by a recording of the cartoon character yelling “Varmit, I’m gonna blow you to smithereens!”
  • Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (E10) - broadcast from the ’60s til 2011. Generally considered to be run by Israeli counterintelligence/Mossad. A woman reading the phonetic alphabet. Wilco named their album for it.
  • The Swedish Rhapsody - terrifyingly creepy, uses a music box playing Swedish Rhapsody by Alfven for an interval signal and the voice is a little girl.
  • Whalesong - sounds a bit like its namesake or music played backward, it’s just strange tones and distorted voices (not really a numbers station but it counts). People think it may be a dual broadcast in the UK and USA.

The Atención station deserves its own paragraph, because of the role it played in a US espionage prosecution case. In 1998, the FBI brought down the Cuban Five of the Wasp Network, using evidence collected from one of the spies’ apartments. The FBI testified that they entered the apartment and got the computer decryption code for the Atencion station, where they recovered a few messages. One of my favorites is "Congratulate all the female comrades for International Day of the Woman." on March 8. How nice.

Numbers stations have also been mentioned in the prosecution of Ana Montes, a former analyst at the DIA, in 2001; Kendall Myers in 2003; and Carlos and Elsa Alvarez in 2006.

The Conet Project is a treasure, and has collected hundreds of recordings, available for your perusal and delight.

New York Times National Security Correspondent David Sanger sees cyber-espionage as a whole new “field of conflict” on the global stage — and that the U.S. isn’t having an open discussion about it:

"The Obama administration has pressed more leak investigations, conducted more leak investigations, launched formal inquiries, or in some cases, criminal cases, than all previous [administrations] combined. And these investigations all have a chilling effect on later stories that you do even if the later stories are on completely different subjects.

I think there’s a lot more concern inside the U.S. government right now about being found to be talking to reporters, even if you’re talking about something that is unclassified. … It’s understandably difficult to get American officials to talk about their plans for potential cyberattacks of cyberdefenses. I understand that, but it’s also very difficult to get officials to talk about our policy about using these cyberweapons as a tool of American power. And that’s what worries me, because in a healthy democracy, I think the American citizens have to be at least informed of — and maybe participate in the debate about — how we want to use these weapons since we are vulnerable to them ourselves.”

Never doubt that America’s intelligence services are ever vigilant, radical, cowabunga.

5 Attempts at Espionage That Seem Too Dumb to Be Real

#5. CIA Spies Cannot Think Up a Good Code Word

In 2011, [Lebanon’s] Hezbollah caught a break. Through a few informants, Hezbollah found that the group of spies they were looking for met with their CIA contacts at a place referred to by a single code word. That word was “pizza.” … Sure enough, when staking out [a Lebanese] Pizza Hut, Hezbollah quickly busted a meeting of double agents squealing to members of the CIA. The bust reportedly led to the capture of dozens of U.S. spies in Lebanon and the loss of its entire espionage foothold in the country. In his own words, one intelligence official admitted that they had to “fly blind” for several months on Hezbollah’s activities due to either the CIA’s laziness or their unflagging, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle levels of enthusiasm for pizza.

Read More


Putin is everywhere, so it seems. A living metonym for Russia, Putin has lately begun to inhabit the consciousness of the West itself, literally put-in there by a kind of force. It is tempting to attribute Putin’s ubiquity to Russia’s current, and quite likely temporary, geopolitical resurgence: Putin is (in) on our minds because Putin is in (on) the news. But the truth is that Putin has been in our heads for longer than he has been making headlines. Mitt Romney saw him at an election debate with Obama. More recently, thousands have seen his likeness in the viral photograph of young man with a camera looking at Ronald Reagan during his visit to Red Square.

Perhaps Putin has always been here among us. Indeed, for all his overt appeals to Russian conservatism, a glance at the ever growing album of Putin photo-shoots shows the remarkable Western thrust of his alter-egos: Putin as Marlboro Man, bareback; Putin as Tarzan in the weeds; as Teddy Roosevelt astride a shot wild animal; as Amelia Earhart impersonating a crane; as Rambo clutching a rifle, as James Bond in a suit with a gun; as a Hell’s Angel mounting a trike; as a balding Bruce Lee, eyes, epicanthically folded by Botox and fixed on a prostrate opponent; as Maverick Mitchell (alas, in a MiG); all the way back to Adonis, wading out of the water clutching urns.

The Marlboro man is dead; Earhart is lost; there are no more Roosevelts in the White House. Putin is everywhere because it is we who have changed, and he remains: a talisman of our pasts.

Images: John Lee, Aurora Andrews, Zaq LandsbergDerrick Dent and Steven Sultan

Text: Vadim Nikitin, nostalgia editor

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