Cold War: Numbers Stations

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by scoutpilot, Dec 15, 2011.

  1. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    I thought perhaps some of you fellow Cold War buffs, former signaleers (AF6872, I'm looking at you), and comms experts (Luigi59, that's you I believe) and generally smart people might find this to be of some interest.

    I am more than a little obsessed with all things Cold War, especially where East Germany, the Berlin Wall, and Eastern Europe. West Point was kind enough to send me there more than once, which only fueled the obsession.

    Within the vein of such an esoteric and rather socially odd interest, I have an ongoing fascination with Numbers Stations. Some of you may have heard of this, but for those who haven't a Number Station is a shortwave radio broadcast which is a control mechanism for overseas espionage agents. Essentially, a foreign entity transmits a series of phrases and numbers which, when combined with a one-time decoding pad, is virtually unbreakable.

    Probably the most famous Numbers Station of all time is known as the Lincolnshire Poacher. Though never fully acknowledged by the UK government, the station persisted for decades. It was named the Lincolnshire Poacher because each broadcast began with the first few bars of the famous English folk song of the same name. The station could be heard "on the bounce" in many parts of the globe.

    There is a whole underground community of people with shortwave receivers who spend their time cataloging and tracing these stations. Those folks actually triangulated the Lincolnshire Poacher to RAF Akrotiri on the island of Cyprus, where they believe it emanates from a large curtain-antenna array. Its intended purpose is believed to be for passing messages to UK agents in the Middle East. Its sister station, Cherry Ripe, operated (operates?) in the Pacific.

    Those folks have further categorized things into a list of known and unknown stations, called The ENIGMA (European Numbers Information Gathering and Monitoring Association) control list. They've come up with whole system of codifying stations by their origins/language. For example, the Lincolnshire Poacher is E03 YL (English 03, YL = Male voice used).

    Some of the stuff out there is downright creepy, like the Swedish Rhapsody station which uses a child's voice, or the Buzzer which blasts a buzzing signal day and night. The Tyrolean Music Station was another weird one. There are some great instances of jammers and numbers stations doing battle across the spectrum.

    The numbers stations situation has exploded since the end of the Cold War, oddly enough. While some of the older players have obviously vanished (East Germany was big), many new ones have emerged. Mossad is big into their use, as are many FWP nations. There is a lot of question as to why many eastern European stations still operate, and who is controlling them.

    There is even a well-known pop culture reference in Red Dawn ("The chair is against the wall.")

    Anyhow, I thought I'd throw my totally nerdy pursuit out there in the hopes that maybe a few here might find it to be of interest. I know we have a lot of smart people and Cold War-era servicemembers around...

    A few of my favorite sites for number stations stuff...

    http://www.bobwelch.com/numbers stations.htm

    http://www.dxzone.com/catalog/Shortwave_Radio/Numbers_stations/

    http://www.simonmason.karoo.net/page30.html

    http://www.ominous-valve.com/ecl24.pdf (the ENIGMA list)


    Anyone else into this stuff, or am I Lone Rangering on this one?
     
  2. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Some of the stuff we were doing at Vint Hill Farms was amazing. (a name that many will not even recognize). Some may be more familiar with Site C at the Warranton Training Center. Ah, memories.

    Too bad a museum couldn't be built there and display some of the more "interesting things," ala the Crypto museum in the old Colony 7 hotel outside the gates of NSA.

    Old Crows unite!

    [​IMG]

    scoutpilot - keep you eyes open for the next AOC convention or gathering local to you, you would get a lot of satisfaction attending, speaking with, and listening to some of the older (much older than me) gents who laid the groundwork back in the early-mid 50s for much of what we did for the next 40 years.
     
  3. AF6872

    AF6872 Member

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  4. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Damn you! I've spent the last hour looking at stuff on Vint Hill. Any recommended reading on the counter-Soviet espionage subject?
     
  5. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    UVB-76 is certainly a strange one!

    Also, in movie/history references, "Jean has a long mustache" was featured in Red Dawn and The Longest Day, having actually been broadcast by Radio London during WWII.
     
  6. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    I wish my father was still alive for you to ask - that was his life's work - as he spend most of it travelling between VHFS, Geraldton, Pine Gap, and Menwith Hill.

    Not to mention the extra passport kept on Malta, just in case some work needed to be done with the IDF before heading to Damascus or Cairo.

    I have many of his declassified journals and trip reports that one day I'll have to scan and archive.

    Oh, books...

    Spycatcher by Peter Wright is pretty good.

    The FBI-KGB War by Bob Lamphere is more a humint than signint, but still pretty good.

    The Venona Progeny by Hayden Peake (might be a paper not an actual published book) or ANYTHING he has written (a VERY important name you will find out).
     
  7. AF6872

    AF6872 Member

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    And then there was "Iglo White" and the all propeller Air Force. SHUSH! A1-E was a great plane. Jolly Greens, Shadows, and Spookys were great also.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
  8. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    The buzzer!
     
  9. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Scout, drop what you're doing and read "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Read it before you see the movie (which is slowly being released in the U.S.)
     
  10. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Miles ahead of you. :wink:

    Can't wait for the movie. Huge Gary Oldman fan. Hope it lives up to the book and to the BBC version.
     
  11. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Never read the novel but have seen the BBC mini-series, which was excellent.
     
  12. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I'm on " The Honourable Schoolboy" now. I know I've posted it a few times, but I got "Smiley v. Karla" (the British version of "Quest for Karla") from my fiancee for my birthday this week.

    "Smiley v. Karla" includes "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People".

    I've been disappointed by the movie's delays. I'm in New Mexico right now, but the movie opens in DC this weekend. I plan on seeing it once I get back to DC sometime next week.
     
  13. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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  14. hawk

    hawk ButterBar Dad

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    And of course, a flavor of our own with the "Foxtrot" messages: "SKYKING SKYKING Do not answer.... Papa Tango Three. Time Three Five. Authentication Whiskey November. I say again; Skyking, Skyking, do not answer. Papa Tango Three. Time Three Five. Authentication Whiskey November...."
     
  15. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    Should we add the dreaded:

    "FOR ALERT FORCE, FOR ALERT FORCE..." :eek:

    Nope, can't type it...still Pavlovian.

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
  16. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Our own secret comms architecture is just as fascinating. The Air Force's cold war activities are something I'm just starting to scratch the surface on.

    Any of you old USAF types know of any good reading on the subject?
     
  17. AF6872

    AF6872 Member

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