Very seldom do Slashdot stories grab any more than a few seconds of my
attention and/or curiosity. Tonight, however, a story came through
Slashdot that grabbed my attention. It was about Numbers Stations.
In a nutshell, Numbers Stations are shortwave radio stations operated
out of various countries around the world. These stations usually
broadcast semi-regular strings of seemingly random characters (numbers,
letters, etc). The presiding theory about Numbers Stations is that
they're operated by world governments as a means of communicating with
their spies abroad. Using One-Time-Pad cryptography to mask the
message's true content, they're usually broadcast using a human voice.
Today, this voice is usually computer-generated, though in the past live
voices were used. No governments have ever officially owned up to the
fact that these are intelligence-related, though several of the
transmission sites have been localized to government communications
centers. Another piece of evidence that these stations are run by the
government is the fact that, though operating illegally per FCC laws,
these stations are never taken down. Many of the stations interfere with
other "legal" radio communications - if a civilian was doing the same,
the FCC would come after them with a vengence.
Normally I'm not the conspiracy-theorist, type, but for some reason, this topic really piqued my curiosity. If a government was looking for a simple way to communicate with their spies abroad, shortwave radio would be a very good way to do it...shortwave signals have enough range to reach around the globe, they can be received using a fairly small and portable receiver, and it would be impossible to determine the location of any would-be recipent. Furthermore, through the usage of One-time-pad cryptography, the messages are verifibly unbreakable.
When I was younger (junior high or so), we would often go to my grandparent's house for lunch after church on Sunday. After the meal, the adults would start their "adult talk", with which I would become quite bored, so I'd go looking for other things to occupy my afternoon. Frequently, I would spent hours upon hours listing to a small shortwave radio my grandpa had picked up at an auction. The vast majority of the time, the only interesting things I'd hear would be police radio transmissions or two Ham radio operators having a conversation. I remember on several occasions, however, hearing these Numbers Stations and wondering what in the world they were. At that point in my life, I thought there were sort of creepy - why is this voice saying all these random numbers over and over??? I had all but forgotten the experience until today, when I saw this slashdot article. I spent the next hour and a half browsing through wikipedia articles and other various websites, reading about the Numbers Stations.
Anyway - I just wanted to write about it - I figured there may be a few others out of my small readership that would find this interesting. I'll include a few interesting links here for your enjoyment:
- Wikipedia article on Numbers Stations
- List of many of the known active and inactive Numbers Stations
- Sound recordings of a few Numbers Stations
Edit...I just found an informative piece that NPR did on this subject in 2000 sometime.