Monday, February 03, 2014

Spy 'Number Stations' Still Baffle, Enthrall

By Christopher Friesen

In the early 1990s, at the end of the Cold War and before the onset of the Internet Age, you could tune across the shortwave bands and hear the monotonous drone of an automated woman’s voice calling out long strings of numbers in Spanish. “Siete — Quatro — Cinqo — Cinqo — Cinqo,” the voice would say, pause, and then switch to a new set of numbers.
These transmissions, which had started at the end of the Second World War, weren’t always in Spanish, nor were they always female. Other languages were used to broadcast entire strings of numbers, which many believed made up a coded message that could be heard by anyone with a shortwave radio. The consensus view at the time was they were meant for secret agents operating in foreign countries.
“We don’t know for sure what types of agents these messages are being sent to,” veteran numbers monitor Chris Smolinski told Radio World via email. ”We also don’t know for sure how the messages are encoded, although we have some theories.”
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