"numbers" stations

Steve Bellovin smb at research.att.com
Wed Nov 17 17:23:20 EST 2004


Shortwave radio bands, ignored by commercial broadcasters because of their low fidelity, have long been home to government activity -- whether for national broadcasts such as the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio France International, or propaganda broadcasts from the likes of Radio Havana or the U.S.-backed Radio Free Iraq.

Meanwhile, for the last 30 years an altogether more curious kind of international station has been noted on the airwaves. 

Across the world, high-powered transmitters with global reach are broadcasting seemingly meaningless strings of numbers or letters, along with a lot of buzzing and beeping noises.

Some have speculated that the signals from these "numbers stations" are operated by drug cartels. However, it's more likely they're run by intelligence agencies, as tacitly acknowledged by the British government, and accidentally by the Cubans.


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