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It is amazing that in all the years the numbers stations have been in operation a very tight lid has been kept on the locations and agencies behind them, especially as far as those in Europe are concerned. Only in North America has much progress been made towards finding some of the transmission sites. This is due in no small part to the great efforts of certain dedicated monitors in the United States. Through their use of direction-finding equipment, expeditions to likely transmitter sites and the filing of Freedom of Information Act forms much information has come to light.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the European scene. In Great Britain there are no radio hobby magazines which have covered the subject in anything other than a passing mention of their existence. This is not the fault of the magazines. British law governing listening to radio broadcasts is very clearly defined: one must not listen to radio transmissions other than broadcast, amateur and citizens band stations. The popular UK monthly,
Short Wave Magazine , did not even have a column covering utility communications stations until January, 1991 and only started printing information about pirate broadcasters in the middle of 1991. In the case of the pirates the editorial policy was to ignore them because of their illegality. It is unusual, then, that the general news media publish anything about the subject of numbers broadcasts.

However, during the trial of an alleged Dutch art dealer named Erwin Van Haarlem, certain facts relating to numbers broadcasts came to light. Even the popular tabloid sheet papers carried the story. Officers of the British Special Branch burst into the spy's flat and caught him while he was copying a message in five figure groups being transmitted in Morse code from Prague. In addition to the partially transcribed message certain "tradecraft" items were discovered. These included six decoding pads (three of which were concealed in a bar of soap), chemicals, equipment for sending invisible ink messages and magazines addressed to Czechoslovakia which contained hidden messages. The British government had evidence that showed Van Haarlem had been receiving secret messages from Prague since 1975, with about 200 messages sent over 13 years. Also found was a list of places where messages could be left and contact made with other agents. These accounts were another positive link between the number stations and the hidden world of espionage.

                                                     THE FIVE DASHES STATION

This is a bi-lingual operation. Although the majority of the transmissions are in German, there is a small segment in English. Both languages have the same format and use the same female voice machine. The broadcast starts on the hour with the woman repeating a three figure number three times, followed by a five figure number and then a group count of the message to follow. At five past the hour slow dashes are sent, followed by the five figure groups of the actual message. Here are some headings that have been sent over the years:

948 948 948 71667 122
251 251 251 82385 109
901 901 901 29003 40
331 331 331 59900 72
211 211 211 26318 53
064 064 064 19250 94

The three figure group probably identifies the intended recipient and the five figure group is probably the key to decoding the message. The final numbers are the group count.
The woman used originally had a very sharp delivery; again, like someone barking out orders on a parade ground. This woman was practically shouting. Then, in March, 1991, the voice was changed. The new voice was the audio equivalent of those ransom notes you see on television cop shows where the letters have been cut from a newspaper.

Some letters in the broadcast were sent slowly, some quickly, within the same five figure group. Also, the number nine was sent as "noyner". So, the number "12955" would be sent like:

Ems - zvo - noyner - funffunf

The spacing above gives some idea of the kind of delivery the woman uses. Also, each of the five tones sent before the message is preceded by a rush of white noise, as though an ancient tape recorder with automatic gain control is being used. The whole thing has a very amateurish sound. Around March, 1991 an English version of this station turned up using the same voice.
Schedule: (in German except where noted)
Monday - 1300 - 6708
2000 - 7650118490
2100 - 4395
2200 - 4395/16235
Tuesday - 1800 - 9377(EE)
1900 - 10255
2000 - 4395/16708
2100 - 4395/15325
2200 - 6355
Wednesday
0600 - 7375
1100 - 7650/18970
1200 - 11190/114930
1400 - 14930
1600 - 6708
1900
- 53151/7830
2100 - 11190//14930(EE)
2200 - 4395
Thursday
0400 - 6520
1700 - 7375
1800 - 9377(EE)
1900 - 10255
2100 - 4395
2300 - 4395
Friday
1000 - 8970
1100 - 8970
1200 - 11190/114930
1900 - 84901/10255
2100 - 7650
2100 - 11190//14930(EE)
2200 - 4395
Saturday
0600 - 6708
1100 - 98701/10255
1500 - 11190
1700 - 7375
1800 - 53151/7830
2200 - 6355
Sunday
1000-8970
1100 - 8970/110255
1500 - 6708
1600 - 10255
1700 - 7375
2200 - 4395

        THE COUNTING STATION

This operation is certainly the largest of all the numbers stations in terms of different frequencies used, messages sent and hours of operation. The languages used are German, English and Spanish. Spanish stations are discussed at length in the book
Uno, Dos, Cuatro - A Guide to the Numbers Stations Tiare Publications) so the other two will be discussed here. The formats for all three types are identical. On the hour the female voice counts "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0" followed by a three figure identifier, "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0 566 566 566". This is repeated over and over for ten minutes. Then ten long tones are sent. The woman then gives the group count: "Count 155, Count 155" or the German equivalent "Gruppe 155, Gruppe 155". The voice then goes into the text which can either be four figure or five figure groups with a pause between the third and fourth digit, a feature which has led to their being called 3/2F stations. After the last group is sent the woman says "repeat Wiederholden 155" or simply "Wiederholden 155", and the entire message is repeated. The usual terminators are "end" and "ende".

According to monitors in the United States these transmissions have something to do with the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency. The woman used on the English broadcasts has a noticeable American accent. The voice in German has a normal German accent. U.S. monitors also state that a large proportion of the English traffic is merely for practice purposes and that there is a difference between the 3/2F stations and the four figure ones. This may be so but over the last couple of years some agency has been going to an awful lot of trouble to prevent these transmissions from being easily heard. Around the end of 1989 both the English four figure and the 3/2F were starting to be affected by what are known as "bubble" or "warble" jammers. These are unlike the jammers used for years by the Soviet Union which sounded like a room full of diesel engines or someone blowing into a microphone hooked to a powerful public address system. These warblers sounded like a rapid oscillating signal, a sort of very fast "woo-woo-woo". One evening on 9251 it seemed that the woo-woo machine was in trouble - it was jamming another English station. The warbling noise kept slowing down and speeding up. I imagined technicians scrambling around with oil cans trying to keep the woo-woo machine rotating at full speed!

All of these counting stations use parallel frequencies and finding the pair of a certain signal can be difficult. But tuning perhaps a few megahertz above or below the initial frequency will often uncover its twin.
The theory of practice traffic is boosted when one realises that the same messages have been repeated - digit for digit, often more than a year apart! Professional though these stations appear, some apparent errors have been noted. The most unusual has been the 383 broadcast. There also seems to be an analogue in the Spanish numbers equivalent. This is the 545 broadcast. The first time I noticed the 383 station was around the end of 1988, though of course it could have been on before this. The woman counted out "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0-383-383-383" as normal. However, after the ten minutes were up the station just went off the air. This wasn't the only time this happened. The same thing was noted at the following times and frequencies.

5415//7860 at 2000 4NOV88, 10NOV88, 15DEC88, 5JAN89, 9 FEB 89, 10MAR89, 17MAR89, 21APR89, 29JUN89
13390 at 2200 15MAR89
8176 at 1800 16JAN90, 3MAR90

Whoever sends these messages spends a lot of time and money sending out nothing much in particular, but they are not the only ones to seemingly waste a frequency by broadcasting silence, as will be seen later. A nice twist to this story happened when the warblers started jamming these broadcasts. During the 1 to 0 count and 383 preamble two warble jammers started up on each of the frequencies. Normally these warblers are very astute and can seek out and destroy a signal and its pair in the ten minutes before the text begins. But with the 383 station the warblers were jamming the frequency an hour after the woman's voice had disappeared. This happened on many occasions and was very odd. Even I, a non-professional, knew that when the 383 station started up it would go off the air at ten past so why couldn't the jamming agency figure this out? They must monitor their effectiveness because usually when a normal broadcast is being jammed, i.e., one with an actual message, the warblers leave the air about five minutes after the message ends.

Another strange thing is that the German version of this station is never jammed. So why not just get your agents to learn 1 to 0 in German, send out bogus messages in English and the real ones in German? That way the needed signals won't be jammed and the message will get through. Probably that is too simple. Whatever is going on may be much more complicated than my scenario assumes.

These stations also share at least two frequencies with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Firstly, 6840 which as been used as a BBC feeder frequency for world-wide programs, especially during the Gulf War when special programs for that region went out nightly on that frequency. 6840 is also home to several other number stations of varying descriptions. Another BBC frequency, 7325, has also been used. This prompted a letter to the BBC from a lady listener in Andorra. She wrote to the "Waveguide" program complaining that her listening had been spoiled by a female voice reading out numbers in English and she asked the announcer what this interference was. Could it be spies? The BBC presenter laughed at such an idea. He had consulted the experts at Bush House
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