“Numbers read on state radio may be cold war-era method of sending coded messages to spies in South Korea – or an attempt to wage psychological warfare.”
The 12-minute broadcast began shortly after midnight on 15 July, with a female voice saying:
“I will give review work to No. 27 exploration agents.”
The announcer then read:
“On page 459 number 35, on page 913 number 55, on page 135 number 86, on page 257 number 2,” and so on.
The Numbers Station is a 2013 action thriller film, starring John Cusack and Malin Akerman, about a burned-out CIA black ops agent assigned to protect the code operator at a secret American numbers station somewhere in the British countryside.
Joseph Fitsanakis writes:
The technique described above is informally known as ‘numbers stations’, and was extensively used by both Western and communist countries during the Cold War to send operational instructions to their intelligence personnel stationed abroad. Armed with a shortwave radio, an intelligence officer would turn to the right frequency on a pre-determined date and time, write down the numbers read out and proceed to decrypt them using a ‘number pad’, a tiny book that contained the key to deciphering the secret message aired on the radio. But the era of the Internet, mobile phones and microwave communications has caused the demise of ‘numbers stations’. The latter are rarely heard nowadays, though a number of nations, including Cuba, South Korea and Israel, are believed to still use them.
According to IntelNews, “Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean government source as saying that last Friday’s broadcast was the first number sequence aired by Pyongyang in over 16 years. ”
But a similar two-minute broadcast took place on 24 June.
In any case, Seoul should be worried about “possible provocations” that may be planned by North Korean spies living secretly in the south. Then again, it may just be psychological warfare.
North Korea is criticised by South Korea for ‘spy broadcasts’ BBC 20 July 2016
North Korea’s radio broadcast of string of mysterious numbers is possible code The Guardian 19 July 216