Two Years Ago — Radio Pyongyang Resurrects its ‘NUMBERS STATION’. How does it work anyway?

“Some are worried it signals that North Korean might be planning some type of operation, alerting its spies by sending the coded broadcast. But for that to be true, North Korean agents would have had to have been listening at the right time to take down the message, and how would they have known it was coming? Numbers haven’t been broadcast for 16 years, so have agents really spent the last decade and a half listening just in case something came across? It is possible they could have been alerted that such a message was about to be broadcast, but then when why not send the message contents over whatever communications channel was used for such an alert?”

Martyn Williams — 38 North

The broadcast on July 15 2016 was the first number sequence aired by Pyongyang in over 16 years.

January 14 2017 — Last year, North Korea reactivated its numbers station. And now, V15 transmits on FM! The numbers read on state radio are reminiscent of a cold war-era method of sending coded messages to spies in South Korea. But they could also be an attempt to wage psychological warfare. Follow us on Twitter: INTEL_TODAY

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On December 21 2016, North Korea decided to change some frequencies from their main broadcast stations.

“This includes Echo of Hope and Radio Pyongyang, among others. In the case of Radio Pyongyang, they dropped three MW frequencies (684, 729 and 1080 kHz), and they started to broadcast on FM! And not only on one frequency, but four!” [PRIYOM]

2nd Number Broadcast in 2017

For the 22nd time since June 2016, North Korea broadcast random numbers on Friday January 13 2017 believed to be coded instructions to spies.

“The string of numbers recited by the Pyongyang Broadcasting Station anchor were a new sequence that monitors have not heard before..

This is the second such broadcast by the North in 2017, following the first last Sunday (1 January 2017).” [KBS World Radio]

Typical Broadcast

The 12-minute broadcast began shortly after midnight on 15 July 2016 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 (0)2,” and so on.

RELATED POST: Radio Pyongyang resurrects ‘NUMBERS STATION’

What do the numbers mean?

The agent is equipped with a key and a ‘book’ of cypher pads. Then, he receives a message such as this one:

64056
92478
14417
23755

The first 5 digits tells him which pad to use. So in this case: ‘pad’ 64056.

64056
34589
56780
06653

Now, the agent must subtract the message from the pad.

64056   34589   56780   06653

64056   92478   14417    23755

The result is:

00000   42111   42373   83908

Now the agent has the real, but coded, message. [Please, note that only a person having access to this unique cypher pad can access the message.]

Now, how to decode the message? Here is the ‘common’ key provided to the agent.

numbersstation

According to the table of the key, the digits 2, 3, and 4 are matched with the digits following them. So the message actually reads:

00000   42 111   42 37 38 39 0 8

which the agent decodes as:

00000   42   111   42    37    38    39    0    8

00000   Y    111    Y     P      R      S      Z    E

Now, the numbers or names are repeated three times and are clasped in between two Y.

So the message is :

1 PRSZE

Which a person familiar with the language (PROSZE means Please in Polish) readily understands as : “N°1 , Please.”

NB: This is actually a real common key code used by the BND (and thus the Americans) to communicate with their (non-German speaking) agents in Poland during the cold war. Notice a ‘mistake’ in the key. The letter ‘U’ is missing. This is probably a typing mistake. They were not at all uncommon.

Numbers Station in Pop Culture

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.

Cuban Numbers Stations

In the age of Internet, one would think that “Numbers Stations” are things of the past. One would be wrong.

For instance, Cuba was using them ‘recently’ to communicate to its agents inside the United States, as demonstrated by the Anna Montes’ story.

RELATED POST: The Queen of Cuba: The two stories of Ana Montes

Ana Belén Montes (born February 28, 1957) is a former American senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States and convicted spy.

On September 21, 2001, she was arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit espionage for the government of Cuba.

Montes eventually pleaded guilty to spying and in October 2002, was sentenced to a 25-year prison term followed by five years’ probation.

“Montes communicated with the Cuban Intelligence Service through encrypted messages and received her instructions through shortwave encrypted transmissions from Cuba.

In addition, Montes communicated by coded numeric pager messages with the Cuban Intelligence Service by public telephones located in the District of Columbia and Maryland.”  [US Federal prosecutors]

North Korean Numbers Station V15 ‘Radio Pyongyang’ 6400kHz

Transmitting via an international broadcaster, Pyongyang Broadcasting Station 6400 kHz.

After the transmission the station returned to its regular programming.

REFERENCES

North Korea is criticised by South Korea for ‘spy broadcasts’ BBC 20 July 2016

North Korea resumes Cold-War-era radio broadcasts for its spies abroad IntelNews

The spooky world of the ‘numbers stations’

North Korea’s radio broadcast of string of mysterious numbers is possible code The Guardian 19 July 216

N. Korea Transmits 2nd Number Broadcast This Year — KBS World Radio 13 January 2017

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Radio Pyongyang Resurrects its ‘NUMBERS STATION’. How does it work anyway?

One Year Ago — Radio Pyongyang Resurrects its ‘NUMBERS STATION’. How does it work anyway?

Two Years Ago — Radio Pyongyang Resurrects its ‘NUMBERS STATION’. How does it work anyway?

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