Muscat Daily - - BREAK -

Back in the days of Cold War es­pi­onage, for­eign in­tel­li­gence agen­cies used to com­mu­ni­cate with agents on the field via short­wave ra­dio.

Ra­dio trans­mit­ters placed at se­cret lo­ca­tions around the world would broad­cast coded mes­sages usu­ally in the form of an au­to­mated voice recit­ing a string of num­bers or let­ters.

The mes­sage of­ten be­gan with a melody, a set of beeps or a buzz, fol­lowed by the ac­tual coded mes­sage read aloud by a voice. Any­one with a ra­dio re­ceiver tuned into that fre­quency could hear it, but only the in­tended re­cip­i­ent with proper de­cod­ing in­struc­tions could de­ci­pher the mes­sage.

For the rest of the lis­ten­ers, they were just a string of ran­dom num­bers. Ham ra­dio op­er­a­tors, who fre­quently stum­bled upon these se­cre­tive trans­mis­sions, called them num­ber sta­tions.

One of the first known use of num­ber sta­tions was dur­ing the First World War, and one of the first civil­ians to dis­cover them was An­ton Hab­s­burg, the Arch­duke of Aus­tria and Prince of Tus­cany, who was a young teenager at that time. Hab­s­burg would write down the coded mes­sage from en­emy sta­tions, and on his way to school du­ti­fully hand the piece of pa­per to the war of­fice.

The war of­fice, of course, had its own lis­ten­ing post but once when the re­ceiv­ing sta­tions at the war of­fice couldn’t op­er­ate due to heavy frost, they used Has­burg’s copy of the mes­sage.

The use of num­ber sta­tions rose dur­ing the Cold War era. The Bri­tish Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice used to op­er­ate one out of Bletch­ley Park in the mid1970s, and later from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Am­a­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors called it the Lin­colnshire Poacher, be­cause the sta­tion used melodies from the English folk song The Lin­colnshire Poacher as an in­ter­val sig­nal.

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