Four 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 June 23 2016 was the first number sequence aired by Pyongyang in over 16 years.

January 14 2017 — On June 23 2016, 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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UPDATE (January 14 2021) — On Saturday August 26 2020, a video clip was posted on the so-called “State-run Radio Pyongyang’s YouTube account”.

A female announcer read what she described as “an information technology review assignment of the remote education university for No. 719 expedition agents.”

She repeated phrases such as “No. 23 on Page 564, No. -19 on Page 479” for about one minute in the posting.

 

지금부터 710호 탐사대원들을 위한 원격 교육대학 정보 기술 기초복습 과제를 알려드리겠습니다. (rough translation) We will describe the long-distance education school’s basic information technology review assignment for (investigative agent/ expedition) No. 710. Page 564 #23 Page 479 #-19 Page 694 #20 Page 340 #13 Page 599 #-4 Page 322 #4 Page 53 #-4 Page 303 #1 Page 670 #-10 Page 433 #4 Page 99 #9 Page 34 #22 지금까지 710호 탐사대원들을 위한 기초복습과제를 알려드맀습니다. 여기는 평양입니다. (rough translation) We have described the basic review assignment for (investigative agent/ expedition) No. 710.

The numbers were not broadcast on the radio. If true, this is the first time that Pyongyang would have used YouTube to send coded numbers.

And of course, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

According to Martyn Williams — founder and owner of the North Korea Tech website — this YouTube channel is operated out of Mexico.

“The channel isn’t run by North Korea. It’s run from Mexico and was only recently renamed to Pyongyang Broadcast Station – which is incorrect anyway, the [official] radio station is called Pyongyang Broadcasting Station.”

The Korea Times has identified the YouTube channel as the work of a right-wing group.

“Saturday’s video turned out to be a parody uploaded by a South Korean conservative students’ group on its own YouTube channel in July 2019, ending speculation that it was an encrypted message from the North. But why “Pyongyang Broadcast Service” posted the clip remains a mystery.”

The video has been deleted.

END of UPDATE

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’ 6400 kHz

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

After the transmission the station returned to its regular programming.

UPDATE (January 14 2020) — V15 broadcasts took place consistently every week until June 27, 2019.

Since then, the only reported broadcasts so far were on September 19, 2019 and November 9, 2019.

Remember that prior to the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000, the Pyongyang Broadcasting Station had carried coded messages, albeit using a format completely different from today’s.

The first broadcast of the revived V15 took place on June 23, 2016. The event, reported to the public by South Korean intelligence, was widely covered in world news. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification has subsequently criticized North Korea for the decision to revive V15.

On December 21, 2016, the Pyongyang Broadcasting Station began transmitting in FM, making V15 possibly the only legitimate number station to have ever broadcast on the FM band. The frequencies are usually targeted by jamming from South Korea.

On May 5, 2018, in the context of warming relationship between North and South Korea, North Korea switched time zones and abandoned Pyongyang Time (UTC+8:30) to return to Korea Standard Time (UTC+9).

As a result, the V15 schedules shifted 30 minutes earlier, remaining at the same local time in North Korea. [Priyom.org : V15]

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?

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

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

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