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

Voice of KoreaIn a development that is reminiscent of the Cold War, a radio station in North Korea appears to have resumed broadcasts of encrypted messages that are typically used to give instructions to spies stationed abroad. The station in question is the Voice of Korea, known in past years as Radio Pyongyang. It is operated by the North Korean government and airs daily programming consisting of music, current affairs and instructional propaganda in various languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, English, and Russian. Last week however, the station interrupted its normal programming to air a series of numbers that were clearly intended to be decoded by a few select listeners abroad.

According to the South Korean public news agency, Yonhap, the coded segment was broadcast on shortwave at 12:45 a.m. on Friday, July 15. It featured a female announcer slowly reading a series of seemingly random numbers from an instruction sheet. The announcer began the segment by stating that she would “now provide a review on the topic of mathematics, as stipulated by the distance-learning university curriculum for the benefit of agents of the 27th Bureau”. She went on to read a series of numbers: “turn to page 459, number 35; page 913, number 55; page 135, number 86; page 257 number 2”, etc. This went on for approximately 12 minutes, said Yonhap.

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.

The last time North Korea is thought to have employed ‘numbers stations’ to contact its spies stationed abroad was in the spring of 2000, prior to the historic first Inter-Korean Summit that featured a face-to-face meeting of the then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the then North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. Since that time, the North Koreans are believed to have stopped deploying broadcasts to communicate with their intelligence operatives in foreign countries. 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. According to the news agency, the broadcast has Seoul worried about “possible provocations” that may be planned by North Korean spies living secretly in the south.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 July 2016 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink

French spy agency forced Wikipedia volunteer to delete entry

Wikipedia welcoming screenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A French intelligence agency forced a volunteer for online open-source reference site Wikipedia to delete n entry that allegedly contained classified information about French nuclear defense systems. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, the entry describes a radio relay system located at Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station in south-central France. Operated by the French Air Force, the station is said to have a central role in transmitting the order to launch France’s nuclear missiles in case of a full-scale thermonuclear war. The French-language Wikipedia webpage —which has since been fully restored— mentions, among other things, that the radio masts at Pierre-sur-Haute are designed to withstand the type of shockwave experienced in a thermonuclear attack. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, it was approached in early March, 2013, by the Direction Central du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), which is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence. The agency asked the Wikimedia Foundation to delete the entire webpage referring to the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station, because it said it contravened French national security law. The Wikimedia Foundation, however, refused to comply with the request unless it was accompanied with either a court order or concrete information explaining why the Pierre-sur-Haute revelations were a threat to French national security. The DCRI reportedly backed down, promising to return with a formal justification for its request. However, instead of doing so, it contacted a French-based Wikipedia volunteer, who was summoned to the DCRI’s office under threat of legal action. Read more of this post

Guest Comment: Radio Still Medium of Choice for Many Spies

Typical Cold-War-era advert of Radio Moscow By PAUL BEAUMONT* | intelNews.org |
In 1975 whilst the Cold War was still being fought, short wave listeners were treated nightly to whatever stations they chose to listen to from wherever, propagation permitting. These broadcast stations carried a catholic mix of information, political views and insights, propaganda, religious ideology (usually with a political point) and music and other cultural statements of the government of the day. Broadcast stations with good signals were the BBC World Service, Voice of America, and Radio Moscow. But not all was as it seemed. Radio Moscow used very high powers so that those furthest from their transmitters still received signals at good strength whilst the propagation conditions ensured the frequencies were selected for the most efficient transfer of radio programs. One could sit in one’s armchair with no more than a telescopic antenna raised from the radio set and hear news from a foreign station and quickly retuning, could hear the same news but with a totally different bent. Even the music was not what it seemed, especially for two particular British spies, one being Frank Clifton Bossard, an officer with Britain’s Ministry of Defence Missile Guidance Branch, the other John Symonds, an ex-Detective Sergeant wanted in connection with Operation COUNTRYMAN.  Bossard was strapped for cash and approached the KGB, whilst finding himself overseas with no funds Symonds found himself working for the KGB as a ‘Romeo Spy’ seducing wives of diplomats for information. Interestingly MI5 denied that Symonds acted as he did and suggested such actions were a figment of John Symonds’ imagination. Read more of this post

Who is behind mystery spy devices dropped over Syria?

Radio transmitters found in Afrin, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On December 14, residents of a small town in northern Syria reported seeing unidentified aircraft circling overhead, and dropping several small items attached to mini-parachutes. Two days ago, one local resident, Adnan Mustafa, posted on Facebook several photographs of some of these items, which were found scattered around the area. The gadgets, pictured here, look suspiciously like surreptitious listening devices. Residents say the question is: who dropped them, and why? The devices were found in the hills around Afrin, a predominantly ethnic-Kurdish town 20 miles south of the Syrian-Turkish border. Local townsfolk said the flight patterns of the planes observed on December 14 resembled those of previous sightings of Turkish aircraft, which routinely invade Syrian airspace before returning to the Turkish air base in Incirlik, about 100 miles north of Afrin. Syrian newspaper Al-Hakikah (The Truth), which supports the opposition Syrian National Council for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, said the suspected spy gadgets weigh about 90 grams each and bear “Made in Germany” labels, as well as “GRAW DFM-06” inscriptions. Graw is a Nuremberg-based German company that produces radiosondes, small radio transmitters used in weather balloons, that measure various atmospheric parameters and transmit them to fixed receivers. But Al-Hakikah reports that the devices found in Afrin seem to transmit GPS coordinates, and appear to have been modified to intercept radio communications. Some suspect that the devices are aimed at eavesdropping on the communications of Syrian government troops and of Syrian Air Force planes, which are engaged in an increasingly bloody conflict against the opposition Syrian National Council. Read more of this post

Alleged Russian spies in Germany used low-tech methods to evade detection

Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A couple arrested in Germany last week on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, was using low-tech radio communications to receive orders from Moscow, according to media reports. The two arrestees have been identified as Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag; German prosecutors accuse them of spying for SVR, the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (PGU), responsible for foreign operations and intelligence collection abroad. They are said to have worked as non-official-cover operatives for the KGB and SVR since at least 1990, when they entered Germany from Mexico, using forged Austrian travel documents. Authorities in Germany say that Heidrun Anschlag, 51, was caught by German police in the act of listening to encrypted radio messages from Moscow. German investigators are reportedly puzzled by the fact that, in the Internet age, when most intelligence operatives employ digital secure communications, the Anschlags insisted on using a low-tech method that mostly died with the end of the Cold War. But intelNews readers will remember the case of former United States State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who were arrested in 2009 for spying on the US for Cuba for over 30 years. Shortly after the Myers’ arrest, we wrote that the couple appeared to have avoided capture for decades, precisely because their communications with the government of Cuba were too low-tech to be detected by sophisticated US monitors. The latter tend to focus on scanning for encrypted satellite or microwave communications which —among other hi-tech means— are now the communication method of choice for modern clandestine spy networks. But some intelligence agencies, including —apparently— the SVR, appear to insist on using old-school oral cipher signals, based on straightforward number-to-letter codes, which they broadcast to their agents over predetermined shortwave frequencies at specified times. Read more of this post

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