4625 kHz
August 24, 2010 4:08 PM   Subscribe

UVB-76 has sent a new message.
posted by Artw (121 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't see why this a big deal I mean- wait- why am I covered in blood?
posted by The Whelk at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


Well I'll be.
posted by everichon at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2010


This is cool and interesting, and also I know fuck-all about: radio, spies, Russia, and woodpeckers. So, as always, my ability to comment is constrained by my ignorance.

BUT THAT WILL NOT STOP ME
posted by everichon at 4:16 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Man, do I ever love this. Why isn't some nutsoid shortwave person streaming this to the internet? Uh, no offense meant. I mean nutsoid in the kindest possible way.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:18 PM on August 24, 2010


Unless I'm mistaken, there is a live stream?
posted by Ouisch at 4:20 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sincerely happy for any attention that shortwave radio receives nowadays, and it's easy to see why people really get stuck on the creepy-making stuff, but one day soon I'm going to have to make an FPP that has no connection whatsoever to numbers stations or the diaspora of the Conet Project.
posted by mykescipark at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's fascinating how something like this radio station can be known about and followed, and yet its purpose is still a mystery for everyone except the intended recipients. Perhaps this is the paradigm that covert activities should follow in the modern age.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2010


Apparently it stopped transmitting for a bit earlier this year, causing a few people to loose their shit over it being some kind of Dead Mans Hand apparatus.
posted by Artw at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2010


Wait, you mean the giant link at the top of the page that says, "live stream" is a link to a live stream? Go figure!

Sigh.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:23 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


and yet its purpose is still a mystery for everyone except the intended recipients.

Honestly, I don't think there's much mystery about their purpose. The content of the message sent, and their import -- yes. The purpose of the stations? Seems pretty obvious to me.
posted by Ouisch at 4:24 PM on August 24, 2010


but one day soon I'm going to have to make an FPP that has no connection whatsoever to numbers stations or the diaspora of the Conet Project.

What about genies?
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we connect this to Wikileaks and the rise of Justin Bieber so I can prove my theory that we're living inside a Robert Aton Wilson novel?
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on August 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I'm going to agree with everyone else in saying how much it amuses me that this is actually news. It's great to know that something so secret is so public. Same with the US's EAM transmissions.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:29 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, I've had two glasses of wine, so please ignore this question if it's obvious, but what exactly was transmitted? The page doesn't include any textual information, and the connection to the live stream is refused due to, I assume, load issues.
posted by odinsdream at 4:29 PM on August 24, 2010


Some numbers and letters were transmitted, guessing from the "translation" provided in the blog comments. This is the usual thing transmitted by numbers stations.
posted by Ouisch at 4:31 PM on August 24, 2010


(Though Yosemite Sam is notable for transmitting a data burst.)
posted by Ouisch at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2010


"UVB-76, UVB-76 - 93 882 naimina 74 14 35 74 - 9 3 8 8 2 nikolai, anna, ivan, michail, ivan, nikolai, anna, 7, 4, 1, 4, 3, 5, 7, 4 "
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2010


In the second link at the top a commenter provides a translation of the transmission:

"UVB-76, UVB-76 - 93 882 naimina 74 14 35 74 - 9 3 8 8 2 nikolai, anna, ivan,
michail, ivan, nikolai, anna, 7, 4, 1, 4, 3, 5, 7, 4 - (repeated twice)"

And another commenter says that ""naimina" is probably "na imena" which means "on names"."
posted by Kevin Street at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


repeated twice
posted by Artw at 4:34 PM on August 24, 2010


Papa bear, this is mama bear. The sandwich has landed.
posted by gimonca at 4:37 PM on August 24, 2010


No, No, Russia -- it's fine. I didn't need to sleep tonight.
posted by subbes at 4:38 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The names (Anna, Nikolai, etc) probably indicate letters of the Russian phonetic alphabet
posted by Ouisch at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2010


This is cool, geeky news. Numbers stations fascinate the hell out of me.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Something about Ovaltine?
posted by norm at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


You know, maybe some of the spam that gets sent around the world by these zombie botnets is a modern version of UVB-76. Imagine somebody out there who has to open the penis enlargement email sent to their hotmail account every morning, and most of the time it's junk, but once in awhile the auto-generated text makes sense, but only to them.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2010 [25 favorites]


The shark bites at midnight.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:40 PM on August 24, 2010


And another commenter says that ""naimina" is probably "na imena" which means "on names"."

Except that n-a-i-m-i-n-a are the first letters of the names Nikolai, Anna, Ivan, Mikhail, Ivan, Nikolai, Anna...sort of like saying "Alpha Bravo Charlie" for "ABC".
posted by briank at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Or, what Ouisch said.
posted by briank at 4:43 PM on August 24, 2010


And another commenter says that ""naimina" is probably "na imena" which means "on names"."

"naimina" would also be an acronym of the names repeated -- N-A-I-M-I-N-A.
posted by greatgefilte at 4:44 PM on August 24, 2010


Er, what briank said.
posted by greatgefilte at 4:45 PM on August 24, 2010


I had a great time the other night: red wine, mood lighting, cigarettes, and The Conet Project on my headphones. Then I had a dream about blistering nuclear fire that melted the teeth out of my head, and woke up refreshed!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:48 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


smells viral to me
posted by gigbutt at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2010


This is so fascinating! I'm crazy about numbers stations/other shortwave spookiness, but I hadn't heard of UVB-76 before.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2010


What's the broadcast range on these? 10kW of shortwave...does that reach globally?

If it's spy stuff, it's extremely old school. You'd think digital would be the way to go. Even if they needed to broadcast on radio instead of internet. I suppose the voice transmissions have the advantage of not requiring specialized equipment, even if it's just a crappy computer with a dial up modem. Just a radio.

Radio does have the advantage of not being vulnerable to a man in the middle attack (possible...but not very feasible, esp. if you don't know where the recipient is). Internet messaging is highly vulnerable, and leaves tracks everywhere.
posted by Xoebe at 4:54 PM on August 24, 2010


target bzzzzztnzzhhhhhhhhht acquired bbbzzzzzzzt 630 AM bbbzzzbbbbzzzzzt paris bzzzzttzzzzzt hilton shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhbhzzzzzzzz liquidate bbbzzzbbbbzzzzzzzzzz
posted by the noob at 4:59 PM on August 24, 2010


smells viral to me

How would that work, exactly? Are the linked blog post and audio archive fake? Is someone else transmitting on the same frequency as UVB-76? Or has a very, very patient marketing agency been biding its time since 1982?
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


Artw: ""UVB-76, UVB-76 - 93 882 naimina 74 14 35 74 - 9 3 8 8 2 nikolai, anna, ivan, michail, ivan, nikolai, anna, 7, 4, 1, 4, 3, 5, 7, 4 ""

briank: "n-a-i-m-i-n-a are the first letters of the names Nikolai, Anna, Ivan, Mikhail, Ivan, Nikolai, Anna...sort of like saying "Alpha Bravo Charlie" for "ABC"."

NOW WAIT JUST ONE HOT SECOND:
Friday 12th June was a day that brought yet another needy orphaned elephant baby into our Nairobi Nursery, this time a female calf aged approximately 1 ½ years...

The Amboseli Researchers have chosen the name “Naimina” for the new baby, the word for “lost” in the Maa language.
Darlton, you magnificent bastard.

*dramatic trumpet sting*

L O S T
posted by Rhaomi at 5:02 PM on August 24, 2010 [40 favorites]


If it's spy stuff, it's extremely old school. You'd think digital would be the way to go.

I think the argument is that extremely old school = requiring only crappy old equipment, like you said. And transmitting in the way that radio does makes it impossible to pinpoint who the transmission is aimed at.

So...actually I think you answered your own question!

Also, the whole OTP thing being strong (and cheap) encryption.
posted by Ouisch at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2010


Oh jeez. I first learned about UVB-76, and all the other Numbers Stations with it, a few months ago when people were freaking out about UVB-76 going down. I've actually had an ear on the stream on and off for a little while now—it's fun to listen in closely when you think you hear something in the background. Kind of a bummer that I missed the real deal.
posted by brett at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And mykescipark, I would totally read that post, go for it.
posted by brett at 5:05 PM on August 24, 2010


I also think there's something to be said for the "hidden in plain sight" psychological effect. I mean, it seems so CRAZY that something so secret would be so readily available to the casual listener, that "spy theories" come off sounding...well, a little dramatic and wackadoodle. For anyone who's studied any sort of military/political history or intelligence history at all, it doesn't seem strange or longshot at all -- but the average person is just going to shrug their shoulders and not think about it, and poo-poo all the "spy stuff."

And if it is indeed using OTP encryption, then...who cares who has access to the encrypted messages? In fact, the more people having access to the message, the more easy it is to hide who the messages are actually targeted to.
posted by Ouisch at 5:07 PM on August 24, 2010


I figure the letters are just them switching over to IPv6.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:10 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wolverines!
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:13 PM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think there's much mystery about their purpose. The content of the message sent, and their import -- yes. The purpose of the stations? Seems pretty obvious to me.

That's how I feel about all the traditional Numbers Stations, but I have a harder time fitting UVB-76 in that mold. I guess it makes sense if the recipients get a message through another channel telling them when to tune in and listen... but the messages are so short, and they're so damn dedicated to keeping the frequency buzzing for years in the meantime... I have a really hard time sticking to any explanation in my head, personally.
posted by brett at 5:14 PM on August 24, 2010


I guess it makes sense if the recipients get a message through another channel telling them when to tune in and listen

From what I've read elsewhere, this is how people sometimes receive their messages using numbers stations -- they are given a day and time to tune in. The station maybe just be infrequently used, and perhaps the buzzer is just a really clear station identifier for whomever is trying to tune in.
posted by Ouisch at 5:16 PM on August 24, 2010


Least convenient way to order pizza ever.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on August 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


For the past two weeks, I've been living in a new-to-me house, without internet (horrors!), with nothing but time on my hands and two mostly insane pets to annoy in between my time of ferrying my personal belonging between one very hot state and to another very hilly one. Last night with the heat-related sleep deprivation settling in and general exhaustion causing me to do evil things to my very understanding girlfriend and animals, I cued up the Conet Project on my laptop and managed to bring every soul in the house to an approximation of my mental state in less than five minutes. This gave me great glee.

Now I sign onto the internet for the first time in almost a month, and what is the second link on my beloved Metafilter?

I have obviously not traveled far enough, the men without faces still are tracking my every move. Curses.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:19 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyway, here are some records of the transmissions of UVB-76 in the past few years.
posted by Ouisch at 5:21 PM on August 24, 2010


0503-0506 UTC A few short (0.1-0.5 sec.) bursts of data stream, unidentified transmission mode.

Again, data bursts. Interesting.
posted by Ouisch at 5:24 PM on August 24, 2010


Now I wonder... Are there numbers stations whose purpose we actually know?
posted by cmoj at 5:35 PM on August 24, 2010


There was one, I believe. Here.
posted by Ouisch at 5:37 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The signal from UVB-76... it's, it's... a cookbook!
posted by gwint at 5:38 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh and maybe this one.
posted by Ouisch at 5:38 PM on August 24, 2010


Oh duh, it's right in the main Wikipedia article - Atencion was offically accused by the US gov't of being a numbers station.
posted by Ouisch at 5:42 PM on August 24, 2010


Do you know how many time zones they have in the Soviet Union?

It's ridiculous.
posted by fungible at 5:50 PM on August 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


so, never having heard of this before, if this is some super secret Russian thing, wouldn't the Russians have found out that it's not so super secret anymore and turn it off?
posted by angrycat at 5:51 PM on August 24, 2010


Uh....no. They don't care if it's not secret, because the messages cannot be decrypted (unless they screw up royally, which has happened in the past.)
posted by Ouisch at 5:54 PM on August 24, 2010


Part of the brilliance of these things is that they still work, even if everybody knows about them.
posted by event at 5:54 PM on August 24, 2010


I'm getting a transmission from numbers station UB-40. Hang on...it's distorted and fuzzy..let me run it through the reverse oscillating sine cosine amplitudinator to remove the interference...ah yes...it appears to say something about red....red....here it is RED RED WINE MAKES ME FEEL FINE...

that is some deep code, man
posted by spicynuts at 5:56 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kenneth, what is the frequency? Don't make me go beat up Dan Rather again.
posted by webhund at 5:57 PM on August 24, 2010


You know those thumping devices in Half Life 2?

Russian scientists have long had evidence that the Old Ones exist, acquired through their very deep drilling projects. They also discovered that a particular buzzing sound, sent at a certain radio frequency, will act just like the thumpers in the game--with the most commonly encountered guards of the lower dimensions (naimina) standing in for the ant-lions in the game.

With the near completion of the borehole to the Dark Lake under the Antarctic Ice Sheet, efforts are being made to increase the diameter of UVB-76's protective umbrella. (The Antarctic operation unfortunately will not have be tied to a nuclear plant whose core can be dumped to seal a breech, such as what was required at the Chernobyl experimental drilling site.)
posted by maxwelton at 5:59 PM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


This is a discussion which could really benefit from dreadnought's participation.
posted by Ouisch at 6:00 PM on August 24, 2010


but once in awhile the auto-generated text makes sense, but only to them.

IIRC, Kilgore Trout wrote a short story about this.
posted by drezdn at 6:01 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well isn't that nice. Putin has re-activated the cold war.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:03 PM on August 24, 2010


I could have explained this to y'all, but then my 30-1 shot at Santa Rosa would have come in at 2-1, and I wouldn't be eating filet mignon with my martini right now.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:13 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I've deciphered it correctly, the message seems to be:

klaatu barada nikto
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't help but picture some kind of pre-Glasnost Soviet version of I Love Bees that's just is still being funded due to some kind of oversight, but not actually managed.

Mark my words, show up at a certain place in the Urals on the right day of the month and tell them you're looking for the trail to Naimina and you'll get a shiny new tractor, sure the be the envy of all the other collective farms. Or a job with the KGB. Or shot.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:16 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Coincidence?
posted by tiamat at 6:18 PM on August 24, 2010


Here's the place doing the broadcasting. This site has a curiously comprehensive amount of information about UVB-76 and claims that it is used for "Transmission of orders to the military units and recruitment centers of the Moscow military district". Not sure how that makes sense, but I'm not sure how a numbers station would make sense.
posted by Challahtronix at 6:22 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


another bit of radio history complete with russians:
About that same era, there was some criticism that WTUL, while licensed as an educational station, really offered no educational programming. ... I read somewhere that Radio Moscow was offering program tapes, free of charge, to any station that would air them. We signed up for some absolutely dreary classical music shows ("Music and Musicians") and began airing them nightly at around 7.

The trouble was, the tapes started to pile up and Radio Moscow expected us to return the programs after airing. Postage bills were getting ridiculous, listeners were apathetic about the shows, and air staff hated running them, so we decided to pull the plug on Radio Moscow. John got the bright idea that we would telephone Radio Moscow and speak with the person in charge of English programming to tell him we no longer needed the programs. We waited until it was late enough at night (our time) to reach Radio Moscow during their business hours and placed the call from the production studio where we could patch the phone into the console and record the call.

Remember now, this is pre-Glasnost, pre-Perestroika--still in the middle of the Cold War. Reagan hadn't yet come to power to declare the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire," but the Russkies were still considered to be the bad guys. We tried to get through to the right person at Radio Moscow, but there were language problems and phone line problems and we never got through. We all laughed at the lark of trying to telephone commies in the middle of the night until...we played back the tape of the call. After the call was hung up, the phone patch remained connected and captured two clear American male voices on the line:

Voice 1: "Did you get it?"
Voice 2: "Got it!"

We waited for guys with trench coats and dark glasses, strapping square-jawed Feds with tiny earphones to begin stalking the halls of the University Center, but it never happened. Still, I bet there's a file somewhere...
posted by msconduct at 6:42 PM on August 24, 2010 [40 favorites]


"Kevin Street": Imagine somebody out there who has to open the penis enlargement email sent to their hotmail account every morning, and most of the time it's junk, but once in awhile the auto-generated text makes sense, but only to them.

John Forbes Nash, Jr., is that you?
posted by IAmBroom at 7:10 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ruski blue?
posted by hanoixan at 7:32 PM on August 24, 2010


Oh shit! I gotta go!
posted by Mister_A at 7:45 PM on August 24, 2010


related? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegals_Program
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:47 PM on August 24, 2010


Check out the Google Trends on it. The Japanese are going nuts.
posted by XMLicious at 7:54 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


A few thoughts on this:
posted by schmod at 8:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excuse my ignorance: the Google Maps satellite view doesn't show any trenches and the Wikipedia article says it's on the outskirts of a town, rather than the center of a military base.

Why doesn't someone go and ask?
posted by tmcw at 8:34 PM on August 24, 2010


10kW of shortwave...does that reach globally?

4625 kHz is close to the 60m amateur band, which you can get very long distance communication on with 50W -- if the ionosphere is right. 10kW is two hundred times the legal limit for amateurs (the max limit is lower than on other bands; it's a secondary allocation), so I'd imagine it's possible to hear the signal over most of the globe, most of the time.

However the propagation modes during the day would be very different than at night. I think you'd be talking about what's called "Near Incident Vertical Skywave" (NVIS) which is typically thought of as a regional rather than global mode. Even with 20kW you might not get to the other side of the planet. But it's tough to draw many conclusions because most of the public information is put out by amateurs, who are working with orders of magnitude less power than the Buzzer is.

I don't have a 60m receiver set up or I'd try tuning it up at various times just for the heck of it. I'm kind of curious how strong a signal it is ... the ease of receiving it from various places would tend to suggest its purpose to a large extent.

My personal theory about the Buzzer and other stations like it, which transmit mechanical sounds (as opposed to the true 'numbers' stations) is that they're beacons. If you're a spy in some other country, you need a way of knowing that your radio is working and that you can actually hear signals that will be transmitted to you. So you have some beacon station just blasting away all the time so that everyone can verify their set is working, maybe calibrate it to a known frequency, etc. Then you could transmit the actual messages on other nearby frequencies, where there's a better chance they'd go unnoticed.

Of course, that doesn't explain why people occasionally hear what are apparently messages transmitted from the Buzzer; you wouldn't expect that if it was just a beacon.

Kind of a fun mind game to ponder, anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:58 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


RED RED WINE MAKES ME FEEL FINE...

I've already said too much.
posted by zinfandel at 9:04 PM on August 24, 2010


"Or has a very, very patient marketing agency been biding its time since 1982?"

"In thirty years, they'll call us 'viral,' Tom. Just imagine it."
posted by klangklangston at 9:40 PM on August 24, 2010


So now I've been listening to recordings of numbers stations for hours and I'm too anxious to crawl out from under the desk.
posted by notionoriety at 10:35 PM on August 24, 2010


Do you know how many time zones they have in the Soviet Union?

It's ridiculous.


It's not even funny.
posted by gcbv at 11:28 PM on August 24, 2010


in re: number stations. You know, if you could 'hear' the signal being sent by global positioning satellites, they maybe would sound just like these. The purpose might (or might not be different - and if for orienting, maybe not within physical space, but informational of some kind) be very similar.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:21 AM on August 25, 2010


UVB, don't get me started on that place. I answered a craigslist ad for "summer job at a famous international broadcaster" and all I did was press a button every few seconds for 8 hours a day.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:28 AM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


From Wikipedia:

Alphanumeric body

* BROMAL: may refer to a company base in Barcelona, Spain, whose Internet Service Provider is KAOS.[12]
* IZAFET may refer to a company based in Maidenhead, United Kingdom whose Internet Service Provider is RapidSwitch Ltd.[14]
* NAIMINA may refer to a website design company based in Istanbul, Turkey whose Internet Service Provider is Turk Telecom.[15]

---

Worth considering anyway. Interesting that all three can be linked to ISPs. I'm in favor of the "beacon" idea proposed by Kadin2048, though of course it doesn't explain the occasional real transmission. When the transmission is only fired off over a one or two minute period, though... it seems useless on such a station. The intended "recipient" would have to know when to listen, and if the recipient is already able to receive such privileged information, why are they listening to this station?

But it's all good, conspiracy-laden fun. I love it. Brings espionage and all that back to the old school. If there are any real spies left in this world (not just mercenaries in high places), I hope to god they are using this amazing, persistently puzzling technology. And if you're reading this, spy... fuck yes.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:34 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


On reflection the "link" to ISPs above is about as robust as an angel's sneeze, so it's not actually that interesting.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:36 AM on August 25, 2010


BlackLeotardFront, typically military HF radio stations have "skeds" (schedules) wherein the recipient knows when to listen. Short messages like the ones broadcast on UVB-76 in the last few days are most probably telling the recipients out there to switch to a different frequency (I say this because the messages are very short, if there were something remotely interesting on the messages they would be longer, and in a five-letter or five-numeral group form using one time pads. Also, the numerals on the end are probably referring to callsigns to switch to a specific frequency. If the internet had a visualized HF spectrum analyzer you could probably 'trace' the jump in frequencies with enough manpower/crowdpower).
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 1:50 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the internet had a visualized HF spectrum analyzer you could probably 'trace' the jump in frequencies with enough manpower/crowdpower).

Once software defined radios get sufficiently cheap, this could happen.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:59 AM on August 25, 2010


broadsword calling danny boy
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:43 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always thought 'twas the pipes would be a-callin' for Danny boy.
posted by Mister_A at 6:05 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


People on UVB-76.net are now speculating: if you interpret the numbers as GPS coordinates, they point to the Barents Sea, where the Russian military was recently doing some testing/training.... There are also some comments in Russian—as one commenter observed, "they look important."
posted by brett at 6:59 AM on August 25, 2010


Voice 1: "Did you get it?"
Voice 2: "Got it!"


In a reverse of this story, my father was in the Peace Corps in Iran in the early 60s and decided to take a road trip with his fellow volunteers to the Caspian sea shore right next to the USSR border. They registered their trip with the Consulate, as per the requirement of the time. All day they frolicked and drank Iranian wine on the beach in the shadow of the fence. As the day wore on and the bottles began to drain, on of his buddies decided that he was going to wade out the few feet into the sea beyond the fence that lined the shallow Aral river and take a step or two into the Soviet Union. What a story he could tell!

Out he went, nothing happened. So he got a little bolder and decided to wade to shore in the USSR. As soon as his foot hit dry land a voice came over a loudspeaker across the marshy wasteland on the Soviet side of the river in perfect American English, "John Smith (or whatever his name was) remain still or you will be shot. Soldiers will arrive momentarily to escort you. Remain still!"

He remained absolutely still and sure enough a vehicle arrived and threw him in, still wet and dressed only in his swim trunks. It would be months before the Soviets would release him to the Embassy in Moscow. Meanwhile he was treated well as the "guest" of the Soviet Union. My father and friends can only speculate that the Soviets were tipped off about their trip by someone on the inside of the Consulate and had suspected that they were really on a spy mission rather than a drunken beach vacation. Never the less, the message got through loud and clear that the border, despite it's shabby appearance, was quite secure.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:26 AM on August 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


Also, why would the Russians continue to rely on a system like this in the age of digital communications? Why not just post some coded comment on MetaFilter or Fark or a knitting forum or any other place that allows user submitted content?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 AM on August 25, 2010


Makes sense as a beacon, or as a way for the government to reserve a channel in case one's needed in an emergency. Maybe both. They aren't transmitting enough information to be useful for spies, and the recognizable voices and apparent power outages seem too amateurish for a secret activity.

The latitude-longitude explanation is particularly silly -- the commenters are assuming that it refers to an east longitude and north latitude. If you pick a random number X and another random number Y, and find X degrees east and Y degrees north, you're very likely to pick a point in Russia or somewhere close to it. It would be a different matter if they were broadcasting a full latitude and longitude and it always came out near Russia or always on land.

One commenter pointed out that according to an article published in the Russian Journal of Earth Sciences, there's a transmitter in Russia at 4625 kHz used for Doppler radar measurements of the ionosphere. It might easily sound like a series of buzzes to listeners. The data from this experiment would be very useful for the military, since they need to know about HF propagation for their normal communications. Then again it's hard to believe they'd run the same radar experiment for 30 years, and that they'd somehow accidentally broadcast voice messages on the same channel.
posted by miyabo at 7:47 AM on August 25, 2010


The 10th Foot Regiment: Because a coded comment still contains meaning. Somebody specifically chose that comment, that codeword, that place to make the comment. Any time you involve human decision making you are inviting decryption due to human fallibility. From a string of numbers generated by a one time pad very little meaning can be discerned, and if you think you can accurately guess the contents without some other intelligence you've gathered, you're chasing your tail. These radio signals have the advantage that you can't really do traffic analysis beyond analyzing what's sent and when, you can't use cribs, you don't know who's listening. Plus, the volume of messages at this particular station is tiny. In contrast, if someone posted a coded message on Metafilter and someone got wind of this or was even just poking around, they could set some computers doing traffic analysis and learn a lot more even if they couldn't discern the actual content of the message.

The Germans thought they were being really clever with Enigma. Enigma was broken largely because: 1) it used an polyalphabetic substitution cipher that could be broken using a brute force attack even if you couldn't use helpful cribs/cillies/etc.; 2) the device itself had design flaws including the fact that letters in the plaintext could not be the same in the ciphertext (A could not be A), and it was reciprocal meaning that if A = N, N also = A; 3) German operators had bad security habits like using their girlfriend's initials or cuss words to set the rotors or starting off all of theirweather station reports with the word wetter or the acronym weub. In contrast, one time pad communications were unbroken unless a copy of the pad fell into enemy hands in which case the game was up.

Anyway, long story short, one time pads are more effective. Sometimes old school is better than trying to be clever.
posted by Mouse Army at 8:22 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to laugh like crazy when they finally track this down, and it turns out to be something totally innocuous, like some guy working in a mundane facility got bored and set up a short wave radio in some back corner, and then, shortly afterward was fired or something, and no one has any idea that, to this day, it's broadcasting some ingress interference from a nearby refrigerator's condenser over a mic that's locked in the transmit mode.
posted by quin at 8:25 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think an answer to the, "why not just post your spy stuff on Twitter/Fark/Spam?" question is simple longevity. This station started broadcasting almost thirty years ago - what do you think 'the internet' is going to look like in 30 years? Email? Twitter? Anything? Maybe some of that stuff is going to last in some form or another, but I don't think any instruction you compose to give or get information on the web today is going to be valid even ten years from now, let alone 30.

But, there will still be radio transmission. The equipment may get rarer, or become primarily digital, but I don't think it will change in nature.

Similarly, there's been this idea that you and your fellow spooks could use a clue from the Times crossword puzzle or some widely published daily bridge hand or something, for a certain date as the seed to your encryption algorithm, but now it sort of looks like there aren't even going to be newspapers anymore. There will surely be crossword puzzles, but will they continue to be doled out one a day? If you got those instructions a year ago, will they still be valid in 5 years?
posted by dirtdirt at 8:25 AM on August 25, 2010


According to Wikipedia "18008 may refer to the postal code of: Hotel Saylu, Ronda Sur Enlace Huetor Vega, Salida 3, Granada, 18008, Spain"

Then it says "62691 is the zip code of Virginia, Illinois."

But the latest episode has the numbers 93882 which don't match up to a ZIP code.

HOWEVER

Googling "93882" took me to this page, then I simply changed the last part of the URL to 18008 and 62691 and the message becomes clear.

Russian sleeper agents living in Victoria, Texas are going to hijack L-1011s and fly them to their secret space colony.

It all makes perfect sense.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Radio format changes are nothing new. Let me know if they flip to smooth jazz.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, why would the Russians continue to rely on a system like this in the age of digital communications? Why not just post some coded comment on MetaFilter or Fark or a knitting forum or any other place that allows user submitted content?

MeTaTalk
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 9:05 AM

Why was post edit? Very bad. More good to delete! Now good time. God in heaven, delete NOW.
posted by RegularAmerican to Etiquette/Policy at 12:08 PM
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:08 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


tmcw: Excuse my ignorance: the Google Maps satellite view doesn't show any trenches and the Wikipedia article says it's on the outskirts of a town, rather than the center of a military base.

Why doesn't someone go and ask?


I'm guessing that the Google Maps page isn't entirely accurate and that they've masked some of the features of the place due to it being a military installation. Note that on both Google and Bing maps that the building itself is obscured by clouds, you can't make out any real roads leading to the place, there's no parking/vehicles, etc...
posted by Challahtronix at 9:17 AM on August 25, 2010


... or the amateurs listening to the station have no idea where the transmitter actually is? HF triangulation is difficult and expensive!
posted by miyabo at 9:22 AM on August 25, 2010


I am but a simple cavefrau and do not understand the complexity of this modern radio technology. This is what I understand thus far:

1. This thing is broadcasting [analog?] audible buzzes and occasional audible control messages.

2. The link Ouisch posted above which documents the control messages states "* Presumed purpose of the control messages is to check readiness of receiving stations. Russian military communications people also call these messages 'signal.'" That makes perfect sense to me, like test messages send to make sure the origin is transmitting, that the receiver is receiving, and the humans monitoring the receiver are awake. Alternatively, it could be some sort of encryption key being broadcast to spies on the ground. In the case of the UVB-76 messages, these scenarios seem more likely than the voiced control messages being coded messages in and of themselves.

3. So the crux of the mystery is what is the purpose of the buzzes, right? I.e., do the buzzes themselves contain data bursts, or is it just, as others have suggested, a beacon for either satellite communication or for operatives to tune their radios to confirm signal? This blog entry in the UVB-76 blog notes some data bursts near the UVB-76 frequency that are audible as scratching sounds on the UVB-76 frequency itself. If these data bursts are one of the ways spies use to communicate with their handlers, then what makes this particular vehicle more useful for transmitting data back and forth? If these data bursts are coming through an analog signal (which, they would have to be if the bursts are coming through radio, right?) wouldn't they be subject to jamming?
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:24 AM on August 25, 2010


*dramatic trumpet sting*

L O S T


Is this a good time to say...?

"Damn it! We can't send a signal. It's being blocked by the French woman's transmission!"

"How about another frequency?"

"... there's only one! I'll explain later!"
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:41 AM on August 25, 2010


Link to recording of the latest transmission today [8/25].
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:41 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not just post some coded comment on MetaFilter or Fark or a knitting forum or any other place that allows user submitted content?

Those long-term Russian sleeper agents that got arrested recently were passing messages somehow encoded in jpegs, so that is happening alongside the radio stuff and whatever other ways coded messages are transmitted.
posted by Copronymus at 9:52 AM on August 25, 2010


Easily one of the creepiest things I have ever heard. Sitting here in my bright office I'm suddenly 12 again and its the cold war and I'm waiting for the mushroom clouds outside my window at any moment.
posted by anastasiav at 10:09 AM on August 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


3. So the crux of the mystery is what is the purpose of the buzzes, right? I.e., do the buzzes themselves contain data bursts, or is it just, as others have suggested, a beacon for either satellite communication or for operatives to tune their radios to confirm signal?

I was thinking...Sputnik used very similar technology and created just as much speculation...but in the end it was a simple "Hey I'm still alive" beacon everyone was hearing. I'm siding with those here saying the same thing, that it's likely an outdated, yet to be replaced, uptime monitor....possibly for something fairly mundane. Still, its fun to speculate it could be something profound or highly secretive. (besides the fact that its currently being well documented and is rather content-less by itself)
posted by samsara at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2010


I'm siding with those here saying the same thing, that it's likely an outdated, yet to be replaced, uptime monitor....possibly for something fairly mundane.

Except, of course, for the fact that is has suddenly come alive with voice transmitions for the first time in - what? - twenty plus years. Its not really the buzz that's interesting - its the sudden burst of activity.
posted by anastasiav at 10:20 AM on August 25, 2010


The question, Soviet spy experts, is what happened around those two earlier dates?

Dec 24, 1997 Ya, UVB-76 18 008 BROMAL 74 27 99 14
Sep 12, 2002 UVB-76, UVB-76 62 691 IZAFET 36 93 82 70
Aug 23, 2010 UVB-76, UVB-76 93 882 NAIMINA 74 14 35 74
posted by msalt at 10:22 AM on August 25, 2010


This appears to be a better live stream (meaning it's not always full): http://nl.justin.tv/rampageturke#/w/340896016

The weird thing is, people apparently hear voices and conversations occurring over the buzzer. And when you listen to it for a while, you do get the idea that you're hearing ambient noises. So it's not a buzzer that is played back directly. It appears to be a microphone and a separate buzzing thing. Which is weird.

And also.. this thing has been going for 30 years? Must be doing something. But I suspect it's something dreadfully dull and uninteresting. In fact, I suspect that most 'top secret' stuff is vastly less interesting than we are led to believe.
posted by Harry at 11:03 AM on August 25, 2010


After listening to the recording, a couple of thoughts:

Assuming the recording is demodulating the signal in the way that its transmitters intend for it to be done — which is not guaranteed; suppressed lower sideband with unsuppressed carrier is not a common broadcast technique, to my knowledge — then the voice sounds very weak compared to the "buzz." Leading me to two scenarios:

1) The station really is designed to transmit messages, and the receiver that's intended for use strips out the "buzz." I'm skeptical of this, both because the analog filters to do it would be pretty delicate — that buzz is in the middle of the range of human speech, so you'd need a very steep filter — plus the buzz seems to change frequency over time. Neither rule out some sort of complex, adaptive filter, but to do so with early 1980s technology, in a way that was easily portable, would have been a challenge, I think. Plus, if your receivers are going to be that complex, you're well on the way towards having real scrambling; why leave the difficult-to-understand voice in there at all?

2) The voice transmissions are a fuckup. The 'buzzer' station is a beacon, produced — somewhat inexplicably, but maybe the budget money hasn't been flowing recently, or they have a serious "if it ain't broke" mentality — by putting some mechanical or electrical source next to a microphone in a sound booth. Occasionally, people get lazy or forget that the mic is always hot, and they talk too loudly in its vicinity and it leaks into the signal. So the occasional "transmissions" on the Buzzer aren't really supposed to be there at all, and if you looked around you might find the same thing being transmitted much more clearly on another frequency. (Or maybe you wouldn't, because maybe they're scrambled/encrypted, or transmitted via some other method, or taped and transmitted later. Lots of variables there.) That would explain the unpredictable schedule and the poor quality of the transmissions, at least. It's entirely possible that the Buzzer station doesn't have anything to do with the messages (and isn't really "UVB-76" to its owners), except that its signal source is in the same building.

It's not a perfect explanation by any means, though. Heck, the whole modulation scheme alone raises a lot of questions. Why do they leave the carrier in addition to the one sideband? It's not like true SSBSC receivers are that hard to come by, or even were in the 80s when people first started hearing it. My completely groundless, speculative explanation is that it's left so that you could have a simple, auto-tuning receiver (using envelope detection to seek out the carrier), and maybe even use that carrier as a stable frequency source during demodulation of the actual signal, transmitted using suppressed-carrier on some other frequency, at lower power. But for none of these radios to have turned up in 25+ years seems surprising.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:33 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: ""Damn it! We can't send a signal. It's being blocked by the French woman's transmission!""

So... Can't stop the signal?
posted by subbes at 11:33 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Listening to the thing live is weirdly interesting. There seems to be a lot of activity nearby the buzzer thing. Definitely the sound of voices and the rusting of papers. Your second point sounds reasonable: the buzzer is in a not-so-soundproof place, and whatever else we hear is not part of the plan.

Also, 4chan has gotten into the live stream chat, carefully dividing their attention between the station and some youtube harassments.
posted by Harry at 11:49 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I could have sworn I saw this on here a few days ago, but while some people have mentioned it, nobody's linked, so the URL probably appeared fully-formed, leaping from my forehead.

The Conet Project - Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations

This post reminded me I'd downloaded it, but I haven't listened yet. Will report back on secrets, conspiracies, ARGs, Deep Ones.
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 5:19 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dandeson: Previously, previously, and previously.
posted by mykescipark at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2010


OK, I love that if you check google map's satellite photo of the transmitter's location the shadow of a cloud hides whatever might be on the ground there. Although it seems to be pretty nowhere.
posted by umberto at 10:47 PM on August 25, 2010


"If these data bursts are coming through an analog signal (which, they would have to be if the bursts are coming through radio, right?) wouldn't they be subject to jamming?"



Various SIGINT agencies around the planet rarely engage in active SIGINT (e.g. jamming, or comms deception), as it destroys a good source of intelligence. Even HF military comms coming in over the clear (unencrypted, but using a one time pad), is useful to SIGINT agencies, as there is the possibility of that one time pad being compromised (by either being used again, or having some CIA case officer paying off a disgruntled military sergeant to give him copies of the one time pads, or various other ways).

Of course, you could have "wheels within wheels" as it were, where the intelligence source itself is a deception operation (where a numbers station + compromised one time pad was part of a grand counterintelligence ruse to give the listeners what they want to hear).
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2010


Also, the book "Puzzle Palace" is a good source of information on all this stuff.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:31 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't someone go and ask?

I'm guessing that the Google Maps page isn't entirely accurate and that they've masked some of the features of the place due to it being a military installation. Note that on both Google and Bing maps that the building itself is obscured by clouds, you can't make out any real roads leading to the place, there's no parking/vehicles, etc...


Some photos from inside the transmitting station via EnglishRussia
posted by briank at 7:30 AM on August 28, 2010


Some of those pics look exactly as I would picture the inside of the station. Others look like a bathroom remodel gone severely awry.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2010


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