Secret Radio Frequencies

-                 Secret Radio Frequencies                  -

     Sandwiched into the gap between the AM and FM dials are
hundreds of secret communications frequencies - some so
secret that no one owns up to them. The usual consumer gear -
 AM/FM radios, TVs, CB radios - brings in only a small
portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. To pick up the
secret signals, you need a shortwave receiver - and you need
to know the unlisted frequencies.
     Allocation of radio frequencies is quirky. When you flip
the TV dial from channel 6 to channel 7, you unknowingly jump
over the entire FM radio band as well as such exotia as
secret service communications and a special frequency
designated for emergency use during prison riots. The U.S.
government will provide information on unclassified
allocations (those for the Coast Guard, Forestry Service,
weather reports, etc.).  But it is quiet about secret
government frequencies and those of mysterious illegal
broadcasters here and abroad.
     Many shortwave-radio hobbyists keep track of the secret
frequiences, however. Their findings appear in such
publications as the "Confidential Frequency List" by Oliver
P. Ferrell (Park Ridge, N.J.: Gilfer Associates, 1982
[periodically updated]), "How to Tune in the Secret Shortwave
Spectrum" by Harry L. Helms (Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.: TAB
Books, 1981), and "The 'Top Secret' Registry of U.S.
Government Radio Frequencies" by Tom Kneitel (Commack, N.Y.:
CRB Research, 1981 [periodically updated]). These and similar
publications should be consulted for the most up-to-date
listings. The selection below includes only the most
noteworthy or inexplicable broadcasts.
                        Air Force One
     Many of the in-flight phone calls from Air Force One are
not scrambled and can be picked up by anyone with a shortwave
radio. You just have to watch the newspapers for information
on the presidents travels and listen to the right frequencies
shortly before landing or after takeoff at Andrews Air Force
Base (when calls are less likely to be scrambled
electronically). A presidential phone call is usually
prefaced by a request for "Crown", the White House
communications center.
     Air Force One uses several frequencies including those
assigned to Andrews Air Force Base. Transmissions are on
single, usually upper, sideband. These transmissions are
usually secret, but the frequency numbers have long since
leaked out or have been discovered independently. It is
suspected that wire services and TV news operations monitor
them for leads. The reported frequencies (in kilohertz) are:
           6731       13201
           6756       13215
           8967       13247
           9018       15048
           11180      18027
In addition, 162.685 MHz and 171.235 MHz are secret service
frequencies used for Air Force One communications. The White
House staff uses 162.850 MHz and 167.825 MHz. Secret Service
channel "Oscar", 164.885 MHz, is used for the Presidents
limousine. Air Force Two uses the same Frequencies as Air
Force One.
     Although everyone concerned must know that outsiders may
be eavesdropping, conversations are often surprisingly
candid. (shortwave listeners heard the White House staff
urging Air Force Two back to Washington after the 1981
attempt on President Regan's life, complete with reports that
then-secretary of state Alexander Haig was confusing
everybody with his claim of being "in control.") No law seems
to forbid such eavesdropping. Ironically, it is illegal
(section 605 of the communications act of 1934) to reveal
intercepted conversations to anyone else - that being regarded
as the wireless equivalent to wiretapping. Even so, The New
York Times has run snippets of Air Force One conversations.
                The Central Intelligence Agency
     The CIA and Other Government agencies with clandestine
operations are believed to have dozens of authorized
frequencies, which may be rotated as needed to throw off
eavesdroppers off the track. Call letters are rarely used and
several government agencies may share the same frequencies. A
further, rather thin veneer of security comes from the use of
code words. Government surveillance opperations use a common
code: "Our friend" or "Our boy" is, of course, the person
being followed. "O" is his office. "R" is his residence. A
"Boat" is his car. Once apprehended a suspect is a "Package"
and may be taken away to the "Kennel", the agents'
headquarters. Does this fool anyone? Probably not. Some are
so obvious that it's questionable if they're code words at
     Not all U.S. government broadcasts can be identified as
to agency. Conversations are cryptic; letters to the Federal
Communications Commission and Commerce Department bring form
replys. These frequencies (in megahertz) have been identified
with the CIA:
     Note: I am only going to list a few of the many
     frequencies known. More can be obtained from the sources
     listed earlier or from the EXCHANGE [904] 878-4413 via
   DEA - Drug Enforcement Administration (MHz)
   FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation (MHz)
   SS  - Secret Service (MHz)
      DEA          FBI          SS
      ---          ---          --
    163.185      120.425      162.375    (note that
    163.535      149.375      162.685     the frequencys are
    165.235      163.835      164.885     usually in bands.
    172.00       163.875      165.025     Search each band
    172.20       163.985      165.085     for more.)
    418.625      167.675      166.405
    418.675      168.885      169.625
    418.725      406.275      168.45
    418.825      408.925      169.925
    418.975      419.525      171.235
                  Morse Code Letter Beacons
     Dozens of low-power stations transmit only a letter of
Morse code endlessly. No one, including government agencies
and the International Telecommunications Union, admits to
knowing where the signals are coming from, who is sending
them, or why.
     "K" (dash-dot-dash) is the most common letter. Letters
are repeated every two to five seconds, depending on the
station. The stations never identify themselves. The
frequency used for the broadcast shifts slowly with time, so
this list is only an approximate guide:
     Frequency (KHz)          Letter
     ---------------          ------
     4,005                    K
     4,466                    U
     5,306                    D and W
     5,307                    F
     5,795                    K
     5,890                    K
     5,920                    K
     6,203                    P
     6,770                    A and N
     6,800                    F and K
     6,806                    Q
     7,590                    W
     7,656                    W
     7,954                    K
     8,137                    U
     8,144                    K
     8,647                    F
     8,703                    E
     8,752                    K
     9,043                    K
     9,058                    U
     10,211                   U
     10,442                   E
     10,570                   K
     10,614                   F
     10,638                   K
     10,644                   D
     10,645                   F
     10,646                   R and K
     11,156                   K
     12,151                   K
     12,185                   U
     12,329                   U
     13,328                   U
     13,637                   F
     14,478                   K
     14,587                   K
     14,967                   K
     15,656                   U
     15,700                   U
     15,705                   U
     17,015                   D
     17,016                   C
     17,017                   F
     17,018                   UE and TA
     18,343                   K
     20,456                   E
     20,992                   O and C
These stations broadcast mostly during the night hours of
North America. They are most often picked up in North
America, Australia, and the Orient. But because of the easy
propagation of shortwave signals, no one is sure where they
are coming from.
     An analysis in the Confidential Frequency List holds
that the signals are coming from 25- to 100-watt unattended
transmitters somewhere in the South Pacific. An alternate
theory places the Morse code "beacons" in Cuba. It is known
that there used to be a "W" station operating at 3,584 KHz, a
frequency supposedly reserved for amateur use. When the
American amateurs protested to the Federal Communications
Commission about the interference, the FCC complained to the
Cuban government. The staion disappeared shortly thereafter.
     Actually, all of the beacons must be presumed to be
illegal. Shortwave stations are supposed to be registered
with the International Telecommuncations Union; none of those
listed above are. The purpose of the stations is as unclear
as their location. A single letter conveys no information.
There are legitimate navigational beacon stations, which
broadcast their call letters. But such stations are
registered and operate on fixed frequencies from known
locations. Keeping location and frequency information secret
would defeat their purpose.
     Maybe, then, the letter beacons are navigational
stations operated for the benefit of a select few. Some think
they are operated by the Soviet Union, in Cuba, for some
military purpose. Still, the globe is crosshatched with
legitimate navigational beacons. It is hard to see what
further navigational aid the Soviets could expect to derive
from their own secret network of beacons.
     It has also been suggested that the beacon stations are
really teletype or other data transmission stations and that
the Morse code letters are just a way of keeping the channel
free between transmissions. A few of the stations started
transmitting some sort of data - audible as a characteristic
high-speed typewriterlike sound - in 1980. There are other
ways of keeping a data channel open, though. Most
radioteletype stations transmit the code for space between
transmissions. (The radioteletype code is different from
Morse code.)
     Finally, still others think the letter transmissions are
themselves some sort of code. Granted, the letter can't mean
anything, but some wonder if the precise length of the
interval between the letters means somthing. Or the frequency
shifts may hold the message.
     The number of Morse code letter stations seems to be
                      Numbers Stations
     Well over a hundred "numbers" or "spy" stations have
been reported, all rather closely following a pattern. On the
typical numbers station, the announcer is - or seems to be -
a woman. No one knows who the woman is or where she is
broadcasting from. She speaks Spanish, German, or Korean.
Save for a few words at the begining and the end of the
transmission, the message consists of reandom numbers,
announced in groups of five, four, or, rarely, three digits.
As with the Morse code stations, the numbers stations are all
on unauthorized frequencies. No government or organization
owns up to the broadcasts; offically, at least, the FCC
claims no knowledge of them.
     Many of those who have listened to the broadcasts
carefully are convinced that the woman is in fact a robot.
The voice has a mechanical ring, somtimes a click between
each digit. It seems to be the same type of device used by
the telephone company to give the time or to forward phone
     The exact format of the messages varies with the
language and number of digits per group. With Spanish, five
digit groups, for example, a typical transmission might be:
        Atencion 290 22...Atencion 290 22...Atencion 290 22
     Broadcasts are during the night hours of North America
and seem to start shortly after the hour. After the
"Final,final," the transmission stops. It is claimed that a
given transmission is repeated a few minutes later on a
slightly different frequency.
     There seems to be no escaping the conclusion that the
messages are numerical code. The second number (22 in the
example) - is the number of digit groups in the message.
There dosen't seem to be any demonstrable significance to the
first number although it probably has some signifigance. Some
think it is an identifying number for the sender or the
receiver. It may also indentify the code used if there is
more than one. Note that the numbers above are only random
(except for 22) and were never really broadcast.
     The four-digit transmissions in Spanish are different. A
three-digit number (perhaps that of the sender or receiver)
is repeated several times, followed by the digits 1 through
10. ("uno, dos, tres...") and a string of Morse code dashes.
the word "grupo" is followed by the number of four-digit
groups to come and repeated once - for example, "Grupo 22,
grupo 22." The message - groups of four Spanish numbers -
follows. At the end the voice says, "Repito grupo 22," and
the message repeats. The station goes off the air after the
     Any attempt to explain these broadcasts is complicated
by numbers broadcasts in other languages. There are also
broadcasts in German, Korean, and English. Occasional
transmissions in Russian, French, Portuguese, and even
Serbo-Croatian are reported. Somtimes a male (mechanical?)
voice reads the numbers. The female robot voice doing English
language broadcasts is often described as having an Oriental
or German accent. Typical of the uncertainty surrounding
numbers stations are the reported English messages prefaced
with a female voice saying "Groups disinformation" and ending
with "End of disinformation." Perhaps the voice machine has a
bad rendering of "This information."
     Still other stations transmit messages consisting of
letters from the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo,
Charlie...). Some spice their broadcasts with music, which
ranges from ethnic tunes to wierd tones that may or may not
conceal a message. Reported frequencies for numbers and
phonetic-alphabet stations include:

F/M = Female/Male
S = Spanish            R = Russian
F = French             E = English
P = Portuguese         C = Czech
SC= Serbo-Croatian     G = German
Frequency      Male      language
  (KHz)        Female
---------      ------    --------
3060              F         S       (All are numbers stations
3090              F         S        unless otherwise noted)
3365              M         SC
4640              M         S
4642              F         F
4670              F         S&E      Numbers & phonetic
4740              M         S&P      Interlude from Aida
4770              F         G
5020              F         S
5075              F         S
5110              M         C        Slavic musical interlude
5812              F         S
6770              F         S
6790              F         S
8875              F         S
9040              F         S&E
9345              F         S
9450              F         E        + Musical tones
9463              F         S
9950              F         S
10450             F         K
10500             F         G
10532             F         S
11545             F         G
11618             F         G
11635             F         S
13320             M         R
14947             F         G
14970             F         E        + Beep tones
23120             F         G
30050                       E
30250                       E
30420                       E
30470                       E
     Whatever is going on, it's a big operation. Harry L.
Helms' "How to tune in the shortwave spectrum" has a list of
sixty-two stations that includes only those with a female
voice reading five digit codes in Spanish. Much time and
effort are going into the broadcasts. Some numbers stations
transmit on the upper sideband rather than using amplitude
modulation (AM). Signals are usually strong. Because of
ionospheric reflection, they can be picked up over most of
the globe. This makes direction finding difficult.
     Two explanations are offered for the numbers stations.
It is rumored that some of the stations are communications
links in the drug traffic between the United States and
Latin America. If so, Spanish is the logical language. The
numerically coded messages could tell where drops are to be
made, how much to expect, and other minutiae that would
change from day to day. Weak support for this comes from some
amateur direction finding, which seems to place many of the
Spanish broadcasts Somewhere south of the United States.
     But even those who subscribe to this explanation agree
that other numbers stations, probably most of them worldwide,
are engaged in espionage - governmental or organizational
communication with agents in the field.
     Which government? The Spanish stations are usually heard
between 7:00 PM and 6:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. The night
hours are best for clandestine broadcasting as weak signals
propagate farther. So the spanish language broadcasts are
probably coming from a time zone not far removed from Eastern
Standard Time (the EST time zone includes the central
Caribbean, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru.)
     On the basis of signal strengths and broadcast times, it
can be similarly be postulated that the German Stations are
coming from Europe, or maybe Africa, and the Korean stations
are coming from the Orient - oddly enough.
     As far as the Spanish stations are concerned, suspision
points to Cuba. In 1975 U.S. listeners reported muffled radio
Havana broadcasts in the background of the Spanish stations.
A station at 9920KHz is said to have used the same theme
music as radio Havana.
     But then there are American ham radio operators who
swear that the spanish stations must be in the United States.
"How to Tune the Secret Shortwave Spectrum" tells of
listeners in Ohio who reported four digit numbers stations
coming in stronger than anything else on the dial execpt for
a 50 kilowatt broadcast band station a few miles distant.
Similar reports come from the Washingtom, D.C., area.
     Probably the simplest of all the many possible
explanitions is that the Spanish stations are opperated by
Cuba for the benefit of Cuban agents in the United States.
The Radio Havana Broadcasts in the background would have been
a mistake. The engineer was listening to radio Havana and
forgot the mike was on, or maybe radio Havana and some of the
numbers stations share facilities and the signals got mixed.
The local quality broadcasts heard in the U.S. could be Cuban
agents reporting back to Havana. Each agent would have his
own mechanical voice setup. Not that you can carry around a
50000 watt transmitter in your pocket.
     The actual explanation may not be the simplest, though.
According to Helms, some shortwave listeners believe that the
four and five digit number transmissions are totally differnt
opperations. The four digit transmissions, at least some of
which seem to originate in the United States, may be the work
of the U.S. government. Only the five-digit transmissions may
come from Latin America - and may be associated with local
governments or U.S. foreign agents. Harry L. Helms
speculates that the United States may have faked the radio
Havana background just to divert suspission from an American
espionage operation.
     Any glib explanation of the numbers stations is further
challenged by another incident Helms cites. An unnamed
listener was receiving a five digit numbers broadcast in
Spanish. At the end of the broadcast, the station
accidentally (?) stayed on the air, and faint female voices
were heard reading numbers in German and English. If the
report was accurate, then the numbers stations could be the
work of one worldwide operation. Choice of language could be
arbitrary. Whatever his or her native tounge, an agent need
only need learn ten words of, say, Korean in order to receive
a numerical broadcast in Korean.
     No one willing to talk has broken the code or codes used
for the transmissions. If the codes are sophisticated enough
it may be pointless to even try. A random four or five digit
number added to each number in the group will scramble the
code. The numbers would have to be agreed upon before
transmission. If a different number is used for each number
block and if they are not repeated it is mathematically
impossible for outsiders to break the code.
     At 3820KHz there is a four-note electronic tune. At
12700KHz there is a plaintive, twenty-one-note, flutelike
melody. At 15507 KHz there are beeps.
     The EXCHANGE serves as a message base for exchanging
information dealing with radio frequencies. If you wish to
post the frequencies from your area (confidential or not),
get frequencies for other areas, post sample broadcasts,
reveal the coding method or purpose of these broadcasts, or
just talk to a friendly bunch of guys and gals feel free to
The EXCHANGE : (904) 878 - 4413..24HRS..300/1200/2400 baud
                                   (Modem only, of course)
Special thanks to William Poundstone


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