For decades, someone has made regular broadcasts in many regions of the world where mysterious sequences of numbers are read out. It was announced on the Internet that another numbers station had been located near Warsaw.
Numbers stations have attracted the curiosity of amateur radio enthusiasts and mystery seekers for many years. Every day at regular hours and on different frequencies, several dozen stations broadcast their obscure messages. According to priyom.org, another number station has been located in Falenty near Warsaw.
Some sources claim that numbers stations have transmitted their broadcasts since World War I, although we have found no evidence to support that. But they have certainly been active since the second half of the 1950s. They were intensively used throughout the Cold War, and while the number of broadcasts dropped and some stations were turned off after 1989, others are still operational. These include stations with transmitters located in Poland,
Military Unit 2414
According to priyom.org, all the numbers stations broadcasting from Poland transmit their signals from the village of Falenty near Warsaw. The Puchały-Falenty Field Facility, a military facility owned by Military Unit 2414, is located within the village. The military unit itself is a special Guard Regiment unit and part of the Command of Warsaw Garrison, which is outside the structure of the armed force types. The main task of the regiment is to guard and protect the facilities and institutions of the Ministry of National Defence, including physical protection, handling building access management systems, convoys, etc.
You can also view the base in Bing Maps and check out the Google Maps snapshot from a few years ago. Clearly, the fenced off area has more than 30 antenna masts of various types. Why would a regiment not responsible for communications need so many antennas?
Based on documents available across the web, about a year ago the fence of the facility was renovated, and electronic access protection and control systems were built for more than PLN 3 million; the contractor had to have a class 2 security clearance or higher to confirm full ability to protect information classified as SECRET. We may not know the exact procedures of guarding normal military facilities, but it seems that the security measures for this one are extremely high.
What suggests that numbers station transmitters are located in this facility? According to priyom.org, heavy storms occurred in the area on the 28th and 29th of June. The storm duration corresponded exactly with the interruptions of regular broadcasts. As soon as the storm clouds passed Falenty, the broadcasts returned. The area was also indicated during earlier attempts to locate a numbers station back in 1998.
Polish numbers stations and Windows XP
According to a list available online, 3 numbers stations currently broadcast from this location: E11, S11a and M03. There used to be two more stations broadcasting from Falenty: G11 and S11 (the first letter indicates the broadcasting language, where E stands for English, S for a Slavic language, G for German, and M for Morse code).
E11 station has broadcast in English from the 1980s. Throughout its history, the station would stop broadcasting every now and then for up to 5 years, and until mid-2013 the signal quality was poor. It improved over the last year, however, and the broadcasting schedule is observed quite rigorously, with mysterious number sequences transmitted several times a day on three different frequencies (depending on the month).
E11 is also interesting for another reason: it probably uses Windows XP as the signal source. After several broadcasts, the Windows XP shut down chime could be heard. It could also be heard during a recent 4 July broadcast, available below (at the very end). Source: priyom.org.
The frequencies used by the station suggest that most of its broadcasts are meant to be received in other European countries. There have also been occasional broadcasts that could reach other continents. The speaker has a peculiar accent, where 5 is pronounced ‘fiver’ and 9 is pronounced ‘nine-ool’.
For most of the month, the station broadcasts ‘empty’ messages, such as ‘270/00’ repeated every 3 minutes. Twice w month, other messages are transmitted. You can find the full broadcast history online and listen to the station live. According to the schedule, the next daytime broadcast will take place on Friday at 4 pm on 8530 kHz. You can listen to it at this address.
Another station identified as broadcasting from the same location is S11a, which transmits messages read out in Russian.
In the early 1990s, it replaced the station S11, which used to broadcast in Polish. Interestingly, S11 used two different numeral naming styles when reading out the numbers.
Who broadcasts, and who listens?
It is widely believed that numbers stations broadcast communications for spies operating in other countries. According to priyom.org, the Puchały-Falenty station is controlled by the Polish Foreign Intelligence Agency (responsible for civil foreign intelligence), which sends messages to the station using a microwave communication link. One-way radio communication is very secure, as having a radio receiver does not set the recipient apart from the population at large; the message can be received anywhere, and in the case of a search, the recipient can eat the piece of paper with the broadcast schedule and encryption key.
One disadvantage of numbers stations is the lack of a return channel. There is a smart solution to this problem, however, known as Burst Transmission. If you are interested in this topic, check out our next article. We will also discuss interesting encryption algorithms for transmitted messages.
Thank you, Marcin, for the link and for the inspiration. And don’t worry, we’re not going to commit suicide. 😉