A Russian Enigma Kernel Mag
Kernel Magzine takes on the enigmatic mystery of "numbers stations", those bizarre radio frequencies that broadcast speech, numbers, letters, music and sounds seemingly at random and for no reason anyone can discern. Are they codes? Is it a spy network? Do they activate sleeper cells? Some people went a step further in their attempts to unravel the mystery behind one particular station, UVB-76, and actually traveled to a remote area in Russia to uncover the source. For more on the numbers game, read the article by Martin Cannon in the first issue of The Anomalist journal, available free online.
http://www.kernelmag.com/features/repor ... an-enigma/
The Numbers Gameby Martin Cannon Occasionally, I write about UFOs.Occasionally, I speak to folks who claim to have seen them ormet their pilots. And occasionally, I get the chance to relate what I'veheard before a radio or lecture-hall audience.Which means, of course, that occasionally someone will askme:"Has anything weird ever happened to you?"I always reply "No." But that's not quite true. I can bear wit-ness to one minor but maddening enigma--one which veteran outer-limits researcher John Keel (and a very few other authors) connect tothe UFO controversy.In The Mothman Prophecies, Keel writes of a United Nationspublic relations officer named Don Estrella, who survived a head-onautomotive encounter with an invisible, impenetrable something-or-other that accordioned the front end of his car. Shortly after this bi-zarre accident, a friend of Estrella's in Long Island received an oddphone call. The U.N. officer reported that "A voice that sounded verydistant said 'Hello, Don.' My friend told him that I hadn't arrived yet. The voice then began to recite a series of numbers meaninglessly."Keel knew of many similar incidents. In 1961, a telephoneconversation between two women in Oregon was rudely interrupted bythe voice of a mysterious man who shouted "Wake up down there!"According to Keel,"The voice started to rattle on in a rapid-fire lan-guage that sounded like Spanish." After this odd locution ceased, the women could speak together normally once more. At the same timenext day, the women spoke on the phone again, only to earwitness arepeat performance by the oddball voice. After the audio interloperspeed-shouted something in a foreign tongue, it began reciting thenumbers forty and twenty-five continually.Stranger still: Keel claims to have investigated many instancesof numbers mysteriously read out over television sets during UFOflaps. These interruptions could not be explained away as shortwaveor CB interference. Keel even collected a number of stories from indi-viduals who claimed to hear these numbers in their heads.In 1967, during West Virginia's great "Mothman" wave of UFO-oriented oddities, Keel encountered the phenomenon again. Ev-ery night, a young lady in the area was called by a strange man who36 * * * would speak to her in an accelerated speech that sounded "somethinglike Spanish...yet I don't think it is Spanish."Brad Steiger'sMysteries of Time and Spacerefers to an ex-actly similar incident. A female informant was speaking to a friend onthe telephone, when their conversation was interrupted by an unusualmale voice repeating meaningless two-digit numbers. Thinking quick-ly, one of the women identified herself to the voice as one of the num-bers whereupon the intruder plunged into the rapid-firepseudo-Spanish noted by Keel's sources. Like Keel, Steiger connectssuch incidents with UFOs and similar other-worldly phenomena.Now, to paraphrase an old Bill Cosby line, I told you thosestories to tell you this one.Because, you see, it happened to me. The story begins sometime in the early Reagan era, when the homelessmultiplied like cancer and I came parlously close to joining theirranks. Those were the days when I faced that queasy interregnum be-tween exiting college and finding a niche within one's chosen profes-sion, and since I had chosen the field of art and illustration, theinterregnum threatened to last a lifetime. As it happened, this transi-tion period lingered for nearly three astonishingly miserable years, which I spent sequestered in a dank "bachelor pad" roughly the size of a Maytag appliance. I sustained myself with a succession of stultify-ing employments, punctuated by the occasional art assignment.Generally, I worked the graveyard shift. It fit my mood.One thing you have to understand about graveyard: The worstaspect of working those hours is not working those hours. What do you do during those nights when the job's not there but caffeine and achronic insomnia still keep you alert at three, four, five in themorning?My brother suggested loop lines.He had learned of these from a computer bulletin board. Ispent an evening at his house (he was prosperous, having opted forfast-food management instead of higher education), and received a37 armory.guided tour of the board's data base--which, for some reason, con-tained an introductory course in "phone phreaking." Phreaks, as theylike to call themselves, are techno-pranksters who enjoy tweaking thenose of "Bitch Bell," and loop lines are a major weapon in the phreak The telephone company invented loops to serve some arcanetesting purpose which need not concern us here. The important pointis that 99.9999% of the time the lines lie dormant--officially. Unoffi-cially, they're a phreak phantasia. Imagine phone lines connected tono telephone, lines that "float" somewhere in the central office of the Telco (if you'll forgive the lapse into phreak-speak). Loops come inmatched pairs, and the numbers usually occur in the upper strata of anexchange. Thus, if you dial (212) XXX-9977, you'll speak to whoevermight be waiting on (212) XXX-9978.Why do this? Basically, it's networking for nerds: The loopsserve as a sort of lonely-heart's club, whereby individuals in widely-separated cities can compare notes in the safety of telephonic anonym-ity. Occasionally, opposite-sex phreaks loop into each other, resultingin long-distance romances.What's the advantage of linking on the loops, as opposed todirect dialing? According to my pseudonymous bulletin board infor-mant, by using loops one could "avoid long distance charges." In oth-er words: free calls. Phreak samsara.38 * * *Well, I considered all this info interesting, but not compelling.One had to be a very lonely guy indeed to dial dolts in far-off locales just to hear human vocalizations. And, hey, I wasn't that far gone.Cut to: Three weeks later.2:30 A.M. I had finished the night's assignment. My eyes re-mained wide open, my ancient and rather persnickety television setsuddenly became obsessed with snowscapes, my car refused to budgeand there was nowhere to drive to anyway because the town waspretty thoroughly shut. The only unread book in the apartment wasSamuelson'sEconomics. I considered mugging someone--not for theprofit motive, but as a conversation-starter.Nights like this can drive the best of us to "loopy" behavior.I got out my list of numbers, and started dialing.I had numbers for New York, Chicago, and other points east.Most of these connected me to silence. Occasionally, I got odd, repeti-tive electronic tones--curious, but (since I had not yet acquired a tastefor Philip Glass) unsatisfactory. The Montreal lines were livelier. Here, I encountered actualpeople, or the closest approximations thereof Canada had to offer.Alas, most of these phreaks made me wonder why I was ignoringSamuelson. Then I heard The Voice.Actually, The Voice was preceded by The Tone, a subtle elec-tric buzz somewhat akin to the sound you hear when you hold a sea-shell to your ear. This faded away, gradually replaced by a young,male Voice reading numbers."27...28...29...27...28...29...27..."During the next few weeks, I heard The Voice many times; af-ter awhile, it seemed to take over the entire loop universe. Roughly ev-ery second or third call would connect me to the same tenor orator,constantly repeating a series of two-digit numbers. As I recall, thenumbers never dipped below 20 or above 60. The Voice did not ac-knowledge anything I said to it. Was it a machine? Perhaps--although39 here?this was no simple tape loop. Every so often, the voice would interruptits strange soliloquy and shout:"Wake up out there!" Then more numbers. (Keel's informants recall the statementas "Wake up down there!" Since I never achieved a clear-as-a-bellconnection, I suppose either reading is possible.)More rarely, I heard gibberish sessions--the odd, sped-up in-structions in a strangely familiar foreign language. Imagine Alvin theChipmunk on amphetamines delivering a lecture in Spanish. At least,it sounded like Spanish. While I've never studied this language, I am anative of Los Angeles, which has the largest Mexican population out-side of Mexico City; anyone raised under these circumstances shouldinstantly recognize such a commonly heard tongue. I felt no such rec-ognition here:"Spanish" is not an identification, merely the best avail-able analogy.(Portuguese, perhaps?)Part of the problem resulted from the rapid-fire delivery--dur-ing the "Spanish" lessons, my telephonic narrator never paused forpunctuation. Even if you play a dialogue tape at faster-than-normalspeed, you'll usually hear some conversational caesura. Why noneI had to know what was going on. Thereafter, whenever the gods of loopdom connected me witha seasoned phone phreak, I would inquire about the "Number-Man."After all, the Telco used loops to test new exchanges; wasn't it possi-ble that these strange monologues constituted some part of the test?Negative, the experts told me. The Bell brigade came onlineduring only normal working hours, and my loop activity occurred ear-lier (even accounting for the difference in time zones between Mon-treal and L.A.). Moreover, Telco employees had pretty much stoppedusing those particular lines. And when official phone folk did use looplines, they most assuredly did not spout meaningless numbers or jazzed-up quasi-Spanish.Had other phreaks also heard these strange messages? A fewhad. They were just as puzzled as I. Moreover, the telephone companycouldn't provide any official explanation--it doesn't even like to40 so.admit that loop lines exist. So if anyone was going to solve the enig-ma, it had to be me.Fortunately, my brother had loaned me a creaky, barely-functional telephone answering machine, which, when used not-quite-properly, could also record conversations. The solution was obvious:Preserve on oxide the lightning-fast snatches of psuedo-Spanish--andtry to have it translated, examined, and explained.I became a furious looper. Whereas once I regarded theNumber-Man as an annoyance, now I demanded an audience. He wasn't hard to reach, and I actually got a bit of his routine on tape. It was Number-Man's greatest hit:"35...37...35...37..." (Unfortunately,I no longer have the cassette.) But nothing I could do or say goadedhim into delivering his gibberish arias en ersatz espagnol--like thestereotypical trained dog, Number-Man wouldn't perform his besttrick for others. Brad Steiger's informant seems to have hit upon amethod of "cuing" the performance, but, alas, I never managed to doOne morning I was awakened by a telephone call. I blearily said"Hello."And Number-Man answered: "Wake up out there!" Followedby numbers. He may even have slipped me a bit of the Speedy Gon-zales material; I can't recall at this date. But, as you can imagine, thesituation struck me as tres freaky. Apparently, Number-Man had mynumber.One night shortly thereafter, following a few unsuccessful en-counters with my numerically-obsessed nemesis, I looped into some-one even more interesting--who, I now suspect, may also have playeda role in this enigmatic drama. Her name was Joanne, and her voice was so agonizingly sexy I felt tempted to propose to her the momentshe whispered my name.Dig it: Joanne told me she worked as a stripper in Montreal.She enjoyed her work, sashaying her voluptuous assets for all andsundry to goggle. Still, most of the guys she met annoyed her; they as-sumed she was all body and no mind. Joanne could tell that I was of ahigher caliber than her lumpenprole clientele: She just knew that I was41 intelligent, articulate, and possessed of a rare sensitivity. How sheknew this I knew not, since I had Porky-pigged fewer than ten wordsto her. Nevertheless, she informed me that she was considering flyingout to L.A. to meet me! First, though, I had to write her a long letter,describing myself, detailing my history, interests, aspirations...She gave me an address. I kept it for years. But I never re-sponded, fearing that her invitation contained the seeds of a nightmar-ish embarrassment. Suppose I composed a message of de Bergerac-ianeloquence, and cajoled her to make the trek westward: What kind of date could I offer? A chance to make out in the rusting corpse of my'72 Torino? No. In this case, wimpitude was wisdom.* * *Nearly a decade later, Joanne's (admittedly delightful) intrusionstrikes me as deeply mystifying. Was she really just a lonely ec-dysiast? Perhaps--but there was something oddly theatricalabout the episode, which seemed designed to fulfill every aspect of alonely-guy's most outlandish fantasy. Joanne was too good. Was Ireally so charming a fellow that this pretty young thing felt compelledto meet me after I had burped out no more than a hazy half-sentenceor two?One thing's for sure: She almost received a great deal of in-formation about me. Maybe that was the point.At any rate, my experiments with loop lines ended soon there-after. I got the bill.Seems I had misunderstood my original instructions on mat-ters phreakish: Loop lines do not come free. (Later, I discovered where I went wrong. Using loops to beat the system requires strategy:You arrange with a friend in a distant city to use a loop that's localfor him at a certain time, then you ask the operator to place a collectcall to the other side of the loop. The operator will ring up the numberand talk to your comrade, who will happily accept the charges--afterall, he's not going to pay a cent. Fiendishly clever, no?)Paying Bitch Bell her ton of flesh proved crushing; I consid-ered it a penance for the sin of phreakery, and resolved never to42
commit such error again. Nevertheless, a year later I again briefly ex-perimented with the loops. Number-Man, as far as I could tell, hadtaken his act elsewhere.* * *Years passed; I segued from being a starving artist to being alower-middle-class artist. Eventually, I rationalized Number-Man as"one of those things," although no one I met who was learned in thetelecommunicative arts could ever explain to me just what kind of thing I had encountered. Then I read Keel and Steiger. They knew of Number-Man, and they tied him in with UFOs.Indeed, UFO abduction lore contains a few examples of cog-nate incidents. For example, Budd Hopkins'sIntrudersnotes that well-known abductee "Kathie Davis" received a series of odd tele-phone calls in 1980. Repeatedly, a voice spoke to her in an indecipher-able language, and when she changed to an unlisted number, the voicecontinued to ring her up.An abductee of my acquaintance once received a series of "empty" telephone calls during which she heard nothing but the fuzzy,seashell-like electronic tone that preceded all of my encounters withNumber-Man. Like some of Keel's contactees, she also heard num-bers in her head. Somehow, she even got the impression that she wasto perform certain actions in conjunction with certain numbers. Shealso heard (both "telepathically" and during abduction episodes)rapid-fire instructions which she felt she would comprehend, and actout, at a later date.And yet: I don't think the answer lies with UFOs. I think we're dealing with spies.My encounters with Number-Man call to mind the mysterious"number readers" which afflict the shortwave band. For many years,on various frequencies, female and male announcers have broadcastfour- and five-digit numbers in several different languages. In his1983 bookBig Secrets, William Poundstone speculated that thesetransmissions involve codes used by drug-runners, or perhaps by theCubans. But a few years later, appearing on a local tabloid-TV43
program called "Eye on L.A.," Poundstone revealed that shortwaveenthusiasts had triangulated the broadcasts to their most probable ori-gin point: The state of Virginia.Which pretty much gives the game away.In his bookWithout Cloak or Dagger, ex-spook Miles Cope-land reveals that clandestine shortwave messages sometimes take theform of "screech" broadcasts: The information is sped up, making itincomprehensible to outsiders. One can retrieve the data only by re-cording the message and replaying the tape slowly.Consider the loop line as an espionage tool. You can checkthe telephone records of anyone calling the lines and you'll never learn who his contact is. A trace will turn up nothing: Even the telephonecompany will be forever mystified. Loops are the last bastion of tele-phone privacy, and would therefore prove enormously helpful to anoperative seeking secure communications.Consider, in this light, my contact with the sweet stripteuse Joarne: Was she a ploy, designed to ferret out background informationfrom someone who had stumbled onto the operation?Finally, consider an even stranger possibility indeed, a possi-bility so thoroughly bizarre that I raise the issue with some trepida-tion: The telephonic induction of hypnosis.Many researchers in hypnosis will tell you that there ain't nosuch animal as telephone trance. But I have examined the releasedCIA documents on ARTICHOKE, BLUEBIRD, MK-ULTRA andsimilar "mind control" programs, and one document unequivocally as-serts that telephonic induction of a deep hypnotic trance was success-fully tested in the early 1950s. (If you doubt that the government'sefforts to create a "Manchurian Candidate" met with greater successthan has ever been officially admitted, consult Walter Bowart's excel-lent--albeit difficult-to-findOperation Mind Control.)Some years ago, I began annoying/intriguing the UFO com-munity with a research paper, entitled "The Controllers," exploringthe possibility that some "UFO abductions" may actually be disguisedcontinuances of the clandestine mind control projects referencedabove. Although I doubt that John Keel would endorse this explana-tion, he does strongly affirm (in The Mothman Prophecies, in44
Operation Trojan Horse, and elsewhere) that some form of post-hypnotic suggestion seems to affect selected UFO percipients.Is it possible that the rapid-fire "Spanish" actually constitutessome form of hypnotic suggestion, incomprehensible to the normal lis-tener but subconsciously understandable by a properly "trained" indi-vidual? If so, we may discover here some explanation as to whynumber readers, and similar telephonic annoyances, crop up in UFOflap areas, and why these calls seem to herald odd phenomena and oddbehavior. The Tone itself may also act as a hypnotic cue (provided thelistener has been previously conditioned).Now, I freely admit that the above suggestions are highlyspeculative. But this minor-key mystery must have some sort of solu-tion. Granted, this conundrum can hardly be considered an earth-shaking matter; still, it has haunted me for years, rather like one of those stray pups that won't stop trailing you. I invite other suggestionsand comments. (Of course, I also invite Joanne of Montreal to offerher side of the story: If you're a spook, all is forgiven; if not, forgiveme. Whatever the circumstances, you gave a lonely lad somethingmighty interesting to ponder during one sleepless night.) Additionalexamples and alternative explanations would be most welcome.If anyone has alternative explanations...Does anyone?Wake up out there!45
A Russian enigma
James Cook on the most mysterious radio transmission in the world.
UVB-76 detail from Wikipedia
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Volume dials were turned up, computers began recording, forum posts were hastily typed. Something big was happening.
“OBYaVLENIYA KOMANDA 135”
For the first time in a history that stretches back nearly forty years, the mysterious Russian radio signal popularly known as UVB-76 had issued an order. On the 24th of January 2013, it was heard clearly by its legion of fans:
Command 135 initiated
The radio signal that occupies 4625 kHz has reportedly been broadcasting since the late 1970s. The earliest known recording of it is dated 1982. Ever since curious owners of shortwave radios first discovered the signal, it has broadcast a repeating buzzing noise. Every few years, the buzzer stops, and a Russian voice reads a mixture of numbers and Russian names.
A typical message came hours before Christmas day, 1997:
“Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4”
Instead of shutting down with the fall of communism in Russia, UVB-76 became even more active. Since the millenium, voice messages have become more and more frequent.
It’s easy to dismiss the signal as pre-recorded, or a looping tone. But what listeners quickly realised was that UVB-76 is not a recording. The buzzer noise is generated manually. The reason for overhearing telephone conversations and banging noises is that a speaker creating the buzzer is constantly placed next to the microphone, giving the world an eerie insight into whatever cavern the signal originates from.
The modern popularity of UVB-76 can be traced to /x/, 4chan’s non-archiving message board devoted to discussion of paranormal activity and unexplained mysteries. Just as 4chan created memes like Pedobear and Rickrolling, the online image board served to bring UVB-76 before the eyes of a host of internet users.
Online chatter about the signal increased in 2010, as bizarre broadcasts were issued on an almost monthly basis. Snippets of Swan Lake were played, a female voiced counted from one to nine, a question mark was transmitted in Morse code and strange telephone conversations were overheard by the receiver.
The short recording of Swan Lake that was broadcast by the signal in 2010.
Since October 2010, the station has changed location. The flurry of activity and voice messages preceded the most important development in the signal since it began broadcasting in the 1970s. It seems likely that the heightened activity of 2010 was related to the establishment of the signal in a new location. The new call sign was read out after the move: “MDZhB”.
Previous triangulation efforts had led to the discovery of the transmitter for UVB-76: a Russian military base on the outskirts of Povarovo, a small town nineteen miles from Moscow.
After the station changed location, two groups of urban explorers and UVB-76 followers travelled to the remote Russian town in an attempt to visit the military bunker that the signal had originated from for over thirty years. When they reached the town, a local man told them about the storm of 2010. One night a dense fog rolled in, and the military outpost was evacuated within ninety minutes.
The Russian military outpost that UVB-76 operated from until 2010. Image by ’bydunaika’
After making their way across the site and avoiding the guard dog stationed outside, the groups found the bunker and military buildings in a state of abandonment.
The guard dog stationed outside the Povarovo military compound. Image by ‘Desert_Fox’
Possessions and equipment were strewn across the base. Icy water had filled the bunker, yet clues were still to be found inside.
One group described the Povarov military bunker as “a quiet and lonely dark place, something like a maze with lots of corridors and rooms”.
A book was found that contained a log of messages sent by UVB-76. The ethereal signal that had fascinated the world for years now had a physical presence, along with confirmation that it had been run by the Russian military.
The UVB-76 logbook discovered by ‘bydunaika’
The mystery continues to this day. Sporadic voice messages are still emitted. Legions of listeners tune in via radios and online streams every day. A file can be downloaded at this link that allows followers to listen to UVB-76 in iTunes.
Along with a renewed interest in studying and archiving the broadcasts of UVB-76, multiple triangulation attempts have been made to try and ascertain the new location of the signal. Unlike before, it seems that UVB-76 is emanating from multiple transmitters across Russia. Triangulation has given rise to three possible locations.
The small Russian village of Kirsino has a registered populace of just 39 people. One signal can be traced here.
Kirsino, the remote Russian village that may hold clues to the meaning of UVB-76. Image from the official Kirsino wesbite.
Near to the Estonian border lies the Pskov Oblast. This is currently the most likely source of UVB-76 due to the multiple triangulation attempts that lead here.
Pskov, the administrative center of Pskov Oblast, 2003. Photo by Sergey Rodovnichenko, Flickr
A new theory has been the cause of much discussion amongst the followers of UVB-76. Could the signal be related to the Russian Government radio channel Voice Of Russia? One location that appears during triangulation attempts is very close to a transmitter array southeast of Kolpino that is reportedly used by the Russian government to transmit state radio across Russia.
As UVB-76 settled into the new location, Dance of The Little Swans from Swan Lake was played. Instrumental passages from Swan Lake are a favourite of Voice Of Russia.
View Larger Map
The radio array that offers an intriguing link between UVB-76 and the Russian government
While internet followers have discovered the location of the old signal, the purpose of UVB-76 remains a mystery. As with any unexplained mystery, conspiracy theories abound, some more credible than others.
The closest thing to an official explanation for the signal’s purpose comes from an academic paper published by the Borok Geophysical Observatory. This is state-funded organisation that describes itself as a “branch of the Federal state budgetary institution of science”. They explain that the signal originates from an observatory using the 4625 kHz frequency to measure changes in the ionosphere.
This does not explain the military bunker, or the voice messages. Nor does the paper detail how successful such research would be. A signal on the 4625 kHz frequency would have suffered from extreme interference, rendering it nearly unusable for researching the ionosphere.
The fan-favourite conspiracy is that UVB-76 is the audible version of Russia’s “Dead Man Switch” system. In the case of a nuclear strike that cripples Russian military command, the automated system will launch a counter-strike. While it’s likely that Russia does possess such a system, it’s fanciful to think that this humble buzzing sound is the noise of our impending nuclear apocalypse.
The most credible explanation of UVB-76’s purpose is that it is a military communication system operating across western Russia. The coded messages are announcements for various military districts, enabling a simple means of communicating with multiple units at the same time. As for the repeating buzzing noise, this is thought to be a channel marker that exists to discourage others from using the same frequency.
An image posted on the Russian Wikipedia seems to confirm the military communication theory. A small framed piece of paper in an administration and enlistment office of the Russian army refers to 4625 kHz, the broadcasting frequency of UVB-76. With this so prominently displayed, it’s possible to confirm that the signal is not a “Dead Man’s Switch”, nor is the signal intended to be a secret.
The internet has, for decades, been listening to the internal communication network of the western division of the Russian armed forces.
Caption: A sign in a Russian military enlistment office that references the 4625 kHz frequency used by UVB-76. Image from Wikipedia user Orlando Avare
While the mystery of UVB-76 may have been solved, its legion of followers and obsessives will continue to listen. Thousands of people across the world tune into the signal, hoping to catch one of the ethereal voice messages.
For those in the know, it’s a bemusing social phenomenon. But for the residents of 4chan’s /x/ board and the radio scanner fans, UVB-76 is far more than a communications network. For them, it’s a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse, it’s an international spy network, it’s a secret Russian space experiment.
Whether you believe the theories or not, there’s no denying the thrill that comes with hearing the distorted voice messages of UVB-76.
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