July 2016 – NORTH KOREA – North Korea’s state radio has recently broadcast strings of indecipherable numbers in a possible move echoing a Cold War-era method of sending coded messages to spies operating in South Korea. A female announcer at the radio station read numbers for two minutes on June 24 and 14 minutes on Friday, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service, including phrases such as ‘turn to page 459, question 35’ in what she described as a mathematics assignment.
During the Cold War, Pyongyang sent such numbers via shortwave radio to give missions to agents dispatched to South Korea, according to captured North Korean spies. ‘Now we’ll begin a mathematics review assignment for members of the 27th expeditionary unit of the distance learning university,’ the woman’s voice crackled over the radio. ‘Turn to page 459, question 35, 913, question 55; 135, question 86. The messages, a recording of which was broadcast by South Korean TV channel KBS, were disguised as a mathematics lesson for distance learners and reappeared on North Korean radio station Voice of Korea in the early hours of Friday. The radio messages, also known as numbers stations, work by broadcasting strings of seemingly random numbers over shortwave signals to an agent in the field.
The technique, a method of sending one-way secret messages, dates to the French Resistance in World War Two and is still in use by some governments today. South Korea jams most North Korean radio frequencies but Pyongyang-based Voice of Korea broadcasts on shortwave signals which can be picked up far beyond the Korean peninsula, and are difficult to jam. The receiving agent, armed with a radio and a pen, uses an easily concealed pad with corresponding letters on it to listen to and decrypt the secret message.
‘(North Korean) numbers broadcasts have been on hold for quite some time but have recently resumed, something we think is very regrettable,’ Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry, told a media briefing on Wednesday. It was not clear whether the signals were meant to deceive or deliver genuine instructions. ‘I can’t speak to their intentions, but we hope that the North will refrain from an old practice like this and behave in a manner that’s conducive to improving South-North ties,’ Jeong said.
Neither the Unification Ministry nor the NIS elaborated on whether South Korea believes the North’s recent broadcasts were meant to send information to agents in the field. Seoul accuses Pyongyang of sending spies disguised as ordinary refugees seeking to resettle in South Korea or nurturing pro-North figures in the South. News of the North Korean broadcast came as North Korea is angrily reacting to the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in South Korea. On Tuesday, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the sea, according to Seoul defense officials. –Daily Mail