By Jakob Lewis, Nashville Public Radio
After spending lots of time with family this week, maybe you found out something about a parent or grandparent that surprised you.
That’s what happened to relatives of Sara McCall, an 80-year-old woman who started opening up about her Cuban heritage after her son died unexpectedly.
The surprise? McCall worked for the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base before the Cuban Missile Crisis. For a short period, she would ferry letters between U.S. officials and their contacts in Cuba.
“If they catch me, that’s it,” she remembers thinking. “I [can’t] go to the base anymore, or they go and kill me, or they put me in jail.”
Editor’s Note: This story is an excerpt of NPR’s full-length Neighbors episode, “My Grandma’s A Spy.” Listen to the excerpt above, or hear the full version on their website or on any podcasting app.
Good signal of Cuban Spy Numbers HM01, Oct.7
LZ2GPB and OBSERVER’s blog dedicated to the hobby of DX-ing: from longwave, mediumwave and shortwave all the way up to VHF radio and satellite monitoring.
NUMBERS STATION Good signal of Cuban Spy Numbers HM01, Oct.7
0455-0550 on 10860 secret/hidden site (Bejucal) Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0555-0650 on 10345 secret/hidden site (Bejucal) Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0655-0750 on 9330 secret/hidden site (Bejucal) Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
Editor’s Note: Recorded YESTERDAY, three good quality recordings of Havana’s High Frequency (i.e., “shortwave” or “ham radio”) broadcasts to its officers and agents in the field. For the last 25 years, Cuba has been slowly transitioning from HF to internet-based communications. At this point, only its technological dinosaurs still use HF.
By Shan Harris, The Daily Beast
When I was 10 years old, I found a shortwave radio in a crumbling old leather trunk where we kept family photos and other memorabilia. As I spun the dial, tinny, modulating noises, like the song of an electronic slide whistle, emanated from the radio’s small speaker. Staticky cracks and pops competed for airtime. The sounds swished and swirled, unintelligible and unremarkable. But then, emerging through the clamor, was a voice.
I might have run right over it with the dial, but the voice’s rhythmic, steady pacing caught me up short. It wasn’t a deejay. Nor a commercial. And he wasn’t singing. He was just speaking. The same line, over and over again.
“7…6…7…4…3.” Pause. “7…6…7…4…3.”
I don’t remember if those were the exact numbers. But they were numbers. A repeated sequence which had no obvious meaning, and was entirely devoid of context. To find him here, amidst the screeches and howls of the shortwave frequencies, was like coming upon a man standing in the middle of a forest, talking out loud to no one.
How long had he been here? Who was he talking to? He had that officious tone of the recorded telephone operators who chastised you for dialing a wrong number. “Please hang up, check the number, and dial again.” And the same distracting static I’d heard in those messages filled the background. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking live, or if he’d been recorded and set loose to play into the air.
But there was an urgency to his tone. And a purpose. As if he were talking to me. Imploring. Listen. Hear me now. 7…6…7…4…3. Did you get that? 7…6…7…4…3.
I was simultaneously terrified and captivated.
I never touched the radio again. My curiosity was suppressed by a feeling of dread that I had heard something not meant for me. But I never stopped thinking about it. The voice became a character I passed around with friends during late-night ghost stories. The Bell Witch. The Killer in the Back Seat. The Numbers Man.
Article continues here: Numbers Stations
On August 18 at 22:00 UTC, I heard a government intelligence agency transferring encrypted messages to spies over the radio.
Or at least, that’s the most common explanation for what I heard.
I dialed to the correct frequency—17480 kHz—using an internet-connected radio tuner maintained by a university in the Netherlands. Suddenly, over waves of static, an eerily-robotic woman’s voice began speaking a series of five-digit number sequences in Spanish.
About three minutes later, the numbers repeated in the same order, but this time each sequence was followed by a digital bell-like tone and a harsh blast of noise, like a 56K modem trying to connect to AOL in the 90s. This continued for about 20 minutes, each sequence punctuated by the bizarre noise blasts.
This is HM01, sometimes called “Voce De La Chica,” a shortwave numbers station believed to be operated by the Cuban intelligence directorate, Dirección de Inteligencia (DI).
To the casual listener, numbers stations are mysterious broadcasts of voices speaking streams of numbers which, in at least some cases, are encrypted messages being sent to government spies.
They have long seemed like Cold War relics, born in a time when spying meant boots-on-the-ground and internet surveillance was impractical or irrelevant. And yet, HM01 continues to operate in what the NSA has called a “golden age” of internet-enabled signals intelligence, and despite historic progress in US-Cuba relations earlier this summer.
While evidence suggests HM01 is operated by the Cuban government, it’s virtually impossible to tell who it’s sending to, which is one of the main tactical advantages of numbers stations: You can easily see the intended recipient of an email, but you can’t prove someone listened to a radio broadcast unless you catch them in the act.
Shortwave radio listeners (or SWLs, as they are known) have followed stations like HM01 for decades. According to members of Priyom.org, an online community of radio enthusiasts that monitors numbers stations, HM01 is a close relative of “Atención,” a government station that has operated for decades and whose transmissions wereused as key evidence in a case that convicted five Cuban spies in the late 90s.
Article continues here: HM01
CUBA Reception of Cuban Spy Numbers station HM01 on Tue, August 4
from 0630 on 11462 secret / hidden tx ?Bejucal? Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
from 0745 on 13435 secret / hidden tx ?Bejucal? Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
from 0815 on 11635 secret / hidden tx ?Bejucal? Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
Editor’s Note: High Frequency (HF) radio broadcasts — better known as “shortwave” or “ham radio” — have been the workhorse of Cuban Intelligence communications for decades. That said, Havana’s use of HF radio for espionage continues to decline, most likely as its spies transition to internet-based means.
xx54-xx18 broadcasts 24 minutes; xx18-xx28 open carrier/dead air;
xx28-xx48 broadcasts 20 minutes; xx48-xx54 change of frequencies.
0454-0548 on 5855 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri0
454-0548 on 12120 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri, not active
0454-0548 on 11462 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
0454-0548 on 14375 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat, not active
0554-0648 on 10345 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0554-0648 on ????? secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat, ex 9330
0654-0748 on 9330 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0654-0748 on 13435 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
0754-0848 on 9065 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0754-0848 on 11635 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
0854-0948 on 9240 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0854-0948 on 11462 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
0854-0948 on 12120 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat, not active
0954-1048 on 5855 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0954-1048 on 9155 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
0954-1048 on 11635 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
0954-1048 on 12180 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat, not active
1554-1648 on 11435 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Daily
1654-1748 on 11530 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Daily
1754-1848 on 11635 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Daily
2054-2148 on 11635 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
2054-2148 on 16180 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
2154-2248 on 10715 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
2154-2248 on 17480 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
2254-2348 on 11530 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri
2254-2348 on 17540 secret/hidden tx Bauta?-Cuba Spanish Tue/Thu/Sat
Editor’s Note: According to reliable defectors and émigrés, most Cuban spies have moved from HF to internet-based communications. Those still on HF (or morse code in some cases) are technology dinosaurs whom Havana is unwilling or unable to move into the 21st Century.
Recent Cuban “Numbers Stations” broadcasts from Havana to the regime’s spies abroad:
By Missy Ryan, Washington Post
A Cuban national imprisoned for nearly two decades as an American spy is now in the United States, his family said Tuesday, the first confirmation of the former U.S. agent’s whereabouts since he was released in last month’s deal to overhaul ties with Cuba.
Rolando Sarraff, a cryptographer with Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, was imprisoned in 1995 on suspicion that he was passing secrets to the United States. Information provided by Sarraff helped U.S. officials dismantle networks of Cuban spies in the United States, one illustration of the mutual hostility that characterized U.S. dealings with Communist Cuba for more than 50 years.
The White House secured Sarraff’s release last month as part of President Obama’s sweeping agreement to thaw U.S. ties with the island nation. The deal also included the return of an American aid contractor held by Havana and the release of three Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States.
But since the deal was announced Dec. 17, Obama administration officials have declined to confirm whether Sarraff was taken to the United States, or whether he was in U.S. government custody somewhere else. For weeks, family members in Cuba, Spain and the United States said they had not been informed by either the U.S. or the Cuban government about his whereabouts.
This week, his sister, who lives in Spain, said she finally heard from her brother. “He’s well, and he’s in the U.S.,” Vilma Sarraff told The Washington Post. She declined to give details.
The Sarraff family’s confirmation of the former agent’s whereabouts were first reported Tuesday by the Associated Press
Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The Washington Post.
By Chris Simmons
In December, Rolando “Roly” Sarraf Trujillo was identified as the high-value American spy traded for three Cuba spies. In the weeks since, some Republicans, a self-serving former Cuban spy named Bill Gaede, and the Castro regime have joined forces to diminish the importance of Roly’s service to America.
The Republicans are motivated by their mistrust of President Obama. In contrast, Havana’s attacks are driven by the fear its global spy networks will realize they have been betrayed – not by Sarraf Trujillo — but rather by their Cuban masters. Over the last 20 years, a “perfect storm” of events came together to make Havana’s agent communications extremely vulnerable. This fact is well-known to the regime’s leadership, which has inexplicably done little to protect its spies in the field.
I – as well as anonymous intelligence sources in Washington – identified Roly as a Directorate of Intelligence officer assigned to an element known as Department M-XV (Agent Communications). With this placement and access, he would have been able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the High Frequency broadcasts (i.e., shortwave or “ham” radio) that Cuba has transmitted to its spies every day for decades. Sadly, the three-man CIA ring in which Roly served was compromised in 1994. Unable to escape the island like his colleagues, he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail in 1995.
Thus, it’s no coincidence that in 1996, the FBI was able to start reading parts of the HF broadcasts from Havana to its largest spy ring in America. Known as the Wasp Network, this group of 43+ spies stretched from the Florida Keys to New York City and as far west as Louisiana. The Bureau’s code-breaking, while slow and imperfect, proved good enough to arrest 10 Wasp members in September 1998. During these arrests, the FBI acquired physical copies of the encryption and decryption software used by Cuba. It also seized nearly 1,000 encrypted computer disks with roughly 15,000 pages of material.
In August 2001, two more Wasps were arrested and their encryption seized. A month later, Cuban master-spy Ana Belen Montes was arrested at the Defense Intelligence Agency. A covert search of her apartment months earlier had discovered her encryption/decryption software program as well as numerous messages she failed to destroy. The Montes investigation originally began in 1998 as an “unidentified subject” (UNSUB) case. However, sufficient evidence didn’t come together to pinpoint a specific person until September 2000.
In May 2002, another Wasp was arrested and his cipher program recovered. Finally, in June 2009, Cuban spies Kendall and Gwen Myers were arrested. Technology dinosaurs, the couple were part of a handful of Cuban spies who stayed with Morse Code for roughly 30 years, long after almost everyone else had switched to encrypted voice messages.
Rolando Sarraf Trujillo allowed Washington to first gain insights into Havana’s spy networks two decades ago. This knowledge was then amplified by the practical experience the Bureau gained reading Wasp Network communications for over two years. This was followed, in turn, by another huge breakthrough — the subsequent arrests of more than 16 Cuban spies (most of whom took plea agreements and cooperated with the US). In these arrests, the US likely acquired over a dozen working copies of Cuba’s cipher software. Now, with Rolando Sarraf Trujillo presumably being debriefed somewhere in the United States, the US government is adding additional depth to its understanding of Havana’s spy communications.
These events, taken together, should strike terror in the heart of every Cuban spy. If we assume NSA recorded every HF broadcast Cuba sent over the last several decades, then the possibility exists that (at least theoretically), with enough time, people, and funding, Washington could eventually break every message Havana sent.
Even with its communications security in a 20-year freefall, Cuba continues transmitting daily HF broadcasts. So for all those disposable Cuban spies serving secretly throughout the US, I’d recommend you start sleeping with one eye open. Washington is closer to finding you than you ever imagined.