Anyone heard of the Conet Project?

Nov 28, 2002
I was listening to a program on NPR. They were interviewing a guy about the Conet Project. It sparked my interest and I began googling. Lots and lots of hits. In a nutshell, some guy in London back in early 90s became obsessed listening to these mysterious transmissions on short wave radio. He later began recording them and they were made public as the Conet Project recordings. I downloaded a few and listened. Very strange stuff. Freaky, is a good description

Have you guys heard of this? Is it hoax, just more conspiracy theory nonsense, something else entirely, or maybe on the level?

Here is a short cut and paste from one of the many sites that explains it better and more succinctly than I could.

“The Conet Project is an encyclopedic document of the anomalous and uncanny broadcasts from numbers stations. A number station anonymously transmits synthesized voices reading sets of phonetic letters and / or numbers. While there is no organization that has yet claimed responsibility for these transmissions, it is assumed that the CIA, MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service), MOSSAD (Israeli Intelligence Service), and the renamed KGB are among those who operate the numbers stations”

Here is one example. conet project/disc 1/tcp_d1_8_dfd_21_irdial.mp3
Oh, it's real.

The so-called "numbers stations" have largely gone off-the-air now replaced by better ways for agencies to communicate with spies.

In the early 90s, some shortwave listeners in Virgina were upset by a rather powerful numbers station that suddenly came on the air. With some help from some Amateur Radio Operators, they triangulated it and drove a round for a bit and found an obvious radio station, big tower, etc. It had a sign on the gate that said, "US Army... something something something... Training Facility." So, they called the Pentagon and asked for the Army and asked what was going on that this facility. They were told that there was no such facility. So, they called back, asked for the Navy and asked what was going on at this facility without mentioning Army. The clerk checked his list and said the Navy had no facility by that name. They pressed a little. The clerk put them on hold for a few minutes and then came back on and said, "Oh, you're mistaken. That's not Navy, that facility is Army." When they went back a few days later, the signs were all gone. But, they did take pictures. They took the story to CBS News. CBS was initially interested, but suddenly dropped it like a hot rock. The story was published in SWL News as I recall.

Other such stations have been reliably triangulated to Cuba.

For a number of years, there was a station that would come on at regular times. The broadcast began, "Beer can, Beer can, Beer can..." and then proceeded into a series of seemingly meaningless numbers. Somebody broke the code and it was distributed covertly. This mysterious unidentified station was the US Navy distributing their radio propagation forecast (a very valuable thing for Ham radio operators to get ahold of in the days before a contest or for shortwave radio listeners to get ahold of any day) to the fleet.... and unbeknowst to the Navy, to a lot of other people. That went on for a couple of years. It always amazed me how everyone but the Navy knew that that code had been broken.

We used to use the numbers stations as propagation beacons. We knew where they were located. They'd all been triangulated. And they were all unique in some way, the language used, the sound of the voice, the patterns used, were they transmitting groups of three, groups of four, etc. So, we knew that if we could hear that station, we could work that country. Very handy.

There are a lot of little mysteries on the radio if you spend some time listening.
When I was studying Russian in the Air Force, one of our exercises was copying down short groups of numbers. We got so good at it that for years when I saw numbers I would think of them in Russian.
These stations were (and still are a bit) used for covert communications with spies. The mystery has always been how the spies reply without the luxury of an obvious transmitting station.

The answer was generally believed to be that most of what was being communicated by numbers stations had to do with arranging dead drops. The spy would signal that he had some information to turn in. He could do this in a hundred seemingly invisible covert ways. A gum wrapper carelessly dropped on the floor of bus #210 sometime before 11am could be the signal. The agent sent to board the 210 bus at 11am and casually scan the floor for that wrapper did not know who the spy was, of course. His job was just to ride the 210 at 11am and look for a mint gum wrapper on the floor. And he did this every day on some routine errand. When he saw the wrapper, he reported that back. The next night, the numbers broadcast included coded instructions to the spy as to where to drop the information. 21, 25, 38, 44 means drop it in the trash can near the bench on the south side of the park. The next afternoon, an agent would be sent out to check that bin. Again, the folks picking the package up would never see the person dropping it off. His identity was known only to a very select few.

A good example of this was John Walker, the spy that the Soviets ran in the US Navy. He had what appeared to be a standard scientific calculator. It functioned as such too. But if you hit a certain key sequence, it went into a hidden mode in which it could decode numbers broadcasts for him.