“Numbers stations” are the mysterious coded radio broadcasts that have been transmitting, in some cases, for decades across the world. The transmissions themselves have an eerie air, featuring at times clunky automated voices, at others quaintly dated human voices rambling streams of numbers that, at first, seem like ghostly gibberish. While they’re the focus of myriad conspiracies and explanations, the most widely held theory about these stations is that they are a means by which intelligence agencies can communicate with assets around the world, who can receive these coded messages securely, using nothing more elaborate than a household radio.
While on the one hand they seem to be unnerving echoes of the Cold War, these messages are also indicators of the proximity of intelligence work to our everyday lives. Lewis Bush’s forthcoming book Shadows of the State seeks to visualise, locate and expose many of these stations. Long-documented by monitors and enthusiasts, with recordings collated by the likes of The Conet Project, Bush’s new project takes the wealth of research available a number of steps further, using open source information, publicly available satellite imagery and inexpensive software to give these faceless stations visual identities.
I sat down with Bush in a south London pub to talk conspiracy, cryptography and obsession. And also to dwell on the merits of turning the tools of power to bear on their creators.
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