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Those who spy, sometimes termed agents (Officers is the correct term for those employed professionally by a known agency) are drawn to the task by their ideology, their need for money – debt is a good motivator, and sometimes blackmail. People who leave themselves open to blackmail have normally responded to a ‘honey trap’ involving another who is attractive to the target.


One has to ask how the spy receives their orders? There are several means, including the ‘Brush Pass,’ an object skilfully passed between two persons as they walk by each other, usually in a reasonably crowded place. The Dead Letter Box (DLB) is usually serviced by a diplomatic officer from the embassy running a spy. Such DLB’s are in places reasonably covered and out of sight of the general public. A sign is left on a wall or lamppost (perhaps a horizontal chalk mark in a particular colour) to indicate the DLB has been serviced. The spy then clears the DLB, rubbing out the chalk mark or perhaps leaving his own sign to indicate the DLB has indeed been cleared.

















Apart from agents the ‘Illegals’ feature heavily in intelligence gathering. In fiction the characters Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings featured in the US produced series ‘The Americans.’ A normal, American family with two children, they ran a travel agency whilst operating surreptitiously as spies for Russia. Factually one can see a parallel with those cited as Anna Chapman and her group of illegals, who worked for the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (SVR RF), arrested in the US on 27th June 2010, and quickly exchanged for four ‘agents’ who had worked for the West.


Portland Spy Ring


In Britain during the 1960s, a group termed the Portland Spy Ring featured three illegals; set up as antiquarian book dealers and a Bubble Gum and Juke box company director.

The book dealers were Helen and Peter Kroger, the company director and group leader was Gordon Lonsdale. Their target was Nuclear Submarine secrets from the Underwater Warfare Establishment at Portland Dorset. To gain access they used Harry Houghton, who in turn used Ethel ‘Bunty’ Gee to gain access to the secret files, which they removed and passed to Lonsdale who photographed them. The Krogers changed the film negatives into microdots which they inserted into particular books that were sent to an Iron Curtain country en route to Russia.









The locations of the microdots in the various books were sent by burst Morse using a transmitter in the Krogers home in Ruislip, North of London. Obviously their Russian masters had need to contact these illegals and it is here the use of radio came into its own. Using shortwave frequencies a schedule existed during which the Krogers would receive their coded message.  They used a radiogram, modified with a timeswitch, set to turn on a tape recorder to record the messages whilst the Krogers were not present.


Lonsdale, who lived just south of Regents Park, used a Bush Receiver, the EBS44 - better known as the Bush Imperial to reflect the market it was made for. It covered medium wave and short wave frequencies, and like the Krogers, Lonsdale had a schedule which he hid in a table cigarette lighter. His messages, like those to the Krogers, required a one time pad to decode the Morse signals that were heard as an 800 to 1000Hz tone when tuned in correctly.



Heidrun and Andreas Anschlag


On the 18th October 2011 at 0440UTC in Germany, two Russian spies, Heidrun and Andreas Anschlag, were arrested as Heidrun sat down at her receiver to receive her message.


They had been increasing in length for a couple of months and were sent using a system of tones. These tones varied in frequency (40Hz) to denote a certain figure:  0  is 760Hz, 1 is 800Hz,  2 is 840 Hz and so on up to the figure 9 being 1120. The numerals were sent in blocks of 64 and should a numeral needed to be repeated then that numeral was followed by a 1200Hz tone (80Hz) higher than the figure 9.











Such a transmission is indicated by a two minute toggling square wave which leads into a three figure ident and then into the message text proper. It is much more complicated than described but sight of a message, in fact that sent at the time of arrest, will show the manner of transfer:

The frequency and time schedule used is (for UTC read z)  0440z  5762kHz;  0500z  6962kHz;  0520z 7962kHz


The ident repeated nine times, with a number of messages indicator was: 


799 799 799 1 799 799 799 1 799 799 799 1


The message was Serial number 00217, with 777 groups: 00777 and the decode key used by the computer to allow the reduction of the message to en clair text was: 93067. Then followed 777 groups of numerical groups, the last being 64746, which is believed to instruct the program to stop its decode. Note the first three groups here as described are not in the Group count. This last message:


799 799 799 1 799 799 799 1 799 799 799 1  00217 00777 93067  <776 message text>  64746 took 10m26s to send. During that sending the recipients were arrested.


The Anschlags were receiving secret and classified NATO and EU documents from Dutch Diplomat Raymond Poeteray, who was arrested in August 2011. It is believed he received his instruction via shortwave from Russia, but in a much earlier voice schedule.

This is a representation of Poeteray’s messages:


759 648 32

79676 24725 80010 19476 91064

20837 55955 23688 02385 17633

35736 25730 48878 34556 57760

98564 05043 67407 42602 27951

89092 29399 42045 76394 06501

87626 65173 32362 89818 30884

61205 43188

648 32 00000



Finally, one other method exists using a standard broadcast station playing a particular tune at a variety of times. The tune played illustrates the DLB that requires attention.


This method was described to me by ex-Detective Sergeant John Symonds, the Romeo Spy. He would tune to Radio Moscow for his instruction, one tune he mentioned was ‘Volga Boatmen.’ Well known by Radio Moscow listeners, its sublime message would not be recognised.


These Number Station Transmissions are not only used by English speaking or European nations. North and South Korea use them to this day; China and Taiwan have been noted and at least one transmission in Farsi has also been intercepted.


During the Cold War many of these messages were transmitted and the STASI sent more than most. Even today as technology has moved on, these messages still allow for total secrecy of the recipient.



Dead Letter Box

Dead Letter Box

22nd March 1961, Middlesex, England, The bungalow in Crawley Drive, Ruislip, home to Mr Pe

22nd March 1961, Middlesex, England, The bungalow in Crawley Drive, Ruislip, home to Peter Kroger and his wife Helen, both sentenced to 20 years for their part in a Russian spy ring in the UK (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Espionage and the requirement to communicate

Espionage has been a necessity throughout the years to provide a clear intelligence picture of an adversary’s intention, across an entire field towards others, or specifically to those with a need to predict movement.

Such intelligence gathering may not be hostile and will include a cultural and financial understanding along with military and industrial needs. Technological capability is an obvious choice today, much as it was during the Cold War, during which there were main players as well as those on the peripheral, but usually with support from the major nations.


Image © Paul Beaumont

Paul Beaumont

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