December 29, 2006
'Messages to Spies Are Coded but Not Hidden'
Finally, news that's old hat to intelligence junkies makes it into the mainstream media.
Today's Washington Post features a story by James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News on how anyone with a shortwave radio can listen in to coded spy messages at 6855 or 8010 kHz.
Here's the article.
- Messages to Spies Are Coded but Not Hidden
Over Shortwave, Anyone Can Listen
It turns out that anybody can tune in to the world's top spy agencies talking to operatives. All you need is a cheap shortwave-radio receiver, the kind available at any drugstore.
Tune it to 6855 or 8010 kHz.
On the hour, you might hear a girlish voice repeating strings of numbers monotonously in Spanish. "Nueve, uno, nueve, tres, cinco-cinco, cuatro, cinco, tres, dos...," went one seemingly harmless message heard last month on a Grundig radio.
It was the Cuban Intelligence Directorate or Russian FSB broadcasting coded instructions from Havana to spies inside the United States.
Turn the dial up to 11545 kHz, and you might hear a few notes of an obscure English folk song, "Lincolnshire Poacher," followed by a voice repeating strings of numbers. That's believed to be British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, broadcasting from Cyprus.
On 6840 kHz, you may hear a voice reading groups of letters. That's a station nicknamed "E10," thought to be Israel's Mossad intelligence.
Chris Smolinski runs SpyNumbers.com and the "Spooks" e-mail list, where "number stations" hobbyists log hundreds of shortwave messages transmitted every month. "It's like a puzzle. They're mystery stations," explained Smolinski, who has tracked the spy broadcasts for 30 years.
While hobbyists guess at the meaning of each cryptic message or which spy service sent it, it's no mystery to intelligence officials, who confirmed the purpose is espionage.
The signals are too strong to be made by amateurs and are often on licensed frequencies. The State Department once complained to the Israeli Embassy in Washington that "E10" was blocking a U.S. broadcast, a source said.
"I can't imagine who else would waste the time in front of a microphone reading numbers" but a spy, said James Bamford, who has written about intelligence. Bamford calls number stations "simple but effective" spycraft.
"It's extremely effective," agreed a senior intelligence official. "If you have a one-time pad, the code can't be broken, and you can send out dummy broadcasts as much as you want to confuse your enemy."
A "one-time pad" is the key to unlocking coded shortwave messages that the CIA calls "one-way voice link."
It is low-risk because it's known only to the sender and the recipient and used just once before being destroyed, said retired CIA officer Tony Mendez.
Mendez said he would often imprint the code on microfilm or even a cigarette paper. Once inside the target country, a CIA operative could make a shortwave receiver out of simple materials. "The voices are not real people," he added. "They're computer-generated."
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.
One-time pads and coded radio began in World War I, said Thomas Boghardt, a historian at the International Spy Museum. Little has changed since, judging by recent espionage cases involving shortwave radios, including that of a man detained in Canada last month and accused of being a Russian spy.
In Miami last week, Carlos and Elsa Alvarez pleaded guilty to lesser charges after the United States accused them of spying for Cuba. A prosecutor alleged in a court hearing this summer that they received shortwave "messages in five-digit groupings." An FBI interview transcript shows Alvarez admitted going into his bathroom "on Fridays to listen at 11" for messages aimed at the couple, code-named "David" and "Deborah."
Memo Pen — 'The paper's in the pen'
From the website:
- Memo Pen — Carry this pen, and you'll never be without paper!
A paper cartridge fits in this pen's cap.
Leave the bulky memo pads at home — inside the pen is a note pad that's 2"-wide and more than two feet long!
Tear off a piece and leave a note with someone else... or, pull off the top half of the pen, pull out some paper, write yourself a note — then roll it back in so you can retrieve it later.
This unique pen will help you remember phone numbers, appointments and email addresses.
Includes two paper scroll refills.
No need to write on the back of envelopes... or your hand!
'Suit Challenges Warm Gasoline'
That's what I thought when I read that headline above a December 15, 2006 New York Times article.
Long story short: Gasoline expands when the temperature exceeds 60°F, so a gallon in summer actually provides less energy than one purchased in winter. Though the difference amounts to pennies a gallon, the gallons add up: Public Citizen estimates oil companies end up overcharging customers more than $2 billion a year as a result of their failure to adjust gasoline volumes delivered according to temperature.
Here's the story.
- Suit Challenges Warm Gasoline
Seventeen oil companies and gasoline service stations have been named in a class-action suit accusing them of overcharging customers at the pump by failing to compensate for changes in gasoline volumes when temperatures rise.
The consumer fraud suit contends that oil companies fail to take into account the fact that gasoline expands when the temperature exceeds 60 degrees. Therefore, the suit says, consumers get less energy for each gallon they buy.
The suit was filed Wednesday by a small number of truck drivers and motorists in California.
According to Public Citizen, a consumer association, the oil industry has resisted installing equipment that can adjust gasoline volumes delivered at the pump when temperatures change. While the difference amounts to pennies per gallon, Public Citizen estimates that oil companies end up overcharging consumers by more than $2 billion each year.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's largest trade group, has said that changing the existing metering systems would be too costly while benefits to consumers would be small.
The companies named in the suit include Chevron, 7-Eleven, Valero and Wal-Mart Stores.
The Heritage Foundation blog raised an interesting counterpoint to the lawsuit's grounds.
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
'World's Tallest Man Saves Dolphins'
I read it on December 15, 2006, the day after it happened, in the New York Times, not the National Enquirer.
It came in via an Associated Press story, which follows.
- World's tallest man saves dolphin
The long arms of the world's tallest man saved two dolphins in northeast China by reaching inside of them to remove plastic they had swallowed, state media reported today.
The dolphins at an aquarium in Fushun, Liaoning Province, had fallen sick after swallowing the plastic from the edge of their pool, and attempts to use surgical instruments to remove the plastic failed because of the contraction of the dolphins' stomachs in response to the instruments, the China Daily newspaper reported.
Veterinarians than decided to ask for help from Bao Xishun [top], a 2.36-metre-[7' 9"]-tall herdsman from Inner Mongolia.
Bao, 54, was confirmed last year by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's tallest living man.
The official Xinhua news agency said Bao, using his arm length of 1.06 metres [3' 6"], was able to reach deep enough into the dolphins to pull out the plastic.
Photographs showed the jaws of one of the dolphins being held back by towels so Bao could reach inside the animal without being bitten.
"Some very small plastic pieces are still left in the dolphins' stomachs," Zhu Xiaoling, a local doctor, told Xinhua.
"However, the dolphins will be able to digest these and are expected to recover soon."
Desktop Aquarium — 'Fish actually swim every time you drop in a pen!'
And that's not all!
Pencils, scissors, letter openers, whatever you've got — these fish aren't fussy, they'll take off at the drop of a Sharpie.
But wait — there's more!
The aquarium actually lights up so you can study your new finny friends.
And did I mention that these fish don't die if you forget to feed them?
Just don't let the batteries go dead.
- Desk Aquarium
Fish actually swim every time you drop in a pen!
Pulsating pump activates the scene: swimming fish and "deep sea" illumination.
The animated, stress-free distraction lasts 30 seconds — or until you add another desk-top item.
Requires 2 AA batteries (not included).
And hey, is that Nemo in there, hiding?
No wonder it took so long to find him.
Joy to you and me.
43people.com — 'Who do you want to meet?'
That's what it asks at the top of homepage of 43people.com.
I put Steve Wozniak in the search box and lo and behold, up came a page with his picture on it so I clicked on it and there he was (above).
Does that mean I met him?
Didn't feel like meeting someone, but maybe I just need to spend more time at 43people to get the hang of it.
See what you think.
Double Burger Press
About once a month or so I regret my tech ineptitude, which consists of a skill set just above thinking the slide-out tray on my hemisphere iMac is for drinks.
Today's one of those days, 'cause if I could erase everything but the item I'm featuring from the picture above, I would, featuring it as a "What is it?"
But alas, I can't do that so here you go.
From the website:
- Double Burger Press
Double burger press forms perfect patties every time.
Cut cooking time in half by making two 1/2 lb. burgers simultaneously.
Circular ridges give burgers a professional appearance and trap seasoning and sauces.
Just place patties inside and press.
Wanna know what I like best about this device?
Then stop reading 'cause here it comes....
Those little raised bumps on the top half which I assume are meant to carry the iconography of "sesame seed bun" into your retinal cells and from there on back to the optic cortex, thus making the tool even more subliminally appealing.
$14.98 (yes — one pound of hamburger is included. What's wrong with you, anyway? Wake up and smell the salmonella. But I digress.)
I'm reminded of one of the all-time great sports nicknames.
Chuck Knox, who coached the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams, always preferred to run the ball.