North’s coded radio broadcasts may pose threat

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North’s coded radio broadcasts may pose threat

Pyongyang has resumed broadcasting coded segments and evidence suggests the messages are being used to plan attacks against the South.

The shortwave radio broadcasts, known as the “numbers stations,” are being transmitted to agents for the first time in 16 years. Authorities also claim these agents may try to carry out assassinations or commit acts of terror against North Korean defectors and other key figures, and that they are coming up with countermeasures.

A source on North Korea who requested anonymity told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that a thorough analysis was made on the five-digit number segments broadcasted on the state propaganda mouthpiece Pyongyang Radio Station early in the morning on July 15.

And that rather than trying to create a broadcasting disturbance or attempt psychological warfare targeted at the South, the source said, “It was concluded that it is issuing commands aimed at South Korea.”

These indecipherable number segments broadcasted by radio are a Cold War-era espionage method intended to relay information to agents in the field. Intelligence authorities are struggling to crack these numerical codes.

Another North Korea source said, “Right before the number station was broadcasted, Pyongyang Radio Station was detected to have played the same song over and over again.”

This was confirmed later to be a North Korean revolutionary song, “We Will Go Together With a Song of Joy,” he added. This song was a theme song for a 1970s movie called “Nameless Heroes,” based on North Korean agents’ activities during the Korean War (1950-53).

The source said, “This song coming out ahead of the number broadcasts is comparing these North Korean agents to the heroes of the June 25 [Korean] War in encouragement to carrying out their commands.”

Authorities are focusing on the specific dates and times of the broadcasts. North Korea, ahead of July 15, also broadcasted the number stations on June 24. These were all on Fridays at 1 a.m.

The source said, “It appears they must have agreed on the day of the week and time in advance.”

If they were for propaganda or disturbance purposes, there would be no need for such set times and days. The Pyongyang station is seen as having reached at least two North Korean agents with these number broadcasts.

During the coded radio broadcast on July 15, an unnamed female announcer began the segment by saying, “From now on, I will give review work for the subject of mathematics under the curriculum of a remote education university for exploration agents of the 27th bureau.”

This 27th bureau, according to the source, seems to be a code name for the secretive operation and can also indicate multiple groups of agents.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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