The Stupidly Simple Spy Messages No Computer Could Decode

Posted by K R on

When I was 10 years old, I found a shortwave radio in a crumbling old leather trunk where we kept family photos and other memorabilia. As I spun the dial, tinny, modulating noises, like the song of an electronic slide whistle, emanated from the radio’s small speaker. Staticky cracks and pops competed for airtime. The sounds swished and swirled, unintelligible and unremarkable. But then, emerging through the clamor, was a voice.
I might have run right over it with the dial, but the voice’s rhythmic, steady pacing caught me up short. It wasn’t a deejay. Nor a commercial. And he wasn’t singing. He was just speaking. The same line, over and over again.
“7…6…7…4…3.” Pause. “7…6…7…4…3.”
I don’t remember if those were the exact numbers. But they were numbers. A repeated sequence which had no obvious meaning, and was entirely devoid of context. To find him here, amidst the screeches and howls of the shortwave frequencies, was like coming upon a man standing in the middle of a forest, talking out loud to no one.
How long had he been here? Who was he talking to? He had that officious tone of the recorded telephone operators who chastised you for dialing a wrong number. “Please hang up, check the number, and dial again.” And the same distracting static I’d heard in those messages filled the background. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking live, or if he’d been recorded and set loose to play into the air.
But there was an urgency to his tone. And a purpose. As if he were talking to me. Imploring. Listen. Hear me now. 7…6…7…4…3. Did you get that? 7…6…7…4…3.
I was simultaneously terrified and captivated.
I never touched the radio again. My curiosity was suppressed by a feeling of dread that I had heard something not meant for me. But I never stopped thinking about it. The voice became a character I passed around with friends during late-night ghost stories. The Bell Witch. The Killer in the Back Seat. The Numbers Man.
I understood that the voice wasn’t an apparition or an urban legend—which made it even more compelling. But it would be another 25 years before I learned what I’d really heard on the shortwave radio. That man had been talking to someone. Not me. But someone in particular, who knew exactly what the Numbers Man was saying. I had intercepted a message to a spy.
Read More: The Daily Beast

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