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BBC describes enigmatic Russian radio transmitter

Aug. 22, 2017

Two years ago I commented on the World War II-era radio listening station at Chopmist Hill in Scituate, RI. Unbeknownst to locals at the time, the station’s 85,000 feet of antenna wire helped monitor tank-to-tank communications from Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

Now, the BBC recounts another enigmatic radio facility—what’s thought to be the transmitter of radio station MDZhB, with origins in the Cold War, located in “…the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg….”

Writes Zaria Gorvett of the BBC, “Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.”

She continues, “Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as ‘dinghy’ or ‘farming specialist.’ And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4,625 kHz.”

The transmitter, thought to be run by the Russian military, has spawned several theories as to its purpose—communicating with submarines, or perhaps space aliens, Gorvett writes. A more ominous idea is that “…it’s acting as a ‘dead hand’ signal; in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.”

A more likely explanation relates to cryptography. In this theory, Gorvett explains, the constant tone serves as a marker, claiming the frequency and stopping others from using it. She adds, “It only becomes a numbers station in moments of crisis, such as if Russia were invaded. Then it would function as a way to instruct their worldwide spy network and military forces on standby in remote areas.”

That seems plausible. But if the “dead hand” theory turns out to be correct, Gorvett concludes, “…let’s just hope that drone never stops.”

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