Long-lost evidence shows G01 run by French SDECE

14 March 2020

Recently, we were approached in our chat by the author of a new blog about the origins of the ancient numbers station G01, also known as the Tyrolean Music Station. It stopped transmitting in 1975, but decades ago back when it was still active, this station used to broadcast, as its name indicates, Tyrolean music and yodeling, along with numbers and occasionally, something rather unique, even coded sentences; listen to a recording of it from The Conet Project here.

Investigating past numbers stations can be quite challenging and sometimes more akin to archaeology, as obviously you can't work on active signals anymore, and you have to rely on past logs, recordings, accounts and descriptions that turn out often rare, partial and incomplete, ambiguous or even contradictory. The author of this new blog about G01 did a wonderful work of bibliography tracking down and analyzing all the available elements and pieces of evidence that could help figure out who was behind this numbers station. He asked us about one document in particular: an elusive article in a 1975 issue of a French magazine called Interférences, long since discontinued and out of circulation, that allegedly claimed G01 was run by the French intelligence agency SDECE, from the area of Chartres, in France, less than 100 km southwest of Paris. Several sources over the past decades refer to that article, all saying that they heard about its claims, but had been unable to see this article for themselves, or find a copy of the magazine to get all the details.

Well, until now. Following this, one member of our team was able to acquire a second-hand copy of this magazine. And thus we present it to you, so we can all finally get to the bottom of this - click to enlarge:

Front cover of issue #3 (Fall 1975) of Interférences "Espionnage et radio" article in Interférences #3 (Fall 1975)

At first, the article turns out unfortunately somewhat underwhelming. Tucked in a corner on half a page, it presents rather generic information about numbers stations, making what seems to be an approximative mention of G14, then East Germany, Cuba and the CIA, before stating in a mere few sentences the information that we were looking for: "Unconfirmed information: a station transmits Tyrolean music on 6425 kHz between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m. This would be a station from the SDECE located in Chartres and the Tyrolean music represents the key of a message." That's it - no additional detail, no source, no method how this was determined.

The article is signed by a certain "B.C.", however in the preceding pages in a longer article about clandestine and propaganda radio stations, Publication Director Antoine Lefébure thanks his coauthor and friend Bernard Chenal as the source of most of their material on the topic. Armed with a name, we set out to and were indeed successful in getting in touch with Bernard Chenal, to ask him about his G01 article, almost 45 years after he wrote it.

He could confirm it to us: the Tyrolean Music Station was run by the SDECE from the area of Chartres. His source is solid. Not only that, he was also able to shed some light on the recipients of those transmissions - indicating they were meant for agents of French interests beyond the Iron Curtain, but also revealing the possibility that they were sent to members of the NTSНационально Трудовой Союз, or National Alliance of Russian Solidarists: a Russian anti-communist organization rooted in the White Russian emigrant community, and based in Frankfurt in West Germany. The NTS was involved in clandestine activities: they coordinated remote revolutionary sleeper cells in the USSR, and operated their own clandestine radio station, Radio Free Russia, from mobile transmitters scraped together and mounted on delivery trucks, wandering and hiding in the forests of Bavaria to broadcast. Bernard Chenal tells us that the NTS themselves used this station to transmit messages using coded sentences in the same style as G01, so the situation is less than clear; in the end, he almost sounds sorry that he can't bring us more of an answer about G01's actual recipients.

However, he was able to clarify for us another part of the story. It is said that G01 stopped its transmissions and went permanently off the air after its activities were exposed and its cover blown so to speak, when the very article we are discussing today published the information that it was operated by the SDECE, in the Fall 1975 issue of Interférences. Bernard Chenal's first-hand account on this is pretty telling: "Back then when Interférences rolled off the presses, the following week the weekly newspaper Minute, which has liaisons with the French secret services, tore apart the information, saying it had nothing to do with France. Except that, a few days before, the transmissions had ceased."

One would be skeptical that the operator of a numbers stations would worry about being discovered to the point of shutting everything down, when the real secrecy and risk of being exposed is for the recipient agents, not the source. I know I met it with some disbelief myself when I first read that claim. However, we could use some context. France is a country with a strong centralized government, and a tradition of state control over public infrastructure: for example, TV and radio broadcasting remained a tight state monopoly all the way until 1982, among others. So this was serious business. Even more so that Interférences was very much on the other side of this fight: its subtitle being "For Criticism of Information and Communication Devices", it was essentially an anti-establishment publication, denouncing this state monopoly over radio broadcasting, along with modern mass media and information systems as means to control society.

This antagonism wasn't simply latent, it was open. When Interférences revealed the SDECE's involvement in G01 in its #3 issue in October 1975, this was already following exposing right from their #1 issue a secret, secure phone network used by the French government, named Régis; and also following actions to support the free - pirate - radio movement openly fighting the state monopoly, for example with their involvement in April 1975 in a one-off free radio broadcast criticizing nuclear power - another very sensitive and strategic state-controlled field, to which France in particular had deeply committed. Interférences relates that the police and secret services were present on stand-by on the university campus from where this broadcast was to take place, ready to intervene to stop it. So in the end, it isn't quite out of the imaginable that the SDECE reacted in a more than flustered way to the revelations about their Tyrolean Music Station.

Bernard Chenal told us that they hadn't been the only ones to publish that information: apparently, Radio Sweden's Sweden Calling DXers radio show has also given out that news, in the late 1970s or early 1980s; although it doesn't really seem to possible to search for archives of their old radio shows or to find traces confirming that one piece of broadcast.

And thus we are glad to be able to contribute our share of evidence about the Tyrolean Music Station. The blog article mentioned above that originally caught our attention to this topic mentions several possible theories, and the SDECE is not its favorite one. Among the alternatives, I personally can't give credence to the theory that it was broadcast by Radio North Sea International, which is technically rather questionable and foremost stems from ties with the Lockerbie bombing by Libya. The idea that it would have been run by the East German Stasi sounds more plausible. However, rather than compare and discuss the reliability of different contradictory pieces of evidence, I will dedicate the rest of this article to reasons why the case for the SDECE origin personally sounds right to me.

First of all, we just clarified that this long-sought-after article in Interférences really does exist, and does indeed say what it was alleged to say. We collected first-hand accounts from its author, and have a solid source about the SDECE operations. That's not all. While doing research, we came across a concurring source for those claims in the form of a 2013 book about the history of French secret services. In a chapter to which Bernard Chenal apparently also contributed, it describes a propaganda radio station run by the SDECE also from the area of Chartres, in the context of the Algerian War of Independence against the French colonial rule. This is not the Tyrolean Music Station, and had been broadcasting a decade earlier than it anyway, however the book describes this SDECE operation with concrete details, such as the officials who approved the project, the budget allocated to it, the piece of real estate property that was bought to house it, the influx of military and North African staff to man it, and even incidents this caused with the local population whose peaceful life in their small village got suddenly disturbed, going as far as a parliamentary complaint!

All of this seems to anchor the SDECE's presence in the area quite solidly into reality. And more importantly, the chapter ends on an actual mention of numbers stations and affirmation of the Tyrolean Music Station as another, later SDECE operation also from Chartres; however this time with a flagrant lack of evidence or source for this claim. Nevertheless, coming four decades later and from authors who seem to know the history of their topic, this looks credible.

This is not to say that the Tyrolean Music Station is itself exempt from anecdotal evidence. In fact, I can see several clues. First, the voice of the announcer was described as speaking German with an accent from Alsace, a region in eastern France sharing a border (and history) with Germany. Personally, as a Frenchman, while being no expert, I can hear and agree with this suggested accent. However, G01 recordings that we have access to boil down to basically a single one. Some people say the voice announcements on G01 were spoken live, and accounts about the station's somewhat clumsy operations would certainly point that way; but with such a small number of recorded transmissions to work with, this would be hard to tell, or to confirm that it was even always the same person lending his voice to the station, now let alone analyze his accent: trying to draw conclusions from so little supposedly representative material is simply mostly irrelevant.

The second element giving us a clue is G01's rather unique characteristic for a numbers station that rather than just announcing series of numbers, it also sent messages as coded sentences. For example, translated from German: "Helmut greets Franz. Hello! The sizes 26 to 32 fit me well. The sun is shining wonderfully. Our hen is about to lay an egg." When I hear this, the one thing that immediately comes to my mind is Radio Londres's "personal messages", broadcast during WWII by the BBC to the French Resistance. In my mind, this ties heavily with French intelligence and underground networks, and for French intelligence to use this kind of coded sentences would turn out self-explanatory.

Lastly, in addition to Tyrolean music, G01 also uses as an interval signal of sorts the first few notes of the communist anthem The Internationale. Some have expressed that it would be confusing, perhaps intentionally, for a western Cold War station to use a communist anthem. I disagree. Of course, there is that it is a classic and obvious choice to adopt elements of the target area rather than of the origin - presumably to blend in better, or because the agents who are going to have to listen to this are locals from there. But The Internationale is very much French to begin with. It was written in France, by a French revolutionary during the 1871 Paris Commune, and the music was later composed for it in 1888 also in France.

Furthermore, communism was never shunned in France to the extent where it may have been in some other countries. The Popular Front, in power in France between 1936 and 1938, was a political coalition that included the French Communist Party, and who introduced labor rights breakthroughs such as a two-week paid annual leave and the 40-hour workweek. The major, socialist French president François Mitterrand, who stayed in office from 1981 to 1995, came to power based on a common platform shared with the communists, and brought them into his government. And there is another song which I would like to share with you, born from the French Resistance during WWII - the Chant des Partisans. Its lyrics draw clearly from communist imagery, and, very popular, it was proposed for a while as a new national anthem, and is still sung today during official commemorations like Veterans Day or Bastille Day. So in the end, using the communist anthem The Internationale as interval signal for underground agents, does not seem anti-French or counterintuitive at all to me; quite the contrary.

I hope that this can bring you a new and perhaps more subjective appreciation about G01 having the French SDECE behind it. Make sure to check out our G01 page for more technical details about its broadcasts. Of course, this all falls short of a better and more conclusive kind of publicly available evidence, in the form of declassified documents or espionage case trials; however scarce, these might be less rare than you imagine, so check out this page listing them if this interests you. And maybe one day we will also find a declassified document, dated from 1975, ordering a little clandestine operation broadcasting Tyrolean music on shortwave to be shut down!

linkfanel, auf Wiederhören!