HBM082: MI5 MI6 KGB CIA

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Content Note:

- Language

John Barner spent his entire childhood fiddling with his dad’s shortwave radio, picking up transmissions from all over the world. He like the way the sounds crackled, and the voices speaking foreign languages, and the eerie whine of transmissions coming in and out of static.

One night John got a phone call from one of his friends who also had a shortwave radio. “I think I just found spy stuff,” John’s friend said, “come over.”

John and his friends had found a number station, coded transmissions broadcast on unlicensed frequencies. Number stations are believed to be a form of espionage where intelligence agencies broadcast encrypted messages to field operatives. But no government has claimed responsibility for their existence.

Number stations come in many forms. Some are beeps or sustained tones. Some are repeated bars of familiar folk songs. The rest are strings of numbers and words from the phonetic alphabet.

Spectrograms of suspected number stations. 

John, like countless other shortwave enthusiasts, has been captivated by the mystery ever since discovering them as a teenager. He used to try to crack the coded messages, thinking he’d stumbled on the X-Files.

Henry Cooke at the Electromagnetic Field Festival.

Henry Cooke, a technologist and number stations enthusiast, believes that its the indecipherable code that makes number stations so alluring. He’s found internet forums dedicated to tracking number stations broadcasts and even videos of radio sleuths claiming to have found broadcast locations. Henry believes this to be a type of modern folklore; that shortwave enthusiasts trading theories about the origins and meaning behind the number stations are almost like telling ghost stories around the campfire.

Garrett Tiedemann produced this episode. Garrett also produces the podcast The White Whale. Bethany Denton edited this episode with help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.

Number Station recordings courtesy of The Conet Project. Full archive can be found here.

Music from John Barner’s new album, Shadow Time.  

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HBM045: Deep Stealth Mode (How To Be A Girl)

Marlo Mack gave birth to a son.  At least, she thought she did.  As a toddler, her son crawled towards dresses, wanted to be a princess, asked to grow long blonde hair.  And at age 3, Marlo's son requested to return to her tummy so he could come back out as a baby girl.  Marlo thought it was a phase--it wasn't.  So she started learning how to raise a very young transgender daughter.  She started keeping audio diaries. 


In this episode, Marlo sends her child to a new summer camp, and struggles with giving her autonomy in revealing her gender identity to other children.  


Marlo faces questions daily about how to best raise her daughter.  How can she stimulate her child while protecting her in a world often unkind to transfolk?  She tells her daughter that there are some people who are like Darth Vader, just too sad to be kind anymore. 


Marlo Mack and her daughter produce a podcast about their life together called How to Be a Girl.  Marlo generously gave us access to her raw recordings for use on this episode.  How to Be a Girl is part of The Heard, a new podcast network.  Marlo also writes a blog called Gender Mom

Marlo Mack is a pseudonym.  She will keep their true identities secret until her child is old enough to understand the risks of revealing her identity.  These risks are real.  2015 has been an especially bad year for trans folk;  2015 has already seen the murders of at least 15 American trans women.  Marlo and her daughter exist in what they call "deep stealth mode." 

So, when do you tell people that you're a girl with a penis? When is it safer to hide?

This episode was produced by Marlo Mack.  Jeff Emtman edited it with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White. 

Music:  The Black Spot 

Resources for trans children and their parents: 
Trans Youth Family Allies   - for families of trans youth
The Trevor Project - specifically crisis and suicide prevention
YouthResource - specifically for trans/lgbt youth
Human Rights Campaign - list of resources for trans youth

Video by Marlo Mack.

Marlo's daughter meets advocate and actress Laverne Cox.