Numbers stations on Twitter and other spook-y tweets

Ken Layne takes us on a tour of weird, possibly espionage-related Twitter accounts, from a "numbers station" that has tweeted 318,000 hexadecimal numbers since 2009 (possibly from Khabarovsk), to a "joke" CIA account that seems to have a lot of inside dope, to a massive cluster of accounts that tweet nothing but "Iowa City schools ask state for an audit," over and over again.

Here are some of the 38 followers of an inscrutable account called @googuns_staging—many of these are obvious fraudulent accounts with randomly generated profiles such as, "I like Jonathan Richman/The Modern Lovers to listen and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The to watch. I'm brave and chivalrous." Well, of course you are!

GooGuns posts nothing but strings of letters and numbers, like b39e65fa00000000 in intervals of about five minutes on average. The string of characters always ends with zeroes, occasionally with the location service turned on, so you can see that 554705fa00000000 was allegedly tweeted from the "Region of Khabarovsk." This has been going on all day and all night, for years, with more than 318,000 tweets posted since 2009. But why?

There is an iOS game called GooGun with its own website and a dubious iTunes graphic with the words "No Longer Available" over it. "Space robots are attacking," says the promotional video showing game play on this game that is not available to play.

The Real Weird Twitter Is Espionage Twitter [Ken Layne/The Awl] (via Wil Wheaton)


  1. This is the stuff of horror flicks.  Will something horrible happen to me if I follow @googuns_staging? We’ll find out.

  2. I keep waiting for the day when an enormous conspiracy will come to light whose members communicated exclusively through a complex system of message board postings, product reviews, and/or blog comments.

    The monkeys are restless and my dog has fleas.

  3. I’d say the most common reason for these is automation systems.
    Boss asks “How can we get system A to send instruction to system B?”
    Coder says “Well, I could write something custom, but we’ve got this function to send twitters already in place. And system B has a twitter-parser, so we can hook into that.”

    Then either it works, and carries on for years; or it fails but becomes a fossil because it’s badly documented.

    Then some are spammers posting random garbage because they are spammers and think it gets them noticed in some good way.

    And some are businesses running competitions, contests and puzzles for their customers.

    Are some spies? Probably not. Why the hell would spies want to communicate in such an obviously wacky way? Funzies, I guess. But generally speaking, looking normal is a much much better plan.

      1. The other thing about spies, is that just like in any other profession, some of them are terrible at their jobs.

    1. The very act of sending a message at a predetermined time/date routine is in it’s self a message, If you stop or alter the routine then this too is a message. Spy messages are more often in plane sight than not. They are sent to either show someone is OK, but no message of importance need be sent. Having said this they still use diplomatic bags and drop boxes and SW radio to send messages or goods. 

  4. I’m still wondering if number stations are just spitting out license codes or bitlocker pins. 

  5. Hello,

    Just to take DewiMorgan’s idea a step further, perhaps some of these Twitter accounts are command and control (C&C) servers for bots.  It would not be the first time Twitter has been used for this purpose.


    Aryeh Goretsky

  6. One time I wrote a tweet which referenced the 1973 movie THE WICKER MAN, and I got a reply from an account that seemed to be roleplaying as the Edward Woodward character (Sergeant Howie) from the movie.   When I looked at the other output from that twitter account, it just seemed to be a half-dozen quotes that the character makes in the movie.   Seemingly random, as long as someone mentions THE WICKER MAN in their tweet, they get an automated reply of a randomly selected (of about a half-dozen) quotes from the character Sergeant Howie in THE WICKER MAN.  
    Very odd.    Why?    Is it funny?    Is it strange?   Is it pointless?   Is that what makes me funny?   Because it’s strange and pointless?

  7. I used Twitter a few years ago as a blind machine to human communication system.  The machine would post a coded tweet and a person, or persons, would review the tweet.  These people know which codes were ‘good’ and which were ‘bad’ and the degree.  The machine did not need to know who the recipients were.  The people did not need to know what machine (or where) originated the message.  The messages were coded to avoid casual eavesdropping and would appear as meaningless strings of about 20 characters.  This is a classic definition of a numbers station although in this case it was entirely non-nefarious and was used simply for internal process monitoring.

  8. Is the hexadecimal thing visible to everyone?  Am I just stating the obvious?  I want to make up a color chart and see what I get.  @GooGuns_Staging might just be a Chuck Close painting.  And maybe the 8600000 part is the row or location of the color. 
    edit, I was looking up the hexadecimal thing, @GooGuns_Prod twitter account also posts hexadecimals. in a very similar format.

    1. the trailing 0’s leads me to think this is actually 64 bit big-endian so 95a3ff0600000000 is really 00000006ff3fa395
      it’s always a 0 or an 8 which corresponds to a 0 in the first spot or a 1 respectively. then there is always a 6
      hmm using this i managed to break down the pattern as such:

      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 10001110010101
      1 000011 0 0 0000000 10 11010000100100
      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 01101000010100
      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 10001100010011
      0 000011 0 0 1111111 00 10111111000110
      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 10001101011011
      0 000011 0 0 1111111 00 10111111101110
      1 000011 0 0 0000000 10 01100101001111
      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 10001101101111
      0 000011 0 0 1111111 00 10111110101001
      1 000011 0 0 0000000 01 01100110110000
      1 000011 0 0 0000000 10 11010000010001
      0 000011 0 1 1111111 10 01101010110001

      the first bit seems significant followed by a series that ends with 11, then a 0 padding, something significant, either all 1’s or all 0’s til the next two bits which seems significant then(though it was 1 significant then a 0 padding, til i seen a 1 where a 0 should be) …the rest seems to be hard to follow.
      and the significance of them also seems to elude me.

      might wanna paste that into something with monospace font since the font here seems to ruin the formatting.
      missed something

  9. That would be a very nice Rabbithole into an alternate reality game. But of course, this is not a game.

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