Secret Radio: A Neglected Freedom Strategy

November 22nd, 2013   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

hamradioIn Part Two of the definitive 3-volume work The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp sketches the strategy of “alternative communication system.” Sharp writes, “Under political systems which have extensive control or monopoly over systems and media of communication, the creation by opposition groups of substitute systems of communication may constitute nonviolent intervention when they disrupt the regime’s control or monopoly over the communication of information and ideas.” That’s a dead-on description of America and the NSA, as well as a reason to review a neglected strategy.

Types of Secret Radios

Secret radio provides an alternative means by which to network and to spread information. Especially radios that run on batteries can substitute for the internet and for phones. My alternative communication system includes a ham radio and a short-wave one. (Other people might prefer FRS Walkie Talkies or CB radios.)

Ham radios are transceivers – a combination transmitter and receiver – which broadcast wirelessly on specific frequencies; the direction is controlled by antennas. The most common ham radio (VHF) is limited in range because it works according to “line of sight” but that range can be greatly expanded through a system of repeater stations that pass the signal along. Because ham radios are wireless, they are not vulnerable to being “shut off” or controlled remotely. Moreover, unless it is in use or a person is looking at it, the presence of a ham radio cannot be detected. A license is required to legally broadcast, however, so records exist.

Short-wave radios are receivers that can pick up foreign radio broadcasts by means of “skip propagation”; the broadcasted waves bounce off the Earth’s surface, hit the ionosphere, and reflect back down. This allows short-wave transmissions to bypass the curvature of the Earth (“line of sight”) and travel long distances. (Some ham radios use short-wave frequencies to take advantage of the skip propagation.) No license is required for a short-wave used as a receiver but, if the radio also transmits, then a license is needed…at least by law. Again, the radio is wireless and virtually undetectable.

Radio as a Non-Violent Resistance and Personal Prepping Strategy

Consider ham radio. The survivalist site SHTF – considered to be among the best of its kind – offered its prediction (August 29, 2013) of what will happen during a period of crisis in America. “The internet as we know it will no longer exist. The White House will apply preexisting executive orders on U.S. communications to restrict internet use….This leaves a gaping hole in our society’s ability to communicate information quickly and efficiently, and, it removes the alternative media from the picture.” SHTF had a solution: “Ham Radio, which is very difficult for the establishment to shut down. Ham Radio communication chains could take the place of the internet as a lower-tech but useful means of spreading information….EVERYONE in the Liberty Movement should have a Ham Radio set, or handhold model, and they should know how to use it.”

Totalitarian states agree with SHTF’s assessment of ham radio as a freedom tool. Indeed, the patron saint of ham radio was a political martyr with the ham call sign SP3RN. During the German occupation of Poland, the priest Maximilian Kolbe was accused of espionage, partly because of his ham radio broadcasts. He was eventually sent to Auschwitz and died in 1941. Kolbe was canonized in 1982.

Short-wave radio has an equally colorful history. It is an excellent source of the foreign and independent news that police states do not want people to hear. Thus, throughout modern history, totalitarian regimes have tried to block short-wave broadcasts by arresting operators and by jamming signals. Jamming occurs when noise or signals are transmitted on a frequency in order to disrupt another broadcast that is there. The Nazis tried to jam the BBC during WWII; the Soviet Union and East Germany jammed Western short-wave stations during the Cold War; a wide assortment of nations have been jamming since the Cold War ended, including China, North Korea, Cuba, Libya, and Iran.

But jamming is an inefficient way to censor short-wave radio. It is difficult to predict how radio waves will propagate, which makes them difficult to accurately jam. Moreover, changing atmospheric conditions can make a jamming signal that’s close-by fade while one that’s farther away is strengthened. Radio operators are also resourceful and tend to invent equipment that bypasses censorship attempts; for example, directional loop antennas which easily change the receiving direction.

It Could Happen Here

America has a checkered past regarding ham and short-wave radios. The Radio Act of 1912 was passed in reaction to the sinking of the Titanic. Through it, America became the first nation to license ham radio operators and to restrict their broadcasts to specific frequencies that were then considered useless.

When America entered WWI in 1917, Congress ordered all amateurs to dismantle their equipment. The restrictions were reluctantly lifted on October 1, 1919. The same announcement also reminded ham operators to renew their licenses. During World War II, Congress once again suspended all amateur radio operations, with the exception of those connected with the armed forces.

In times of crisis, it can quickly become illegal to use radio waves that the state does not control. If radio as a freedom strategy is appealing, then it is important to buy now rather than wait. Ham radios and short-waves are affordable, especially when sold as used gear at hamfests – a type of flea market that can be physical or online. The radios are durable and hand held ham ones are extremely portable. Licenses are a bit of work but not difficult to obtain, especially since the Morse code requirement has been dropped. To get started, I recommend what has been called the ham radio Bible: The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications.

Short-wave radios are even more user-friendly and quite inexpensive. As the War Resisters International states, “Even more valuable [than a CB radio] is short-wave radio [transceiver], since it can be received thousands of kilometres away. It would be impossible to shut down communication out of a country if every household had a short-wave radio, supplemented by many ‘public short-waves’, namely short-wave radios available for anyone to use, like public telephones.”


The main drawback of ham and short-wave radios is that anyone with another radio or a scanner can eavesdrop on a broadcast. Packet radio is a partial solution. This is the transfer of digital information from one computer to another using a ham radio. Translating the information back into computer data requires the right sort of decoding equipment. Of course, anyone else with the same decoder could also do a translation. Unfortunately, the only truly secure way to use packet radio is also illegal; namely, encrypting the information before it is sent.

Effective non-violent strategies are the ones most likely to become illegal. When they do, however, there will be just one more law to resist.

45 Responses to “Secret Radio: A Neglected Freedom Strategy”

  1. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy, this is a nice idea but like gun ownership is limited by ones finances. For those of us on the bottom rungs such things are a practical impossibility. Surviving month to month is the best we can do. I also question any strategy which claims up front to be “non violent resistance”. It is not pragmatic to think that a super violent organization like government can be defeated without using violence. I realize that people who use violence to rebel would likely have as bad a government taking over as existed previously, but historically there are almost no examples of non violent revolution achieving anything but the deaths of those who try to rebel. Thus I think it rational to keep one’s options open about the use or non use of violence as a tool of emancapation.

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      Fritz, the cost need not be excessive. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. For local, voice communications, you can buy a Baofeng VHF/UHF handheld ham radio for about $40.

      I was once contacted by a survivalist group who were planning to use, for regional coverage, the “Warbler.” This was a $49 kit that sent low-power digital data on a shortwave ham frequency. (PSK31 on the 80 metre band, for those who are curious.) Yes, you have to build this one from a kit, but those skills are easily acquired.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks Brad. Unfortunately what is inexpensive for most folks is often infeasible for me and other truly poor folks. Justifying a $40 expenditure for a ham radio to my girlfriend could cause her to leave me. Not worth it! See, even individulist anarchists give up their freedom for love. Totally irrational of me I know. De gustibus non est disputandem.

        • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

          Sorry Fritz, I didn’t realize your budget was that tight. Alternative communications is probably not your highest priority…and if it becomes a priority, you’ll need to think about *who* you want to communicate with, and under what circumstances, to get the most bang for your buck. The least expensive options are probably FRS radio and CB radio, and each has its limitations. (Used shortwave receivers are also rather inexpensive, if that’s what you need.)

          • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

            Thanks. I have friends with short wave. Unfortunately I am waiting to turn 62 to get social securlity as the lesser of evils. Then I hope to save up enough to replace my 91 S-10 which is falling apart. That will take probably a few months at least. I swear that every time I get a buck it disappears. I have been selling a little firewood. A cop nailed me which will cost me $435 in tickets for an illegal truck. I was hoping to make enough to get it legal! Damned if you do or don’t!

    • Hey Fritz. Good to see you. I know we have a disagreement about the efficacy of non-violence…but let me side-step that. Even if you believe violence will be necessary to confront the state, that belief does not negate the value of non-violent strategies as part of the package of strategies with which you approach freedom. Indeed, you yourself have adopted a non-violent strategy in building a home that serves as a retreat. Besides which, if you choose to adopt violence as anything other than an individual stand (and I not suggesting you are), you will still need a means of communication.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        I agree. I do not want to be violent necessarily. I find peaceful coesistence to be just great most of the time. I will practice non violent means of living free if possible. I just won’t abandon the option of using violence for usually violence wins. I wish it were otherwise. Yes, communication is probably necessary for any group effort towards freedom. But so far I have had almost zero luck getting cooperation towards living free even from my own kids. I was out of contact for many years and made progress towards personal liberty by my own efforts. I do not see that really changing because of having communication with a few supposed freedom lovers who often are government stooges. I guess I am still cynical after all these years. But the folks on Anarchist Daily are far better than most and they are mostly alien to my way of thought. Sometimes the frustration of having people insult me, intentionally ignore my points, and just want to argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin make me wish to never get back on line period. I think the couple times per week coming to the library to get on line is about the right balance with working in the woods by myself most of the week. Though I recently nearly got killed chainsawing. Everything I have done here for the past 19 years was by myself. I doubt that will change. As always you are the exception which helps make this worthwhile. Thanks lady.

    • SHIVANK MEHRANo Gravatar says:

      @Fritz Knese…. I don’t think that we need violence to combat the State. Think about it, such a huge machinery is running. Do you think it can function unless the people themselves sanction it? As long as the people think they need the government, government is what we will have. Currently, we liberalists are living under a “tyranny of the majority”. To fight the government equates to fighting the significant majority who believe that the government is necessary – and you know very well that we can’t do that.

      “Freedom will be possible when people understand and desire it — for man can only rule where others subserviently obey. Where none obey, none has power to rule.”
      – George Nicholson

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        I hope to not require violence to combat the state, but I think it is likely we will. The state certainly has no compunction about using violence. I do not think freedom lovers should disarm themselves before the battle is enjoined. Educating people is a fine idea. I write here in the hope that some will learn from it. But ultimately education alone will not cut it for the hired statist thugs will take out freedom lovers and scare everyone else into compliance if we do not have the wherewithall and will to defend our liberty.

  2. Hi all. This is one in a series of articles I am writing on how to LIVE freedom, here and now, despite the political atmosphere that surrounds you. My last article for the Daily Anarchist was “The Politics of Small Houses.”  / I look forward to your comments.

    • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Wendy!

      I will get a communication device in case the ‘net is shut down thanks to your article.

      • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

        Don, I am delighted to hear it. Let me or Brad know if you want any advice on which radio best suits your needs. Cheers to you.

  3. gdpNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks, Wendy — Very informative!

    Question for Brad — I recall that in the early 2000s there was an attempt to get the FCC to approve the use of low-power spread-spectrum radio without requiring a license; do you know if there was any progress on this?

    My understanding is that theoretically, low-power spread-spectrum should be both hard to detect and hard to monitor, and therefore almost ideal for clandestine communications; possibly that is the precise reason that the State Thugs were leery of allowing it and seemed to be dragging their heels on the topic…

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      If you’re referring to low-power spread-spectrum operation in the usually-licensed portions of the radio spectrum, no, I haven’t heard anything about this. Which could just mean that it happened quietly and I haven’t heard through my usual news sources.

      I have heard of people doing spread-spectrum experimentation in the unlicensed part of the spectrum (such as the 2.4 GHz band used by many cordless phones and wireless routers). I don’t think their goal is to evade detection as much as it is to avoid interference, and make better use of what is becoming a very congested band. And of course, that’s relatively short-range (line of sight) operation.

    • KE7FDZNo Gravatar says:


      Spread-spectrum handheld radios are commercially available and are somewhat reasonably priced.

      Probably the most common of these are the eXRS radios from TriSquare:

      TriSquare products can be found at KMart, Office Depot, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target, Wa-Mart, and other major retailers.

      Nothing, however, compares to the range and versatility of Amateur Radio. With the right equipment and knowledge, a good Operator can communicate around the world.


      • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

        KE7FDZ: thanks for that link. I didn’t realize spread-spectrum radios had reached the consumer market. Very useful!

  4. Wendy and Brad R.,

    Ham radio was outlawed during WW2 in the U.S. (I’ve got an ARRL handbook from 1945).

    Radio enthusiasts tended to join the Army or various Civil Defense operations on the home front. Clandestine operation would’ve been frowned on as enemy spy action.

    I’m developing a Technician class friendly 40 meter CW (Morse code) transceiver that decodes from the receiver and encodes from a qwerty keyboard to Morse code via Arduino. The hardware and software will be open source. If you think that’s a great idea and you know someone who can create a design faster than the years I’ve been taking, feel free to release it! CW has 5.6 times the distance range on standard equipment than single sideband.

    I really like PSK31 (legal for General and above ham privileges only alas) and use it on different bands, which the latest QST magazine (official publication of the American Radio Relay League) computes to allow text connections 2.5 times farther than simple Morse Code a.k.a. CW (on off keying as opposed to modulated tones on a voice channel). I usually have a Signalink USB connected to a netbook running Digipan for PSK31, but I’ve successfully used the PSKer iPhone app to send and receive to contacts over upper sideband with the phone held next to the microphone and the app decoding from the speaker. That is more backpackable.

    For truly secret radio, illegal spread spectrum modulation on shortwave disguised as a typical noise source and many cheap simple noise decoy transmitters should make for a low probability of recognition as well as resistance to decoding. Since laws are being scoffed anyway, illegal encryption could be used, but such a victimless “crime” shouldn’t bother anarchists. And of course, such stealthy operation would only be done during a foreign invasion or emergency circumstance when it probably wouldn’t be illegal. (How’s that for being a weasel?)

    Signed, Unsigned.
    J. Kent Hastings

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Kent! I blush to admit that I have not yet tried PSK31, even though I have all the hardware required. (I have a sound-card-to-radio interface still sitting in the box. So many projects, so little time.) What I’ve seen of it is impressive. It’s capable of pulling signals out of the noise, thus ideally suited for low-power operation. And I think it’s easier for a computer to decode than CW — if I recall correctly, Digipan is one of the programs that can decode a PSK31 signal anywhere in the receiver’s passband, rather than requiring you to tune the receiver exactly to the transmitted frequency.

      Since my reply to Fritz, I’ve had an email exchange with the prepper group — not survivalist, my mistake — that’s trying to establish networks of PSK31 stations. They’ve actually made quite a bit of progress. It looks like they’ve taken the “Warbler” design and added a power amplifier stage. Their target price for the unit is $200 assembled — a bit more than the $49 Warbler kit — and they say they’ll be launching a Kickstarter soon to fund the first production run:

      I like PSK31 because it works well on the HF bands, so it can be used for long-distance communication. And it works well at low power. And it’s a *data* mode, so it works with computers, which opens the possibility of automatic networking and also encryption. (Obligatory disclaimer: encryption is not legal on the amateur bands, and I would never advocate here that someone do anything illegal; I speak merely of hypothetical cases, for educational and entertainment value.)

      The downside is that PSK31 is slow: 31 bits per second is slower than even the old style teletype machines. But it’s sufficient for a lot of communications. (An awful lot of communications got done by teletype.)

      • SighManNo Gravatar says:

        Wendy and Brad,
        Thanks for this info. I have been thinking that communication off the grid would be a great tool. Thinking it is quite different than acting on it. This has given me the desire to pursue it further. I’ve had my ARRL beginning study guide for quite a few months, but time constraints have not allowed me to get to that project.

        • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

          SighMan, thanks for reminding me: the best source of study and reference information about amateur radio is indeed the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the U.S. national organization of radio amateurs. The equivalent in Canada is Radio Amateurs of Canada, , though they don’t have anywhere near as extensive a set of books and publications.

          Believe me, I know what it’s like to have more projects than time. 🙂

        • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

          An afterthought: I don’t want to emphasize amateur radio at the expense of other, less-expensive or easier-to-obtain technologies. FRS, GMRS, and CB radios all have uses, and I believe there are still many active CB radio groups in the U.S.

          For those interested in data communications, check out Broadband-Hamnet which reprograms wireless routers to create “a high speed, self discovering, self configuring, fault tolerant, wireless computer network that can run for days from a fully charged car battery”. Despite the name, and the fact that it was created by radio amateurs, you do not need an amateur radio license to use it. (It uses the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum used by the common home wireless router.) This is another of those projects that I’ve been meaning to try, in my copious free time. 🙂

  5. state haterNo Gravatar says:

    I have been into ham radio since the middle of last decade.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Same here, state hater. It is one of the “gifts” my husband brought into my life because — like a lot of women, I suppose — I lacked confidence in my ability to understand the technology. It did me a world of good to sit down and just work at it until I understood what I needed to.

      • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

        Wendy is too modest. She neglected to mention that she holds an Advanced qualification, which in Canada is the highest technical qualification for radio amateurs.

        • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

          That’s impressive, although Canada’s highest qualification for radio professionals is CRTC graft. Why set the bar for success so low, Ms. McElroy?


          • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

            LOL, Vanmind. I have risen as far up into the heady radio stratosphere as I intend. Glad you liked the piece.

      • Molly BNo Gravatar says:

        Hi Wendy,
        Thanks for being a role model to the women here.

        I am a newbie at radio in some ways–was a CB-er in its popular era. I have been working on and off to get the basic HAM license. I feel like you did, afraid I won’t get the technology or all the new terminology even though I understand some of the basics.

        What do you recommend as study guides beyond the Manual? Where/how do I meet others interested in HAM (live in rural PA)? I think being around others with this interest would really help!

        Molly B

        • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

          Hi Molly. Believe me, I understand being intimidated by the technology. When I began the process of studying for my license, I reassured myself by keeping one thing in my mind; namely, it is quite possible to pass the test by simply memorizing the answers. A lot of questions are non-technical — e.g. what is the protocol of transmitting, etc. — but even the technical ones are limited; there are a certain number of them that appear over and over again on the many test exams available for free online. In Canada, a passing grade in 60% and there is no longer a morse code requirement. In short, you can pass the test through mere memorization. Brad is more up on requirements in the States and will be addressing that aspect shortly.

          Having written the preceding, I suspect your experience will be like my own. There was a high bar at first that was partly due to getting used to being “a stranger in a strange land” and partly due to my own psychological resistance. When familiarity began to set in, however, I saw how the technology made sense and fit together in a logical flow. It really does. And the fact that I took a class meant I could ask questions, get support (and hams are very supportive of women who are interested). Then the psychological barrier turned into a sense of satisfaction and self-esteem over the fact that I *could* understand it. The latter took some time. But the license and the feeling lasts forever. YOU GO GIRL!

          • Molly BNo Gravatar says:

            Thanks Wendy!
            I’m very glad ‘Ham-mers’ (funny name for them) are open and encouraging to women. I have wanted to include alternative communication to my arsenal of preparations for SHTF scenarios for some time. I am not agile anymore being in my late 50s so couldn’t help out with defense or resistance in any physical way, but could get on the radio and do whatever the situation called for. Thank you for your encouragement. I have listed this site as a ‘favorite’ on the computer and plan to visit here regularly because there is so much to learn and friendly people here. One of the best things I have noticed here is that people do not attack each other like they do on many of the other sites. That is a very wonderful thing that leads to cooperation and solutions, which we sorely need in what is about to come. I will keep you up on my progress. When I get some call numbers I will tell you what they are. Then I have to get the radio equipment….but I’ll take that step when I am able to actually use it! Thanks again!

            • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

              Molly, I’d like to respond to one point you made, about not being agile anymore. I’m active in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, a volunteer organization in the U.S. and Canada that provides communications during disasters large and small. At one point I was talking to a local ham about joining our group, and he said he couldn’t help because he was house-bound. On the contrary! One of the most important functions in an emergency response is the Net Control Station, whose job is to coordinate the use of the radio frequency, and who usually should be safely removed from the disaster area. I told him he could easily do that from home. (And in fact, he joined our group, and from his home he played a key role as a relay station during one of our exercises when our repeater station failed.)

              I have a friend who was the amateur radio coordinator during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. If I recall correctly, he worked for three days straight coordinating all of the radio hams who rushed in to help…and he never left the basement of his house.

              I think you will find that the overwhelming majority of radio hams are friendly and supportive, and eager to welcome newcomers to the hobby. And of course, feel free to ask questions here as much as you like!

        • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

          Hello, Molly. If you’re an ex-CBer you probably already understand much that is mysterious about radio. In rural PA, I’d say your options are self-study with a book, attend a local license class, or self-study online.

          Living in the U.S., you are fortunate to have the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), who publishes some of the best books in the world on ham radio, and who are very supportive of newcomers. Do visit their web page. There are links there to find license classes and local volunteer examiners, and some books are shown in the sidebar. They should also be able to point you to a local ham radio club.

          I’m not “up” on the latest U.S. books, but I expect you can’t do much better than the ARRL’s Ham Radio License Manual (for Technician class) and General Class License Manual. You’ll probably want both. The easiest license is Technician, which is a 35-question multiple-choice test. You have to get 26 answers right (about 75%). That license gives VHF and UHF privileges, plus the 10 meter (28 MHz) HF band, and you can operate Morse Code on three other HF bands (80, 40, and 15 meters). Note that Morse Code is NOT part of the exam, and you’re not required to use it on the air to be a ham. It’s just a peculiar restriction of the Technician class license on certain frequencies.

          The General Class license requires you to pass the Technician exam, and an additional 35-question exam of somewhat harder questions. Again, a passing grade is 26 correct answers. That gives you full (voice and data) privileges on all HF bands, except for certain slices of each band which are reserved for the Extra Class operators. To get an Extra Class license you need to pass both the Technician and General exams, then another 50-question exam. Frankly, for most people the Extra isn’t worth the added effort, and you can always upgrade later if you really get into it. (For more info on the three license classes, see )

          I confess I don’t know anything about online ham radio classes. ARRL lists a few online resources on their web page. There are free pages where you can take practice exams, like — those are VERY useful. You can also Google “ham radio online course.” The few links that I visited seem to charge money, and I’d be reluctant to spend money on an online course without a solid recommendation.

        • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

          P.S. I have no idea if this is a comprehensive list, but perhaps you can find a local amateur radio club here: ennsylvania/

          • Molly BNo Gravatar says:

            Hi Brad,
            Thank you for all that information. It will take me a few minutes to process it all, but I plan to follow through with the various websites. I didn’t realize there was so much out there! I did look and there are examiners fairly nearby when I get the nerve to go take the test. The tests are not very expensive either–under $20 and I could take the first two in one sitting if I feel competent. Too bad the driver’s license people don’t do that. I can remember waiting to take the driving exam after passing the learner’s permit exam….it was a long, long, wait for a young kid. I will do as Wendy advised…memorize and memorize some more. I am setting the goal of getting at least the Technician license by March 2014….we’ll see. Thank you for your encouragement, and , like with Wendy, I will keep you posted. Don’t be surprised if I ask a bazillion questions….
            Thanks again,

  6. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff, Ms. McElroy, thanks.

  7. Brian CantinNo Gravatar says:

    Secret radio and meshnets both provide emergency communications outside the direct control of governments, corporations, or the influence of natural disasters. The advantages of meshnets include:
    * You can communicate digitally. I find the written word to be much more efficient for complex non-interactive tasks.
    * You can legally use encryption. Encryption protects you from governments, and free lance criminals.
    * If anybody on the meshnet can connect to the internet, then everybody has some means of communicating with virtually anybody in the world.
    The main advantage of secret radio is range. In a rural setting, or even a semi-rural setting, connecting all the links in a meshnet can be a major challenge.
    Consequently, a combination of secret radio and meshnets would be the ideal solution. However, supporting both would require a fair amount of human and financial resources.

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      I would say that it’s going to be a big challenge to interconnect long-distance amateur radio with short-distance networks, but it has already been done in the Winlink system: It’s another one of those “round tuits” that I need to find. (I have some incentive, because amateur emergency communications is beginning to move to Winlink.)

      The downside is that it’s all carried on amateur radio links, therefore encryption is a no-no. But I’ve heard of people using Winlink to send “faxes” — to be precise, sending scanned documents as email attachments — so at least the presence of a base64-encoded binary file won’t automatically cause suspicion. Hypothetically speaking, that is.

      Since Winlink is designed to interface at some point with normal TCP/IP networks, I’d think it wouldn’t be too big a hurdle to make it work with a local meshnet. Alas, I have now exhausted my (current) knowledge of Winlink.

      • Brian CantinNo Gravatar says:

        I had in mind running meshnet’s and secret radio in parallel, rather than in series. Running in parallel would provide redundancy in the case one was not working, and the capabilities of both systems when both were working. Of course, anybody who participates in both systems would bear the costs of both systems.
        However, since you mention connecting the two systems together, that raises all sorts of other possibilities.

  8. Brad RNo Gravatar says:

    The two are so very different in capabilities that I’m not sure it would make sense to run them in parallel. A 2.4GHz mesh running at, say, 50 Mbps would be great for networking a small community together, and sharing a single high-speed Internet connection (say a satellite Internet service). The “secret radio” long-haul services run at much slower data rates, from 31 to 9600 bps — suitable at the low end for simple text messaging, and at the high end for email with small attachments, but not a likely replacement for a mesh.

    I can visualize a community having a wireless local area network (mesh network) that gives access to shared “outbound” resources. The challenge will be convincing people that they cannot attach kitten pictures to their emails when in the “fallback to shortwave radio” mode.

  9. Brian CantinNo Gravatar says:

    There seems to be some confusion here about what I meant by parallel. By parallel, I meant two independent systems that did not directly interact with one another. In that case, the difference in capabilities would constitute a feature, not a bug. You could use meshnet for short range high bandwidth communications, and secret radio for long range low bandwidth communications.

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      Ah. Yes, two parallel, independent systems with different capabilities would be useful. Rather like bicycles and airplanes. Neither can do the other’s job; both have important uses.

  10. Brian CantinNo Gravatar says:

    If you did directly tie together meshnets with secret radio relays, an interesting issue with respect to encryption would arise. Suppose I send an email with an encrypted attachment out over a meshnet, which is legal. Suppose that somebody else on the meshnet relays the email via secret radio without realizing that it contains encrypted information.
    The laws has been broken, but who broke the law?

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      In the eyes of the law, the “control operator” is the person who owns and manages the radio transmitter, and he is responsible for the content that is sent on the airwaves. So the person running the “gateway” must take care that no encrypted or otherwise-illegal content is being sent. Which poses interesting challenges for automated gateways. Right now it’s basically on the honor system, but I now know some amateurs that are using Winlink as their primary email address, and I doubt there is much filtering on the email that is sent to them.

  11. Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

    Brad has just posted an alert to my blog regarding a coming change in the laws surrounding radios in the U.S. He states, “The U.S. is rewriting its Communications Act. That’s never a good thing.” The title of the blog post is “Buy Your Radio Now.”

  12. BrianCNo Gravatar says:

    I find it strange that you would license a radio if you don’t want the government to track you down during a crisis by leaving a paper trail. right now I can go to and locate any licensed ham and thanks to the Google link actually find his house and a road side pic of it. If you truly want to be the Anarchist during a crisis, you need be invisible to the government. Just as the government would track down and confiscate regisitered guns so would they track down and confiscate licensed radios.