Spy radio
Burst encoders
• • • Donate • • •
   Logo (click for homepage)
Sony ICF-2001D   ICF-2010
Portable short-wave receiver

The ICF-2001D was a portable solid-state LW, MW, SW and FM receiver, also known as a world receiver, made by Sony in Japan around 1980. Although it was a commercially available civil-class receiver, used by many people world-wide, it played an important role in international espionage.
The ICF-2001D measures less than 29 x 16 x 5 cm and is powered by two AA-size cells and three D-size cells. It has a built-in telescopic antenna at the top and a digital readout at the front. The device is commonly operated on its back, tilted by a bracket at the rear. This gives the optimum viewing angle for the LCD display.

The ICF-2001 can be powered by an external 4.5V DC adapter, or by the internal batteries. Alternatively, a 12V adapter cable was available to allow the radio to be used in a car. It was available in 3 different basic versions (types) [1].
Sont ICF-2001D

Furthermore, there were at least five country-specific models, each with their own frequency ranges. The device fully covers the LW and MW broad­cast bands in AM, plus the VHF FM broad­cast band (87-108 MHz). But the actual purpose of this radio is the Short Wave band (SW), that is available as one contiguous range from 2250 kHz to 30 MHz (26.100 MHz on some models).

The ICF-2001D was succeeded in 1983 by the ICF-7600D, and in 1986 by the slightly improved ICF-7600DS, both of which have a general coverage from 153 kHz to 30 MHz (except for the German version which stops at 26.100 MHz). They were also popular in the espionage tradecraft.
Sony ICF-2001D Sont ICF-2001D Operating the large tuning dial Operating the tuning dial with the index finger Close-up of the displays Tilt bracket at the rear Left side view Right side view

World receiver
Radio's like the Sony ICF-2001D and the Grundig Satellit 2000 were very popular in the 1980s. During the summer holidays in a far away country, it allowed people to listen to the international broadcasts of their home country. In those days, most countries operated such a service on the SW bands, for example the BBC World Service. From the early 2000s onwards, most countries have gradually phased out their SW broadcasts, although the BBC World Service has remained in operation on analogue and digital platforms, broadcasting 24 hours a day in 28 languages [5].


Radio amateurs and SW-listeners will probably remember the mysterious number stations on the SW bands. A female voice that was reading endless sequences of seemingly random numbers for 24 hours a day, often in German or Russian. During the Cold War, many such numbers stations were operated by the secret services of the former Eastern Block countries, such as Russia (USSR), East Germany (DDR), Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The numbers were actually coded messages for their secret agents and spies that operated undercover in the west. In many cases the agent used a commercial receiver like the ICF-2001D for the reception of such messages.
The ICF-2001D has a clear and well-organised control panel that is located at the front of the unit or actually at the top when it is placed horizontally on the table. The main power switch is at the left side, with an additional switch to the left of the display. It also allows timer operation. The display consists of three sections: the real-time clock (left), the frequency readout (centre) and a signal strength indicator (right). The frequency tuning dial is in the upper right corner. it can be operated from the top as well as from the right. A slider at the right edge controls the volume.

Controls and connections on the ICF-2001D

The largest part of the control panel is taken by the keypad which roughly consists of five sections. The 32 black keys at the centre serve two purposes. They may be used to directly select one of the memory presets (8 presets divided over 4 banks). In combination with the blue shift button at the bottom left, these keys are also use to select the desired frequency band.

Above the black preset buttons are the MODE selectors. They allow selection between the FM and AM bands. In AM mode, the remaining buttons are used to select the desired modulation type (wide, narrow, sync, USB, LSB and CW). The row of brown keys just below the display are used for timer operation. The three white buttons at the left are used to activate scanning. The 11 white keys at the right can be used to enter the desired frequency directly.
The ICF-2001D is a true general coverage receiver, which means that the entire frequency span is available as one contiguous range. Any frquency within its range can be entered directly on the keyboard or can be selected with the tuning dial. Depending on the model/country, the following variants are known. Check the front panel of your radio to see which one you have.
  1. 150 kHz - 30 MHz
  2. 150 kHz - 26.100 MHz
  3. 150 - 285 kHz and 530 kHz - 26.100 MHz
  1. 76 - 108 MHz
  2. 87.5 - 108 MHz
AIR band (AM)
  1. 116 - 136 MHz
  2. Not available (button missing)
SSB   Single Side Band
  1. Available
  2. Not available (USB LSB/SW buttons missing)
External antenna
  1. Terminal available
  2. Not available
Broadcast bands
The ICF-2001D covers most broadcast bands on Long Wave (LW), Medium Wave (MW), Short Wave (SW) and Ultra Short Wave (here called FM).1 On some models even the Air Band is available. Note that the gaps between the short-wave broadcast band are also covered by this receiver.
  • 150 - 285 kHz, in 3 kHz steps
  • 531 - 1620 kHz, in 9 kHz steps
  • 530 - 1620 kHz, in 10 kHz steps
  • 120 m
    2250 - 2550 kHz
  • 90 m
    3150 - 3450 kHz
  • 75 m
    3850 - 4050 kHz
  • 60 m
    4700 - 5110 kHz
  • 49 m
    5900 - 6250 kHz
  • 41 m
    7000 - 7400 kHz
  • 31 m
    9400 kHz - 10 MHz
  • 25 m
    11.500 - 12.150 MHz
  • 21 m
    13.500 - 13.900 MHz
  • 19 m
    15 - 15.700 MHz
  • 16 m
    17.450 - 18 MHz
  • 13 m
    21.350 - 21.950 MHz
  • 11 m
    25.570 - 26.100 MHz
  • 76 - 108 MHz in 50 kHz steps (type 1)
  • 87.5 - 108 MHz in 50 kHz (type 2)
  • 116-136 MHz (AM) in 25 kHz steps 2
  1. The Ultra Short Wave band (76-108 MHz) is officially designated the Very High Frequency band (VHF), but is better known as FM (Frequency Modulation) after the wide-band modulation art that is commonly used in this broadcast band.
  2. The AIR band is just above the FM broadcast band and is only available on certain models. AIR broadcasts are generally in AM (Amplitude Modulation).

The Red Colonel
The ECF-2001D as a spy tool

Due to its small size, its high sensitivity and the fact that it was battery powered, the ICF-2001D was often the receiver of choice for East-European spies operating in West-European countries during the Cold War. In many cases, Eastern-Block espionage agencies, such as the KGB, the GRU and the Stasi, gave their western spies money in order to buy such a receiver in a local shop.

The receiver was used by the spy to listen to the East-European number stations that operated on the Short-Wave band (SW). Hidden in the numbers were secret messages and instructions for the spy, that were encrypted with the unbreakable One-Time Pad. Once the spy had decoded his message, he would destroy it and carry out his mission. Messages were sent back to the spy control centre by means of a courier, dead letterboxes or a clandestine spy radio transmitter.
An example of the use of this radio is the case of Guy Binet (1934-2000), a colonel of the Belgian Army, who was recruted in 1986 by the Soviet Military Intelligence Service, the GRU. On the first meeting in Vienna with his handler, GRU General Glazkov, he was given a Minox EC spy camera.

He used the camera to photograph secret NATO documents and delivered the films to the Soviets in Vienna in January 1987. That same week he was trained in decrypting secret radio messages. He received a One-Time Pad cipher (hidden in black Snowman marker) and a frequency table.

He was also given a large sum of cash and was instructed to buy a Sony ICF-2001D on his return to Belgium [3]. Every second and forth Tuesday of each month, Binet had to listen to the coded messages that were transmitted by the mysterious numbers stations on the SW radio bands.

Sadly for Binet, the American Intelligence Agency CIA had photographed his first meeting with Glaskov in Vienna [3] and tipped-off their Belgian colleagues of the SDRA III, after which Binet was arrested. By that time however, Binet had been spying for the Soviets for more than two years. He became known as The Red Colonel [4] and was eventually sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and military degradation. After 5 years in prison he was released on parole and died in July 2000.

 More about Binet's Minox EC camera

Spying for the Cubans

Another example of the use of the ICF-2001D in international espionage, is a series of cases against US citizens between 2001 and 2009. In each case, the subject(s) had been spying for Cuba, and the FBI found a Sony ICF-2010 (the US version of the ICF-2001D) in their homes.
The first case is that of Ana Belén Montes (28 February 1957) who worked for the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) as its most senior Cuban analyst [6]. She had been spying for Cuba since 1985 until her arrest in 2001, during which time she had passed numerous documents and sensitive military information to the Cubans.

Prior to her arrest on 21 September 2001, the FBI had searched her appartment and found evidence of the use of One-Time Pade (OTP) messages on her laptop. Also present in the appartment was a functional Sony short-wave receiver that was used to receive OTP messages from the Cuban Numbers Station on 7887 kHz.

Evidence for this was found on her Toshiba laptop. Although she had clearly been instructed by the Cuban Intelligence Service, the CuIS, to run a special program to wipe the data from her laptop after use, she had failed to do so [7][8]. As a result, the FBI was able to retrieve a large OTP message, consisting of 150 5-digit groups.

According to author Keith Melton, who is a well-informed source on US intelligence matters, she used a Sony ICF-2010 [9], which is the US equivalent of the ICF-2001D. In a detailed paper of 2010, researcher Dirk Rijmenants explains how the FBI cracked the seemingly unbreakable OTP cipher, due to flaws in the Cuban procedures [8]. After pleading guilty to spying, Montes was sentenced in October 2002 to 25 years in prison without the chance of parole [1].

Similar cases are those of Carlos and Elsa Alvarez (caught in 2006 after spying for 30 years), Marta Rita Velazquez, Gerardo Hernández (one of the Cuban Five) and Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers (arrested in 2009 after spying for nearly 30 years). In all cases, the ICF-2001D was used to receive the coded messages from Cuba's Attención Station. Interested in more stories? Check out the FBI 100 [10] or the website Cuba Confidential [11].

 Dirk Rijmenents' paper about the Cuban cases

  1. Sony Corporation, ICF-2001D Operating instructions

  2. Sony Corporation, ICF-2001D Service Manual
    AEP, UK, EU, AUS, US and CAN models. April 1990.

  3. Kristof Clerix, Spionage, Doelwit Brussel
    ISBN 978-90-223-2771-5. September 2013. pp. 47-48.

  4. Apache.be, De KGB in België (5): De Rode Kolonel
    Website. 21 August 2011. Retrieved August 2014.

  5. Wikipedia, BBC World Service
    Retrieved November 2014.

  6. Wikipedia, Ana Montes
    Retrieved August 2015.

  7. John (AE5X), 'Numbers Stations' Spies on 40 Meters
    1 July 2012. Retrieved August 2014.

  8. Dirk Rijmenants, Cuban Agent Communications, Failure of a Perfect System
    2010. Edited 17 June 2013. Retrieved August 2015 from his website.

  9. H. Keith Melton, Ultimate Spy
    p. 70. Retrieved August 2015.

  10. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), FBI 100 - The Case of the Cuban Spy
    Ana Montes (and more). Retrieved August 2015.

  11. Cuba Confidential,
    Website. Retrieved August 2015.

Further information

Any links shown in red are currently unavailable. If you like the information on this website, why not make a donation?
© Crypto Museum. Created: Friday 07 November 2014. Last changed: Thursday, 23 March 2017 - 14:20 CET.
Click for homepage