Intercepted Audio Appears to Show U.S. Pilots Training to Bomb North Korean 'VIP'

A HAM radio enthusiast living near a U.S. air base uploaded the 31-minute clip, which they captured in 2017.
Intercepted Audio Appears to Show U.S. Pilots Training to Bomb North Korean 'VIP'
A U.S. B-2 stealth bomber. Image: 
MLGXYZ via Getty Images

In October 2017, an amateur radio enthusiast with an interest in military communications noticed three B-2 stealth bombers flying low near his home in Missouri. He grabbed a radio scanner and tuned it to military channels. It was a training exercise and, as he listened, he heard one phrase repeated several times: “DPRK VIP.” He recorded the audio, and now, six years later, he’s released 31 minutes of it.


2017 was a tense time in U.S. and North Korean relations. All year, Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un traded public barbs. Both leaders threatened to use nuclear weapons. Trump called Kim “little rocket man” and threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world had never seen.” So, on October 18, 2017, when a B-2 flew over the back porch of radio enthusiast and Twitter user HamWa07, he took notice. 

HamWa07 told Motherboard the story and said they wished to remain anonymous for professional reasons. According to HamWa07, seeing B-2s flying around isn’t uncommon where he lives. Whiteman Air Force Base is nearby and there’s often training and refueling exercises in the area.

“But seeing them below high altitudes, this one was down around 10 or 12 thousand feet, that was unusual,” he said. “A few minutes later, another one. Then a few minutes after that, another one flew over and made a large turn, came the other direction and took off back into southern Missouri.”


HamWa07 went inside and grabbed a radio scanner. “When I first turned the scanner on they were doing tasking for targets,” HamWa07 told Motherboard. “And they were doing them all via audio instead of DataLink and encrypted methods and all the stuff they have access to. This was all out in the open. The very first bit was ‘We have a possible DPRK VIP at,’ and they read off the [latitude] and [longitude] and talked fuse timing and all the stuff that they do.”

According to HamWa07, his area is a good place to train for an attack on the DPRK. “If you look at North Korea and you look at the Missouri Ozarks, everything about it is very similar. It’s the perfect place to practice,” he said.

HamWa07 listened to the aircraft training mission for two nights and recorded a lot of it. Most of it, he said, is dead air. The 31-minute clip he posted online has been edited to remove large portions of silence between communications. After the incident, he shared some of the clips with military aviation news outlet The Aviationist, which published five minutes of the audio and provided some more details about the exercise in 2017. 

“Tons of military traffic, including B-2s and B-52s bombers, E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft supported by KC-10 and KC-135 tankers were involved in a series of simulated air strikes on little airports all over Missouri,” The Aviationist explained at the time. “Radio comms over unencrypted UHF frequencies as well as the use of Mode-S and ADS-B transponders allowed military airband listeners in the area to monitor the operations and to catch some interesting details.”


Six years later, with the memory of the nuclear threats fading into the background, HamWa07 decided to publish more of the audio. He said that recording the communications didn’t take any great technical skill or equipment. 

“The technology bar to listen to military radio traffic over [continental United States] is pretty low,” he said. “A $40 eBay scanner and a list of frequencies is all you need. It’s quite common for aircraft to say other frequencies they are changing to in the clear and read them back to make sure they are correct. That way you can compile a large list of active frequencies. Some are more discreet than others but with modern software defined receivers it’s quite easy to find them when active.”

The U.S. military has access to a wealth of different kinds of secure and encrypted communications, but HamWa07 it’s pretty typical for training exercises to happen over publicly available clear communications. He said there’s several different reasons for this. “They know that there’s a community of people that listen to this stuff and they know that, if anything happens that is extraordinary or different…that the community perks up about it and it tends to get on the internet and make news.”

He also said that it’s equally possible that they used open communications because they’re easier and more stable than encrypted comms. One method of encryption is frequency hopping, where a signal changes its channel multiple times a second which makes it harder to locate and jam. “Doing that over the continental U.S. is really hard because you have to exclude important frequencies of military operations and ground base systems,” he said. “A lot of these training missions seem to use clear comms and I think it’s more of a safety issue.”

“This isn’t unusual, exercise traffic being recorded people all the time. Even the downing of the Chinese balloons was all in the clear,” he said. “The frequencies are easily available at after listening for years you know what’s typical training or something slightly different. This was the only time I have heard B-2s over Missouri involved in an exercise where they had an obvious target in mind.”

The U.S. Air Force did not return Motherboard’s request for comment.