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Smuggler's Phone Security


Before cell phones there were pay phones. Today it's hard to find a pay phone and if you find one usually it is out of order anyway... usually the receiver has been cut off and removed. Back in the day pay phones could be found on almost any street corner and we smugglers used them extensively to conduct business. However, the cops knew this as well so phone security soon became an issue that us 'purveyors of contraband' had to take very seriously.



However, the cops knew this as well so phone security soon became an issue that us 'purveyors of contraband' had to take very seriously.

In the beginning we quickly realized that conducting business over private telephone lines was a recipe for disaster... if the cops knew about you they could tap your phone, don't conduct business on your home phone. First we recognized this and conducted business pay phone-to-pay phone and because we were poor or maybe because we just wanted to get away with something we used fake phone credit cards... a rather stupid idea and one if used too often would certainly lead right back to you.






As we became more sophisticated we quickly concluded the fake phone credit card scheme was a sure bust so we now paid for the calls with rolls of quarters which we all carried. We still worried that the nearby pay phones could be tapped as well so we only discussed our business in coded language such as carrying on conversations on unrelated subjects such as construction, gardening or music.  As time progressed and as our smuggling adventures grew in size and scope we became even more paranoid of phone surveillance and that even pay phones could be tapped if the cops knew which pay phones we were using having eavesdropped on a previously clandestine conversation that gave away a telephone number to where a drug conversation was going to take place.


As time progressed and as our smuggling adventures grew in size and scope we became even more paranoid of phone surveillance...

As maritime smugglers we felt that another point of compromise was using ship-to-shore radios, ham radios or phones to communicate our position or rendezvous points. In the early days when the loads were small enough, a ton or less, we didn't communicate at all until we arrived. As the load sizes increased and the logistics became such that communication was needed a number code was devised so that we could avoid giving the cops the number of the pay phone booth from which we would be talking.





The '7-3 Code' was developed to address this very situation. It goes like this: to encode a number... take a seven digit number (a phone number) and multiply it by 7 but don't carry the resulting number if the first or primary resulting number is more than one digit... only carry the last number. To decode the number... take the seven digit encoded number and multiply it by 3 using the same method of not carrying the resulting number if the answer is more than one digit. Of note: always give the area code correctly and never encode an area code, because if the cops know the actual area code being used and know it's coded then giving out the coded area code will compromise the entire coding scheme.  An example of this is as follows with a hypothetical phone number in the San Francisco 415 area code:





Using this example I would make a call on a pay phone line to the private (home) phone of the party I wanted to speak with and tell the party on the other end of the line to call me back in 10 minutes at 'my office' (the number of the pay phone that I was making the call from or yet a different pay phone that I already knew the number). I would then encode the number I was calling from and give that number to the party on the other end of the line.  That person would then decode the number go out to a pay phone and call me back at the pay phone I was waiting at. We could then talk about 'biz' with at least a degree of confidence and security that our conversation would not be intercepted. Pretty cool, eh?


-Rick Bibbero





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