The ELF Network: The untold story

Clam Lake ELF Transmitter

The ELF Network: The untold story
Copyright (c) 2021 by Ralph Iden, All rights reserved.

Author’s note:
In the late 1960’s, the U.S. Navy proposed Project Sanguine that would use extremely low frequencies (70-80 Hz) for communication. It was an ambitious project requiring a gigantic antenna covering 40% of the state of Wisconsin. The project was scaled down to become Project ELF with two transmitters located in northern Wisconsin at Clam Lake and the northern peninsula of Michigan at Republic. Similar systems were built in Russia (ZEVS/Zeus) and India (INS Kattabomman).

These projects were undertaken under the pretense of communicating with submerged submarines, but there was another purpose even more important. Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, we were able to obtain details regarding Project Sanguine and Project ELF that form part of a worldwide communication network.

Although some of the project’s details remain classified to this day, we were able to arrange for an interview with Admiral Sualc Atnas, Retired who was instrumental in the construction and operation of the worldwide ELF network.

R: Thank you for sitting down with me Admiral Atnas to discuss the historical importance of the ELF network. I understand that you won’t be able to discuss some aspects of the program, but I’m not recording this interview, so it wasn’t necessary to come disguised, although it’s a great one: nice red suit, beard and all. Very festive.

SA: No, Ralph. This isn’t a disguise. What would make you say that?

[The Admiral appears somewhat annoyed or disappointed as he scribbles something down in a little notebook that he says he always carries.]

R: My apologies, Admiral. So Project Sanguine and ELF were secret and highly classified projects from the beginning?

SA: Yes. Secrecy was paramount. Of course, it is difficult to hide a project of this size from the public. Our original proposal called for a rectangular grid consisting of over 6,000 miles of cabling and transmitters consuming nearly 800 megawatts of power. When word started leaking out, we had to quickly pivot and provide a plausible explanation for the purpose of the network and not the real purpose.

R: Real purpose? I thought it was fairly well known that the reason for the network was to be able to communicate with our submerged submarine fleet. Are you saying that this is not the primary purpose of the ELF network?

SA: To be sure, communicating with our submarines was and is strategically important, but what was needed most was a better way for our operatives to securely communicate with each other minimizing the risk that our communications would be intercepted or falsified.

R: I had no idea.

SA: Then we were successful.

R: Can you tell me more?

SA: Our network had been using HF successfully for many years, but in the late 60’s more youngsters were getting interested in amateur radio and getting their radio licenses. Once we had this group of inquisitive and motivated young people monitoring the HF bands, the jig was up. Word quickly spread and hams and shortwave listeners around the world cracked the network and began to game the system.

R: Game the system? What system?

SA: Well, at first it was an “early warning system” where the naughty/nice report traffic was sent to our operatives to be relayed to the subject of the report in order to give the subject time to adjust their behavior. As a result many of them did change their behavior which was good for everyone and allowed us to allocate the necessary resources to deliver the right presents to the right people.

R: I had no idea.

SA: You seem to be saying that a lot.

[More scribbling in his notebook.]

R: Okay, so what happened that required a change of plan?

SA: Someone found a way to generate an occasional fake report. That led to a campaign to discredit the naughty/nice system by saying that Santa was a myth that was perpetrated by parents to control their children’s behavior. They wanted to discourage parents and others from filing reports. Then, in a stroke of genius, some very clever young people used their amateur radio skills to send fake “nice” messages directly to the network bypassing our operatives.

R: While I don’t condone that behavior, you must admit it was creative. How did you discover what was happening?

SA: You can imagine that we were overwhelmed by the huge number “nice” ratings. And not just “nice”, but “extremely nice”. We weren’t prepared for that level of niceness and our budget for presents was rapidly being depleted. Our, what are now called, data analysts noticed the change in the data patterns and investigated.

We were able to mostly recover from these false reports and get the appropriate presents to the right youngsters, including lumps of coal and no replacement parts for their radios for the perpetrators.

R: A swift and harsh judgment to be sure. So is this where the ELF network comes in?

SA: Yes. By shifting part of our communications network to the extremely low frequencies, it made it extremely unlikely that inaccurate or false reports could be sent.

R: But isn’t ELF a very slow, low data capacity system?

SA: Yes, that is true, but we were able to pull a few tricks out of the hat and improve the speed of the network to some degree. But it wasn’t necessary to have all the naughty/nice traffic go through ELF, only the parts that ensured that the reports couldn’t be spoofed.

R: You mean things like encryption keys and digital signatures?

SA: We didn’t call them that when we built the system, but you’ve got the idea. I can’t go into a lot of detail about the specifics, but the system did employ Navajo and Elf (the workers in green outfits, not the ELF network) code talkers among other techniques.

R: Was this system used only in the United States?

SA: No. This is a worldwide system and we had similar installations in Russia, India, and a few other locations that I am not at liberty to disclose.

R: You said “this is a worldwide system”. Does that mean that it is in operation today?

SA: Yes. Parts of the original system are still in operation while other parts have received a technological upgrade. We’ve rolled out our own app for Android and iPhone users that allows our operatives to securely file naughty/nice reports to the cloud where they are evaluated and sent to our command center in the North. Everyone can see the realtime naughty/nice scores which allows for immediate feedback to the subject of the report.

R: Thank you very much Admiral for taking time to shed light into aspects of the ELF network that many of us were completely unaware of. Merry Christmas.

SA: You are quite welcome, Ralph. Thank you for inviting me.

[He glances at his notebook again and smiles.]

SA: I’m still old school. 8.73

R: 8.73?

SA: Yes. Your naughty/nice score.

R: What does that score mean? Am I naughty or nice?

SA: Oh, you’ll see. Merry Christmas.

West Allis Mid-Winter Swapfest Abandoned

From the West Allis Radio Amateur Club’s website (

The West Allis Radio Amateur Club is, unfortunately, cancelling the Mid-Winter Swapfest event. The 2021 Swapfest cancellation was due to the COVID. Beginning for year 2022, club-related issues force us to abandon the Swapfest despite our best efforts.

We understand the planning and effort that our sellers put forth to in order to attend the swapfests and provide interesting and useful goods to sell or swap. We thank all of our sellers and attendees for 48 successful Mid-Winter Swapfests.

We have no specific plans to get back into the swapfest business; however, as we all know, never say never. The Mid-Winter Swapfest has been a remarkable success throughout the years, and we have enjoyed being part of that success and we value the relationships which naturally spun off of the event. We will miss the excitement and action.

If you have questions or comments, please e-mail us at:

Thank you for your support and understanding.


Area Scouts Learn about Amateur Radio

It is that time of the year again. The days are getting shorter, leaves are turning, fall and winter ham projects await, and Scouts gather for their October events.

Scout Leaders and MCWA members Doug Tucker (KD9PQI) and Bill Wacaser (KD9GIU) hosted a special Scouting event on October 18th to coincide with the annual Jamboree-on-the-Air (JOTA). The event was held at the Crystal Lake Nature Center and followed strict COVID-19 safety procedures, which included a limit on attendees, use of hand sanitizer, mask wearing at all times by everyone, and observing social distancing practices.

KB3LKM and two scouts
Desmond (KB3LKM) and two scouts at the portable HF station

After an interactive and engaging presentation and Q&A, the scouts were broken into groups of two and then visited five exploration areas that showcased various aspects of amateur radio.

Six meter SSB communications:  Scouts were able to get on the air and make contacts on 6m facilitated by John Dewey (KA9CAR). John was assisted by remote operators Pierre Berube (K9EYE), Dean Hettel (WD9FOO), Dennis Ryan (KA9PUC) and Mike Salak (KC9Q).

Two meter FM communications:  Gary Dembski (W9GD) guided the scouts as they reached out to contact local amateurs, which included Pierre Berube (K9EYE), Rob Fesus (KD9KZW), Mike Salak (KC9Q), Jen Van Zieleghem (KD9FMJ) and Dave Whaley (NT9E).  

Amateur Radio and the Internet: Ralph Iden (WB9ICF) demonstrated how the Internet complements amateur radio operations. The scouts learned about APRS, DMR, PSKReporter and OpenWebRx.

Portable HF Operations:  Desmond Sharpe (KB3LKM) showcased his QRP transceiver running off of a battery, thus showing how amateur radio can be used in the field.

AllStarLink: Dave Holmgren (K9AT) brought his ClearNode hotspot and demonstrated how it is possible to communicate not only locally, but reach out and converse with amateurs around the world. A highlight was a QSO between the scouts and Les Emanuel (2E0LRV) from Redditch, Worcestershire, England.

I am really happy the boys enjoyed the event and feel honoured to be part of your Scouting Jamboree on the Air event.
– Les 2E0LRV

It was a successful event by all measures. Doug and Bill are planning a series of follow-up classes to prepare the scouts for getting their amateur radio licenses.

Sam Lounsberry from the Northwest Herald visited the event and wrote an excellent story which appeared in the Herald the next day.


Field Day 2021 is just around the corner

Each year on the fourth full weekend in June, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) holds a special operating event known as Field Day where more than 35,000 radio amateurs in the US and Canada meet to operate from remote locations.

Field Day provides an opportunity to observe amateur radio in action, practice radio techniques, and enjoy good food and fellowship.

This year the McHenry County Wireless Association will hold its Field Day event at the Rush Creek Conservation Area in Harvard, IL.  The site is located off of McGuire Road, just east of Route 14. For reference, the Walmart is located on the corner of McGuire Road and Route 14.

MCWA Field Day location

MCWA invites you to stop by during the Field Day weekend to have an opportunity to get on the air or just observe. Stay as long as you wish!

For more information, email the Field Day team at