Five Students Psych Bell System, Place Free Long Distance Calls

Five local students, four from Harvard and one from M.I.T., spent eight months making long distance and international phone calls as guests of the Bell System before they were finally discovered.

The telephone company accepted the news without bitterness, however, merely impounding the 121-page Fine Arts 13 notebook that contained the records of their "researches" and requiring them to submit a full report, which ran to 40 double-spaced pages, of what they had done.

The story began in October 1962 when the students discovered by accident a code number which, when dialed, enabled them to bypass the familiar operator who asks long distance callers the number which should be billed for the call.

They were dialing numbers at random from a Marblehead apartment to get the wailing "wrong number" tone, which they were trying to record on tape, when they found that they had contacted an "inward operator" in Boston. The inward operator, whose job it is to assist other operators in completing long distance calls, had no way of knowing from where they were calling and, apparently assuming they were telephone company officials or repairmen, connected them with any Boston number they desired.

This discovery enticed the students into a search for more such codes, which they began by dialing "possible" area codes and exchanges which were not listed in telephone directories.


Kleena Kleene, B.C.

They discovered one inward operator in Kleena Kleene. B.C., who could (and would) get them through to any phone in the United States.

An even more useful inward operator was the one in Mexico City who connected them with numbers all over the world, including that of the president of Mexico. At the Presidential Palace however, someone stated that the President was not available. It was 2 a.m.

The students also discovered, however, that they could dispense with all operators, inward and otherwise, on calls with in the United States. They merely had to beep a tone of the correct frequency into the telephone transmitter after dialing an appropriate code to connect them with a long distance trunk line.

Out of $50 worth of common electronic components they constructed a device capable of reproducing tones of the 12 frequencies which are used to control automatic telephone equipment, giving them a virtual duplicate of a telephone operators console.

Annoyed Roommate

They also found that musical instruments or even human whistling could activate the equipment. Unfortunately, one of their roommates, often annoyed by the noise of the telephone experiments, found that by whistling at a certain pitch he could disconnect whatever call they had completed.

This was perhaps the greatest difficulty the students faced, until, in April 1963, a telephone company employee from whom they had obtained information turned them in to the company.