American intelligence organizations have long assigned code names to high-profile individuals and operations to keep them secret.
But like the much-ridiculed code name “Operation Red Dawn,” which was used for the operation to capture Iraq President Saddam Hussein, the use of the name “Geronimo“ for Osama bin Laden has caught many by surprise.
(“Operation Red Dawn” was named after a campy 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze.)
Geronimo? The 19th-century Apache leader? The one who later converted to Christianity? Yes, Geronimo conducted murderous raids like bin Laden. And yes, Geronimo was elusive, rumored to have been able to walk without leaving any tracks.
But Native Americans argue that Geronimo merely sought to defend his people and protect their lands, not destroy other lands like bin Laden, and that Geronimo later mended his ways.
Yet, Geronimo was the code name chosen for bin Laden, leading to the iconic transmission from the raid: “Geronimo EKIA.” Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action.
The Washington Post’s Neely Tucker reports that military code names and nicknames have a long history, dating back to “when written or radio transmissions could be easily intercepted, and thus the name for a secret language that only some people involved in a particular operation would understand.”
The U.S. military has more recently adopted strict formats for official code names, because in the past they were often goofy, or did not adequately describe the person or operation.
— The two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were given the code names “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” Fat Man allegedly was a nod to British statesman Winston Churchill, but also described the shape of the weapon, as did Little Boy.
— Joseph Stalin, Soviet politician, whose last name means “man of steel,” was given the code name “GLYPTIC,” meaning an image carved out of stone.
— Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, who lied about working on Iran’s biological weapons program, was given the code name “Curveball,” because the word “ball” was used during the Cold War when dealing with informants who had intelligence about weapons.
— Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary, was given the code name “AMQUACK,” and Cuban leader Fidel Castro was given “AMTHUG.” The prefix “AM” referred to Cuba.
— U.S. President John F. Kennedy was given the code name: “GPIDEAL.” JFK is the only known president with a code name.
— A 1998 bombing operation against Iraq was given the code name “Operation Desert Fox") after a German general who fought for our Nazi enemies during World War II.
— The1989 invasion of Panama was give the code name “Operation Just Cause. A Slate article entitled “Good Mission, bad name” says seems the code name seems to say, “We are too allowed to arrest a foreign leader for violating U.S. law.”
Wonder what your code name would be? A code name generator is bound to give you a code name just as goofy as Little Boy or Red Dawn. Just hope you don’t get Geronimo.