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Book of U.S. Code Names Challenges Secrecy

Author Hopes to Undermine Agencies' Ability to Make Decisions in the Dark

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page A07

If you think of a hit television series when you read the words "West Wing," then you probably do not have to worry about your next security clearance polygraph.

But if it brings to mind secret U.S. bases in Jordan, you might have a problem if you have read William M. Arkin's new book, which amounts to the sort of unauthorized dump of classified information you would have to report to protect your clearance.


Military analyst William M. Arkin is the author of "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military, Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World." (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

In "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World," Arkin discloses and briefly defines 3,000 military code names.

Some of them are still classified. Each one represents a discrete dot in the ever-growing clandestine world of Delta Force and SEAL commandos, of spy satellites and electronic worldwide eavesdropping. Once fleshed out and connected, Arkin hopes, the dots will reveal the invisible world where billions of dollars have been spent to fight terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, without the scantest of public debates.

This is Arkin's effort to challenge the wisdom of letting the government make so many crucial decisions in the dark.

"You either believe in democracy or you don't," said Arkin, the author of 10 other books and a columnist, military analyst and former Army intelligence officer who now works out of an office in Vermont. "There's no question that the fundamental problem that led to 9/11 was compartmentalization and secrecy -- government agencies hoarding information as power and not communicating with one another, even at the highest level."

Because of this secrecy, he said, the American public did not understand the extent of the terrorist threat. "Secrecy can have its greatest impact internally," he said. "That's what breeds all of this compartmentalization and code names."

The independent Sept. 11 commission also warned in its report about the hoarding of information, particularly by the FBI and CIA. The commission's solution: a new national intelligence czar and new national counterterrorism center to force all agencies and all agents to share their information.

Arkin's solution: Fight fire with fire. A secret held, a secret disclosed. He offers many bomblets, each of which could make up a chapter of the 600-plus-page book.

"The classification system is dysfunctional," said Gen. Charles Horner, air commander during the 1991 Persian Gulf War who has long sparred with Arkin over air power matters but describes him as a man of integrity. "Overclassification makes it hard for people to work together . . . and the fact that Arkin is able to dredge all this up says it's not working anyway."

Horner, who has read the book, said, "I didn't find anything that would really hurt the national defense." But, he said, it will no doubt "make the narrow-minded" officials in the defense establishment "very upset."

Asked to comment on the book and on the code names cited in this article, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman replied: "At any given time, there are a number of classified programs across the government that, for national security reasons, it would be inappropriate to discuss. With respect to your specific questions, it would be irresponsible for me to comment on any classified program that may or may not exist. Disclosing classified information places the nation and its citizens at risk."

Arkin gleaned his list of code names from Pentagon and intelligence agency documents he has obtained, and from similar briefings he has read and copied, or discussed with longtime sources whom he said he trusts "100 percent." In consultation with a few former military and intelligence officials, he said, he has "fuzzed up" some of the most sensitive.

Among the code names the book discloses are:


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