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Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World Hardcover – January 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Polo Step" is secret Pentagon code for classified material that is more sensitive than "Top Secret." When veteran military-affairs journalist William Arkin first publicly mentioned "Polo Step" in a 2002 column in the Los Angeles Times, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was apparently furious and ordered an investigation into the leak. Over 1,000 officials, military personnel, and contractors were ultimately interviewed, and the investigation even had its own code name, "Seven Seekers." Such is the zealousness, Arkin writes in his book Code Names, with which secrecy is protected in the 9/11 world. Arkin, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and long-time military commentator for NBC News, has come out with a fascinating retort to Washington's secrecy obsession. His 608-page tome is an encyclopedia of 3,000 U.S. national-security code names, some revealed for the first time, that tell a tantalizing hidden story about the American war on terrorism and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the code names in the book, listed in an alphabetic section that makes up the majority of the book, are "West Wing," a sensitive program to deploy 5,000 troops to Jordan to support the war in Iraq; a U.S. Air Force cyber-attack capability called "Project Suter," which is managed by a secretive unit called "Big Safari"; a CIA remote-viewing project called "Grill Flame"; and "Thirsty Saber," an ultra-secret project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a sensor "that would replicate human reasoning."

Arkin has a specific goal. He believes the post-9/11 drive for secrecy has imperiled American security and democracy. Information is often classified, he writes, not because of the danger of passing information to those who would harm the United States, but in order to close down public debate about controversial activities. The intelligence failures that allowed 9/11 to occur, Arkin writes, show that safety is better achieved when the national-security establishment is subjected to oversight and scrutiny. His book caused a small sensation even before it came out and is essential reading for understanding the mechanics of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. --Alex Roslin


"Full of useful information not only for scholars and practitioners of intelligence, but for any serious newspaper reader."

-- Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter, in the New York Review of Books

"William Arkin's Code Names will rock the National Security Community. We do not agree on any issue, my problem when we argue is that unlike most of his ilk, he researches the facts thoroughly and has impeccable integrity. Code Names scares the hell out of me because Arkin dredged up so many secrets and turned them into a comprehensive tour of our national security efforts around the globe. This book lays out for the reader what China, Israel, France and Russia probably spent billions trying to find out. It will become the basic reference book for those who study our foreign affairs, unfortunately that includes every spy agency around the world. This book shows the dysfunctional aspects of our all too frequent over-classification process that blocks our agencies from working together, hides waste and stifles debate of important issues. Most of all it proves we need to rethink how we protect our secrets in the information
-- Charles A. Horner, General USAF (Ret.), commander of coalition air forces in Operation Desert Storm, and former commander, U.S. Space Command

Code Names "lays bare for the first time much of the secret infrastructure of defense and intelligence today."
-- Steven Aftergood in Secrecy News

"William Arkin makes amateurs of all of us who think we know something about America's constantly expanding hidden world. Code Names is quite simply a stunning array of secrets and super-secrets that Arkin has put together in a way that makes it easy for any citizen to comprehend - and decide for himself or herself whether such activities are consistent with democracy and good government."
-- Seymour Hersh

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth; First Edition edition (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586420836
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586420833
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Arkin is an analyst, author and journalist who has been working on the subject of national security for over 35 years. His unique career spans an early assignment in Army intelligence in Cold War Berlin to being a best-selling author today. He has worked as a military advisor to the most influential non-governmental human rights and environmental organizations, equally at ease heading Greenpeace International's response to the first Gulf War or teaching at the U.S. Air Force's premier strategy school. He is weirdly proud to say that he spent the night in Saddam General Hospital after being injured by an unexploded cluster bomb in Iraq and that some of his fondest memories were picking through the rubble of Slobodan Milosevic's Belgrade villa and Mullah Omar's compound in Afghanistan. He is probably the only person alive who can say that he has written for both The Nation magazine and Marine Corps Gazette. He has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books and been both a columnist and reporter with The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. He has lived in Vermont since 1993, mostly because he detests Washington but also because if you don't live in a place like Vermont, you don't get it.

Arkin is co-author, most recently, of Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Little Brown), a New York Times and Washington Post best-selling non-fiction book based up a four-part series Arkin and his writing partner Dana Priest wrote in 2010. The book and series are the results of a three-year investigation into the shadows of the enormous system of military, intelligence and corporate interests created in the decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The series was accompanied by The Washington Post's largest ever online presentation, earned the authors the George Polk Award for National Reporting, the Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists award for Public Service, was a Goldsmith finalist for Investigative Reporting and Pulitzer award nominee, as well as recipient of a half dozen other major journalism awards.

Over the years, Arkin's research and journalism has brought his work to the front pages on dozens of occasions and he has appeared on television and radio countless times. He has appeared multiple times on CBS' 60 Minutes, on Meet the Press, and other programs as an independent analyst. As a long-time military analyst for NBC News, one of the few regular on-air analysts who was not a retired general or admiral, he brought both a journalistic and "civilian" perspective to contemporary military affairs.

Arkin began his string of investigative successes in the early 1980's with his ground-breaking research on the nuclear era, including his best-selling Nuclear Battlefields (Ballinger/Harper & Row) which was a news sensation from the front pages of The New York Times to media in Italy, Germany, and Japan, and even earned Arkin a mention in a monologue on the Johnny Carson show. The Reagan Administration went as far as to seek to put Arkin in jail for revealing the locations of American (and Soviet) nuclear weapons around the world; those were the days.

Arkin's then worked on the multi-volume Nuclear Weapons Databook series for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a set of references which the Reagan Administration also sought to prevent from publication. His subsequent revelation of "mini-nuke" research efforts by the Pentagon in 1992 led to a 1994 Congressional ban and ultimately a pledge by the U.S. government not to develop new nuclear weapons. His discovery of Top secret U.S. plans to secretly move nuclear weapons to a number of overseas locations shattered governments from Bermuda to Iceland to the Philippines. Foreign Affairs, the bible of the foreign policy establishment, commented about Arkin in 1997: "The author is well known (and in some government quarters, cordially detested) as an indefatigable researcher in military affairs, whose cunning and persistence have uncovered many secrets ..."

Working for the activist organization Greenpeace in its anti-nuclear hey-day, Arkin conceived a worldwide "Nuclear Free Seas" campaign, which combined research and action that proved so successful at dogging nuclear armed ships and submarines visiting foreign ports that the headache convinced the first Bush administration to remove nuclear weapons altogether from naval vessels.

Arkin then led Greenpeace International's research and action effort on the first Gulf War, being the first American military analyst to visit post-war Iraq in 1991, and the first to write about civilian casualties and the cascading effects of the bombing of electrical power. Gen. Charles A. ("Chuck") Horner, the commander of air forces during Desert Storm, said in a ten year anniversary interview in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings that the briefing Arkin gave him on the war and its civilian effects in Iraq was the best he'd ever received.

After the Gulf War, Arkin shifted his attention to the new era of conventional warfare. His groundbreaking research on the effects of the use cluster bombs in Iraq and Serbia formed the foundation for the international treaty that later banned their use. Arkin conducted the single most methodical assessment of the causes of civilian casualties after the Kosovo war (1999), a report done for Human Rights Watch that was accepted as authoritative by both NATO and the United States government. Arkin has also visited war zones in the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Israel on behalf of governments, the United Nations and independent inquiries.

Arkin's pioneering methods and meticulous work on the effects of conflict led also to a close collaboration with the United States Air Force, where he became a consultant. He was affiliated with the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies of the United States Air Force from 1992 to 2008 as lecturer and adjunct professor, and conceived and led the SAASS "Airpower Analyst" project to provide better tools for professional on-the-ground study. In 2007, he was National Security and Human Rights Fellow in residence at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University where he worked on a study "Why Civilians Die." He has also been a consultant to the Air Force Research Institute working on the history and impact of airpower.

All during his period, Arkin found room for independent journalism and writing. His New York Times op-ed in 1994 revealing the development of blinding laser programs led to a U.S. decision to agree to an international ban on such weapons. After 9/11, he was the first to write about the Bush administration's preemptive nuclear war concepts, provoking front page coverage in Pakistan and throughout the Islamic world. Before the 2003 Iraq war, he revealed the details of prospective war planning, provoking one of the largest leak investigations in the history of the Defense Department. Arkin revealed the fundamentalist religious activities of Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, then the architect of the global war on terrorism. As a columnist for the Times and The Washington Post online, Arkin reported on the growth of secret government and the darker sides of the national security enterprise.

Arkin's 2005 book Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World (Steerforth), the product of years of research, was featured on the front page of The New York Times and in an Emmy-nominated History Channel documentary. His 2006 revelations of renewed domestic intelligence collection by the Pentagon provoked not only a change in policy to end the so-called "Talon" suspicious activity reporting program but also to the eventual closing of the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

A 2003 Washington Post profile of Arkin commented: "From his home in the mountains of Vermont, William Arkin seems to have mastered one of the great juggling acts of the multimedia age -- persuading news organizations, advocacy groups and the Pentagon, through sheer smarts and a bulldog personality, to take him on his own terms."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By P. J Lambert on February 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For anyone with a remote interest in the intelligence and military communities, this book will be an eye opener. In painstaking (sometimes too much) detail, Arkin has compiled a list of code names that run the gamut of the mundane to the extremely sensitive.

I concur with Arkin (based on his radio interview on NPR) that classifying something from Americans that is in the open for the rest of the world to see, is irresponsible. However, I would also have to say that pushing the envelope with some of the issues covered in this book is also not terribly responsible.

Does the government need to classify plans/programs/activities --absolutely yes. Does the government tend to err on the side of overclassification--of course.

Make the determination yourself by reading this book.

I am not sure who to attribute this quote to, but in the game of politics in Washington, this may not always necessarily be the case..."those who know do not talk, those who talk do not know"
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By David W. Southworth VINE VOICE on February 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
William Arkin published this book out of concerns over the culture of hyper-secrecy that is rampant in Washington, DC today. In his introduction he anticipates concerns that he is disclosing information that will be harmful to US national security by stating that he is more fearful of a government that may not be supporting the public interest by protecting the dirty laundry of some of our allies than of the possibility that terrorists may learn secrets in this book that could kill Americans. He wants to shine a light on the dark underworld of the national security state.

Besides the introduction, this book is not written in the traditional narrative format. It is a reference book of military and intelligence outfits. It is broken into sections discussing activities in nearly every country in the world, a glossary of terms, and an overview of US national security units and agencies. This is a useful book that I would recommend to others interested in the topic.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Timothy D. Tyler on February 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Anyone labelling Arkin a traitor is either pretty ignorant about special access programs, and/or is just trying to help him sell more books.

No doubt he reveals some sensitive project names, and some of the associated details are accurate, and I'm aware that the topic is something that'd be incredibly difficult to find valid, primary-source information on.

But having been plugged-in to some special access programs myself, when I came across Arkin's book at a bookstore I resisted my first urge to simply buy it & take it home, and instead, I sat down for about 20 minutes and flipped through it at the bookstore.

For a couple of the 'code names' that I am very familiar with, the info he shares for them in his book was completely wrong, and I'm at a loss to explain how in the world he came up with what he did, including some grammatical errors in the way the 'code names' were worded. In a couple other cases, I was happy to see that he merely came across and 'revealed' the project's cover-story instead of the truth. In a few cases, he seemed to just go with info he found on various speculative web pages, including what I think was some near-verbatim text taken off a web page without permission or proper credit.

I'm looking forward to buying this book when I find it on the bargain shelf, but only because I maintain a rather extensive collection of books pertaining to command, control, communications and intelligence matters.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Schar VINE VOICE on September 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Code Names" doesn't provide any major breakthroughs in pulling the veil off the secret world of Federal black programs. There are no UFOs, antigravity projects or Terminators here. What "Code Names" provides is a comprehensive list, by country, of the legal framework of the military/intelligence relationship between that country and the US, as well as the definitions of a lot of code names, 70% of which appear to be already-public names of war games of the past 30 years.

So what, you may ask? On its own, this is pretty dry stuff. As other reviewers have noted, this is more of a reference book than something you pick up and read like a novel. However, what "Code Names" does is put some meat on the bones of Chalmers Johnson's concept of the "empire of bases" from his book "The Sorrows of Empire." The agreements, the exercises, the cooperative activities - the mechanisms of imperial control are laid right out in "Code Names," as dry as they are.

You might wish to check this out from the library before you buy it, just to make sure it's something you would be interested in or could even use.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Duff HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Through some source which I've now forgotten, someone recommended the book Code Names - Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World by William M. Arkin. As a reference book, it's OK. As a reading book, forget it...

Arkin is a journalist and analyst who has spent a great deal of time dissecting and interpreting U. S. military and government operations and structure. As a result, he's far more knowledgeable than most on what the military is up to. His stated purpose in writing this book is to give the reader a chance to see and understand the incredibly large number of alliances and operations that make up U. S. military might in today's world. The book is broken up into four sections after the initial introduction of why the information matters. The first section lists the cast of characters... the listing of all the military and government groupings that come into play here. The next section examines the military relationship between the U. S. and every country in the world. You can easily look up any country alphabetically and see what type of aid or operations we might be carrying on there. The third section, and the biggest by far, covers every single code word or code phrase that the author has uncovered in his research over the years (and we're talking thousands). Most of these you'll never have heard of, and reading the description of each operation gives you some insight as to what matters. The final section serves as a glossary of all the military acronyms that you might ever run across.

From an analysis standpoint, you'd be hard-pressed to find all this information in a single location anywhere. It just doesn't exist. This is probably required reading for every foreign analyst studying U. S. military actions.
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