"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