Saturday, February 5, 2005

Arkin Spills The Beans

Pssst! Don't tell anybody! The book at the top of my wish-list was written by William M. Arkin, and it's called "Code Names". The book isn't a secret; it's about secrets. People are already talking about it, and here's what some of them are saying:

From the publisher's press release:

The war on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to a secrecy explosion. In the 9/11 world the U.S. military and intelligence organizations have created secret plans, programs, and operations at a frenzied pace, each with their own code name. In a perfect world, all of this secrecy would be to protect legitimate secrets from prying foreign eyes. But in researching Code Names, defense analyst William M. Arkin learned that while most genuine secrets remain secret, other activities labeled as secret are either questionable or remain perfectly in the open. The sheer volume and complexity of these operations ensures that the most politically important remain unreported by the press and shielded from the scrutiny of the American electorate ... From “Able Ally” to “Zodiac Beauchamp,” this book identifies more than 3,000 code names and details the plans and missions for which they stand.

From "The Connection", hosted by Dick Gordon, and broadcast courtesy of WBUR Boston and NPR:

This week Washington learned that the Defense Department has been keeping a big secret. Turns out it's been running covert intelligence operations since 2002 -- without anyone, including the CIA, knowing. The military has always been in the business of keeping secrets --that's nothing new. But what is new is the extent to which all that classified information is being shielded from the public and the civilian leaders who are supposed to oversee such activity. The defense analyst William Arkin says that post 9.11 -- the military has become obsessed with secrecy...and that obsession is hurting its ability to protect the nation at home and abroad. He argues that the elaborate system of classification and code names not only blinds the public and the politicians -- but it distracts the military as well.

From Amy Goodman's interview with William Arkin:
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what “Polo Step” is.

WILLIAM ARKIN: “Polo Step” is one of the many in this book. It is a compartment that was used by the Bush Administration, actually was used by the Clinton Administration, too, to compartment secret planning in the initial war against Osama bin Laden. So, in the late l990s, when many covert operations were being mounted against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a “Polo Step” was the compartment that you needed a clearance for in order to be privy to what was going on. So, something might be stamped “Top Secret, Polo Step” and if you weren’t read into that program and indoctrinated into Polo Step, you wouldn’t be privy to the ongoing day-to-day operations.

After 9/11, Polo Step was borrowed by U.S. Central Command -- responsible for the Middle East, Tommy Frank’s command -- to be the sort of cover, if you will, for offensive planning in Iraq. And at the very time when the government was denying that we were planning to go to war with Iraq, they were building war plans, building courses of action. And in about mid-2002, I became aware of the existence of this Polo Step compartment, and a Polo Step briefing about courses of action in Iraq was leaked to me. I wrote about it in the Los Angeles Times, and the reaction of the government was electric. The New York Times followed up with a front-page story on July 4th. And they were very worried that all of their sort of preparations for war in Iraq were going to be compromised.

It seemed to me that the far more interesting question was not what was obvious, which was that the Bush Administration was planning to go to war in Iraq, but that they were methodically excluding even people internally within the Pentagon from the process of war planning by using their own internal secrecy, so that those who could have made a contribution and what, of course, we know now is those who could have helped to sort of frame the war, even if we did go to war to better prepare for the peace, were methodically excluded. And that -- so then it just seemed to me that this was the worst case of the use of secrecy, because it here was, basically, being used to exclude even people from the inside from participating in what arguably was the most important debate of this Administration.

Of course not all those who interview William Arkin are quite so astute. Here's a short excerpt from an interview by Brooke Gladstone of WNYC Radio:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you really believe that the publication of code names will actually lead to less secrecy within government - especially within the Bush administration?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I think it will lead to less secrecy immediately, because there are less secrets. [LAUGHTER] They're now in the public domain.

Let's go back to the publisher's press release. "Code Names" has been taken very seriously by some very serious people...

... like Charles A. Horner, General USAF (Ret.), commander of coalition air forces in Operation Desert Storm, and former commander, U.S. Space Command:

"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."

... and Seymour Hersh:

"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."

And as you might expect, it's been making the news in foreign countries as well. This from Israel's Haaretz:

The United States has five secret military bases in Israel, according to a new book published recently in the U.S.

I'm looking forward to reading this book. I've even made a secret plan to buy it. And guess what? I've given my plan a code name. Like all good code names, it doesn't really mean anything, unless it does. Listen: The code name for my plan is "Blue Stick". Please don't tell anybody.