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Code Names

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NBC News analyst and journalist, William Arkin, is no stranger to controversy. His 1985 best seller Nuclear Battlefields revealed the location of nuclear bases worldwide and earned him the ire of the Reagan administration.

Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Milirary Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World continues Arkin’s goal of opening up government to the scrutiny it has been shying away from since the eventful day of Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after publication of this book, he was accused of being a spy for Iraq.

Arkin feels exposing government secrecy is important. Excessive secrecy, he explains, is a contributing factor to failures such as those leading to the events of 9/11.

Code Names is an in-depth look at the government and military of the United States. Anyone who is interested in the inner workings and relationships between the many departments and agencies involved in the running of our country will find this book a non-stop page turner.

The book has three main sections.

Cast of Characters explains the workings of the various departments, agencies and military organizations. Facility locations, affiliated code names and explanatory text fills out everything anyone would need to know about the vast network involved in running a country and making war plans.

Activities by Country provides a listing of every country the United States deals with in pretty much any way. I had trouble find a country in the world not listed here. It became a challenge amongst friends to name a country and see if it was listed.

Many of these listings are incredibly in-depth. Emphasis is, of course, placed on current events, but cold war history plays heavily into descriptions, as well.

Code Names is the meat of this book. This chapter contains around 3,000 entries. Many are mundane; code names for various military exercises, such as Cope Thunder, an international exercise that takes place near where I live (and is not any sort of secret.)

Others are more ominous. Project Suter describes an airborne cyber-attack capability. An Iraqi informant, code name Curveball, may have provided false information. Good choice of code names!

This book is certainly not for everyone. Some may find the encyclopedic/dictionary style hard to deal with and potentially dull. To those, I suggest hunting around and looking for the things that might interest you. This is made all the easier as many of the items include additional names and suggestions to look for. Nearly every Cast of Characters and Country listing provides associated code words.

Arkin provides a valuable service by opening up a portion of the ever increasing security that threatens to obfuscate the government.

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  • Eric Berlin

    This sounds like an interesting read and resource, Roger — great job.

    This book review has been selected for You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places at’s Book Reviews column.