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Code Names: A Look Behind Secret U.S. Military Plans in the Middle East, Africa and at Home

StoryJanuary 27, 2005
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We speak with military analyst, William Arkin, author of the new book Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World. It identifies 3,000 once-secret code names and details the plans and missions they stand for. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News describes the book as “perhaps the most concentrated act of defiance of official secrecy policies since Howard Morland wrote about the H Bomb Secret in the Progressive in 1979.” [includes rush transcript]

We spend the rest of the hour with military analyst William Arkin. He is the author of the new book “Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World.” It identifies 3,000 once-secret code names and details the plans and missions they stand for.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News has described the publication of these secrets as “perhaps the most concentrated act of defiance of official secrecy policies since Howard Morland wrote about the H Bomb Secret in the Progressive in 1979.”

Arkin is the author of 10 other books and is a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, military analyst and former Army intelligence officer. He joined us in our firehouse studio yesterday for an extended interview. I began by asking him why he published the book.

  • William Arkin, author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World.
    More information available at CodeNames.org.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to William Arkin, military analyst, and spend the rest of the hour with him, author of a new book called Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. It identifies 3,000, once-secret code names, and details the plans and missions they stand for. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News has described the publication of these secrets as quote, “perhaps the most concentrated act of defiance of official secrecy policies since Howard Moreland wrote about the H Bomb Secret in The Progressive in l979.” Arkin is the author of ten other books. He’s a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, military analyst, former intelligence officer. He joined us in our firehouse studio for an extended interview. I began by asking him why he published the book.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I’m in a position as a journalist and a military expert to collect a lot of this information. I guess it has been a passion of mine to follow the secret and not-so-secret meanderings of the military over the years. It seemed to me that there was an incredible explosion of secrecy after 9/11, and I guess I just felt compelled to do what it is that I was asking the government to do, which is to put it out there. I felt like if I had hoarded that information or kept it for my own use, then I would be no better than what I’m criticizing the government for doing. And I also believe that, you know, there are secrets and there are secrets, and merely because the government stamps something classified or claims that it is secret doesn’t make it so. And I wanted to challenge the trivial secrecy because it seemed to me that that was also the area where we got into the most trouble. Scandal follows secrecy like night follows day. And to me, I felt compelled, both as a citizen and then as an expert, to put as much out there as I could, so that people would be able to understand better the kind of world that we are building after 9/11.

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.

AMY GOODMAN: We are speaking to William Arkin, author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. When we come back he talks about losing a job over naming names. He talks about secret plans in Africa, as well as just how much control does Congress have over the Pentagon’s budget. We will talk about the “black budget.”


AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to William Arkin, military analyst who wrote the book Code Names: Deciphering Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. I asked him who were the critical planners in the Pentagon who were excluded in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Virtually everybody. Everybody from staff officers within central command itself, to experts in the Pentagon and in other commands, to State Department people who were privy to and working very ferociously on phase four, the post-major combat operations phase of the war plan. Everybody was excluded. And Polo Step then became a device, if you will, to limit the real war planning, the guts of it, to a very small circle. So not only is it exclusion, but it also is at the same time becomes an echo chamber, which is to say these guys listen to themselves. They have very little outside intervention. They begin to believe their own stuff. And they are impervious to any outside views. And if you don’t have access to Polo Step, and you don’t know what is really going on, the reality is that their argument is: Well, you are not really in the loop. And if you are not in the loop, in bureaucratic terms, it means you are not worthy to be listened to.

AMY GOODMAN: So more importantly than who is excluded, since you are saying everyone, who was this core group?

WILLIAM ARKIN: You know, it not particularly politically revealing who the core group is. Obviously the national security establishment at the highest level, the President and the National Security Council and the Vice-President, and the Secretary of Defense and his deputies are that core planning element. There were people from the CIA. There were people from the State Department in that group as well. But it doesn’t create an open debate. It doesn’t create an open discussion. And think about it. Let’s take ourselves back to 2002. It is in the newspapers every day. There’s speculation about what we are doing in Iraq. We are building up our forces. It is obvious that the Bush administration is planning to go to war. And so the fact of war plan is not secret. The broad designs of what the war is going to be are not secret. What is really going on here, is that anyone inside the system, inside the system, who might have a dissenting view or a different perspective, is being methodically excluded. That is what is really going on. Because the debate is taking place in public anyhow.

AMY GOODMAN: William Arkin is the author of Code Names. In your book, you reveal many of the secrets behind the US invasion of Iraq. Can you talk about the role Jordan secretly played prior to the war?

WILLIAM ARKIN: I think that Jordan exemplifies the problem of secrecy in the modern world. The United States and Jordan cooperate on a broad range of intelligence and military affairs. Some of that cooperation is laudable and some of it is important. And the United States, in exchange for that cooperation, accedes to making it classified. In the run up to the Iraq war, Jordan allowed the United States to deploy Special Operations Forces, and even airplanes, two air bases in eastern Jordan, just on the border to western Iraq. And the provisions of that deployment were that it would have to be secret. And they used a code word, “West Wing,” to hide the fact that this, these were bases in Jordan. So they were just referred to West Wing as if there was a place called West Wing. And as those forces got deployed Florida National Guardsmen got deployed from the infantry to protect the base. Special Operations forces went in there. British and Australian Special Operations forces went in there. We even deployed Patriot surface-to-air missiles in downtown Amman. And yet, when it was revealed in the news media that the United States was using Jordan as a staging base to attack Iraq, the Jordanian government said not true, we don’t have any Americans here, that is absolutely untrue. And I raise in the book the question of what it does for our society, for our national security, for our spirit as Americans to accommodate this excessive ridiculous level of secrecy for other nations. Because the fact that the, that there were US forces in Jordan was not a secret. The Iraqis knew there were US forces in Jordan. There were obvious deployments of forces there. As I said, there were US Patriot missiles in downtown Amman. But I think it sends a message. It sends a message that says: states do one thing, and say another.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean you had King Abdullah saying that he was opposed to the war, and yet privately supporting it.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Yes. So what it does, I think, is it conveys to terrorists, and to those who are hostile to the United States, that you can say one thing and do another. So when the United States says, let’s just say President Bush says freedom, freedom, freedom in the inaugural, what people can interpret that as meaning is hey, you know, the United States can say freedom, freedom, freedom all it wants to, but what we see is they are supporting repressive non-democratic regimes, they are really interested in just killing Islamic people, they’re really just interested in the oil, and although they give a highfalutin imprimatur to what their objectives are, in the real world, we know that these regimes are cooperating covertly with the United States, that the United States is accommodating these secrets, and I think the end result is in our overall national security, we breed more terror, we support the wrong regimes, we don’t put the same pressure on our allies and friends to democratize that we do our enemies, and the end result is that our national security is weakened. And I see this pattern in Pakistan, in Jordan, throughout the gulf region, and in other parts of the world where now the measure of a country’s freedom, if you will, is the degree to which they are cooperating with us in the war on terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush held a news conference at the White House and he was asked if he is fighting tyranny around the world, how is he going to deal with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia. He talked about Russia, and he talked about China. He just didn’t comment on Saudi Arabia. Can you talk about the secret relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Saudi Arabia is another one of those countries like most of the monarchies and oligarchies in the Gulf region that has a very intimate relationship with the United States either because it buys most of its arms from the United States, because the US military trains the Saudi military, or since Desert Storm, since the Gulf War 1990-91, the United States has consistently deployed forces on Saudi soil, of course consistently deployed forces even though they are not officially there, and it is officially classified. I mean the United States flew B-52 bombers from Jeddah during the Gulf War, and it is still a secret. Secret from whom? You can’t miss a B-52 bomber taking off from an air base. The Iraqis knew they were there. Everybody knew. Just the American people are not supposed to know. And Saudi Arabia, like most countries, we wrangle with them to get them to be more cooperative in dealing with the al-Qaeda in their midst, and dealing with terrorism, this liberalizing their society et cetera, but at the same time the price we pay when the Saudis don’t move, when the Saudis don’t cooperate with the United States, when the Saudis don’t do what is necessary, is that we keep our mouths shut because they are paying us something, which is they are providing access for our military in that part of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book is Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. William Arkin, can you talk about some of those code names for operations around Saudi Arabia?

WILLIAM ARKIN: To me in Saudi Arabia particularly what I like is I like the set of military exercises which sort of serve as cover for cooperative counterterrorism operations. So they are called military exercises, and they all have very intricate names. And those names then kind of serve as cover. So an exercise might come up at some point in time, and it might be in central command most of the words are of the i-n-series. The military’s very organized. So, “Inspired,” “Intrepid,” those are the code names that each relate to a different country. So you might see a press release or something in a military newsletter or newspaper that says the United States is deploying forces for “Inspired Venture 04,” yet in reality what “Inspired Venture 04” is, is a joint counterterrorism operation or some joint cooperative operation between the United States and Saudi Arabia. In fact again for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war in Iraq, the United States deployed Special Operations Forces in northern Saudi Arabia, and they deployed reconnaissance aircraft in Tabuk, forces in Saudi Arabia. In fact it ran the air war from Riyadh. Yet officially Saudi Arabia was merely involved in defending its own country and was not involved in this war.

AMY GOODMAN: It is very hard for people in the US to get this information. What kind of information gap is there between people in the rest of the world and people in the United States supposedly which has the freest press?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, the United States ipso facto has the freest press. I’ve written this book, so it shows it. I think they are not going to get the information because of the complexity and the Byzantine nature of the military and US national security establishment is such that it takes an expert to decipher it. We have seen that in all of the recent stories about secret Pentagon units and secret Pentagon involvement in the inaugural, et cetera. These are incredibly complex things and I have been doing this many years, and still have a hard time figuring out A from B and B from C. So I’m not surprised that it doesn’t proliferate down until somebody writes about it first here. It has to originate in the US or British press or some other foreign press. But most of the time the truth of the matter is that they will write about it once it written about here. However, I’m not expecting that I’m going to see many articles in the Saudi or Jordan press about the covert US military relationship with those countries.

AMY GOODMAN: You have been hit hard when you talk about issues like this. Can you talk about losing a job over naming names?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I have been doing this for a long time. I think one of the first jobs I had was working for a little non-profit in Washington, DC called the Center for Defense Information. This was in the early 1980’s. And I was —- I worked on an article relating to where all the nuclear weapons were in Germany, US nuclear weapons. And I pieced it together by looking at telephone books and various military manuals. And I promptly was fired from my job. You know, big deal. In a way, I can’t work somewhere that’s not going to support the notion of openness. As I say in the introduction to the book, you either believe in democracy or you don’t. You believe in openness or you don’t. There’s no way I’m going to convince you of it if you don’t believe in it. So I have been doing this now for almost 30 years. I wrote a book in the 1980’s that revealed where all the nuclear weapons were around the world. The Reagan administration was not very happy about it and came down on me pretty hard. And -—


WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, they threatened to throw me in jail. And it took many months of negotiations with the Reagan administration to convince them that I had not used any access to classified information in order to compile that book. That was the key that they would have used as the excuse to put me in jail. So it took many, many months to do that. It was quite a hairy time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the -stans and code names. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan.

WILLIAM ARKIN: The Uzbek case of course, was the most important in the 1990s. This where most of the CIA special operations were run out of, in terms of the early Osama bin Laden years, the Clinton administration’s war against Osama bin Laden. Uzbekistan was generally very cooperative, and also served as the hub for most of the Northern Alliance’s activities in Afghanistan. As we built up our capacity in Uzbekistan, also at the same time, we built up a stockpile of secrets that sort of covered it. And not just Uzbekistan but Pakistan, to some degree Tajikistan. Turkmenistan was more hostile to the United States and we didn’t have as much access but in each case we would take up occupation of a former Soviet air base or former Soviet military facility, build up a small kind of enclave of American activity, either CIA, special operations, the military or even contractors. We started to fly the Predator drones out of Uzbekistan and Pakistan, doing surveillance of Afghanistan in September of 2000. So, by the time 9/11 came around, the United States already had a small web of covert relations with many nations on the periphery of Afghanistan. And that certainly facilitated the quicker movement of US forces to the region. We were able to then take up rather major presence at Jacobabad, Shamsi Air Base in western Pakistan where most of the Special Operations that were mounted in Afghanistan were staged out of. But also the United States utilized quiet, secret bases in Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. So, rather quickly the forces were able to be mobilized to ring around Afghanistan and it is one of the reasons why you were able to see such high level of activity so quickly with not very much preparation.

AMY GOODMAN: William Arkin is our guest. His book is Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. Africa. Can you talk about the relationship with different countries?

WILLIAM ARKIN: I would have said to you prior to the current insurgency in Iraq that Africa would be the next front in the war on terrorism. All of the signs pointed to a build-up of US military and CIA capacity particularly in the Horn of Africa, staging mostly out of Djibouti and covering the counties mostly of Sudan, Somalia, to some degree western Kenya, Eritrea and Ethiopia. But I think as the military has become bogged down in the quagmire it has backed off of its grandiose plans for the Horn. There are some other military activities in the heart of Africa. We have done a lot of training and lot of deployments in Mauritania particularly to some degree in southern Morocco. There’s been some degree of cooperation with the French in Chad, and there have been some deployments in central Africa as well. But I think the notion that the military was going to open up a new front in the war on terrorism kind of evaporated as they began to have to put all of their resources that Iraq. And in some ways it is a very practical manifestation of an argument that was made against the war in Iraq, which people said this was going to dilute the effort in the war on terrorism and in fact it has, it really has. And I say this as somebody who sort of keeps an eye on all those little places and tries to see where the ebb and flow of emphasis and effort is. So, for Americans who even might not have opposed the war in Iraq for reasons relating to the evidence, they can certainly understand today that what it has done is it has made the other efforts in the war on terrorism much more difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: Some code names, Africa?

WILLIAM ARKIN: The joint task force Horn of Africa head-quartered in Djibouti has a whole set of interesting code names, many of which I have been unable to decipher, so I can’t associate the words with the country yet. I’m still trying to figure it out. But I have seen an interesting growth in the code names associated with particularly with Algeria and Mauritania, the southern part of Algeria, Mauritania where it looks like there’s an ongoing operation. But I would certainly like to know more.

AMY GOODMAN: William Arkin, his book Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World. When we come back we will find out about Operation Druid Leader. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to military analyst William Arkin author of the book, Code Names I asked him what the Operations Druid Leader, Elephant Grass, and Surf Fisher were. What do they mean?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, during the Iran-Iraq war the United States, in its strategic view at the time, felt that it was really necessary to support the Iraqi government, because God forbid the Iranians should win. Fundamental Shia would take over the rest of the world, threaten our friends in the Gulf oil region, and it would be curtains for U.S. national security. And in that environment, the United States mounted a series of covert operations to provide intelligence information to Saddam Hussein. I met the aide to Saddam Hussein who was the interlocutor between the U.S. and Iraq in 1993; and I remember at one time I —- we were in a discussion in a cafe about U.S. relations with Iraq and the future, and he got very angry and said, you know, “Don’t tell me about what states to. I was the guy who coo—-,” you know, “who was the liaison with the U.S. government during the Iran-Iraq war; and you were saying one thing and doing another at the time.” It was when a light bulb went on above my head that said, “Wow! In the real world,” you know, “what the Saddam Hussein government perceives is that the United States is going to do whatever the United States feels like it’s going to do to protect its own interests. And what it does publicly is really separate from what it does privately.” Because here they were getting satellite photographs, they were getting briefings on the nature of the Iranian forces, and the United States was looking the other way as Iraq was using chemical weapons both against the Kurds in the north and against the Iranians in the south. They were hesitant to criticize the Iraqi government at a time when the Iraqis were getting support from us, but also at the same time the Iraqis were opening up the coffers and buying increasing U.S. products, particularly rice from the United States, as payment for this provision of intelligence information; and that’s the whole Iraq-gate scandal: that the Bush Administration, the first Bush Administration, was bending over backwards to cooperate with the Iraqis to win the Iran-Iraq war while at the same time profiting by the Iraqis giving preferential contracts to the U.S. companies.

AMY GOODMAN: So Saddam Hussein was Druid Leader?

WILLIAM ARKIN: It’s unclear what each of those code names were; but we know that what — Well, what happens with code names is, they get changed a lot. These could all be the same program. Who knows? But I know that they are all associated with the top-secret program of cooperating with Iraq during this period from the mid 1980’s all the way —almost up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

AMY GOODMAN: William Arkin, let’s step back for a minute to the Pentagon’s so-called “black budget.” How much of it is secret? How much of it is there congressional overview?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, you know, when you look at a guide book of 3,000-plus code names, 600 of which have never been in the public domain before, which means they’re not in the budget, they’re not in newspaper articles, they’ve never been published, you know, one of the things that you got to conclude from that is: How can anybody in Congress monitor and oversee all of this activity? I mean, I’ve spent years on this and have a very tentative grasp upon all of these secrets. So, I know that there is a statutory requirement for the Pentagon to report the existence of special access programs to the Congress on an annual basis. But most people would be surprised to know that that’s done in the form of, literally, a report. A list of names gets sent forward with a one or two-line description of what the program is, and there are literally a half dozen people within the entire U.S. Congress who have a high enough clearance to read that report. So, when you’re talking about hundreds of programs, and then you’re talking about layers of different types of special access programs, I think we can all agree they don’t get very effective oversight. So, you have the double problem of the compartmentalization itself used as a way of avoiding oversight within the Defense Department and within the government. Lawyers or others don’t have access to all these programs; and then you have Congress which is only sort of perfunctorily made aware of the existence of these programs as well. So, I would conclude, as we’ve watched again and again and again during the Abu Ghraib scandal or during the whole debate over the handling of prisoners in Guantanamo, that Congress is not effectively monitoring what’s going on. They have a tentative grasp upon the totality of U.S. military and intelligence activities around the world and one of the devices that’s used to ensure that the Congress isn’t able to monitor it is this alphabet soup of code names which is basically employed to keep it secret.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you assess the war in Iraq right now?

WILLIAM ARKIN: It seems to me that we are going to be hearing the phrase, “withdraw with honor” at some point in the next two years. Though the U.S. military is sort of marching in lockstep (at least the leadership) saying, “We’re going to be there for another one or two years” (and they’re probably holding their breath hoping that it ain’t any longer than that), the truth of the matter is that I think there’s been a sea change inside the American military in the last year where their enthusiasm for the process of democratization and the mission in Iraq has really evaporated. And since I’m close to the military and follow the military, when I see something like that happen I really recognize that the Bush administration is operating on an ideological platform only, that it even has tentative support from its own military leadership.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this, the level of resistance in the military? I mean, we don’t hear very much about the — I think even the Pentagon’s admitting something like 5,500 people who are resisting going to Iraq. You’ve got, with Alberto Gonzales, more than the Democrats at the beginning, retired admirals and generals who are speaking out against him for Attorney General. How significant is this?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I think it is significant. It’s a sad day for America when, in October and November before an election, you have more retired generals and admirals calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq than you have Democratic candidates. And — and I think that though we tend to use those generals and admirals sometimes as a kind of, you know, 'on our side,' the truth of the matter is that there’s a tremendous amount of discomfort as there has been from day one with the ideology of the Bush administration. The professional military has been shunted aside and has been ignored and their advice has been not taken seriously. Resistance is a funny word because it comes back to sort of the Vietnam era and a draft in which you had a lot of normal people being dragooned into the military and were true resistors. You know, today in the environment of a volunteer force, even in the National Guard and the Reserves, people just generally tend to go into the military because their — it’s their choice and we pay them fairly good wages these days. A lot of that increase in defense spending is for enlistment and reenlistment bonuses that are ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars these days. You know, thank God we have the National Guard, to some degree and the Reserves, because at least those are people who are not dependent upon the military and are willing to speak out. But, by and large, you know, I would say to you that Americans should pay much more attention to the fact that there are high-ranking officials, knowledgeable people, who formerly were high level commanders in the military who are deeply concerned about, not just Iraq, but the way in which we are pursuing the war on terrorism and this notion that we’re going to win the war on terrorism by killing terrorists one at a time wild west-style. To me that’s a far more serious indictment of the lack of support and lack of thought that the Bush administration has put into all of this; because, as somebody who’s been in the military and as somebody who has done this for thirty years, I’d say to you, the complaints that I hear from soldiers today are not much different than complaints that I’ve heard from soldiers for thirty years and before. They’re always going to complain. That’s one of the wonderful thing about soldiers. But when you have so many retired ambassadors, retired generals and admirals and others who are themselves speaking out in an environment right now in which people are fearful of speaking out, that’s really significant sea change. And though those people were not willing to speak out before the Iraq war, unfortunately, you know, I really think we’ve seen a significant change in the past year since Fallujah, April, '04 where they have said, “This is going nowhere.” And the blood of Americans that is being spilled is really not going to achieve the goals that we think they're going to achieve.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Arkin, how much does it cost to keep these secrets secret? Now we have studies that are saying that the secrecy is actually hurting Homeland Security because states and local municipalities can’t get information from the federal government.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, to administer the federal security system is $7.5 billion a year. We are tending also to classify more and more information in a trivial way. The Department of Homeland Security is inventing new classifications: sensitive but unclassified, s.b.u., law enforcement sensitive, and other things like that. And they are trying to dragoon local law enforcement agencies into the security system so that they can exchange information, which increasingly then makes them just cogs in bigger national security picture. The costs are significant, even by the Bush administration’s own accounting, the costs are significant. But I think the costs to our nation, the costs to the American spirit, the costs to our foreign policy, the cost to international security is really much greater. And I’m hoping that my book in some way serves as an anchor for a lively debate, a more informed debate and hopefully more candidness in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a piece in the Washington Times by Tony Blankley, Newt Gingrich’s man when he was Speaker of the House. It’s in the Washington Times. Its headline is “Espionage by Any Other Name,” and it is about Seymour Hersh and it’s about the piece he wrote exposing U.S. operations in Iran, and suggesting that his revealing this, that perhaps he is engaged in espionage, and he points out when look at the U.S. Code that people involved in espionage, it is a crime punishable by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I certainly hope he writes the same op-ed about my book so I can sell a few more books. I don’t really take it very seriously. I have heard the arguments 20-something years in terms of my writings. The truth of the matter is that if the government really felt there was something that was being compromised that somehow infringed upon U.S. national security, they would take action. So this is polemical. The reality is that most of these secrets are trivial, mundane, unimportant, and the ones that are truly important are ones that the government feels compelled to protect anyhow, because to admit that they are, in fact, legitimate secrets is to open themselves up to further oversight.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Pentagon’s battle with the C.I.A., how does it play in here? Rumsfeld in the ascendancy now.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I think one of the things we have certainly seen since 9/11 is an explosion of new commands, new units, new operations on the part of the Pentagon. You know, to some degree, if you were a supporter of the war on terrorism, which I’m not particularly, you would either say, “Well, we should give Rumsfeld a medal, because he has worked very strongly to create ad hoc units when the bureaucracy has failed to respond.” And so you would say to yourself, “Well, that’s great, you know. Rumsfeld is a man of action, and that’s what we want.” On the other hand, you know, he cuts corners and he ignores the law when it proves unnecessary, and since we are a society of laws and we’re trying to impose a society of laws, it’s important that we abide by them. So, I think that we should not get bogged down in that typical Washington debate of bureaucracy versus bureaucracy, because it misses the big picture. The issue here is not C.I.A. versus Pentagon. I don’t support either agency, so I really couldn’t care less which one wins the bureaucratic battle. The real story is what is our strategy in fighting the war on terrorism, how are we building up our capacity to do so, and is it the right tragedy to pursue. If the Pentagon is doing it, I have some problems. If the C.I.A. is doing it, I have some problems. But it’s typical Washington that what they want to talk about is how the organizational chart is organized and fight about whether the blocks should be here or there rather than fight about the fundamental question of what the strategy is.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say the president is leading the most secret administration in the history of this country?

WILLIAM ARKIN: It appears to me at this point that the answer is yes. That having lived through the Reagan administration and watched the rise of the new Cold War during the 1980s, I would say that though I saw a significant shift in secrecy in the early 1990s, the truth of the matter is that what we had was a real regeneration of the entire world of secret operations and covert operations, starting in the late Clinton administration and then accelerated during 9/11.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end here at home. People think about operations abroad, code names abroad. The New York Times on Sunday, a headline, “Commandos See Duty on U.S. Soil in New Role in Terrorism Fight,” where they quote you revealing one of the code named operations. What is happening here at home?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I think that the Bush administration, mesmerized by the threat of weapons of mass destruction, their nightmare, is again creating a whole host of secret operations and contingency plans for how the military would be used to protect the presidency and perhaps even take special powers were there to be weapons of mass destruction incident in Washington or in the United States. We are witnessing a slow slide of the military increasingly in domestic affairs in this country, and that is something that should be very worrisome to every American.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the whole operation.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, it is the growth of domestic commands, the increasingly intimate relationship between the military and local law enforcement agencies, the use of military assets in surveillance and intelligence in the U.S. It is a bigger story and probably one worthy of another discussion sometime in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: What is Power Geyser?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Power Geyser is the top-secret contingency plan for the use of Delta Force in an emergency to protect the presidency. And we don’t really know what those authorities would be, but they are not in the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Military analyst William Arkin, author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World.

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