Inspired by finding a clipping of this fascinating New York Times Magazine article (from its regular feature on words, Lexicon), a song. Mr Mark Pringle on one-take Strat. Now if only I could get a decent singer, say Karen O, to actually deliver it.
Code Name: Retract Larch
If the government’s system for labeling its billions of secret documents seems utterly incomprehensible, then it’s working exactly as planned. By WILLIAM M. ARKIN
No one knows exactly how many secrets the United States government maintains, but by some estimates its safes and secure rooms contain tens of billions of pages of classified documents. In addition to being marked either Top Secret, Secret or Confidential, many of these pages are assigned a “compartment,” a unique code word for whatever surveillance effort, covert operation, special-access program, classified research initiative, military exercise or development effort the document refers to.
Some of these compartments are as old as the cold war: Restricted Data, for instance, was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 for information about nuclear weapons design. The euphemism Special Arabic was long used for interceptions of Israeli communications, lest our ally get wise that we were listening in. Some of the newer code names, like ECI and H, are so secret that national security experts outside government don’t know what they stand for.
These compartment names may look like English, but they are in fact a language unto themselves, highly specialized and, by design, almost perfectly impenetrable. Consider the following sampling — and see if you can connect the secret designation with the program that it is used to signify.
A. Air Force classified system.
B. Imagery-satellite operations data.
C. Israel-U.S. exercise.
D. Classified Middle East exercise.
E. Targeting of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
F. Classified Pacific Ocean exercise.
G. Caribbean counternarcotics deployments.
H. Technical exploitation of a stolen foreign nuclear weapon.
I. Clearance for military-deception information.
J. Air Combat Command nuclear-accident exercise.
K. Navy classified weapons-development program.
L. Operation to retrieve a lost or stolen nuclear warhead.
M. Presidential survival exercise.
N. Classified Middle East special operations exercise.
O. Navy counter-narcotics intelligence collection.
P. Air Force reconnaissance in areas of humanitarian disaster.
Q. Ocean surveillance satellite.
R. V.I.P. communications network.
S. Army classified weapons-development program.
T. Navy submarine computer warfare.
U. Army computer-security alert.
V. Classified South American exercise.
W. Nuclear-war exercise.
X. Computer-warfare demonstration.
Y. Marine Corps intelligence collection system.
Z. Navy special-access program.