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A code name or cryptonym is a word or name used, sometimes clandestinely, to refer to another name, word, project or person. Code names are often used for military purposes, or in espionage. They may also be used in industry to protect secret projects and the like from business rivals, or to give names to projects whose marketing name has not yet been determined. Another reason for the use of code names and code phrases in the military is that they transmit with a lower level of cumulative errors over a walkie-talkie or radio link than actual names.
During World War I, code names common to the Allies referring to nations, cities, geographical features, military units, military operations, diplomatic meetings, places, and individual persons were agreed upon, adapting pre-war naming procedures in use by the governments concerned. In the British case code names were administered and controlled by the Inter Services Security Board (ISSB) staffed by the War Office. This procedure was coordinated with the United States when America entered the war. Random lists of code names were issued to users in alphabetical blocks of ten words and were selected as required. Code words became available for re-use after six months and unused allocations could be reassigned at discretion and according to need. Judicious selection from the available allocation could result in clever meanings and result in an aptronym or backronym, although policy was to select words that had no obviously deducible connection with what they were supposed to be concealing. Those for the major conference meetings had a partial naming sequence referring to devices or instruments which had an ordinal number as part of their meaning, e.g., the third meeting was "TRIDENT". Joseph Stalin, whose last name means "man of steel", was given the code name "GLYPTIC", meaning "an image carved out of stone".
Ewen Montagu, a British Naval intelligence officer, discloses in Beyond Top Secret Ultra that during World War II, Nazi Germany habitually used ad hoc code names as nicknames which often openly revealed or strongly hinted at their content or function.
Some German code names:
Conversely, Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) was deliberately named to suggest the opposite of its purpose—a defensive "watch" as opposed to a massive blitzkrieg operation, just as was Operation Weserübung (Weser-exercise), which signified the plans to invade Norway and Denmark in April 1940.
By comparison, as a result of the German practice and relative ease of deciphering some element of its content in the post-War period, the British Ministry of Supply adopted the Rainbow Codes system which randomly combined a color and a noun (from a list) to create the name for projects. Though memorable, the names were unrelated to content.
Britain and the United States developed the security policy of assigning code names intended to give no such clues to the uninitiated. For example, the British counter measures against the V-2 was called Operation Crossbow. The atomic bomb project centered in New Mexico was called the Manhattan Project, derived from the Manhattan Engineer District which managed the program. The code name for the American A-12 / SR-71 spy plane project, producing the fastest, highest-flying aircraft in the world, was Oxcart. The American group that planned that country's first ICBM was called the Teapot Committee.
Although the word could stand for a menace to shipping (in this case, that of Japan), the American code name for the attack on the subtropical island of Okinawa in World War II was Operation Iceberg. The Soviet Union's project to base missiles in Cuba was named Operation Anadyr after their closest bomber base to the US (just across the Bering Strait from Nome, Alaska). The names of colors are generally avoided in American practice to avoid confusion with meteorological reporting practices. Britain, in contrast, made deliberately non-meaningful use of them, through the system of rainbow codes.
Although German and Italian aircraft were not given code names by their Allied opponents, in 1942, Captain Frank T. McCoy, an intelligence officer of the USAAF, invented a system for the identification of Japanese military aircraft. Initially using short, "hillbilly" boy's names such as "Pete", "Jake", and "Rufe", the system was later extended to include girl's names and names of trees and birds, and became widely used by the Allies throughout the Pacific theater of war. This type of naming scheme differs from the other use of code names in that it does not have to be kept secret, but is a means of identification where the official nomenclature is unknown or uncertain.
The policy of recognition reporting names was continued into the Cold War for Soviet, other Warsaw Pact, and Communist Chinese aircraft. Although this was started by the Air Standards Co-ordinating Committee (ASCC) formed by the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it was extended throughout NATO as the NATO reporting name for aircraft, rockets and missiles. These names were considered by the Soviets as being like a nickname given to one's unit by the opponents in a battle, such as the U.S. Marines were called by the Germans in France "Devil Dogs", which they appreciated as a feather in their cap. The Soviets did not like the Sukhoi Su-25 getting the code name "Frogfoot". However, some names were appropriate, such as "Condor" for the Antonov An-124.
Code names were adopted by the following process. Aerial or space reconnaissance would note a new aircraft at a Warsaw Pact airbase. The intelligence units would then assign it a code name consisting of the official abbreviation of the base, then a letter, for example, "Ram-A", signifying an aircraft sighted at Ramenskoye Airport. Missiles were given designations like "TT-5", for the fifth rocket seen at Tyura-Tam. When more information resulted in knowing a bit about what a missile was used for, it would be given a designation like "SS-6", for the sixth surface-to-surface missile design reported. Finally, when either an aircraft or a missile was able to be photographed with a hand-held camera, instead of a reconnaissance aircraft, it was given a name like "Flanker" or "Scud"—always an English word, as international pilots worldwide are required to learn English. The Soviet manufacturer or designation – which may be mistakenly inferred by NATO – has nothing to do with it.
Jet-powered aircraft received two-syllable names like Foxbat, while propeller aircraft were designated with short names like Bull. Fighter names began with an "F", bombers with a "B", cargo aircraft with a "C". Training aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft were grouped under the word "miscellaneous", and received "M". The same convention applies to missiles, with air-launched ground attack missiles beginning with the letter "K" and surface-to-surface missiles (ranging from intercontinental ballistic missiles to antitank rockets) with the letter "S", air-to-air missiles "A", and surface-to-air missiles "G".
Throughout the Second World War, the British allocation practice favored one-word code names (Jubilee, Frankton). That of the Americans favored longer compound words, although the name Overlord was personally chosen by Winston Churchill himself. Many examples of both types can be cited, as can exceptions.
Presently, British forces tend to use one-word names, presumably in keeping with their post-World War II policy of reserving single words for operations and two-word names for exercises. British operation code names are usually randomly generated by a computer and rarely reveal its components or any political implications unlike the American names (e.g., the 2003 invasion of Iraq was called "Operation Telic" compared to Americans' "Operation Iraqi Freedom", obviously chosen for propaganda rather than secrecy). Americans prefer two-word names, whereas the Canadians and Australians use either. The French military currently prefer names drawn from nature (such as colors or the names of animals), for instance Opération Daguet ("brocket deer") or Opération Baliste ("Triggerfish"). The CIA uses alphabetical prefixes to designate the part of the agency supporting an operation.
In many cases with the United States, the first word of the name has to do with the intent of the program. Programs with 'have' as the first word, such as Have Blue for the stealth fighter development, are developmental programs, not meant to produce a production aircraft. Programs that start with Senior, such as Senior Trend for the F-117, are for aircraft in testing meant to enter production.
In the United States code names are commonly set entirely in upper case. This is not done in other countries, though for the UK in British documents the code name is in upper case while operation is shortened to OP e.g., "Op. TELIC".
This presents an opportunity for a bit of public-relations (Operation Just Cause), or for controversy over the naming choice (Operation Infinite Justice, renamed Operation Enduring Freedom). Computers are now used to aid in the selection. And further, there is a distinction between the secret names during former wars and the published names of recent ones. Operation Desert Shield was what the build-up in Saudi Arabia was blatantly referred to in the press, before war was declared. During this time, "Desert Storm" was secret. When the war broke out, the name Operation Desert Storm—but not the tactical details—was also broken to the press.
Project code names are typically used for several reasons:
Different organizations have different policies regarding the use and publication of project code names. Some companies take great pains to never discuss or disclose project code names outside of the company (other than with outside entities who have a need to know, and typically are bound with a non-disclosure agreement). Other companies never use them in official or formal communications, but widely disseminate project code names through informal channels (often in an attempt to create a marketing buzz for the project). Still others (such as Microsoft) discuss code names publicly, and routinely use project code names on beta releases and such, but remove them from final product(s). At the other end of the spectrum, Apple Computer includes the project code names for Mac OS X as part of the official name of the final product, a practice that was started in 2002 with Mac OS X v10.2 "Jaguar".