The Defense Department announced that the code name for the domestic mission to protect this country in response to Tuesday’s terrorist attack is Operation Noble Eagle. How does the military choose its code words?
In general, the first step is that a computer database of appropriately military sounding words spits out possible combinations, with each geographic command given rights to certain letters of the alphabet. The command overseeing the operation chooses candidates–after checking through a registry of previously used names–and sends it to the Joint Staff for review and approval. (The director of operations of the Joint Staff, Lt. General Gregory S. Newbold, has a name worthy of a military operation.) [Sept. 21 addition: It then goes to the Secretary of Defense who must endorse it.] It wasn’t a brilliant algorithm that came up with the code word Desert Storm for the invasion of Iraq–that was deliberately chosen.
Winston Churchill, who personally vetted many of the British military code words, ordered that they should be neither overly boastful, nor frivolous. No mother, he wrote, should have to say “that her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnybug.’ “