There is widespread interest these days in codes and their breaking. Codes, however, are not the only means of deceiving the bystander: mystifying names for research programs constitute another way of being secretive. 

This reflection stems from some recent reading. I was invited to review a book called 'Israel and the Bomb' by Avner Cohen; in which I found a perfect example of a mystifying name'. Around 1960 the American government exerted heavy pressure on the Israeli government to permit annual inspections of Dimona. Israel's prime nuclear research center. According to Cohen's book, "Israeli off'icials referred
to the project under construction [Dimona] as a 'metallurgical research installation" - clearly intended to sound innocuous.

This was not the first time that officials concerned with nuclear research made use of similar obfuscating
terminology, tn 1942. Enrico Fermi succeeded in creating the world's first controlled nuclear chain reaction in a graphite 'pile' at Chicago University, the project Was publicly referred to as the 'Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan District'; at about the same time, the wartime British government named their nuclear effort as 'Tube Alloys'. Clearly, all the spooks thought metallurgical cover to be unbreakable! 

Just recently, I have discovered another example of the same form of cover-up. When Hitler in 1933 embarked on (initially) covert rearmament, he financed it through the so-called 'Mefo bills'. These bills of exchange purported to support a fictitious company called, in English, 'the metallurgical research company', (Mefo) set up by Krupp, Siemens, Gutehoffnungeshutte and Rheinmetall. Between 1934 and 1938, some 12 billion Reichsmark were raised through Mefo for rearmament; the president of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht. killed off the scheme before it became too transparent. Details can be found in a book, The Economics Of World War II [Cambridge University Press, 1998).

There have been non-metallurgical obfuscations, too. Werner Heisenberg's (rather ineffective) laboratory for nuclear research during World War II was locally called 'the Virus House'. But metallurgy wins on points as a code concept.

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(01)80135-8