The perils of codewords

An amusing (though historically significant) misunderstanding from Brian Cathcart’s “Test of Greatness: Britain’s Struggle for the Atomic Bomb”

“For security reasons the Manhattan Project had been ‘compartmentalized’ and as a result, to take one instance, no British scientist had ever laid eyes on the American plutonium piles. Building piles in Britain would be infinitely more difficult and expensive if the Americans did not share their knowledge. On the face of it, there seemed at first to be grounds for optimism, for during the war the two countries had negotiated a series of written agreements pointing towards post-war collaboration. In 1944, for example, Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed that: ‘Full collaboration between the United States and the British Government in developing Tube Alloys for military and commercial purposes should continue after the defeat of Japan unless and until terminated by joint agreement.’ The words appeared to be a guarantee, but they were not. It was symbolic of an ill-starred partnership that Roosevelt failed to tell any of his relevant advisers and officials of this promise, and that the only American copy of the memorandum was lost — the code words ‘Tube Alloys’ fooled the filing clerks, who assumed the document must relate to naval torpedo tubes. As a result, when the British tried to invoke the agreement, nobody on the American side had heard of it.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s