WASHINGTON -- Ever wonder what's in the Pentagon's old war plans? Why, for instance, "Project Cornflakes" was a go in World War II, but Cold War-era plans dubbed "Dropshot," "Broiler," "Sizzle," "Trojan" and "Shakedown" stayed on the drawing board?
An upcoming "Top Secret" exhibit at the National Archives building, which houses the revered copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, may answer some questions.
Using a new interactive computer program, visitors will be able to inspect spy documents and war plans once limited to officials with special security clearances. While the exhibit itself won't open until next year, the Archives recently posted on its Web site a preview of the offerings. Among them:
-A 1946 memo from a U.S. naval attache suggesting America could win its postwar power struggle with the Soviet Union by using atomic bombs to stem the communist threat.
-The "Zimmerman Telegram," a coded 1917 message from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to a Mexican official offering to help Mexico regain New Mexico, Texas and Arizona from the United States. The British intercepted the note, deciphered it and gave it to President Wilson. Congress declared war on Germany a month later.
-Documents from "Project Cornflakes," a World War II operation by the Office of Strategic Services - forerunner to the CIA - that dropped anti-Nazi propaganda over Germany.
Each year the National Archives declassifies hundreds of thousands of pages of documents as part of a regular review of old records or because of Freedom of Information Act requirements.
The challenge, curator Bruce I. Bustard writes in the preview article, was to make the documents accessible to visitors in a way that "replicates the thrill and sense of discovery researchers feel" when they open boxes containing declassified material.
The viewer of the Zimmerman telegram, for example, will see the telegram sent by the Germans to Mexico City: groups of numbers on a standard Western Union form. The meaning of the bumbers will also be explained. For example, "264777" means "Texas."
On the naval attache's war plan, the words "Top Secret" are stamped at the top and bottom of each page. The cover sheet carries a note on the declassification.
What the Archives settled on was a computer-accessed system. Visitors to the Archives building will view the documents by touching a screen. Bustard said details have not been settled, but he wants to give the viewer the feeling that he or she is opening a box of archives.
One such "box" contains the 1946 memorandum - seven typewritten pages, double-spaced - written by Rear Adm. Houston Maples, naval attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, to Adm. Chester Nimitz, chief of naval operations, about the threat posed by the Soviet Union after World War II.
Though America and the Soviet Union had been allies during World War II, in the postwar period they secretly plotted against each other in what became the Cold War.
Maples foresaw a Soviet drive through Western Europe by 1951. Fearing that Western forces would not be able to hold the continent, Maples predicted that America would prevail because the United States had the atomic bomb and the Soviets were unlikely to have the weapon within five years. That prediction turned out to be wrong: The Soviets developed the bomb in 1949.
"Our possession of the atomic bomb gives us the most destructive weapon in existence," Maples wrote. "In addition, our superiority in technical, organizational and industrial capacity will enable us to develop faster and produce in greater quantities, improved and new weapons ... We conclude that the fall of the communist regime will bring about the capitulation of Russia."
Maples did not give his plan a name. But various scholars have reported on more than a dozen U.S. war plans against the Soviets, with names like "Dropshot," "Broiler," "Sizzle," "Trojan" and "Shakedown."
Several outdated war plans were declassified in the 1970s and 1980s. Maples' plan lost its "top secret" classification in 1976.
David Alan Rosenberg, who co-edited the 15-volume "America's Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950," said in an interview that Gen. Leslie Groves, commander of the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb, made a list of Soviet cities that could targeted by such bombs.
The "Top Secret" exhibit will open next fall near the building's rotunda, where the recently refurbished Declaration of Independence and Constitution are on display.
A Web-based version of the exhibit will be available at the National Archives' Web site, http://www.archives.gov.
On the Net:
National Archives "Top Secret" exhibit preview article: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/fall-2003-topsecret-ex hibit.html
The 1946 memo outlining a potential Soviet conflict is available at: http://datacenter.ap.org/wdc/warplan.pdf