The Pentagon Is Spending Your Tax Dollars to Keep You in the Dark About Its Sprawling Empire
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In May 2012, I made the mistake of requesting a list of all facilities used by the U.S. military in Africa broken down by country. Nicole Dalrymple of AFRICOM’s Public Affairs Office told me the command would look into it and would be in touch. I never heard from her again. In June, Pat Barnes, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs liaison at the Pentagon, shot down my request, admitting only that the U.S. military had a “a small and temporary presence of personnel” at “several locations in Africa.” Due to “force protection” issues, he assured me, he could not tell me “where our folks are located and what facilities they use.”
That July, with sparing assistance from AFRICOM, I published an article on “Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s ‘New Spice Route’ in Africa,” in which I attempted to shed light on a growing U.S. military presence on that continent. This included a previously ignored logistics network set up to service U.S. military operations, with critical nodes in Manda Bay, Garissa, and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema in the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. I also drew attention to posts, airports, and other facilities used by Americans in Arba Minch in Ethiopia, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Africa Command took great exception to this. Colonel Tom Davis, their director of public affairs, wrote a detailed, irritated response. I replied to him and once the dust had settled, I asked him for, among other information, a full listing of what he called “temporary facilities” as well as all other outposts, camps, warehouses, supply depots, and anything else that might be used by U.S. personnel in Africa. He ignored my request. I followed up. Four days later, AFRICOM spokesman Eric Elliott emailed to say Colonel Davis was on leave, but added, “Let me see what I can give you in response to your request for a complete list of facilities. There will [be] some limits on the details we can provide because of the scope of the request.”
Were there ever!
That was August 2012. For months, I heard nothing. Not an apology for the wait, not a request for more time. A follow-up in late October was ignored. A note in early November was finally answered by still another AFRICOM spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Dave Hecht, who said he was now on the case and would get back to me with an update by the end of the week. You won’t be shocked to learn that the weekend came and went without a word. I sent another follow up. On November 16th, Hecht finally responded: “All questions now have answers. I just need the boss to review before I can release. I hope to have them to you by mid next week.”
Take a guess what happened next. Nada. Further emails went unanswered. It was December before Hecht replied: “All questions have been answered but are still being reviewed for release. Hopefully this week I can send everything your way.”
In January 2013, answers to some other questions of mine finally arrived, but nothing on my request for information on U.S. bases. By now, Hecht, too, had disappeared and I was passed off to AFRICOM’s chief of media engagement, Benjamin Benson. When I asked about the ignored questions, he responded that my request “exceed[ed] the scope of this command’s activities, and of what we are resourced to research and provide under the Public Affairs program.” I should instead file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In other words, I should begin what was guaranteed to be another endlessly drawn-out process.