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The Pentagon Is Spending Your Tax Dollars to Keep You in the Dark About Its Sprawling Empire

Requests for info from the Pentagon on its activities across the planet are met with obstruction and obfuscation.

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I was surprised to say the least.  And I wasn’t alone.  When I checked in with the U.N., the Statistics Division wrote back: “could you please forward us the email you received from SOUTHCOM in which they suggest UNSD as a source, so we can contact them if they continue to give our address out in response to such inquiries which don't pertain to our work.”

So I called Villalobos to complain.  It wasn’t his fault, he quickly assured me.  The decision had been made, he claimed, by the director of personnel.  I asked for his name, but Villalobos refused to give it: “He’s not a public person.” 

That’s the nature of the runaround.  Months later, you find yourself back in the same informational cul-de-sac.  And when it comes to the U.S. military, it happens again and again and again.  I had a similar experience trying to embed with U.S. units in Afghanistan.  I was rebuffed repeatedly for reasons that seemed spurious to me.  As a result, however, a never-used Afghan visa for that trip sits unstamped in my passport -- which brings me back to my recent trip to Qatar.

The American Taliban?

In the airport upon returning to the United States, I was singled out by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent. He directed me to a “girl” at a far counter.  When I got there, I was admonished by her for being in the wrong place.  Finally, I was sent to see a third CBP officer at a different workstation.  Think of it as the runaround before the runaround.

This agent proceeded to question me about the contents of my bag, pulled out my papers and began reading them.  She also wanted to know about my profession.  I said I was a writer.  What did I write about?  National security issues, I told her.  She asked what I thought about national security and the role of the U.S. military in the world.  In my estimation, I said, it tended to result in unforeseen consequences.  “Like what?” she asked.  So I described my most recent article on blowback from U.S. military efforts in Africa. 

Did I write books? 

“I do,” I replied. 

“What are the titles?” 

“The latest one is called Kill Anything That Moves.” 

“Kill what?”  

Kill Anything That Moves.” 

She turned to her computer, promptly Googled the book, went to the Amazon page, and began scrolling through the customer reviews.  She asked if my book was, as the page said, a New York Times bestseller.  I assured her it was.  After a short while, she told me to stay put and disappeared into a back room with my personal papers -- writings, notes, reading materials.  When she returned, she told me that she couldn’t conduct the rest of my “examination” in public.  She would have to bring me “back.”  I asked if there was a problem.  No.  Could I have my papers back?  The answer was again no.

I was soon deposited in “Area 23” of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and I was definitely the odd one out.  Not that there weren’t plenty of other people there.  The Muslim man in the taqiyah.  Three women in head scarves.  Another wearing a niqab.  Everyone’s skin color was at least several shades darker than mine.

I waited for a while, taking notes, before my name was called by an Officer Mott.  The badge on his shirt made that clear, but he spelled it out for me anyway.  “It seems like you’re taking notes on everything, so I might as well get that out of the way,” Mott said visibly perturbed, especially when I asked for his full name. “I’m not giving you my first name,” he said with palpable disgust.