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“We Don’t Consider You a Legitimate Journalist” — How I Got Blacklisted by the Pentagon’s Africa Command

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13.01.2018

Conversations with military spokespeople can be curt, even confrontational, but they are not supposed to go this way.

“Nick, we’re not going to respond to any of your questions” Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, the head of U.S. Africa Command’s Public Affairs Branch, told me by phone last October. “We just don’t feel that we need to.”

I asked if Falvo believed AFRICOM didn’t need to address questions from the press in general, or just me in particular.

“No, just you,” he replied. “We don’t consider you a legitimate journalist, really.”

Then he hung up on me.

For the previous two months — after The Intercept revealed that Cameroonian troops tortured prisoners at a remote military base also used by U.S. personnel and private contractors for drone surveillance and training missions — AFRICOM had ignored my emails and phone calls. Finally, about a week and a half before Falvo’s flare-up, spokesperson Robyn Mack answered a call of mine. I wanted to verify some public information and clarify a few points, and Mack asked for my questions. I had only just begun relaying the first of them when she interrupted me.

“Hello, hello, Nick are you there? Hello?” she said over the crystal-clear connection.

“Yes, I’m here,” I replied more than once.

Then she hung up on me.

I called back within seconds. No answer. I called again and again. Finally, someone picked up the phone and told me that Mack was out to lunch … along with everyone else in the entire office. I left a message and called back, not only for Mack but other spokespersons – Capt. Jennifer Dyrcz, Samantha Reho, and Falvo, too — every business day, during working hours, for the next week, around 200 calls, but they were answered only on rare occasions and then only to hang up on me. (I didn’t receive replies to my emails either.) I continued to call and the response was nothing if not consistent.

“Public affairs, this is Robyn, how can I help you?” said Mack on November 15, 2017.

“Hi Robyn, it’s Nick Turse from The Intercept,” I replied.

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Since the combat deaths of four Special Forces soldiers in Niger in October, AFRICOM has been under greater media scrutiny than at any other time in its history. There have also been reports that Navy SEALs are being investigated in the strangulation death of another Green Beret in neighboring Mali (the site of previous shadowy deaths of special operators), and that U.S. personnel took part in a massacre in Somalia. The command has deflected questions about the killing in Mali, offered murky and shifting explanations of the attack in Niger, and cleared U.S. personnel of wrongdoing in Somalia before launching a new investigation into the killings. All of this comes as the Defense Department as a whole has become less transparent and accessible, according to numerous journalists who cover U.S. national security. At the same time, according to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, there has been a rise in complaints of misconduct by senior officials as well as reprisals against whistleblowers.


Main entrance to the United States Army Kelley Barracks and AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, on June 6, 2015.

Photo: Patrick Seeger/picture-alliance/


The stated mission of U.S. Africa Command’s public affairs branch is to help “strengthen national and international understanding of and confidence in USAFRICOM’s mission” as well as keep “the American people and the international community informed of its activities.” The command’s website notes that “transparency is achieved as we emphasize timely, relevant and professional news and information dispersal about AFRICOM and our African Partners.”

AFRICOM disperses lots of information through its own media arm – news releases that often........

© The Intercept