by David Phinney
Friday May 27th 2022



Book Review: Licensed to Kill

by David Phinney

May 23, 2007 — In his book, Licensed to Kill, Robert Young Pelton hits the bull’s eye with a sweeping, crash course in the explosive growth of private security contractors.

Thrust from the sweltering groins of Africa, Papua New Guinea and other trouble spots around the globe where hidden treasures of oil and minerals tempt buccaneering entrepreneurs, the private security industry is now bursting in a full multibillion-dollar bonanza on the bloody streets of Iraq.

Pelton chronicles it all with gritty first-hand experience and a keen, knowing vision: the past is prologue and the present boom in Iraq screams a cautionary tale for tomorrow. We may be witnessing the birth of a roving, freelance warrior class in constant search for new wars. (On second thought, the world may already have one. It’s called the global war on terror.)

Licensed to Kill, proves once again that Pelton gets the interviews and access that few writers even dream about. He gallops into the secret mud brick camps of Afghanistan; lifts glasses with big wheels while toasting back-room money deals; sweats through a Triple Canopy training camp in Arkansas; barrels down the dangerous highways of Iraq; explores the twisted life of a self-aggrandizing bounty hunter searching for bin Laden; and lives the daily tensions of retired cops and veterans struggling to make a living for their families back home as hired guns.

Although these blue-collar workers may earn $600 a day, they work 24/7. It is grueling and deadly work. Just ask Miyagi, one of the many characters percolating through the book. Sent home by Blackwater to his wife and nine-year-old son in Santa Barbara, an IED drove a gash through his arm and left a fist-sized hole in his butt. Now, he’s waiting for a new assignment. He says it’s too tough to make ends meet for his family as a cop in California.

Others, like Erik Prince, a politically-connected former Navy SEAL, never faced those worries. As the founder of the North Carolina-based Blackwater, USA, Prince hit the jackpot a long time ago with a multimillion-dollar family fortune. Today, his company banks on government security contracts totaling $750 million or more won after the Sept.11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Blackwater’s success may be only the beginning. Prince envisions taking part in contracts all over the world with Blackwater’s own private air force. The company claims it can deploy a private regiment of 1,700 anywhere within a 24-hour notice.

“Prince likes to think of Blackwater’s relationship to the traditional military as something akin to FedEx’s relationship to the U.S. Post office,” Pelton observes after meeting with Prince on several occasions.

Then there’s Col. Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guardsman, who first plied his mercenary trade on the outskirts of the developed world by getting mixed up with coups, mineral rights and guns for cold hard cash. Today, Spicer has reinvented himself with the newly-formed Aegis Defence Services. His company holds the largest security contract in Iraq and is charged with coordinating the chaos among tens of thousands of gun-slinging contractors working for scores of companies.

But who will coordinate the chaos of private security companies after Iraq? The business is already on the prowl for new work. “The thing to watch,” Pelton cautions, is if hired guns become a permanent fixture in foreign policy.
Even more troubling, is the prospect that the private warriors will begin to freelance in backing political coups — sometimes unknowingly — because their mission can be disguised by contracts to protect oil fields, gold mines and other corporate property.

Pelton recounts chilling incidents of this already happening before Iraq sucked up the talent from around the world and then went begging for new recruits. No one knows how many trained and battle-hardened private warriors are working in Iraq. Some estimate 30,000, others say 50,000 or more. Most of these fighters will have few crossover job skills once they leave, but they will have proven resumes showing they carry guns for hire and answer to no one but their company boss.

Licensed to Kill may be just the first chapter in what may lead us to ask: what monster is this that the world has created?


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One Response to “Book Review: Licensed to Kill”

  1. Manuel Viloria says:

    cool post . it is rank pretty high on google !

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