Robert Young Pelton, who's seen evil and violence in all its forms, recommends this report on the changing face of global violence, in two parts.
THE Reference on Private Military Contractors and Those Who Hire or Fear Them,
Robert Young Pelton, whom I know personally and admire as one of the most honest, courageous, and mature investigative journalists and adventurers (see my review of his Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition (Robert Young Pelton the World's Most Dangerous Places), is without question the best reporter and observer in the world of the “dogs of war.” He ranks up with and above Robert Kaplan, Seymour Hersh, and John Fialka, three intrepid and intellectual reporters who help define the extraordinary talents and veracity of this author, Robert Young Pelton.
When I received his book I dropped everything and offer here a few of the highlights:
He distinguishes carefully between Mercenaries (soldiers for hire) and Private Military Contractors (PMC) who are security for hire.
Blackwater, the best of the (PMC can train 35,000 men in a year, and delivers a lighter, faster, smaller (and more effective) security force than the U.S. Army.
He recounts the history of CIA money into Special Operations Forces (SOF) black operations, which in turn created PMCs. Just as CIA funded the jihad in Afghanistan, so also has it funded–perhaps ignorantly in both cases–the emergence of the PMCs.
Telling early story: before 9/11, lawyers reduced CIA and other action elements of the US Government to wimpy toast. It took 9/11 to frost the lawyers and unleash the real men in the USG and elsewhere.
EDIT: Prior to 9/11, the lawyers were piss-ants such as those who advised the ABLE DANGER team to destroy evidence discovered pre 9-11 of two hijackers, instead of turning it over to the FBI. CIA lawyers, with a couple of exceptions, are also piss-ants. Real men include the guys that went into Afghanistan (see my reviews of Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander and First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan), and the guys at US Special Operations Command who are on their own all over the world. I never imagined that NSA and CIA would simply turn the lawyers off and violate ALL of our civil liberties, including warrantless wiretapping and rendition (kidnapping to export for torture) and the denial of habeas corpus to US and UK and Australian citizens, among others.
His overall account makes it clear that the new breed of PMC warrior is better in all respects (stronger, faster, smarter, better shot, more tech savvy) than the past SOF heroes, but FAILS in one important respect: tactical combat decision-making. He explains that communications has robbed the field men of all initiative, and they are now nothing more than risk takers for fat-assed pasty-faced Rear Echelon Mother Fryers (REMF) with too much rank, too much air conditioning, and not enough character to make it in the field.
This book will be, for some time, the basic reference for those who wish to be PMCs, manage PMCs, or employ PMC companies. On the one hand, he documents the rates and the profits ($500 a day per man, billed at $1500 a day per man, with $500 for overhead and $500 for profit PER DAY), but he also points out that at 24/7 ops tempo, this can come out to $25 an hour, or worse. He points out that SOF and other skilled uniformed professionals earn $50K a year, while PMCs can earn $200K a year–the contrast explains why SOF is hemorrhaging personnel. He discussed the 90 days on, 30 days off, but also notes that a third of the candidates do not make the grade in training, while half of those who are sent to the field do not make the grade under combat conditions and are Ordered Home.
In passing he notes that CIA tends to stink at local level relations, throwing money at locals to get intelligence, which is consequently generally bad and useless.
He also warns those who receive USG funded PMCs that as was the case in Haiti, the withdrawal of US funding for PMC security can be capricious and sudden.
He related the rise of the PMC to the political desire in the US of limiting the uniformed head counts in combat conditions, and this in turn not only supports PMCs with guns instead of uniformed military with guns, but also turning over all logistics to PMCs, some of which are unrealizable (and thus leave our troops without water and food and shower points in the clinch).
The book adds further to the documented view of Paul Bremer as a dictator no better than Saddam Hussein (who at least provided electricity and water and stability).
This thoughtful study notes that the Rules of Engagement (ROE) have not been well developed for PMCs, and that the seam between PMCs and the US military and the US Department of State are thoroughly screwed up to non-existent.
He notes that in addition to Iraqi disdain for Paul Bremer, there is acute Iraqi consciousness for the fact that in Iraq, PMCs are the top of the food chain and have everything, including jobs, which Iraqis have not received in the so-called “peace.”
This author and this book SMASHES both the Rolling Stone article on “Heavy Metal Mercenaries” and the self-promoting and largely false book The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger.
Passing comments document the different “tribes” in the PMC world, the fact that many PMCs are paying their US citizens with offshore accounts that evade taxes, that laptops not guns are the focus for many individuals (their lifeline to family and reality), that London is the center of gravity for PMC activity, that over 400 PMCs have been killed in Iraq (contract this with 2,500 from US military), and that the bottom line for PMCs is that they are largely ethical, moral, professional, and committed.
I especially liked the author's closing contrast between the British PMC model “it's about minimum force, Old Boy” and the US model, “high tech max force” approach.
Immortal quote on page 227: “The post 9/11 world opened up a Pandora's box of prospects for adventurers, conmen, and opportunists….”
I will end with three points the author brings out:
1) PMC Blackwater is smart, focused on the bomb makers not the bomb deliverers.
2) Everybody is making money in Iraq (that is a US citizen) EXCEPT the US uniformed soldiers actually fighting the war.
3) PMCs are, like guns, something that can be used for good or bad.
Robert Young Pelton is extraordinary, and this book is the cutting edge of reality: PMCs. He is unique for his preparation and for walking in the PMC shoes.
Robert Young Pelton at IOP ’06 17-19 January 2006,
Sheraton Premiere, Tysons Corner, Virginia
notes..? :))) I like to keep it simple. My presentation was simply on using value-added nodes to attract and nurture intel providers. Examples were the world of Blogs and forums to generate ground intel
www.comebackalive.com a chat site for a wide spectrum of adventurers, mercenaries, jihadis, travelers, students and others. Example was instructions on how to get into Grozny took three days and only about 5 entries to nail it.
www.kathryncramer.com a housewife from New York who did extraordinary reporting on the coup in Equatorial Guinea from her kitchen, while changing diapers
Yahoo forums pmc Group PMC <PMCs@yahoogroups.com> where 600 people register, about two dozen post and around 300 or journos hover to snatch up tidbits from private military contractors.
The information/disinformation battle going on between Keith Idema at www.superpatriots.us/ versus stuporpatriots.blogspot.com/ and Idema's use of proxy bloggers like Caosblog.com to create a sense of false support
Then I talked about America's Most Wanted, reality shows and how the US government could harness this form of value added node (and of course the web) to hunt down criminals like Bin Laden.
Finally I challenged government, intel and big corporations to harness these new forms of intel networks to make the world a smarter, safer place!
PS thanks for having me, it’s always a pleasure to hang out with the odd and educated!
PLATINUM LIFETIME AWARD, Robert Young Pelton
Mr. Robert Young Pelton is perhaps the greatest journalist-adverturer on the planet. This is a man that gets kidnapped by accident, is recognized by the leader of the kidnappers, and is promptly released with apologies and an honor guard. His book World’s Most Dangerous Places and his TV series Come Back Alive are among the most extraordinary “ground truth” offerings available to the public and admired by the spies. In his every waking moment, in his every action, in his every report, he embodies the true spirit of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).
This extraordinary person may well be the prototype for engaged citizen investigative journalism. Below is the summary of his presence at OSS '03, and links to his two most important websites. The photo above links to his Wikipedia page.
5th Edition Even Better–Valuable to Business and Government,
I have learned two important lessons from this book, and from its author Robert Young Pelton:
First, trust no source that has not actually been there. He is not the first to point out that most journalists are “hotel warriors”, but his veracity, courage, and insights provide compelling evidence of what journalism could be if it were done properly. Government sources are even worse–it was not until I heard him speak candidly about certain situations that I realized that most of our Embassy reporting–both secret and open–is largely worthless because it is third hand, not direct.
Second, I have learned from this book and the author that sometimes the most important reason for visiting a war zone is to learn about what is NOT happening. His accounts of Chechnya, and his personal first-hand testimony that the Russians were terrorizing their Muslims in the *absence* of any uprising or provocation, are very disturbing. His books offers other accounts of internal terrorism that are being officially ignored by the U.S. Government, and I am most impressed by the value of his work as an alternative source of “national intelligence” and “ground truth”.
There are a number of very important works now available to the public on the major threats to any country's national security, and most of them are as unconventional as this one–Laurie Garrett on public health, Marq de Villiers on Water, Joe Thorton on chlorine-based industry and the environment–and some, like Robert D. Kaplan's books on his personal travels, are moving and inspiring reflections on reality as few in the Western world could understand it–but Robert Young Pelton is in my own mind the most structured, the most competent, the most truthful, and hence the most valuable reporter of fact on the world's most dangerous places.
What most readers may not realize until they read this book is that one does not have to travel to these places to be threatened by them–what is happening there today, and what the U.S. government does or does not do about developments in these places, today, will haunt this generation and many generations to follow. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who cares to contemplate the real world right now.