Licensed to Kill: Privatizing the War on Terror
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Licensed to Kill: Privatizing the War on Terror

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  441 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Robert Young Pelton first became aware of the phenomenon of hired guns in the War on Terror when he met a covert team of contractors on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in the fall of 2003. Pelton soon embarked on a globe-spanning odyssey to penetrate and understand this shadowy world, ultimately delivering stunning insights into the way private soldiers are used.

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ebook, 288 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published 2006)
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A. The journalist should not insert himself into every story. Who are you Scott Pelley?

B. Like my 4th grade teacher used to tell me: cite your sources. Nothing screams 'Bullshit' like an anonymous source.

C. The writing sucks.

In short, a poorly written/executed/documented book on a fascinating (IMO) and current subject that many are curious about.
Robert Kroese
I'm torn about this book. On the one hand, it's a fairly balanced study of the phenomenon of private military contractors with a lot of really interesting information in it. On the other hand, it's poorly organized, often back-tracking to cover ground that has already covered earlier in the book, and the prose is frequently confusing and stilted. The unimaginative title gives you a pretty good idea of Mr. Pelton's literary skills. At one point Pelton says about Erik Prince (owner of the Blackwat...more
David Sarkies
Sep 13, 2013 David Sarkies rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in the Private Security Industry
Recommended to David by: Amazon
Shelves: politics
Based on what I have seen on Goodreads maybe I should have read Corporate Warriors instead of this book because people have described that book as 'the quintessenial book on the private security industry' but the reason I ended up getting this book was because the title caught my attention when I was perusing Amazon and decided to place an order for it. In a nutshell, it is an interesting book that explores the aspects of the private security industry that had arisen since the Iraq War but I fo...more
Excellent. Presents a street level, neutral view of a controversial industry.

It should be noted what this book is not, this is not an expose on the military/ contractor industry like the recenetly Spies for Hire or Blackwater. Nor is it analysis of the development of the industry in the excellent Corporate Warriors.

In a style very similar to Sebanstien Junger, Pelton presents a journalistic view of the industry from the ground up. We get to know both the men who actually man the con...more
Meh. The writing is a bit stilted, with pronouns used ambiguously. Often requiring re-reading a page before discovering that the "he" in question is not the "he" you thought. Apart from such flubs, the book could be divided into 3 parts.

The first is the alternating kiss-the-butt-of-Blackwater, then distance-yourself-to-appear-unbiased, shtick.
The second is ride-along-in-Iraq with Blackwater.
The third is discuss-African-mercenaries-and-one-highly-public-wannabe-Rambo-in-the-mideast.

The third is...more
Jan 27, 2008 James rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone concerned with the blurring of government and corporate powers now and in the future.
A masterful and balanced study of a complicated topic. The author avoids demonizing the people who work in privatized military companies (PMCs), some of which do and some of which don't fit the definition of mercenaries, while making clear the dangers the industry itself poses to our national security, the people of the societies where they are working, and international order. He focuses primarily on Iraq but also examines quite a few other places and situations, present and past, including the...more
Feb 18, 2010 Sam rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody interested in American international politics, military, and the future of war
I can't stress enough how enjoyable of a read this was. Finished it today on the subway, and wanted to immediately start tearing out important pages for further research online and through various friends/fellow students. Pelton is one of the bravest and intimidatingly curious people alive today, and he writes in detail of the lives of contractors (and related professions) who have worked with PMCs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sierra Leone, and many other plac...more
Pelton can be a bit hip-macho and light on background, but he does a very good job at getting on the ground in dangerous places and getting to talk to locals. I was much-less-than-impressed by his notorious article on Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan, but "Licensed to Kill" is Pelton in better form.

"Licensed to Kill" is street-level reportage about military contractors. It's not a polemic, though Pelton notes the things like heavy steroid use and disdain for locals, and tells the story of a co...more
A fine report of the world of private security firms such as Blackwater, that have blossomed as the American army sought to outsource various supporting tasks that were usually done by the army itself. Particularly during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan new companies jumped to the opportunity of multibillion dollar contracts to provide security to VIPs and installations. Not only do we get the meet the big bosses, such as Blackwater owner Erik Prince, but also many often colorful characters tha...more
This book follows the rise of military contractors and their role in the post Sept 11 world. Military contractors fill a variety of roles ranging from static defence, escort, providing personal security details to hunting down insurgents. While many of these roles are traditional military ones, contractors operate on a for-profit basis and under different, often looser rules with limited accountability. In general, the book is highly readable. It could benefit from some tightening in presentatio...more
an interesting book that gives you a look into the world of security contractors. the first hand accounts and the amount of personal involvement in the research makes it more exciting and helps engross the reader in the subject matter. it also adds a bit of weight to what robert young pelton is writing as he isn't just sitting around in a room safe behind a desk writing about other people's experiences.

a few gripes i have with the book is that the writing is uneven. the subject matters seems to...more
Licensed to Kill caught my eye as I picked up a book at the local library for my #1 daughter who is researching a project in support of the Patriot Act. OK, so maybe it’s the 007 aspect to killing licenses that actually put the book in my hand, but I’ve long been intrigued by the patriots at Blackwater (Xe ) and (mistakenly) thought this book would be an introduction into the lives and sacrifices of America’s private professional warrior class. Truly this book is about conflict and not just the...more
Jun 30, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: blood thirsty liberals
Shelves: june_july_2008
i've always been fascinated by mercenaries, are they killing because of an intrinsic need or thrill or are they now out of the army, marines, navy and find that they are only qualified to work security at walmart. if you're asking these questions too, this book will answer them for you. it covers not only the current iraq war but various other wars/ sieges. its fairly easy and entertaining reading. it gives insights to the whole Blackwater thing, for better or for worse. its tough to read the fu...more
Comparing this book to Singer's Corporate Warriors and Scahill's Blackwater, it reads much more like an action-adventure novel than an analytical assessment of PMCs (there is virtually no documentation or citation for information). Having said that, it was more engrossing than the aforementioned, but less thorough in its analysis. The author does provide great anecdotal stories about "what's really going on" (specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq) so it gives some great color to the subject. An i...more
A good look into the world of privatized security companies and the individuals they employ. From Iraq, Afghanistan, continent of Africa it was eye opening to see how much these companies are used.
Oct 07, 2008 MJ rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Will
Recommended to MJ by: Dennis
Shelves: liked-it, politics
This is an interesting book about private security contractors and their role in the war on terror. Prior to reading the book the only thing I could tell you about security contracors in Iraq was that they were there. I really had no concept of what they were doing or why they were in Iraq or ever thought about. I think everyone should read it and ask yourself if it is really a good idea for private corporation to have thier own "ready made" army.
This book is a little dated as far as whats going on now, but it would be one of the best books to read to understand in a broad way what was going on during the first few years of the war on terror. It follows the "deployments" of several mercenaries from several different companies in Iraq and covers personal things about them such as how they ended up in th business as well as discussing how the field has changed and is changing.
i just finished the book, and enjoyed it greatly. I thought it was a great book. The author describes and gave real good inside to the life of a soldier i think that these people in the book are incredible, and some times get over looked by the common people like us. this was a great book and gave me a deep respect for the soldiers that defend us today.
An interesting read about private security contractors and mercenaries around the world. It fits in today's big use of outsourcing everyday jobs and makes you realize that when people complain about how expensive things are, companies look to skimp here and there to keep prices down.
Excellent book that looks at the many private contractors hired to fight in the current war on terror. Also discusses the recent history of private military companies. Pelton spent a month in Iraq with Blackwater, and there are a lot of first-person accounts in here. Great read.
Dec 12, 2009 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: To all
This is a great insight into the world of security contractors. It is well researched and shows the side that the mass media chooses to ignore. It also depicts the patriotic contractors in a fair manner. Recommended for all soldiers and police who have thought of contracting.
RYP has never been known for his editing prowess, in fact I don't think he even has grammar and spell checker turned on in Word. Interesting and fun book nonetheless, which continues RYP's refreshingly irreverent sense of humor regarding very unfunny subject matter.
The first dispassionate view of the on-the-ground personalities involved war on terror, and one that I believe was long overdue. Pelton paints a very human side to the current war effort, and invites the reader to think further about our efforts.
Mike Jarvis
Robert Pelton spent several years researching and writing this book. He kept his politics out of it. It's written more like a giant newspaper story. It's very interesting what paid "soldiers" have done around the world. There's not a plot.
Very interesting on the rise of Private Security Corporations such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and the thin line between those and Private Military Corporations. Recommended to anyone interested in those topics.
Apr 26, 2013 Taruia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: PMC Aficionados
Shelves: private-security
This was surprisingly good from what I remember. There is a myriad of different book on the use of private military companies out there, written for general consumption, and this is one of them.
The effort in which he goes to talk to contractors is impressive. The book isn't a bunch of political bs but tells the story from a contractors point of view.
This interesting read has such a stupid postscript with Pelton getting himself sideways by trying to become a contractor/mercenary....*geh.....
May 07, 2010 Kavita rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my dad
Recommended to Kavita by: Bill Hendee
Really liked it - didn't know anything about companies like Blackwater before this. Interesting and human look at the war on terror.
Not a bad review of the mercenary movement of recent years. The author is a bit overcome by himself, but what he has to
say is relevant.
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