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Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror Paperback – August 28, 2007

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Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror + Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition (Robert Young  Pelton the World's Most Dangerous Places) + The Adventurist: My Life in Dangerous Places
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Editorial Reviews


“An incredible look into the murky and virtually impenetrable world of private military contractors . . . Pelton may well have seen the future.” —Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont

Licensed to Kill is smart, funny, sometimes scary, and always interesting. Pelton truly captures the cast of characters that make up our new ‘coalition of the billing’ in the War on Terror.” —P. W. Singer, author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry

“A rollicking read that takes the reader inside the murky world of military contractors—from the craggy passes of the Afghan-Pakistan border, to the extreme danger of Baghdad’s airport road, to the diamond fields of Africa. Licensed to Kill is not only a great travelogue, it also has some important things to say about the brave new world of privatized violence that will increasingly be a feature of twenty-first-century wars.” —Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know and Holy War, Inc.

“Robert Pelton enjoys the credibility not shared by many to comment on the world’s dark corners. Licensed to Kill sheds light on one of the corners—the world of private for-hire guns, mercenaries, and armies. It’s a reality; it’s a business; it’s lucrative . . . Consider Licensed to Kill a ‘safety brief,’ a military term for ‘pay attention.’ Read it . . . pay attention.” —James A. “Spider” Marks, Major General, United States Army (Ret.)

“Pelton reveals how the U.S. military-industrial complex has created its own dark version of the nonstate warrior [and] asks if companies like Blackwater and Executive Outcomes could become the new Hessians for both multinational corporations and overstretched armies.” —Jonathan Taplin, professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication, and producer of Under Fire, The Last Waltz, and Mean Streets

“‘The dark side of the war on terror’ may sound redundant, but how else can you describe the world of contractors, mercs, and wackos who are paid big money to keep the key players alive and the war machinery humming? It’s a cynical, funny, and very scary place, stretching from Arkansas to Fallujah, and no one gets it, or tells it, better than Robert Young Pelton.” —John Rasmus, editor in chief, National Geographic Adventure

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Robert Young Pelton is a journalist, filmmaker, and explorer. He is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places, Come Back Alive, The Adventurist, and Three Worlds Gone Mad. Pelton has worked for National Geographic, Discovery, 60 Minutes, the ABC Investigative Division, and CNN. He is also a contributing editor and columnist for National Geographic Adventure.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400097827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400097821
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Robert Young Pelton is the guy most men think they are after slamming two tequilas" - Tim Cahill

Robert Young Pelton (b. July 25, 1955, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. An iconoclast known for his entry into most of the world's conflicts over the last fifteen years, Pelton is known as an adventurer and a witness" to conflict. His reputation is built on his interest and ability to enter forbidden, deadly and violent places and emerge with a stunning story. Pelton has been present at many historic battles. He was US special forces and General Dostum during and after the battle of Qala-I-Jangi in Afghanistan, with Chechen rebels during the siege of Grozny in Chechnya, with the LURD rebels during the bloody campaign to take Monrovia in Liberia and approximately 3 dozen other conflicts.

He survived an assassination attempt in Uganda, a plane crash in Indonesia and was kidnapped by the AUC death squads in Colombia. He spent time with the CIA during the hunt for Bin Laden and ran Route Irish with Blackwater security contractors for a month during late 2004 during the war in Iraq.

Pelton's regularly published survival and political guide The World's Most Dangerous Places, provides practical and survival information for people who work and travel in high risk zones, was a best seller. With the book's best seller status Pelton has become an expert on work and travel in "high-risk" environments. He was also host of the Discovery Travel Channel series "Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places" from 1998 to 2003. Now residing in Los Angeles, California, Pelton currently writes books and produces documentaries on conflict-related subjects.

He is also a frequent television and magazine interview subject, often appearing as an often humorous raconteur of his various misfortunes and safety tips on shows as diverse as Oprah, Conan O'Brien, CNN, Fox, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and others.

Pelton has also worked as a journalist for CNN, CBS 60 Minutes, ABC Investigative Division, National Geographic and others. He has probably spent more time with insurgent, rebel and terorist groups than any other journalist and is known for introducing the world to John Walker Lindh with his stunning Dec 2, 2001 battlefield interview on CNN.

Robert Young Pelton's Official Website is:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By MountainRunner on October 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Licensed to Kill is Robert Young Pelton's broad survey of the modern world of mercenaries. Strike that, of contractors. Mercenaries, after all, as Doug Brooks of IPOA (International Peace Operations Association) said in the movie Shadow Company: anyone convicted as being a mercenary should be shot along with his lawyer (Doug, pardon my paraphrasing). Regardless, Pelton's subtitle captures what these guys are: hired guns. Or as one of the contractors in the book put it: "guns with legs".

Pelton's book is (or can be) a quick read. It's conversational, often with the feel that you're sitting in a pub having a beer while he tells you a story (as you do in his World's Most Dangerous Places books). For me, however, it wasn't a quick read. I found myself highlighting sentences, scribbling in the margins, and applying colored flags for quick and future reference. Pelton may challenge the journalist\ community with how he gets into the action (journos not always being the type who will ride with the bad guy when something might happen), but this is how he gets the facts, the story, and the respect that opens doors later. A perpetual cycle, his access gets him more access and so on. Unlike other others who seek to justify a point of view, Pelton comes off balanced, telling it like it is and, very importantly, with context.

Licensed to Kill is more than a narrative of private operators, it is an almost forensic look into the use of private military forces. High profile actors in the world of hired guns, such as Erik Prince and Blackwater, Tim Spicer, Simon Mann, and Michael Grunburg (profiled deeper in Three Worlds Gone Mad) of various ventures, and even a con-artist who's convinced he's the greatest American hero.

This book is a great resource that pulls the curtain aside to see how PMCs operate, a look into their motivations, and where they are being used. If you're not provoked to learn more, you're not paying attention.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Herb Hunter on September 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I can't speak for the accuracy of other parts of this book, but I was working as a private contractor in Baghdad when the author was there gathering his info. I hate to say it, but he spent so much time in one small location talking to a limited group of people that his perspective was somewhat warped. At times his writing demonstrates an amateurish over-infatuation with GI-Joe cliches. The result, as one other reviewer aptly pointed out, is that the book sometimes reads like a half-baked article from Soldier of Fortune.

Many (but, I emphasize, not all) of the guys working at his location at that time had very questionable backgrounds and were definitely not the best and brightest of the bunch. A few were unqualified for any other job in country and wound up there, where the author was located, by default. What made the author's "research" more puzzling was the presence of a compound with about 300 more highly qualified PSD guys less than a mile away from where his head hit the pillow. I'm not sure what kept him from coming to talk to the rest of us, but I think it might have changed his perspective a bit had he taken the time to broaden his scope.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Lynds on December 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
RYP's book on the modern history of PSC's offers what appears to be an honest look into the world of today's military contractor, or what some would call "mercenary". Much of the book covers the work of PSC's in Iraq today and gives an honest look into what the job entails. The daily hurry-up and wait game, the same routine day in and day out, with short bursts on intense violence and excitement and the ever-present knowledge that the enemy is everyewhere and can be everyone (or anything - IED's).

Mr. Pelton seems to gain a lot of access to not only the personalities of those running today's security companies, but those that ran and operated in past ones, such as Sandline and Executive Outcomes. Some of their (the owners and the operators) motivations are laid out in the open, some are percieved and some are questioned. For example, the US contractors that work in Iraq mostly seem to be family men, trained in the military, that have no other job experience or training and who "saw the light" in making military wages or go private and make upwards of $10k p/month. Now although their main motivation seems to be money and might classify them as a "mercenary force", you do not get the idea that they are for hire to the highest bidder. They are doing what they were trained to do, working for the goals of the US, just making more money. There are also those who seemto like the money and excitement of the job. RYP also covers the effects of the Blackwater contractors who were ambushed, mutilated, killed and hung from a bridge on the industry. He is able to give an objeective and honest look into both the worlds of private military companies, those that are working "above board" as security specialists and those who have taken of on more a mercenary role in world affairs.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Paul LaFontaine on September 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Another successful presentation of Pelton's trademark seamless mixture of adventure travel, keen observation and wry humour. In this work he takes us on an incredible journey through the controversial world of private military companies. Up front he promises to take us along for the ride and we can form our own opinions, and by every measure in that regard he delivers.

The breadth of the journey is astonishing. As a reader you feel as though you are tagging along for visits to Washington DC product launches, secret operations on the Afghan/Pakistan border and convoy trips along Iraq's deadly Route Irish. You can also vicariously attend training at the Blackwater facility in Myock NC, then go back in time to hear about the action in Sierra Leone and Equitorial Guinea. The view is as comprehensive as possible without sacrificing detail or overloading the reader.

The question regarding the difference between a security contractor and a mercenary in artfully dealt with through stories of colourful characters. The book is rich in these, from conversations at a Dallas convention for security to imprisoned mercenaries. The point is made that the difference between a mercenary and a security contractor lies in a personal moral code. The high end of the spectrum is illustrated by a contractor nicknamed "Miyagi" who embodies professionalism and gives up police work to become a contractor in Iraq, incredibly to allow his wife to give up the stress of being a court reporter in LA. The low end of the spectrum is the circus tale of "Jack" Idema, an opportunist who travelled to Afghan to end up in jail. In seeing these characters we see the potential, both good and bad, of actors in the privatized security.

The book really hits stride in the illustrations of corporate behaviour.
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