Book review: War on Terror, Inc. Corporate profiteering from the politics of fear by Solomon Hughes


In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower warned that the United States "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex."  In War on Terror, Inc investigative journalist Solomon Hughes updates Eisenhower’s advice for the 21st century, noting that we now face an increasingly powerful "security-industrial complex". 

Since 9/11, Hughes argues private companies have played a growing role in the "war on terror".  Through extensive lobbying and intimate links with the UK and US governments, these corporations have been able to push for "militaristic and authoritarian responses to the threat of terrorism", a course of action they have a keen financial interest in.

While Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater focus on the American experience, Hughes describes how the disastrous privatisations of the prison system and immigration centres in the UK in the 80s and 90s allowed governments – both Conservative and Labour – to experiment with the transfer of power over people to private firms.  Since then commercial interests have taken the lead in a variety of roles that were previously the sole preserve of the state, including the ‘war on drugs’ in Columbia, spying on progressive activist groups and setting up ‘database states‘.

However, with the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation, it is Iraq that has the dubious honour of being "the most massive experiment in the privatisation of the battlefield and the contracting out of military occupation."  According to a survey by the US Army Central Command, by December 2005 there were 100,000 contractors in Iraq (including 20,000 private soldiers), occupying a legal limbo land which gives them exemption from both Iraqi law, and the US military courts too. 

With sources ranging from obscure titles such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to the mainstream media, Hughes relentlessly details all the sordid scandals, corruption and plain incompetence that has plagued the private companies operating in Iraq.  And although the book is generally well-referenced, many interesting points are, frustratingly, not sourced,  making further research more difficult.

Overall, War on Terror, Inc is a treasure trove of damning quotes and hair raising stories – a great muckraking account of these shadowy businesses, which have so far received little public attention.  Although the book only explores what is wrong, rather than what is to be done, the facts contained within are sure to anger those who read it, and will hopefully encourage people to take action to reduce the power of the "security-industrial complex".

Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England.  [email protected]

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