Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Private military and intelligence still alive and well in Afghanistan

My following investigation appeared in Australian publication Crikey last week:

The private security compound is on the outskirts of Kabul, along the road to Jalalabad, a notorious strip of highway, the landscape is predominantly industrial, with shipping containers set against a string of mountains on the horizon. Several logistics companies sit behind these concrete walls — this is an industry that has enjoyed a massive growth spurt since the US-led, 2001 invasion in Afghanistan.

While Indian Gurkhas trained outside to join the company’s ranks, “Scott”, a former British soldier and now the Western head of one of the country’s leading private security firms, explains that “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries” but a reliable corporation that provided “static” security for foreign embassies, journalists, aid companies, hotels and other key assets. Launching in Afghanistan soon after the US invaded, “we survive off chaos”.

“From 2002 onwards,” says Scott, “we worked with the Afghan government because the Ministry of Interior (MOI) could not secure businesses or people and Western insurance companies insisted on using a private military company [PMC]. Internationals felt they could not trust MOI when moving province to province.”

This is the reason such an industry self-perpetuates even though President Karzai has demanded for years that these companies be replaced with the interior ministry’s Afghan Private Protection Force (APPF).

According to Scott, the implementation of Karzai’s plan this year has been “chaotic”. During our interview, he received a call from an American client who didn’t understand Karzai’s new PMC rules. “This happens all the time at the moment. For example, an Afghan is supposed to be assigned in every PMC in the country but this has never happened.”

The complicated realities of modern conflict has served as the stated rationale for this massive growth industry globally, especially in war zones since September 11. Scott offers a simpler explanation. “The Americans, British and foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not big enough to re-build nations, so PMCs are needed to fill the void. We protect contractors building prisons and schools. If the US had used more troops, we would not be necessary.”

The West has now been in Afghanistan longer than both World Wars combined. The US has spent tens of billions of aid money in the country and yet working services are minimal.

Apart from the escalating rate of civilian deaths, from Taliban and Western forces, the rise of private security armies has defined the war, resulting in numerous contractor crimes against Afghan civilians. The record of Western security firms is filled with a troubling lack of justice for victims.

Two Afghan men sit upstairs in a simple restaurant near the centre of Kabul — both have families who’ve suffered privatised violence first hand. Tariq-U-Rahman and Fahim, both from Wardak Province, explain that they’ve faced threats from three elements; the Taliban, the US army and private security companies, and were subsequently forced to move to Kabul.

Afghan firms have been hired and empowered by the US military to transport their equipment across the country. The job is to guard the convoys but they regularly establish so-called security perimeters and in the process engage in fire-fights with the Taliban, wantonly harming civilians. One of the worst offenders is Watan Risk Management, a leading company with close ties to the Karzai family that pays off the Taliban not to attack US convoys.

Fahim says his cousin, a shopkeeper, was shot dead by a Watan guard a year ago for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Watan admitted fault, he said, and offered $US20,000 compensation but the family is still waiting for the money. The victim’s wife and children are now struggling despite the family financially assisting them.

Fahim explains that private security companies could be necessary in other countries with more stability but in Afghanistan it had only brought “misery and violence”.

The current situation in Afghanistan confirms his scepticism. M. Ashraf Haidari, a suave, American educated senior Afghan official who is the deputy assistant national security adviser and senior policy and oversight adviser to Karzai, told me that Afghan authorities were shutting the “illegal and without licence” firms and “the new rules attempt to regulate the system”.

But several Western and local security corporations confirmed to me off the record they were still operating in the area and imagined doing so for years to come, finding ways around the new rules. Furthermore, a couple of PMCs that the Karzai government said had been shut down were still operating even if signs around their compounds were removed.

“Many embassies, for example, simply won’t trust the Afghan Private Protection Force (APPF) and will continue to rely on foreign security companies,” one said.

The supposed logic of the mass expansion of the security industry post-September 11 globally is to replace tasks the state’s military can’t or won’t do. But in a poor nation such as Afghanistan resentment built quickly, I was consistently told, when it was discovered that the Afghan army was getting paid substantially less than the private militias.

Outsourcing security isn’t the only task that has become privatised in the Western-led mission. Intelligence is increasingly collected by private companies and given to American, Australian and British forces.

Some privatised intelligence has involved the hiring of corporations to gather information about Afghans that is then used by the military for so-called counter-insurgency. Jeremy Kelly in the London Times first published extracts in late March of extensive documents by US-based “consultancy company” AECOM — the company had been hired by NATO to spy on mosques, universities and the general community throughout the country. The work started just over a year ago.

I viewed dozens of pages of this intelligence (and extract below different sections to the Times). The files detail conversations from March 2012: people complain about the Karzai government’s corruption and inefficiency; clerics in mosques demand Western forces leave immediately; family members complain about proposed marriages between the Taliban and local girls; others express support for the insurgency and complain of troubles when working in Iran.

The research comes from a range of districts and is separated between “supportive” and “non-supportive” individuals of the NATO mission.

One entry, from March 14 in the Sheberghan District, details an “overheard conversation between two Uzbek males between the ages of 40-45 at market.”

“One man said, ‘The other day I was riding on a bus when it became very windy. It seemed as if it was raining dust. People were saying that this could be a sign God’s wrath. This is happening to us because the Americans have burned the Quran, but we are calmly sitting idle. We should be rising up against the Americans for what they have done. We are being punished for doing nothing.’

“The other resident stated, ‘I do not know, but it might be possible’.”

In another extract, from March 15 in Shahr-e-Safa in a public car, an Afghan spy overheard “two concerned men ages 50 to 60, discussing private escort companies threat to the safety of civilians.”

“The first man said, ‘People distrust the private escort companies because when a Talib fires at them, they return fire at houses, people, even the trees are cut if a Talib is shooting from behind them!’

“The second man replied, ‘Most of the time, innocent people are killed or injured in the crossfire.  People want the government to either make sure escorts do not harm civilians or disarm them’!”

Such details appear as mundane, normal and daily conversations by local villagers across the state, but they can form the knowledge for US-led night-raids that cause deaths and deep Afghan anger. Mistakes are routinely made. Innocent men are kidnapped. Many are killed.

The recent announcement that Afghan forces would now take thelead on night-raids was dismissed as propaganda by sources in Afghanistan, a face-saving exercise by the Karzai government to show it has sovereignty in its own country.

Meanwhile, the US military and its allies have little idea of the agendas of the Afghans giving them intelligence. It’s why respected organisations such as The Afghanistan Analysts Network refuse to undertake commissioned work for clients, concerned that its research may be co-opted for military means.

As soon as the Taliban was toppled in 2001, Northern Alliance forces and its friends routinely issued payback against enemies, real and imagined. Even today, a local warlord and police chief in Uruzgan Province, Matiullah Khan, is using Australian forces to take out his rivals and fuel conflict.

A reporter from the Chicago Tribune witnessed this trend as far back as November 2001.

Western forces enabled this behaviour by using provided intelligence and arresting, bombing and interrogating people they were told were Taliban. In reality, the information was often wrong. Crucially, it reinforced the Western belief that any breathing Taliban should be a dead Taliban.

That was then. Today, the US government realises it will have to negotiate with the Taliban but is hiring private firms to better understand who should be targeted first.

Privatised security and intelligence is now a natural part of Western war making. America simply cannot and will not launch missions without the backing of often unaccountable companies that complement its defence industry. Since the departure of US troops from Iraq, thousands of foreign contractors still populate the country, that doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author who is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism.

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