Book review: Pay Any Price, by James Risen - on war profiteers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 March, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 March, 2015, 10:41pm


Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War
by James Risen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations pursued American journalist James Risen with legal charges for more than seven years to try to force him to testify in an espionage trial against a former CIA employee as the journalist to whom the accused had allegedly leaked a story that was embarrassing to the CIA.

Risen made it clear he was prepared to go to jail before he would reveal his sources for the story. Given the importance of the information - which enabled the American public to know what the government was doing in their name, with their tax money - the reporter for The New York Times should be considered a hero.

Observers also took some pleasure in seeing a 59-year-old journalist sticking to his guns, ready to "pay any price" in the face of a bullying US government. Risen's book is about the greed and power of the US government, contractors and companies as they wage "endless war" in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It is the culture of fear, inculcated by succeeding US governments and aided by the media, that has made it possible for tonnes of money to be extracted from taxpayers since the events of September 11, 2001.

"Fear sells," says Risen. The players in this game have succeeded in monetising America's obsession with terrorism - and getting rich in the process.

The US intelligence budget has soared to US$70 billion a year. About US$20 billion was sent to Iraq - US$14 billion of it in cash, of which US$11.7 billion was never accounted for by the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by former US ambassador Paul Bremer.

Contractors and companies tied to members of Congress, whom Risen names, made billions of dollars from various programmes. Another profitable area was the manufacture of Predator and Reaper drones, some of which Israel sold to Russia, according to Risen.

Intelligence gathering was outsourced to companies, including US$39.5 billion in contracts to a subsidiary of Halliburton, former vice-president Dick Cheney's company.

Risen also alerts readers to cybersecurity as the "new cash cow for defence contractors". He cites Raytheon, a major American defence contractor and industrial corporation that has just received a US$91 million contract called, ironically, Perfect Citizen.

The reader of Pay Any Price will come away with a much clearer picture of just what is going on in the terrorism game, and who is making money from it. The information is not comforting, but very much worth knowing.

Tribune News Service