Privatized War with Tim Shorrock

Privatized War with Tim Shorrock

We learn about the history of how the United States Privatized War.

Today we interview journalist Tim Shorrock to talk to us about privatized military intelligence, US counter-insurgency methods and his article in The Baffler called Making COIN: The Modern History of an Unstoppable Bad Idea

Examples of COIN

Tim talks about his Cold-War upbringing in Japan and Korea during the aftermath of World War II, the Korean war and through Vietnam, explaining how it gave him an honest “introduction to American politics and American foreign policy” which led him to a career in freelance journalism with a focus on Asian Studies.

Show Notes


  • Private companies are profiting at every level from military spending. In recent years we have seen an unprecedented merging of the military and private finance, “the integration of national security and business.”

  • “The privatizing of intelligence took off in the 1990’s.”

    The Peace Dividend

  • Following the Cold War, as austerity and neoliberal budget-cuts were implemented, a wave of people previously employed in intelligence went on to work in the private sector with government contractors.

  • In the latter years of the Clinton administration, we began to see an increase of private military contractors being used to collect intelligence in places like Bosnia and Serbia.

  • Tim explains that after 9/11, under the false pretense of national security, billions were spent on increased military budgets, making contractors “essential parts of US military and intelligence operations”. 

  • As the Bush doctrine continued, the Washington consensus increasingly encouraged “the contracting of strategic operations.”



  • Counter-insurgency methods of the US:  “the people become the enemy.”

  • Tim illustrates how a Vietnamese uprising against the US backed Diem dictatorship resulted in massive gains for the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) and how the liberal Kennedy administration’s “hearts and minds” approach, cloaked in the language of evil, only made the violence worse: 

  • “part of the idea began to be to separate the people from the guerillas and they would build these camps for the villagers that became, essentially, concentration camps (strategic hamlets)”

  • Many of these violent counter-insurgency methods being used by the Americans were inherited from British Imperialists who had developed these strategies in earlier suppression campaigns against Communists in Malaya in the 1950’s. 

Related: Listen to our interview with Stuart Schrader on the History of the Modern Police

13:05 - 19:26

  • In the first year of the Obama administration, they tried the “hearts and minds” strategy in Afghanistan.

  • “When McMaster was a General in Iraq, he got key press from liberals”

  • The US and their personally-picked government provides neoliberal and privatized “social services”

  • American contractors never built the project that they were supposed to build.

  • Inspector General nominated by congress in regards to contractors. That group has done multiple reports about corruption.

  • “Counter-insurgency is a form of warfare where you adopt various economic and political programs in addition to going after and killing people”. 

19:26 – 24:46

  • David Kilcullen’s used to work for Australian special forces.

  • He assisted in the “Jakarta Method” and the death squads Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. 

  • Kilcullen’s called the death squads “armed social work.” He advocated for “global counter-insurgency” (massive death squads of people opposing US corporate theft)

  • Counter-insurgency is death squads under the larger guise of “winning the hearts and minds.”

  • Michelle Flournoy saw counter-insurgency as, “a way that Democrats can be tough, and be hawkish and look smart.”

  • Just another form of warfare.




  • Tim confronted Kilcullen in an event.

  • His company is under investigation for the security clearances.

  • Kilcullen’s “100-year war”

  • The Cold-War notion of the “third way” of being non-communist and non-colonial but it always has failed.

  • They put together death squads in Iraq and these were the same people who did the death squads in El Salvador.

    Read about El Mozote

38:54 - 42:27

  • The Death Squads in El Salvador killed 10s of thousands.

  • The real opposition comes from the more conservative people.

  • “We are not into nation-building” is a code word for counter-insurgency.


  • History of US intervention in Korea.

  • Myths and lies about the US role in the Korean war.

  • How the US dissolved the people’s committee.


  • “South Korea, until the late 1980’s, was an authoritarian police state. I was there under this general who took over, Chun Doo-hwah, and it was a scary place. A very repressive place, it was a police state.”

  • “They fought against US backed dictators that held them back for years”. 

  • Koreans were being tortured by a US allied regime.

  • The uprising of 1987 only happened after the “death by water torture of a south Korean student” led a mass of Koreans to take to the streets and demand independence from US influence.  

  • The legacy of US counter-insurgency continues in Korea.

  • For example, South Korea’s draconian National Security Law that has been used to silent dissenters even to this day. 


  • The change in South Korea and their vibrant Democracy.

    To learn more, visit Tim’s website timshorrock.com

You are listening to Historic.ly: a show where we decolonize history and debunk myths taught in school and on corporate media.