WEEKEND FREEBIE: Stream a sample of the new Outlaws Inc. audiobook

 

Thanks to the lovely people at Audible.com in the States, you can stream an extract of the new Outlaws Inc. audiobook here, for a limited period.

 

The book is read – which, I suppose means I’m played – by Jeff Kafer, a Seattle-born voice actor and veteran narrator and voiceover artist. And he does a really great job with my mad sentences. I almost forgot it wasn’t me speaking with that West Coast drawl. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Stream by clicking the green ‘Play’ button here.

 

Video: “Cocaine coffee tables?!” CNN bosses, the craziest cop in Brazil, and me

 

It started perfectly innocently. I was out with a friend on Thursday, and the phone rang. I didn’t pick up – it was ten o’clock, and I’d worked my way through six large glasses of what I remember being an increasingly smooth Italian red, and a couple of bottles of Grolsch for good measure. I’m not a big drinker, and it’s not my usual style, but this guy was over from Sierra Leone, he’s an old friend, and, and… and it explains why I didn’t pick up.

It was a New York number.

The second time it rang, less than a minute later, I picked up. It was CNN. Could I make it to their London office? They had some story kick off with Brazilian smugglers in a plane, they’d been brought down by a cop using only his cujones and a Toyota corolla, and could I comment?

Not a chance. I’m a little tipsy. No way. Nope. Find someone else, someone who isn’t afraid, I mean really afraid, of making a lemon of himself on a prime-time network news show. I gave them my final ‘No’. Put the phone down. That was a close call.

 

 

Well, here’s the interview. I guess they got more than they bargained for, and the show’s bosses sent out a tweet within the hour hashtagged #justtobeclear, clarifying that they do not condone the use, possession, sale, purchase or production of “coffee tables made of cocaine”.

 

 

What can I say? They’re persuasive people.

 

Report: Smuggling, security & the power of cheap – speaking at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs

On 22nd September, I was honoured to be invited to discuss the links between big business, mercenary airmen and terrorist groups at a special event presented by the Transnational Security Committee of NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. The conversation that followed, moderated by CGA Academic Chair Dr Mark Galeotti, took in the disintegrating Soviet Union, the forces and motives directing policy in Afghanistan, Central America and increasingly, East Africa.

 

The high point for me personally was Dr Galeotti’s killer question – one I haven’t been asked before, and when I think about it, I wish I had, because it’s an incredibly fertile way to look at how our world works. He posited a hypothetical set of conditions where it was possible to shut down all rogue air operators and stem the flow of invisible cargo overnight. He then asked, what would our world look like then?

Well, war would get bigger again, for a start. Not just in the sense that smaller groups would find it harder to access plentiful weapons without a superpower ‘backer’ – much as they did in Cold War days – but in that moves like invasions, regime change and reconstruction would come with a far higher tax bill attached, since the grunt work could no longer be outsourced to cost-effective partners-for-hire, but would demand the presence of a far larger standing force.Prices for other things would rise, too. Not just contraband – though the plentiful supply of cheap movers helps keep prices artificially low there too – but everything from bouquets to chickenburgers and parcel post to washing machines.

 

Humanitarian aid, too, would come with a heftier bill attached – again, it would require bodies like the UN to run a far larger standing transport resource – and would be slower in its deployment, since the perma-circling flocks of cheap Russian cargo planes operating in and around the world’s troublespots would have disappeared. Smaller aid outfits would likely be squeezed out of the emergency-response market, since they would not have access to cheap capacity in planes that were already going to Somalia, Pakistan or Haiti, and could neither afford to charter nor run their own plane.

 

No wonder the Q&A with the audience was described as “spirited”! You can read more about the event, and the CGA’s upcoming lecture programme, here.

Analysis: Chewbacca, Kurt Cobain & cheap thrills, or life in a post-Soviet West

What if…? is a popular parlour game among historians. How would the world look had World War Two ended differently? What would a Confederate-won Civil War have meant in a parallel 21st-century USA? What if the DDR’s army hadn’t wavered, and the Berlin Wall had never fallen?

 

This week brought a chance to play a different, even more tantalizing game. Truthdig Radio and the KPFK network in Los Angeles devoted a half-hour segment of their weekend show to discussion with Matt this week, talking Outlaws Inc., the 20th anniversary of the Soviet collapse, and its continuing aftermath.

 

Titled ‘Dodging Missiles With Russian Smugglers‘, the segment looked at the way in which everything from free trade to terrorism, our own governments’ foreign and fiscal policy, and even our own view of democracy, society and the world continues to be affected by what Soviets called the Cataclysm of 1991. While we in the West were all obsessing about a Reagan/Lucasfilm showdown with the Evil Empire and its Politburo of Darth Vaders that never materialized, should we have been watching instead for the thousands upon thousands of demobbed, unaccountable and nigh-untraceable Han Solos and Chewbaccas in their rusty old Millennium Falcons that suddenly swamped the skies? And what, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Colombia to Haiti, might have been different if we had?

 

Were we distracted by our own propaganda into believing a Cold War could be won outright, to the point of ignoring the aftermath of cheap AK-47s and Strela rocket launchers flooding the market? Is the War on Terror floundering precisely because it’s based on the fatal assumption that the War on Communism ended nice and neatly? Where would Rumsfeld and co have found all the ‘non-state actors’ to fly materiel to Iraq and Afghanistan without all the cheap ex-military Russian labour? How did we not predict the USSR’s military-assisted heroin pipelines suddenly redirecting through Europe and America as its newly freelance – and impoverished – ex-servicemen strove to make a buck out of their old infrastructure?

 

Could it be that, as well as arming a rash of conflicts from Somalia to Afghanistan and Armenia to Liberia and creating the generation of highly educated software dabblers who more or less invented the DDOS and spawned the download and piracy industry, the suddenness of the Soviet collapse was what killed Kurt Cobain and that guy from Alice In Chains?

 

So, how much of all our lives in the West 20 years on is secretly, subtly, Soviet-influenced? Are we ourselves living inside one of those ‘What if…?’ games after all? You can listen to the interview here, read the book if you want to, and make your own mind up…

News: Outlaws Inc is out in the USA, & the first (great) reviews are coming in…

Good morning America! Just a quick update on the eve of my US publication date to thank the American media for the great response so far, and especially the quality papers for reviews like this one from the Baltimore Sun calling Outlaws Inc. “a nonfiction tale more suspenseful and compelling than any espionage novel” and picking it out as it one of its “international thrillers of the autumn”, and the Waco Herald Tribune nailing it as “exciting and disturbing” – and hope that you all enjoy the book. I’ll be over in the third week of September to meet, interview and film, so if you’d like to talk while I’m there (or at any other time), just get in touch with me. Details on the ‘Contact’ page. Meanwhile, you can read a free extract of Outlaws Inc. in this month’s edition of top-selling proper men’s mag Men’s Journal.

First preview of Outlaws Inc. hits US newsstands!

The first preview of Outlaws Inc. hit the stands this week courtesy of Libraries Journal. And here it is!

Outlaws Inc.: Under the Radar and on the Black Market with the World’s Most Dangerous Smugglers. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Aug. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9781608195305. $25.
When communism collapses, some Russian military men get together and buy a decommissioned Soviet plane for mere kopeks, then launch a shipping business. Soon they’re crisscrossing borders with everything from illegal weapons to emergency aid, trading behind the scenes with the Taliban, the U.S. government, and various global corporations. It’s scary, but it pays, until the world settles into a new groove and their smuggling expertise isn’t in as much demand. Then they move their operations to a particularly troubled part of Africa. Okay, sounds like a thriller, but it’s all true. Widely published British journalist Potter traveled with these risk takers for a time so that he could tell their story. This should be great narrative nonfiction reading.”

New Bloomsbury USA catalogue showcases Outlaws Inc

The new 2011 Catalogue from Bloomsbury USA showcases Outlaws Inc. Alongside the likes of A.C.Grayling, William Boyd and Harold Jacobson, you’ll find Matt’s full-page profile on page 47… accompanied by a pic from the book of Matt relaxing in Kabul, Afghanistan, after a high-stakes brush with the ex-Soviet airmen now forming the core of the biggest underground smuggling network the world has ever seen.It’s this network, and Matt’s adventures within it, that’s at the heart of the book. To read more, you can download the full PDF of the Bloomsbury USA catalogue here

Bloomsbury USA 2011 Catalogue

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US edition of Outlaws Inc finalised

The American cover of Outlaws Inc was unveiled on Amazon today. It features ammunition of the type transported by the book’s maverick pilot protagonist, a former Soviet Red Army grunt I’ve called Yuri – but whose real name(s), identity, even appearance and moves I’ve agreed will remain secret to protect both him and me. He makes his living trafficking looted and grey-market ammo, aid, drugs, even black-ops forces, to warzones, rebel strongholds and pirate ships. It’s a nasty job. It’s a dark cover.

Outlaws inc (US edition)

Outlaws inc (US edition)