When friends asked about her latest book, Ann Hagedorn, author of “The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security,” grew to recognize two reactions.
When she described researching the role of private military and security companies, or PMSCs, and how the United States increasingly has outsourced many traditional military functions to them since the start of the Iraq war, she received polite interest.
When she used the word “mercenary,” her companions showed actual interest.
Many Americans, Hagedorn said recently, know what mercenaries are. But few are familiar with the growing number of PMSCs that act in a mercenary fashion, performing tasks — weapons maintenance, intelligence analysis, arms procurement — and show allegiance perhaps to the nation they call home but especially to the government that pays them.
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In Iraq, by the spring of 2011, there were eight Americans missing in action, and seven were employees of private contractors.
Hagedorn grew interested while researching an earlier book detailing the evolving industry of private hostage negotiations.
“I realized there were all these soldiers and spies, displaced workers from the Cold War, who were out of work,” she said. “Some were joining private military and security companies. I realized there was a much larger story unfolding.”
Hagedorn conducted early research in the Kansas City area, where she attended Shawnee Mission East High School through her junior year before her parents moved to Ohio. In 2008 she served as a Kansas City Public Library writer-in-residence. She then received a fellowship at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas.
Every week she visited officers at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. At least one of them wondered whether contract military employees, if not properly trained, actually could hinder American missions overseas.
“There are people who have said to me, ‘Why should we care about this?’” Hagedorn said. “That concerns me. We know so little about who these contractors are and what it means for our nation to be so dependent upon them.
“I am not saying I am for or against these companies, I’m saying that they exist and that there should be more transparency about them.”
Hagedorn speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For more information, go to KCLibrary.org.