Shadow World is in many senses an epic film, that (as Ian McQuaid wrote in The Ransom Note) “draws together a sordid tale of corruption, violence, and greed that sprawls across decades and continents… the documentary covers the full, hideous spectrum of half a century of arms manufacturing.” The “superbly edited, angry documentary about the global arms trade” (Variety) tells of its many spidery tendrils woven across the world, and the number of pundits featured in the film offering revelatory comments will make your head spin at times.
We’re here to help. Consider this a guidebook to some of the major players featured in the film, a Who’s Who of experts on this twisted story. Shadow World premieres November 20 at 10 pm on Independent Lens [check local listings]. In no particular order:
Arms & Equipment Dealer
Riccardo Privitera has worked in the weapons and military equipment business for many years, primarily through his company Talisman Europe, which was based in Warsaw. He is currently serving a 7-year jail sentence in relation to an allegedly corrupt and fraudulent military matériel deal between Portugal and Poland.
“The thing about politicians is that they’re very much like prostitutes but only more expensive.”
Journalist and Author “The Poorer Nations”
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, journalist, commentator and intellectual. He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, after having been the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut. Prashad is the author of seventeen books, including No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (of which The Hindu newspaper wrote, “Prashad’s passion for the subject and his meticulous research combine to show that for the left, new tomorrows await.”) His very politically woke Twitter feed is @vijayprashad.
“[F]or the last fifty years at least, policy has been made based on the assumption of greed. And it’s ruined the world.”
El Salvador War Resistance Leader and Peace Activist
Rev. Marta Benavides is a Salvadoran theologian, ordained minister, permaculturist, educator, and artist. She is one of the last surviving activists from a group of human rights and peace advocates who began their work during the 1970s in a rising climate of repression in Latin America. Since 1992 she has been the director of the International Institute for Cooperation Amongst Peoples.
In the early 1980s, the peace activist and ordained pastor who chose “to live and not die for the revolution” headed the Ecumenical Committee for Humanitarian Aid, a group sponsored by the Archbishop Óscar Romero to provide support to the victims of violence in El Salvador. Romero was assassinated in 1980. Benavides then worked for the next decade to bring an end to the war in her country, and achieve a negotiated settlement under the UN. She was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
“In countries like mine, people have been killed to be quiet. To know that any day, anytime, you’re going to be killed, you don’t know how, but it’s coming.”
Investigative Journalist and Author
Jeremy Scahill is a founding editor of the online news publication The Intercept (which is both widely regarded and not without controversies) and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army which won the George Polk Book Award. His book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield was published by Nation Books in 2013. The documentary film of the same name, produced, narrated and co-written by Scahill, was released in 2013, including a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and it was nominated for an Academy Award. His twitter feed is @jeremyscahill.
“You had this utter scandal that emanated from the highest echelons of power, and the Reagan administration was acting as though it had nothing to do with it.”
Co-designer F-16 fighter aircraft, Former Defense Analyst, Pentagon
Pierre Sprey was a defense analyst at the Pentagon and a member of the self-dubbed ‘Fighter Mafia‘, which advocated the use of energy maneuverability theory in fighter design. Sprey was educated at Yale and Cornell where he studied mathematical statistics and operations research. He subsequently worked at Grumman Aircraft as a consulting statistician. From 1966 to 1970 he was a special assistant at the US Office of the Secretary of Defense. He currently works, naturally, as… a record producer.
Sprey: “The first time an executive does that and he collects 2.5 million dollars he says ‘Wow, this is a good business to be in.’ And within moments of that realization he is now no longer in the business of selling airplanes, he is in the business of selling bribes.”
Former War Correspondent, The New York Times
Chris Hedges wears several hats: Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best-selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist, and… ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books, including Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012), which he co-authored with cartoonist Joe Sacco. His other books include Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, (2015) Death of the Liberal Class (2010), Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008) and the best-selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008).
His book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. He writes a weekly column for the website Truthdig in Los Angeles, run by Robert Scheer, and hosts a show, On Contact, on RT (Russia Today) America. Hedges has described himself as a socialist, and even, or more specifically, as “a Christian anarchist.” He is married to Canadian actress Eunice Wong.
“There’s no hope of ending war, because there’s always a small cabal of people for whom war is really, really good business.”
Activist; Served in U.S. House of Representatives, 1997-2003, 2005-’07
As a member of the Democratic Party, Cynthia McKinney served six terms in the United States House of Representatives. She was the first black woman to represent Georgia in the House. While serving in Congress, McKinney: advocated unsealing records pertaining to the CIA’s role in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., supported anti-war legislation and introduced articles of impeachment against President George H.W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
She left the Democratic Party in September 2007 and in 2008 was the Green Party pick to run for President of the United States, for which she received such disparate endorsements as Noam Chomsky, Roseanne Barr, rapper M-1, and peace activist Cindy Sheehan. As an activist and speaker, she has opposed US military intervention around the world.
“Individuals operating in the shadows and never having their names called are able to leverage the power of the military and the foreign policy apparatus for their own personal pecuniary ends.”
National Iranian American Council, Author Treacherous Alliance and Losing an Enemy
Trita Parsi is the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advancing interests of Iranian-American community. Born in Iran, Parsi moved with his family to Sweden at a young age to escape political repression, as his father was an outspoken academic who was jailed both under the reign of the Shah, and later under Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic.
Parsi holds two Master’s and as an adult, moved to the U.S. to study foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies where he received a PhD in International Relations. Early in his career Parsi worked for the Swedish Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, addressing human rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Iraq. His book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, published in 2017, was called an “exceptionally well-written piece of reportage,” by Publisher’s Weekly. “The book’s strength derives from Parsi’s high level of access to key players on both sides.”
He is on Twitter @tparsi.
See more: PBS/Tavis Smiley interview with Parsi.
“As this nuclear deal goes through, we’re still dealing with a problem that the states of this region are collapsing and the void that they will fill you will see more violence and you will see more weapons.”
Colonel, U.S. Army (retired), Fmr. Chief of Staff to US Sec. of State, Colin Powell
Lawrence “Larry” B. Wilkerson is a retired United States Army Colonel who served in Vietnam as an observation helicopter pilot and in the US Navy’s Pacific Command in South Korea, Japan, and Hawaii. He served as chief of staff to General Colin Powell, while Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Secretary of State. Wilkerson taught at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and served as deputy director of the Marine Corps War College at Quantico. Wilkerson has criticized many aspects of the Iraq War, including his own preparation of General Powell’s presentation to the UN, and has called Iraq War intelligence “a hoax.”
Quote: “This revolving door keeps the national security elite very small, and very wealthy, and increasing its wealth as it goes up the chain. To the extent that then when you get to the top as Cheney did, then you can become a member of the plutocracy that runs the country too.”
British Minister for International Development (1997-2003)
Clare Short is a British politician who was the Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2010 (first as a Labour Party MP, but later as an Independent). She stood down as a Member of Parliament at the 2010 general election. Short was a highly regarded Secretary of State for International Development in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997 until her resignation from that post in protest six years later. She has been very critical of Blair, and herself, regarding their role in the Iraq War, and is the author of An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power, (2004). In 2011, Short was elected as Chairwoman of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources.
From the Guardian: “If Iraq was the great tragedy of Blair’s career, it was also, Short concedes, the tragedy of hers. ‘But it’s an ongoing tragedy for lots of people who are dead, and a country that’s let down. So compared to the enormity of that, Blair or me are nothing.'”
Quote: “This very phrase war on terror is irrational. It’s like saying a war on war. A war on violence, a war… It’s nonsense. We are slipping into this possibility of kind of perpetual war.”