Alter Ego

Shadow War Screenshot

People are flabbergasted when I tell them about what I’ve done. In fact, they don’t believe it.

You were in a corporation that raised small armies in Africa? Doesn’t happen. You did the Viktor Bout gun run? BS. You prevented a genocide in the Congo? Impossible. You infiltrated police-states for the Fortune 500? You’re making it up.

Then people meet Tom Locke.

Of course, Tom Locke isn’t real. He is the protagonist in my new novel Shadow War: A Tom Locke Novel. Shadow War is an international action thriller that centers around Locke, a high-end mercenary and global “fixer.” He’s a likable but flawed hero, fighting in the shadows for wealthy clients: governments, rebel groups, oil companies, the super-rich…anyone who can afford a private special operations forces unit.

Shadow War is more than fiction. It’s based on actual events, and is a window into the changing character of war and world order. What’s changing is who, how and why we fight. Money can now buy firepower and intelligence services, turning the ultra-wealthy and corporations into a new kind of superpower. I know because I’ve seen it.

Shadow War began as a memoir. I was a private military contractor—mercenary to some— for years, working mostly in Africa, just like Locke. I was also in the private intelligence industry. Similar to the CIA, we ran human networks and “shaped the environment” for business clients.

Besides a good read, I hope Shadow War is informative. This is the first in a series of novels that takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of contemporary world affairs. Spoiler alert: the most powerful actors may not be states. What does war without states look like?

Hopefully Shadow War elucidates this, and other hallmarks of what’s to come. In his debut book, Locke is covertly sent into eastern Ukraine to ensure America’s chosen oligarch becomes the president, in the fight against Putin. But things unravel fast. It’s not clear who the actual client is, and the mission starts to run afoul.

Meanwhile, Locke’s scheming boss, Brad Winters, is working his way through Washington DC, Houston, New York City, London and other places. He is the CEO of a large private military company (think Blackwater meets Goldman Sachs) but is really in business for himself. What does he want? Everything.

In many ways, fiction is a better truth-teller than non-fiction. I could have written an academic analysis of this murky world, as I did with the Modern Mercenary, but the grit of the reality gets lost in footnotes. Another big plus about fiction: I don’t have to worry about accidentally leaking secrets, being sued by former employers or clients, or attracting the wrath of maniacal warlords. Lastly, fiction is fun. Shadow War is written in the tradition of Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, Mark Greaney and Ted Bell. It’s meant to be read in the hammock, cocktail in hand.

Growing up, I loved the novels of John le Carre, a former British MI6 spy. His fiction pulled back the curtain on the Cold War, as seen through the eyes of George Smiley. Similarly, I hope Tom Locke can serve as your guide for the post-Cold War era.

Sean McFate is an expert on strategy, the future of war and international relations. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and an adjunct social scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is also professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. See his full bio at