Ann Marlowe

Ann Marlowe is a writer and businesswoman based in New York City.Marlowe currently does research, litigation preparation and asset recovery for state, corporate and individual clients while publishing investigative journalism and cultural commentary.Her work has ranged from asset recovery to rock criticism, from exposing Cambridge Analytica to explaining why Trollope is important, but everything she does is distinguished by rigorous analysis, attention to detail, and discovering new connections. She has been called “a relentless moral essayist and a secret poet” (Luc Sante) who writes with “cool authority” (Bret Easton Ellis) and “fierce clarity” (Jonathan Lethem).Contact her at

In 2011, she made four trips to Libya to cover the revolution and war and returned twice in 2012.She quickly stumbled upon evidence of enormous corruption in government contracting. This led to her subsequent work as a consultant in asset recovery and ongoing anti-kleptocracy journalism.

Between 2002 and 2011 she traveled regularly to Afghanistan and published often on Afghanistan's politics, economy, culture and the U.S. counterinsurgency there.As a result of her experiences in eight embeds with American troops in Afghanistan beginning in August 2007, as well as visits exploring civilian life, Marlowe grew disillusioned with the official American doctrine of counterinsurgency as embraced by General Petraeus. She cautioned that Americans were approaching Afghanistan without sufficient historical sense, writing in one of her 2007 Wall Street Journal op eds, “We can do nothing about many of Afghanistan's barriers to development. For starters, 86% of its land area is non-arable. It has also never had a broad distribution of income or land. According to Afghan-Australian historian Amin Saikal, up until the early 1920s when King Amanullah gave crown lands to the poor, only 20% of peasants worked their own properties.” (

Disturbed by the contrast between the reality on the ground in Afghanistan and the brilliant works of the French counterinsurgency expert David Galula (d.1967) who had greatly influenced General Petraeus’ strategy, Marlowe researched his life at the Hoover Institution and the Strategic Studies institute of the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Her monograph on the life and intellectual context of David Galula was published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College in summer 2010. Ms. Marlowe has also published two memoirs and is one of the contributors to A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Her articles have appeared in the op –ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and New York Post, and in the Bulwark, OCCRP, the late Weekly Standard, Daily Beast,,,and many other publications. She tweets regularly (@annmarlowe)

Ms. Marlowe has been a regular guest on the John Batchelor radio show discussing Libya, Afghanistan and counterinsurgency. She has also appeared on Fox's "Happening Now", PBS’s “Ideas in Action” with Jim Glassman, VOA, RTTV, and other television programs. She has spoken at U.S. Army bases, the Army War College, U.S. State Department, the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Present in Paris, and American colleges. In 2009, she was a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution and returned there for a research fellowship in 2010.

Ms. Marlowe was born in Suffern, New York in 1958 and educated at public schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She received her B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1979 and studied classical philosophy there in the Ph.D. program in 1979-80. In 1984, she received an MBA in finance from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.

The Narcissists’ Coup

January 24th, 2021

Originally published in The Bulwark January 6 2021

Afew days ago, a Libyan friend asked me, “Will Joe Biden really become President of the United States?”

Until recent years, I would have been a bit arrogant in responding. I would have felt it was like asking an Italian if they have good pasta. You’re suggesting a weakness in our democracy? It’s our best-known product. But by January 1st, this had become a question it was at least conceivable to ask. We had become a lot more like Libya than we were before Trump.

And that was before the Trumpist putsch today.

From 2002 to 2012, I spent a lot of time visiting Afghanistan and Libya. People in both countries love to vote. So, they would seem to accept the philosophical basis of democracy. However, they are less keen on accepting the results if the opposition wins. They like the action of voting but don’t understand the culture behind voting.

Libya has been engulfed in a civil war since 2014 for this reason. For much of this time they have had two establishments, each claiming to be the legitimate government. They have what I call “democracy until the other side wins.” Afghanistan has “democracy until my cousin asks a favor.” Neither is the same as the rule of law.

On an individual level, almost no Libyan official will accept his dismissal until he is physically blocked from entering his office or they change the locks. That is why there have been as many as three men at the same time claiming to be head of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), and often two men (yes, it’s always men) claiming to be Libyan diplomats in the same posting. These officials always have an excuse for why they should stay, and usually it’s pretty convoluted, but that doesn’t bother them.

The issue in Libya is confusing legalism with the rule of law. It is what philosophers call a category mistake, like walking around Oxford’s campus, looking at individual buildings, and asking, “but where is the university?” The answer is that Oxford University is the sum total of colleges, administrative buildings, laboratories, libraries, sports facilities, and so on.

The rule of law is a way of life. Libyans have had hardly any experience of this way of life. As a result, what they’re doing is understandable, to an extent.

What’s America’s excuse?

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As many have pointed out, the problem is not Donald Trump, it’s much of the Republican Party and the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump, almost all of whom still seem to stand by him today. Those 74 million people had might as well be living in what is called an emerging democracy where you put your cockamamie ideology or your family loyalties above the rule of law.

For almost two-and-a-half centuries, American identity included living under the restraints of our Constitution—not as a burden but as a badge of honor. So how did we become a country where half our citizens don’t understand the glory of living under the rule of law?

We lost our pride in living under the rule of law, just as we have lost our acceptance of living under other restraints. This pride eroded, along with trust in government, but also with many other conventions. It’s been some time since our culture valued any sort of deference, including to scientific expertise or to the vulnerable. (You see both in the right-wing response to the pandemic, which has cast doubt on the work of scientists while also suggesting a few hundred thousand people dying is merely the cost of doing business.)

Enacting one’s narcissism became the only rule, and, as Stuart Schneiderman said, narcissism is always enacted at someone else’s expense. We elected a president who acts like a big baby. Those who voted for him said things like “it was time to shake things up” and “I’m tired of political correctness” and “I’m tired of being told what to do.” They wanted to let their id out. They were tired of hypocrisy.

But Trumpism is not the opposite of political correctness; both are aspects of the same illness. The collective sickness we’re suffering from is an inability to see oneself as one person among others with no larger or smaller claim on the universe’s attention. The desire to force one’s opinions and preferences on the rest of the world is just the mirror image of the desire to burn it all down. Neither one shows a respect for freedom. Polarization is not the problem in the United States right now so much as the selfishness that generates it. Freedom is only possible when both sides realize that it’s possible for others to disagree with them—and occasionally you’re going to be on the losing side of that disagreement. A respect for the feelings of others makes freedom possible. Sometimes it looks like what adolescents call hypocrisy.

The putschists in their infantile cosplay getups are devotees of narcissistic self-expression. When some of them referred to Congress as “our house” they didn’t mean that metaphorically; they literally put their feet up on the desks. That’s something only children and boors do. It is too soon to really absorb the events of today, but the corrective to the riot in the Capitol will include a return to the civility of classic liberalism. Let’s hear it for restraint, mutual respect, and pride in following rules.

And let us hope for justice under the law for those who perpetrated the events of today.

Daphne’s Fight Against Gangster Government

January 24th, 2021

originally published in The Bulwark, DECEMBER 28, 2020

If you have not already done so, read Ben Taub’s clear, understated New Yorker piece about the big life and horrible death of Malta’s most famous journalist, Daphne (whose formal name was “Daphne Caruana Galizia,” but who now needs only a first name). Read it not only because hers was in many ways an exemplary life, but because we in the United States now know firsthand how important the struggle against kleptocracy is. She died for it, on October 16, 2017.

Her brilliant, scathing blog, Running Commentary (which you can still find, here) was a passionate act of what we now call citizen journalism.

That may not sound like much to American ears—the original group of bloggers in the early 2000s referred to themselves as “citizen journalists.” But in Malta, the stakes are much higher. To give you an idea of what the sunny Mediterranean island of Malta—population 400,000—is like, Daphne was the fifth person killed in a broad daylight car bombing in just a four-year span.

Aside from Daphne, all of the other car bombings are more or less un- solved—and likely to stay that way—because they involved people in the fuel smuggling criminal underworld. And the only reason we’re figuring out who killed Daphne is because of the intervention of the FBI and the European Union—and the constant work of her three sons to unravel the plot.

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I’m honored to say that I met Daphne Caruana Galizia twice. It was in Malta, first in the summer 2015 and then again in April 2016. On both occasions she dressed conservatively and without fuss, neither hip nor a hipster, but actually a revolutionary. She seemed to spend no time giving a performance of herself. In the right circles Daphne was already legendary, but I’ve rarely met a person with less vanity. One of the reasons she was able to accomplish so much is that she got out of her own way.

I was introduced by a friend who knew that I was researching Libyan fuel smuggling. I wanted to talk to Daphne about two men: a Libyan named Fahmi Slim and a Maltese fisherman and ex-football (soccer) player named Darren Debono. I had been told (by very brave Libyan and Maltese sources) that the smugglers’ connections reached high up in the government of Malta, one of the world’s most corrupt. (This is the piece that I published.)

To give you another sense of Malta, while Fahmi Slim has been jailed in Libya since August 2017, until very recently Darren Debono was running around the streets of Malta after having been arrested by Italy. Judges and high police officials were said to eat at his seafood restaurant; when I tried to get a table in the empty room quite early one evening, I was told they were all reserved.

It was like a bad movie about the Mafia. Malta is like that.

As it turned out, while Daphne knew some things about smuggling, that racket was ancillary to her main interest: exposing and bringing down the criminal government of Joseph Muscat. And while I could laugh at the cartoonish misdeeds of the governing class, joke about its unbecoming E.U. membership, and then go home to the States, Malta was Daphne’s home.

Which is why the more time I spent in Malta, the more incredible her courage appeared.

Think of it this way: When Daphne was killed, no one was surprised by her murder.

Daphne’s story has always resonated with me as a portrait of courage and bravery. But these days it’s also a reminder that, no matter how “civilized” or modern a society may appear to be, democracy often hangs by a thread.

Curfews Don’t Protect People

July 6th, 2020

(Originally published in The Bulwark 6/3/20

Yesterday afternoon, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush released an extraordinary statement on the death of George Floyd. It says what needs to be said by every American across the political spectrum: “It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country.”

This is in the grand tradition of Republican support for civil rights and the classic tenets of liberalism. It reminds me why I voted for W. twice and used to be a registered Republican.

But that was back in the day when Republicans stood for limited government, strict adherence to the Constitution, and using economic freedom to improve everyone’s lives, not for shredding the Constitution and pitting Americans against each other while using public positions for private profit.

So last night I sat in my house in New York’s West Village, listening to helicopters overhead, forbidden to walk outside because we have an 8 p.m. curfew until Sunday. Because of the curfew local food shops, supermarkets, and restaurants offering takeout had to close as early as 5:00 p.m.—at a moment when they were just beginning to revive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 10 years covering counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, not only because of the familiar helicopter noise. There are analogies to restoring order in a violence-afflicted urban environment. It’s often just called community policing, an old idea involving getting cops out of their cars and having them walk their beats and get to know people. It works.

But instead of reaching out, the NYPD is retreating.

Monday morning, when I walked past my local police precinct in the West Village, the Sixth, I was dismayed to see that the street full of police cars was closed by a barrier at both ends. Not only does this make it more difficult and psychologically uninviting for citizens to enter to report a crime, it gives criminals and law-abiding citizens alike the idea that the police are afraid of them. And this is in one of Manhattan’s richest zip codes.

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The NYPD and departments nationwide need to be out there talking to citizens, rebuilding trust and discussing grievances. So do our mayors. Yet at a press conference today, Mayor Bill de Blasio was egregiously rude and disrespectful to reporters who asked about some much-photographed instances of looting nearly under the police’s eyes. De Blasio is locked in a struggle with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been very critical of the NYPD’s failure to rein in looting and advocated bringing in the National Guard.

As de Blasio correctly pointed out, bringing in outsiders who don’t know how NYC works could well lead to more violence.

But Cuomo is right that the NYPD are badly led and badly trained. If I were an outsider looking in (as I was in Afghanistan), I would call the NYPD an Irish-American militia, not a servant of the public. Though the force is only 53 percent white, NYPD leadership is still 72 percent non-Hispanic white, and arrogant in the way militia leaders are.

This may be the place to note that police in the United States are not in huge danger from criminals, especially in New York City where there are severe penalties for unlicensed handguns. No New York City cops were murdered in the line of duty in 2019, for instance. And across the United States, only 38 law-enforcement officers were shot and killed in the line of duty between January and mid-December 2019 (not counting deaths by friendly fire).

Overall, just over a thousand American civilians were killed by the police in 2019. And, totaling data from 2013 to 2019, NYC has had the lowest rate of police killings of civilians among U.S. cities with over a million people.

As these figures suggest, American police should not be afraid to engage with the community. I remember the remark of a bright young American captain I met in Afghanistan, Derrick Hernandez, who said to me, “If you tell me to defend this district center I’m not going to sit inside it.” It’s very easy for a fortress to become a self-licking ice cream cone—Army lingo for an outpost that exists only to defend itself, not to make the surrounding territory safer. Sure sounds like an NYC precinct house.

Curfews are very dumb. You can’t draw a line in the sand unless you’re prepared to defend it. If people break curfew, the government looks weak. Such rules breed contempt, not respect, for the law. Americans don’t like being told what to do, where to go, and what time to go there.

And order isn’t maintained by curfews that are unenforceable—or unfairly enforced—in a city of 8 million. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea opposed a curfew on Monday on the Today show. The NYPD department chief, Terence Monahan—who took a knee with protesters in Washington Square Park early Monday night—also said on Monday that he thought a curfew was unnecessary. Mayor de Blasio admitted in his press conference this morning that the curfew is unenforceable, more of an excuse for immediate arrest of criminals. Monahan made much the same point this morning on Today: “Protesters that were still protesting past 8 peacefully we allowed to continue, but when a group of people who were looking to cause mayhem broke off, we were able to take care of them very quickly.”

Mayor de Blasio doesn’t get it that there is a link between commerce being shut and the streets becoming dangerous, regardless of the George Floyd protests. Deserted streets are never safe streets. Taking law-abiding people off the streets leaves more space for criminality; it means those who remain can do what they want with less fear of censure from their fellow citizens. And looting leads store owners to board up storefronts, which in turn suggests that anything is possible, further eroding security.

What makes a city safe? Commerce and the resultant foot traffic by law-abiding citizens.

Last night, the NYPD managed to protect Soho’s stores from a repetition of earlier looting—by the simple expedient of blocking traffic. This could have been done without a curfew. It would be far better—and would not escalate tensions, and would invite far less risk of uneven discriminatory enforcement—if the streets were kept open, stores were allowed to stay open as they wished, and police stood at the ready to deal with problems as they arose.