Marketing the New 'Dogs of
from the 11-part series
Making a Killing
The Business of War
The Center for Public Integrity
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have
been fighting one of the world's longest and bloodiest terrorist
wars, but July 24, 2001, marked their most devastating attack
in 18 years of fighting against the Sri Lankan government. In
virtually destroying Bandaranaike International Airport in the
capital of Colombo, the Tamil Tigers cut the country's only link
to the outside world.
Half of the civilian fleet of Sri Lankan
Airlines, the national carrier, was destroyed. The Sri Lankan
Air Force lost almost a third of its assets Russian transport
helicopters and fighters, Israeli interceptors, and Chinese trainers.
The cost of the attack was estimated to exceed $500 million. Tourism
vanished overnight, trade collapsed, and Sri Lanka's economy slumped.
The long-term impact of the Tigers' attack
was magnified by the conduct of the City of London, the financial
nerve center of the United Kingdom. Brokers at the Lloyd's of
London insurance market imposed massive war risk surcharges on
shipping to Sri Lanka. The shipping-dependent nation suddenly
faced the loss of trade and even essential food imports. With
insurance surcharges rising to a multiple of freight rates, costlier
air transport replaced surface ships. At a stroke, the country
faced rampant hyperinflation and economic collapse.
The terrorist Tigers had struck the blow,
but it was the London financiers whose conduct now threatened
national survival. Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in London, Mangala
Moonasinghe, was instructed to open negotiations, not with the
Tamil Tigers, but with the City's brokers.
Eight Sri Lankan government negotiators
flew to London on Aug. 17, 2001, to meet with Lloyd's underwriters
and their War Risks Committee. After three days of talks, the
Lloyds team set up a "London Market Sri Lankan War Facility."
The rates for ships sailing to Sri Lanka would still be high,
despite the Sri Lankans agreement to pay, within seven days, a
bond of $50 million against any claims that might be lodged for
damage to vessels heading for or in Sri Lankan waters. The Sri
Lankan government was also required to commission a full security
review of its airport and seaports and to implement any recommendations.
The London brokers recommended that the
Sri Lankan government hire a British-based company, Trident Maritime,
to carry out the security survey, in conjunction with another
security consultancy, Rubicon. In Trident, the Sri Lankans had
hired Tim Spicer, a man simultaneously at the center of a number
of scandals provoked by his global mercenary activities and of
an effort to legitimize the status and sanitize the image of the
country's "dogs of war" soldiers of fortune who
have mounted coups, guarded British, U.S. and Arabian dignitaries
and ambassadors, engaged in civil wars, and run sabotage and terror
activities from behind hostile lines. From the Contra campaign
in Nicaragua to organizing and training Afghan or Kosovar insurgents,
British mercenary operators have been employed by the CIA, the
Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. State Department, as well
as by Britain's own Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).
After decades of controversial intervention
in the developing world, these private military enterprises are
seeking legal recognition and standing. They wish for re-branding
as peacekeepers and conflict resolvers. Politicians in the West
seem quickly to have accepted a convenient if illusory dichotomy
just as it has been handed to them contrasting the old-style
(and bad) "dogs of war" with the new-style (and good)
private military companies, or PMCs, of the 1990s and beyond.
Although the acronym is now nearly universal,
PMC (in the sense of mercenaries) was unheard of in the English
language prior to late 1995. The new label has done much to improve
the image of private soldiers, if little to affect the reality
of their activities. The term has commonly been used to refer
to Executive Outcomes and Sandline International, two names used
by a single group of British and South African businessmen and
ex-military officers. Their interventions in Angola, Sierra Leone
and Papua New Guinea during the mid 1990s aroused repeated concern,
setting off the current debates on "PMCs." The most
prominent figure from those debates was Spicer, a 50-year-old
ex-British army officer who signed up as a mercenary in 1996.
Although his profile is lower now, Spicer's adventures with Sandline
resulted in police and customs investigations, raids on his home
and offices, arrest, incarceration and deportation.
Spicer's exploits in Papua New Guinea
in 1997 and Sierra Leone in 1998 left a trail of judicial, government
and parliamentary inquiries in their wake, not to mention the
collapse of one government in Papua New Guinea. In 1997, the foreign
secretary of the newly elected British government, Robin Cook,
proclaimed that Britain would henceforward pursue a novel "ethical
foreign policy," in which humanitarian, environmental and
moral considerations would be as important as traditional national
interests. Spicer and his men quickly made Cook's "ethical
foreign policy" a laughing stock.
British audiences saw pictures of a Royal
Navy ship helping service a Russian-made helicopter on behalf
of Spicer's mercenary force. And, in February 1999, a scathing
parliamentary report found that Foreign Office officials and diplomats
had withheld information from the government about Sandline's
plans to export arms to Sierra Leone in violation of United Nations
sanctions. Until the row broke out, Spicer and his men from Sandline
had been attempting to restore the government of ousted President
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and in so doing to win access to diamond
and mineral concessions for his businessmen backers.
Cook, the British foreign secretary, faced
calls for his resignation, but managed to hang on to his job until
being demoted in a later cabinet shuffle. In Papua New Guinea
the year before, Spicer's intervention had already had more serious
consequences. He had arrived on the islands with 70 hired guns,
mainly South Africans. They were there to attack rebels on the
detached island of Bougainville, home to the world's largest and
must lucrative copper mine, recover it and restore it to operation.
His arrival provoked riots. The army rebelled
and staged a coup. Spicer became the new military target. He was
arrested, handcuffed, jailed and interrogated. At one point, he
thought he was about to be summarily executed. Police found he
was carrying $400,000 in cash. Army chiefs accused his company,
Sandline, of having made corrupt payments through a Swiss bank
account to Mathias Ijape, then the defense minister of Papua New
Guinea. In the wake of the scandal, the country's prime minister,
Julian Chan, resigned, and his government collapsed.
Although he agreed to be interviewed for
this report, Spicer refused to discuss his operations for Sandline
International. He had not complained, he said, about British newspaper
reports that had accused him and Sandline of improper financial
conduct, including bribing government ministers. But "we
thought about it," he said.
His operations accomplished no good purpose.
The countries where Spicer and his Sandline and Executive Outcomes
colleagues intervened particularly Angola and Sierra Leone
remain poor, unstable and underdeveloped, despite having
rich resources which the private soldiers had sought to secure
for the benefit of their mercantile patrons.
Spicer's short career with Sandline International
ended late in 1999 and, having moved into other ventures, he is
a relatively minor player in the rapidly expanding private military
and security business. But he may have one decisive victory to
his credit he was the public face of a campaign that sold
political elites and the media on the concept of the "private
In 2002, Spicer pronounced his creed
that the world was waiting for "the speed and flexibility
with which they [PMCs] can deploy, rather than wait for the U.N.
to form a force." He went further still, arguing that PMCs
were ideal vehicles to aid the Northern Alliance forces that fought
against the Taliban or the Iraqi resistance to Saddam Hussein.
He even suggested that it might be in the international community's
interest if PMCs were hired to intervene in long-running conflicts
in Sudan or topple leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In
short, he proposed the overt shifting of significant foreign policy
objectives to mercenary companies an idea that would have
been met with derision only a few years before yet he received
a respectful hearing.
Joining the secret world
Spicer was never fully signed up to the
old-boys network that clusters in the confines of the Special
Forces Club an elite private social organization in central
London whose membership is limited to serving and former members
of the Special Forces and intelligence services from Britain,
the United States and selected Allies. He would not say whether
he had been refused membership. "I don't really discuss my
personal life at all," he responded.
In 1970, when he was 18, Spicer was in
the United States, bumming around Oklahoma, "fashionably
anti-war" in long hair and wearing a shirt made from the
North Vietnamese flag, as he described himself in his autobiography.
He later went home to England, abandoned attempts to get into
a university, started a college law course, and took his first
steps into the secret world, signing up as a volunteer trooper
with 21 Special Air Service (SAS).
The Special Air Service regiment, the
brainchild of Col. Sir David Stirling, was created to carry out
commando raids in World War II. The SAS regiment was disbanded
after the war, but then reborn after assiduous lobbying by Stirling.
The formal, full-time regiment is known as 22 SAS; Spicer volunteered
for one of the two part-time reserve "territorial" SAS
regiments Britain maintains, 21 SAS. Its members work most of
the year in civilian jobs. The two reserve regiments, especially
the Chelsea-based 21 SAS, have frequently served as a formal and
informal recruiting center for mercenary operations, both officially
sanctioned (but deniable) and otherwise. Members of the volunteer
SAS units may even be permitted to join the so-called "R"
(reserve) squadron of 22 SAS, and to take part in active military
operations while holding down their civilian jobs.
Spicer flunked the law course, but was
able to join 21 SAS on an exercise in Germany. In 1974, after
failing to pass the British Army officer's selection board, he
contemplated trying to enter the SAS world sideways by enlisting
for a still-secret operation against rebels in Dhofar, Oman. The
SAS had supported and protected Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman,
after he mounted a coup in 1970 to depose his father. The Dhofar operation involved a continual stream
of British Army officers, especially from the SAS, swapping in
and out of their British uniforms to take the Sultan's pay and
exercise his command.
However, his military ambitions remained
frustrated. Spicer's 1999 autobiography describes how he spent
the 1970s and 1980s far from involvement with the secret world
of special operations that he apparently desired to join. In 1975,
after passing the British officer's entry course on his second
attempt, he was posted to train at Britain's equivalent of West
Point, the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. After six months
there, he reached the pinnacle of an otherwise unremarkable 18-year
military career, winning the Academy's Sword of Honour for best
cadet. He was commissioned into the Scots Guards, an elite regiment
which shared the ceremonial duty of guarding the Queen in London.
But it was not until the last years of his military career, which
ended in 1995, that he was able to get into the Special Forces
world, concluding his military career by working for a series
of Special Forces commanders.
In 1978, Peter de la Billiere, then a
brigadier, became director of the U.K. Special Forces. De la Billiere
was responsible for overseeing the SAS's most famous operations
of the decade, among them the recovery of hostages from the Iranian
Embassy siege in 1980, and for commanding Special Forces operations
in the 1982 war with Argentina to recover the Falkland Islands.
In 1990-1991, as general, he commanded British forces in the Gulf
War against Iraq.
In April 1992, de la Billiere returned
to London and retired from his military career. He immediately
took up a new post as the British government's "Middle East
adviser." The job involved selling military services to and
obtaining or retaining British bridgeheads in the Gulf. Spicer,
who had spent the Gulf War as a lecturer at the British Army's
staff college, heard that de la Billiere would need a military
assistant. He applied for and got the job, and finally entered
the secret world of the Special Forces. De la Billiere's office
was in the Duke of York's headquarters off of Sloane Square in
London, where the offices of the directorate of Special Forces
were also located. Soon after joining de la Billiere, Spicer contacted
fellow ex-Scots Guards officer Simon Mann and "co-opted"
him into the operation, according to Spicer's autobiography. Mann,
an anti-terrorism and computer specialist, who had left the SAS
in 1985, later went on to found Executive Outcomes in the United
Kingdom in 1993.
According to Spicer, de la Billiere and
Mann were employed "as liaison with the rulers of the Gulf
States." According to a business
associate of Mann's at the time, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
this story was "absurd." British ambassadors were hired
to do that job, and given the staff and resources to do so. Mann's
"real job," according to the associate, was "to
help Peter de la Billiere market the training services of 22 SAS"
and thus gain new clients for Britain's official mercenaries.
Meanwhile, according to his autobiography, Spicer moved "down
the corridor" to work directly for the Director of Special
Forces on "highly classified" projects. Mann did not
comment on the nature of his work with de la Billiere.
The government's motive in employing de
la Billiere and Mann was not necessarily or even primarily to
earn money. By placing British appointees in key security or defense
posts, Britain could gain information, win influence, influence
policy, recruit informants and even agents. In these sensitive
operations, the enemy was not necessarily the likes of Saddam
Hussein, but rather political and commercial rivals including
France and the United States.
Toward the end of Spicer's stint in the
Special Forces directorate, Mann offered him a military contract
in Angola, which Spicer declined. Instead, he continued his military
career until early 1995, finally being employed as spokesman for
former SAS commander Gen. Michael Rose, then head of the U.N.
protection force in Bosnia. Disappointed not to have been put
in line for senior military staff jobs, Spicer retired from the
military and followed de la Billiere, who had joined the merchant
bank Foreign and Colonial, in the City of London. But Spicer was
soon ill at ease with the new job. What happened next was the
train of events that Spicer calls "this PMC project."
Like the offer of a military contract
in Angola, the "PMC project" was offered to Spicer by
his former Scots Guard colleague, Simon Mann. Mann was the scion
of a wealthy brewing family, and the fifth generation in his family
to attend Britain's top private school, Eton College. His upbringing
put him at the center of the British establishment. He could not
have been better endowed with connections in the military, diplomatic,
intelligence and financial world.
After leaving the SAS in 1985, Mann's
first commercial venture was not as a mercenary, but in the new
field of computer security. Mann joined forces with a former insurance
broker who had pioneered computer insurance and had been a manager
for Control Risks, a large and reputable risk assessment consultancy
that was founded by ex-SAS officers. They raised finance and founded
a company called Data Integrity. Mann's role was to sell new lines
of computer insurance policies against accidents and hackers.
The company did well, but not well enough for the venture capitalists
who had funded it. It began to drift, and Mann began to lose interest.
As the company wound down during 1990,
Mann's old-boy network had put him in touch with oil entrepreneur
Anthony Buckingham. Buckingham, also ex-military, has been described
in some press accounts as a former member of Britain's naval special
forces, the Special Boat Service, although the description has
never been confirmed. After working in the North Sea oil industry
as a diver, Buckingham moved into the oil industry, working initially
with Ranger Oil of Canada.
Buckingham later founded his own company,
Heritage Oil, which he ran from the modern, glass-fronted "Plaza"
building at 535 King's Road, Chelsea. A first floor suite in the
building provided offices for Buckingham's management company,
"Plaza 107" named for the number of his rented
suite, 1.07. Inside, a single receptionist handled incoming calls
to more than 18 different companies. From the Plaza suite, Buckingham,
Mann and others ran businesses that included oil, gold and diamond
mining, a chartered accountancy practice, and offshore financial
management services. To this, they would add military ground and
aviation companies. Buckingham could not be reached for comment.
In May 1993, UNITA rebels opposing the
Angolan government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos had seized
Heritage's oil installations in Soyo and shut down the oilfield.
After losing control of Soyo, the Angolan government asked for
more mercenary help. Their request was directed to Ranger Oil,
which ran Angola's offshore oilfields. The approach led Buckingham
to hire what had been up to that time an exclusively South African
mercenary group, Executive Outcomes.
According to a classified 1995 British
Defense Intelligence Staff (DIS) report, Ranger then gave Buckingham
and Mann a $30 million contract to set up a defense force. On
Sept. 7, 1993, according to the intelligence report, Mann and
Buckingham registered Executive Outcomes as a U.K. company to
run the joint venture with the South African EO. The British intelligence report on Executive Outcomes
is classified "Secret U.K. Eyes Alpha," a special security
designation indicating that it should not be given to or seen
by U.S. or any other friendly intelligence agencies. Sections
of the report are based on South African intelligence service
reports of the same era, which could have been obtained through
bilateral exchange or through secret operations.
The report stated that South African intelligence
suggested "so successful has EO [Executive Outcomes] proved
itself to be, the OAU [Organization of African Unity] may be forced
to perhaps offer EO a contract for the management of peace-keeping
continent-wide." British intelligence's assessment of the
situation also described the rise of Executive Outcome's "widespread
activities" as a "cause for concern."
Information about the real owners of Executive
Outcomes (U.K.) does not appear on British company records. According
to these public records, the owners and directors of EO were Eeben
Barlow and his wife Sue. The names of Buckingham and Mann are
not listed. Barlow was a former officer of the South African Defense
Forces (SADF), who helped found the original South African Executive
Outcomes in 1989. Barlow and his wife gave an address in Alton,
Hampshire, England. But Barlow's real location was Pretoria from
where, together with fellow ex-SADF officer Lafras Luitingh, he
directed his company's forces in their battle against UNITA. He
recruited 500 men, "mostly ex-members of the SADF special
forces," according to the intelligence report. At least 24
SADF officers were also persuaded to resign and join Executive
Outcomes. Troops were ferried to Angola from a small airport near
Although the company's primary interests
were in Angola and Sierra Leone, the British Defense Intelligence
Staff suggested that Executive Outcomes also had "involvement,"
or at least had sought contracts, widely throughout the continent,
including in Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. It also noted
the new modus operandi, which Buckingham and Mann had introduced
on joining forces with EO. "It has secured by military means
key economic installations (diamonds, oil and other mineral resources)
[and] secured for itself substantial profits and disproportionate
"It appears that the company and
its associates are able to barter their services for a large share
of an employing nation's natural resources and commodities,"
the report said, concluding that, "On present showing, EO
will become ever richer and more potent, capable of exercising
real power even to the extent of keeping military regimes in being
. [I]ts influence in sub-Saharan Africa could become crucial."
Like Executive Outcomes, the entrepreneurial
Buckingham had been gaining influence, but his area of interest
was the United Kingdom. He added corporate financial and lobbying
expertise to Plaza 107, which he had started in 1994. An experienced
financier, Michael Grunberg, resigned his partnership in a prominent
management accountancy firm and joined Buckingham's King's Road-based
network. The entrepreneur also persuaded the leader of Britain's
Liberal Party, David Steel, to become a director of Heritage Oil
and Gas. The one-time marine and diver the sort of man whom
colleagues considered as quite ready to lift his fists for a pub
brawl was gradually securing influence and access at every
level of the British establishment that counts.
Buckingham also recruited a former British
secret service "friend" that is, a former SIS
intelligence officer to support his activities that could
embarrass those establishment connections. Rupert Bowen, whose
overt career as a British diplomat in Europe and Namibia was later
identified as cover for Secret Intelligence Service work, left
his post in Namibia and joined Buckingham's growing oil and military
empire at the start of 1994. Bowen at first worked alongside a
public relations company, GJW Government Relations, which supported
Buckingham's activities, and later took a post with his Branch
Energy group. He did not officially take part in EO operations.
GJW Government Relations denied that Bowen
had ever been an employee, but conceded that their founder director
Andrew Gifford was also at that time a director of Buckingham's
Heritage Oil. Bowen could not be reached for comment.
In March 1995, Buckingham traveled to
Baghdad to attend a meeting with Safa Hadi Jawad, Iraq's oil minister.
The Iraqi government was seeking foreign partners to invest in
its oil industry once sanctions were lifted. They were offering
the inducement of stakes in some of the world's biggest oil fields.
Among the 200 oil executives who smelled fresh money in the Baghdad
air, there was no one from the United States or the United Kingdom
except Tony Buckingham. On their journey across the lobby
of the Al Rasheed Hotel, they tramped over a floor mosaic depicting
a snarling, feral image of former President George Bush. Some
stopped for photographs.
By 1995, the presence of the South African
mercenaries in Angola had made a significant impact on the war
between government and UNITA forces. Soyo and its oil installations
were recovered, and a peace protocol negotiated. Meanwhile, Buckingham
and Executive Outcomes were moving in on Sierra Leone. In May
1995, the Freetown government confidentially advised the British
and American ambassadors that the country had contracted for South
African military assistance. Subsequently, Bowen disclosed that
the government was hiring Executive Outcomes. Thus began a two-year
Executive Outcomes operation to "pacify" Sierra Leone,
which ended in February 1997.
Selling soldiers of fortune The skies
around Executive Outcomes had been darkening for some time. Though
buoyant with its military and financial success, the company had
engendered growing hostility from South Africa's new government
of national unity and in the OAU. Facing international pressure,
President Nelson Mandela ordered the enterprise shut down. Anti-mercenary
laws were passed in South Africa in 1998.
Until 1995, there was no public awareness
in Britain of the range of Buckingham's business activities and
methods, or that he had arranged and helped finance Executive
Outcomes in Angola. Then a report in Britain's Observer newspaper
in September 1995 highlighted the links between EO and Buckingham
and pointed out that British liberal politician David Steel was
a non-executive director of Buckingham's oil company. The event
was the start of trouble and publicity for the Heritage principals,
Simon Mann and Tony Buckingham. Buckingham's deal with EO began
to emerge, eventually prompting Steel to resign from Heritage.
Mann phoned Spicer, and asked him to come to a meeting with him
In October 1996, the three men met for
lunch in an Italian restaurant just off King's Road in Chelsea.
According to Spicer, Buckingham and Mann told him that they "felt
it would be better to make a fresh start" in the military
business. "It was becoming clear that EO carried a lot of
political baggage," Spicer observed. According to his autobiography,
Spicer was asked to consider taking on the project. "Tony
asked me if I would be interested in setting up the sort of organization
that has now become known as a private military company."
Buckingham and Mann's plan, as portrayed
by Spicer in his autobiography, was for Executive Outcomes was
to be rebranded, restyled, sanitized and relaunched. He does not
say explicitly that the Chelsea meeting planned to manipulate
public and political opinion by launching the PMC concept. However,
an exhaustive search of English language publications shows that
the phrase was never used in the context of mercenary operations
(and hardly used at all) until three weeks after the King's Road
lunch. Then, after four EO soldiers were captured in Northern
Angola by UNITA forces in November 1995, an Agence France Press
report described them as working for the "private military
company Executive Outcomes."
As its activities became increasingly
controversial in the mid 1990s, EO blended into Sandline International.
The companies operated from the same glitzy, glass-fronted offices
Buckingham maintained in King's Road, Chelsea. The military companies
operated interchangeably, within the premises operated by Heritage
Oil and Gas, and Branch Energy, the oil and mineral companies
run by Buckingham.
The words "private military company"
did not appear in English language publications again until 1997,
after Spicer and Buckingham had begun a new contract to support
the Papua New Guinea government to fight dissidents on the island
of Bougainville and to re-open a lucrative copper mine. The operation
was not an auspicious start for the re-branding operation.
Facing popular and local military hostility
to the operation, Spicer and his South African mercenary force
were arrested and jailed soon after they arrived. The Royal Australian
Air Force intercepted and grounded an Antonov freighter intended
by Sandline to ship helicopters and weapons to the Sandline troops.
Spicer was initially arrested for illegally importing arms, and
was detained on charges of possessing an unlicensed pistol and
40 rounds of ammunition. The charges were set aside after he agreed
to face questioning by a government commission of enquiry. He
was freed on March 27, 1997, to return to the United Kingdom.
Turning to PR professionals
Faced with another imminent downturn in
their image in the wake of the debacle in Papua New Guinea, Buckingham
and his partners turned to a leading London public relations consultant,
Sara Pearson. Pearson, 49, runs Spa Way, a public relations agency
for upmarket British retail and food stores. Her other clients
include dental clinics, fresh breath companies and hair stylists.
She claims that Spa Way is the only public
relations consultancy in Britain to "guarantee [the] pre-determined
media coverage" it will deliver, including "key messages"
and angles that journalists will take. If the tally of favorable
items does not reach the guaranteed level, the customer gets a
refund, Pearson says, noting by contrast that, "PR has, in
the past, been very wishy-washy and girly."
Pearson said that she was called in at
the last moment to assist Sandline International in "crisis
management." Spicer was already airborne, on a plane back
home to London. "I was approached by Michael Grunberg and
asked if I would manage the homecoming of Spicer," she says.
Her advice was to limit Spicer's comments and exposure to the
press as much as possible.
Asked where the term PMC had come from,
Pearson replied, "I am not entirely sure. It started to creep
into the vocabulary. At the very beginning, in the Papua New Guinea
incident it was still 'dogs of war.' Then it became 'mercenaries'
and then subsequent to the Sierra Leone business the words 'private
military company' crept into the vernacular." She had not invented it herself.
Peace and conflict researcher Owen Greene
of Bradford University in the United Kingdom recalls the phrase
gradually entering the nongovernmental organization (NGO) vocabulary
around 1997, although he had no idea where it had first been used.
"People came up with this as a brand new idea," he said.
"It was trying to find a word that gave them some respectability
a cleaner term."
It was a convenient term, Pearson agreed.
"It certainly took a lot of emotion out of the situation."
"I like it," Grunberg told ICIJ. "It sums it up
quite neatly." When asked by ICIJ, both Spicer and Grunberg
at first disavowed inventing the term. Spicer then said, "To
be honest I don't really care who coined it. It either came from
somebody or it came from us. It's a good term. I'm happy to take
the credit if you want to say I invented it. I'm not saying 'not
invented here.'" Grunberg also said the PMC term "didn't
come from within our organization [Sandline]," but then added,
"You can put it down to me if you likeI'd like to stand up
and take credit for it."
By 1997, the PMC term was being used in
discussions within the African NGO and aid community, but had
not achieved wide currency. It appeared again in press reports
of hearings before the South African Parliamentary Defense Committee,
in which Executive Outcomes' chief executive Nick van den Bergh
argued against Mandela's plan to criminalize their activities.
Despite these initiatives, when the London International Institute
of Strategic Studies held a conference on "private armies
and military intervention" on March 28, 1998, most speakers
except Spicer mainly used the language of "mercenary
companies," "private armies," "military companies"
or "foreign soldiers."
If Spicer and Executive Outcomes do not
admit that they hoped to change the English language at their
Chelsea meeting and the IISS conference, the trail is nevertheless
clear from then on. To the surprise of many attendees, Spicer
turned up and spoke at the conference. The same day, Sandline
International published a four-page "white paper" titled
"Private Military Companies Independent or Regulated."
In May 1998, Spicer used the term extensively in an opinion column
that was published in Britain's Daily Telegraph under the headline,
"Why we can help where governments fear to tread." He
told readers that Sandline and its like were "part of a wholly
new military phenomenon," modern professionals who might
even hand out "promotional literature."
If nothing else, Spicer possessed abundant
chutzpah. He was attempting to polish the image of mercenaries
while at the very nadir of his reputation. Five days after his
IISS speech, his Chelsea home and King's Road offices were raided
by British Customs agents, looking for evidence of his prohibited
arms shipments to Sierra Leone. Six days later, a documentary
aired by the British network Channel 4 launched a devastating
attack on Spicer and Buckingham's operations, providing a different
take on the "wholly new military phenomenon" of Sandline.
The documentary described the "new
kind of mercenary" as "an advanced army for commercial
interests wanting to exploit the world's mineral resources."
The program reported that "several of their engagements have
been notable for the indiscriminate nature of their attacks, in
which many civilians have been wounded and killed," concluding
that after the mercenaries went home, the countries they had helped
remained unstable and often bitterly divided and "an
awful lot poorer."
Three days after the documentary aired,
Sandline launched its Internet site. The site included a corporate
profile and the "white paper" on PMCs. Four months later,
a second Sandline "white paper" was published, entitled
"Should the Activities of Private Military Companies be Transparent?"
The image-changing campaign continued. The "white papers"
were mainly drafted by Grunberg, Sandline's financial controller.
With Grunberg and Sandline still footing
the bill, Pearson and Spa Way hired a ghost writer and published
a Spicer book to help remake his image for the new millennium.
The 1999 book, An Unorthodox Soldier, presented Spicer as the
"modern, legitimate version of the new mercenaries."
The objective of the campaign of which it was part was to obliterate
the unsavory history of Executive Outcomes and Sandline International,
and to help fight off the multiple British government and parliamentary
inquiries that were then underway, investigating whether he had
been given government approval to break the law and breach the
U.N. embargo on arms shipments to Sierra Leone. "It was an
opportunity to marshal the facts," according to Pearson,
"and to put his [Spicer's] side of the story." The book
sets out a now familiar line that PMCs were "corporate
bodies specialising in the provision of military skills to legitimate
In May 1997, Kabbah, the democratically
elected president of Sierra Leone, and his government were overthrown
in a violent coup. Sandline International shipped 35 tons of Bulgarian-made
AK47 rifles, a helicopter and provided logistical advice to help
restore Kabbah's government. The scandal erupted in the spring
of 1998, when British newspapers published photographs showing
engineers from a Royal Navy frigate docked in the capital Freetown,
helping to service Sandline's Russian-made helicopter.
Spicer claimed that Foreign Office officials
and defense intelligence staff were aware of his dealings, and
that he was given a go-ahead by the British government for the
arms shipment. Cook, the foreign secretary, denied that he or
his colleagues gave official approval. In 1998, the House of Commons
foreign affairs select committee launched an investigation, as
did the British Customs and Excise service. Eventually, the parliamentary
inquiry concluded that Peter Penfold, Britain's High Commissioner
to Sierra Leone, had given the illegal arms shipment "a degree
of approval." The affair ultimately cost Penfold his job,
and he was shifted sideways to the Department of International
Development. For his part, Penfold acknowledged that he was aware
of the shipment but did not know it was banned under the U.N.
During the controversy, Spicer circulated
an open letter to newspapers and members of Parliament, offering
to open a dialogue between Sandline and governments and NGOs.
The open letter presented Spicer's latest and most facile semantic
contrast between old-style "mercenary bands" and
modern PMCs. "Just as with ape and man, both species now
co-habit the [international military] environment," he wrote
in February 1999. Two years later and after a string of sympathetic
articles in the U.K. press, the PMC concept was so well established
that it did not occur to the British Foreign Office to use any
other term in proposing to regulate such companies.
The phrase took longer to take root in
the United States. Although Spicer had visited Virginia as early
as June 1997 for a private symposium organized by the U.S. Defense
Intelligence Agency on the "Privatization of National Security
Functions in Sub Saharan Africa," in conjunction with Military
Professional Resources Inc., an American PMC, and other U.S. corporations,
the term was only to be adopted in the United States nearly a
year after it had achieved general currency in Britain.
When the U.S. Army War College published
a thoughtful study of "The New Mercenaries and the Privatization
of Conflict" in summer 1999, the author, former U.S. Lt.
Col. Thomas K. Adams, paid no attention to Spicer's version of
political correctness. Mercenaries, he wrote, should be called
by their name "individuals or organizations that sell
their military skills outside their country of origin and as an
entrepreneur rather than as a member of a recognized military
The inquiries provoked by the Papua New
Guinea and Sierra Leone episodes and the documents they
uncovered showed decisively that Spicer's "wholly new
military phenomenon" had the resolutely traditional purpose
of securing access to Third World resources for first world principals.
What was new was the spin and the self-confidence with which it
Internal Sandline documents that were
made public were inconsistent with statements Spicer made to judges,
journalists, the public and the British Parliament about Sandline
International, Executive Outcomes and their operations. For example,
although he claimed otherwise during his public relations campaign
to burnish his industry's image, private correspondence to and
from Spicer showed that he was personally active in trying to
secure mining concessions for his principals as the price of providing
military support. As he put it in a May 1996 letter enticing Papua-New
Guinea Defense Minister Mathias Ijape with an offer to raise private
finance for the mission to put down local opposition in Bougainville,
"funds could come from private sources and it may be possible
to raise them against oil and mineral concessions and production
"Why not," he asked in the letter,
"pay [for mercenaries] by assigning [a] mine and making a
top-up cash payment?" Spicer refused to discuss individual
letters he had written but said, "I don't think there is
anything wrong in [governments] coming to a deal with someone
who is interested in minerals and that money being used for [PMC]
Wherever Sandline troops headed, it was
the natural resources of the third world whether diamonds,
gold, oil or copper on which they set their sights.
Spicer's intervention in Sierra Leone
was preceded by a March 1997 offer to Canadian diamond businessman
Rakesh Saxena to plan a "mission" into Sierra Leone
to secure Saxena's diamond mines from local disruption "in
an effective timely manner with minimum collateral damage."
Saxena is currently detained in Canada, contesting extradition
proceedings to face trial for unrelated fraud charges in Thailand.
After the 1997 Papua-New Guinea scandal
and the 1998 Sierra Leone debacle, the reputation of Sandline
went into a nosedive. Spicer's response was to seek to re-brand
himself and his profession once again.
Spicer resigned from Sandline International
at the end of 1999, but was back in the business within six months.
A week before the British-based Executive Outcomes dissolved on
May 16, 2000, Spicer created Crisis and Risk Management Ltd. In
April 2001, he changed its name to Strategic Consulting International
(SCI) Ltd. He also launched a Sandline follow-on company, Sandline
Consultancy Ltd, believing that Sandline was a "good name"
with "brand recognition." But the company never did
business. The same year, he launched a third new venture, Trident
Maritime. Trident describes itself as "an international maritime
safety and security company," and as a subsidiary of SCI.
Announcing the launch of Trident to Britain's
Financial Times in March 2001, Spicer claimed that Crisis and
Risk Management Ltd. had already advised the government of a developing
country battling against a rebel movement. Press reports later
suggested that Spicer's new job was in Nepal, training government
troops engaged against Maoist guerrillas operating in the Himalayas.
If true, it would be highly ironic since the British army has
employed Nepalese Ghurkhas renowned for the high quality
of their combat skills as part of its formal military structure
for 50 years. However, the military attaché at the Nepalese
embassy in London, whom the embassy identified only as Col. Rana,
said, "We do not know anything about that."
Strategic Consulting International is
registered in Britain at the suburban offices of the financial
advisers for Pearson's public relations agency, Spa Way. According
to the records, Spicer was not even a director of SCI; instead,
the company's only director was Pearson; its secretary was David
Hawkins, one of her financial advisers. Soon after SCI was set
up (under its original name) on June 15, 2000, the new Sandline
Sandline Consultancy Ltd. was formed with the same
directors at the same address. Spicer and Pearson each owned shares
in SCI. The company's personnel and operations, however, are as
obscure as Sandline's. Spicer's other new company, Trident, is
less obscure, listing him as a director and its operating address
next door to his home in Cheval Place, Kensington and Chelsea.
Spicer is listed as a director of Trident, together with Gilmer
Blankenship, a University of Maryland electrical engineering professor.
None of the three new companies have as yet filed legally due
accounts with Britain's Companies House, a violation for which
directors could face criminal charges. The new Sandline Consultancy
Ltd has already been dissolved because of the violation.
Pearson told ICIJ that she agreed that
the failure to file company records in time had breached British
law. She also said that the shareholdings and directorships in
SCI were incorrectly registered. "It was a shock to discover
we hadn't properly organized [our company records]," she
said. Asked if papers would be filed, she said that accounts for
the two remaining companies are "very imminent." But
she refused to say what financial revenue figures would be released.
Shortly after ICIJ interviewed Pearson,
Spicer's PMC group underwent significant changes. Pearson resigned
as a director of both companies and transferred her shareholdings
to Spicer, leaving him as the sole director.
Spicer claimed in an Oct. 8, 2002, interview
that his annual accounts for SCI, which had been due in February
2002, were filed. "If they are due, they've been filed,"
he said. He claimed that SCI had 12 full-time employees engaged
in government or defense work around the world, and had reported
revenues of "one to two million [pounds; about U.S. $1.6
million to $3.3 million]." In fact, no accounts have been
filed since the company started up two and half years ago.
Contacted by ICIJ, Hawkins, the secretary
for SCI, said he was unable to explain why the filings were late.
"I am in no way involved in the day-to-day running of the
company's affairs," he wrote. "I am not responsible
for the filing of the company accounts which is the responsibility
of the directors, and [I] have not received any communications
regarding the outstanding accounts."
Ivan Sopher, the company's accountant,
did not respond to a request for comment.
The business school PMC
Trident Maritime, which specialized in
maritime risk assessment, claimed on its Web site to have offices
and a "command center" in Washington, with plans for
a "global operational presence" through command centers
in London and Singapore. The company specializes in maritime risk
assessment. Trident's Web site offers an impressive range of sophisticated
and customized maritime safety and security packages labeled Nautilus,
Poseidon, Juno, and Neptune, all designed to curb and counter
piracy. Each combines risk assessment and insurance policies with
electronic tracking and security systems provided by another Maryland-based
corporation, Techno-Sciences Inc., run by Blankenship.
Scratch the surface of Trident's publicity,
however, and a less convincing picture emerges. Spicer, its managing
director and chief executive officer, has no naval or maritime
experience or qualifications. Trident's vice president of marketing
according to a personnel list published by Trident
is Pearson, Spicer's public relations adviser.
Pearson also has not served in the Royal
Navy or any other maritime organization. Trident's vice president
of business development, Jared Feit, graduated from the University
of Maryland with a business undergraduate degree in 2001. Feit
and the Trident team, including Spicer, competed in the university's
March 2002 "Best Business Plan" award. Spicer "came
to the meeting and stood on the stage, but he didn't do anything,"
according to Blankenship. "We lost that was really
To judge from the University of Maryland
presentation of its business, Trident might appear to be little
more than an academic exercise devised by Blankenship and his
students. Asked if the Maryland plan was the actual business plan
for Trident, Pearson said, "No, no. We never saw it. It was
something that [Blankenship] was doing with some students."
Blankenship confirmed the comment about
the business plan. "I didn't pay attention to it," he
explained. The names of the Trident "vice presidents"
presented with Spicer and Pearson were "all [students] that
Jared put on the form."
But beneath the graduate students and
the public relations professional, Trident has yet another, very
different cast of characters the traditional personnel and
patterns of the underworld of British intelligence, special forces,
and covert operations, linked by an umbilical cord to the clubby,
wealthy world of the entrepreneurs, bankers and brokers of the
City of London, the traditional milieu of mercenary and mercantile
comrades in arms.
In 2001, after the Tamil Tiger terrorist
attacks nearly destroyed the Bandaranaike International Airport
in Colombo, underwriters for Lloyd's of London recommended that
Sri Lankan government hire Trident to conduct a full security
review of its airport and seaports, and implement its recommendations.
It was one of only two contracts that Trident won, according to
Blankenship. Spicer's proposal for the security survey, submitted
to Colombo in August 2001, showed what his end of Trident consisted
Excluding Spicer and a professional photographer,
the majority of the 15 names on his personnel list were retired
British Special Forces and intelligence officers. The most prominent
among them was Harry Ditmus, described as the British government's
"former co-ordinator of transport security." A fuller
profile would have identified "Hal" Doyne-Ditmus, CB
(Commander of the Bath) as a senior career intelligence officer
with Britain's ultra-secretive internal Security Service, conventionally
known as MI5. After serving as assistant director of MI5, Doyne-Ditmus
was posted to Belfast, Northern Ireland in the mid 1980s to serve
as the U.K. government's director and coordinator of intelligence
at the height of its 20-year battle with the Irish Republican
Two were specifically identified as covert
intelligence operators: John Wilson, QGM (Queen's Gallantry Medal),
as a "methods of entry expert" and Tom Lockhart, QGM,
QCVS (Queens Commendation for Valuable Service) as a "U.K.
Special Forces surveillance and technical surveillance expert."
Four of the team were described as having had more than 30 years
service with Special Forces.
Also on Spicer's list was Mike Coldrick,
a highly decorated army and police bomb disposal expert, and a
one-time official of the Special Forces Club, the exclusive private
club for British and Allied intelligence and special forces operatives
and veterans. The names, said Spicer, were drawn from his database
run by SCI. They were "a network of . people who are recommended
by word of mouth."
"You tend to know who's who,"
he said, "there is an informal network of people who know
each other and have worked with you [or] have served together
in the armed forces." The Trident list did not include students
or staff from the University of Maryland.
After an initial survey of Sri Lankan
ports in 2001, Spicer and members of his Trident team returned
to Colombo on Jan. 21, 2002, to check on security enhancements
part of a long-term program aimed at "gradually phasing
out the war risk premium." Although the Sri Lankan government
seemed unaware of his checkered past, British diplomats had not
forgotten that his Sierra Leone sanctions-busting episode had
cost Penfold, the British representative to Sierra Leone, his
career. Coincidentally, as Spicer arrived that January Monday
morning, a British diplomatic party was also present at the airport
to meet a visiting official. Spicer appeared embarrassed. According
to one of the British officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
Spicer "hid behind a pillar" in the forlorn hope of
not being seen.
Six weeks later, Spicer seemed less reticent
when he spoke to reporters for Lloyd's List, the daily newspaper
of the insurance industry. The paper was told that the London
War Risks Committee were "set to lift a war-risk surcharge
on vessels trading to Sri Lanka, following a security audit of
the country's ports by a leading British private military company
the new measures to ensure port and airport safety have been drawn
up by security firm Trident, led by Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, the man
at the center of the so-called 'arms to Africa' affair...
"Lt. Col. Spicer said the review,
which involved the efforts of about 20 people, took several months
to complete and act upon, although the work was delayed by a general
election and subsequent change of government," the paper
"I would say (Sri Lanka) is now as
safe as anywhere in the region, and safer than some," Spicer
boasted to the paper.
The Spicer-inspired report neglected to
mention that in late in February 2002, a Norwegian-led peace initiative
had resulted in the first ceasefire in eight years between the
Tamil Tigers and the Colombo government. On March 1, 2002, Sri
Lanka's prime minister told a press conference that the ceasefire
had led Lloyd's to agree to drop the surcharges.
Out in the open The press release and
onboard PR adviser have become tools of the PMCs, as have public
relations generally. SCI, Trident and Sandline, like many of their
U.S. and British counterparts, no longer operate in total darkness.
Each company has established elaborate, even flashy Internet sites.
The sites are long on capabilities and moral principles, short
on details of their failed operations. Sandline International's
Web site stipulates "the company only accepts projects which
would improve the state of security, stability and general conditions
in client countries." To this end, Sandline added, "the
company will only undertake projects which are for internationally
recognised governments" governments that are "preferably
Prospective clients are told in brochures
and presentations that "Sandline policy is to only work with
internationally recognised governments or legitimate international
bodies such as the U.N." This was a key "operating principle"
for the new age mercenaries. In an article for Britain's Daily
Telegraph in May 1998 Spicer wrote, "At Sandline, we maintain
a strict, self-imposed code of conduct. We will only work for
legitimate governments, those recognised by the U.N. We then apply
our own moral template."
The template was firm. "The real
problem comes when you get to a country where the insurgents are
in the right. We can't work for them because if we did we would
be helping to overthrow recognized governments," he wrote.
Spicer's position appears now to have changed. On publicizing
his new companies in 2001, Spicer told the Financial Times that
SCI "would look carefully on a case-by-case basis at working
for liberation movements in overseas countries," the paper
reported. Asked at a conference in 2002 on "Europe and America
a New Strategic Partnership Future Defense and Industrial
Relations," sponsored by the prestigious Royal Institute
of International Affairs, how he would resolve his contradictory
pronouncements, Spicer replied:
"I don't think anyone would object
if a private military company, American, British or whatever
was to become involved at the behest of the international community
with the Iraqi resistance. I don't think people would have objected
if a PMC was working with the Northern Alliance. Other countries,
it's more complicated. Sudan is a complicated issue. I suppose
the question of Zimbabwe has been raised, but it's not at that
stage yet. So I would duck that particular
question at the moment."
Asked how he reconciled this with his
1998 position that he could not work for a resistance movement
even in "a country where the insurgents are in the right,"
Spicer did not answer.
Plainly, there was business to be had
in supporting the right sort of rebels, as seen from Washington
or London. Other British companies employing former SAS members
were hired in Afghanistan to assist the mujaheedin in the 1980s,
and in the 1990s were contracted to train members of the Kosovo
Liberation Army, which opposed Serbian forces in the troubled
Yugoslav province of Kosovo.
Spicer's post-Sierra Leone public relations
campaign has also loudly beat the drum for "total transparency"
of mercenary companies, in the hope of seeing the United Kingdom
and Europe introduce licensing regimes that might allow them official
recognition. Spicer told the Financial Times in 2001 that SCI
was to be a different sort of business. "One that is totally
transparent, registered in the U.K. with nothing to hide overseas."
But Spicer's commitment to "total
transparency" is unconvincing. During the Papua New Guinea
judicial inquiry into the Bougainville affair, for example, Judge
Warwick Andrew commented that Spicer's claim that Sandline Holdings,
set up for the Papua New Guinea operation, was entirely separate
from Executive Outcomes "cannot be true, but the exact nature
of their relationship seems clouded behind a web of interlocking
companies whose ownership is difficult to trace." Further,
Andrew made no distinction between the South African and British
incarnations of Executive Outcomes. From the beginning, Spicer
offered inaccurate statements about what Sandline was, who had
created and backed it, and whether it was linked to Executive
He told journalists, judges and parliamentarians
that "we [Sandline and Executive Outcomes] are completely
separate organizations who operate our own businesses We don't
have a corporate relationship." He and Buckingham made similar
statements when asked about the links between the mercenary companies
and the associated Heritage Oil, Branch Energy and DiamondWorks
companies, in all of which Buckingham has a substantial interest.
He told the British parliamentary inquiry that he didn't know
who owned the company (Sandline International) for which he was
prepared to risk his life.
Andrew dismissed some statements by Spicer
as evasions. "The controllers of Sandline International are
obviously Mr. Buckingham, Mr. Grunberg" a director,
as is Buckingham, of Canadian company DiamondWorks "and
at least to some extent Mr. Spicer. There is a strong inference
that Sandline Holdings Limited may be something of a joint venture
between the interests of Mr. Buckingham and the interests of Mr.
Barlow and Executive Outcomes."
Internal documents from the King's Road
offices and documents inspected during inquiries into Sandline
confirmed the judge's observations. A July 1996 memo circulated
inside King's Road about a BBC news broadcast on Sierra Leone
referred to "SL/EO" as a single entity. The note was
sent to Buckingham, Mann, Spicer and others, on the notepaper
of Buckingham's umbrella company, Plaza 107. An August 1996 letter
sent by Spicer to Rilwanu Lukamn, the general secretary of Organization
of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, records a meeting with Spicer
accompanied by "my colleagues from Heritage Oil." A
brochure accompanying the letter identified Sandline as "part
of a group of companies which includes Heritage Oil and Gas and
A November 1996 memorandum from Buckingham
announced the appointment of retired U.S. Special Forces Col.
Bernie McCabe as director for the Americas. His task was "to
develop Sandline business, and exploit opportunities for other
group companies where appropriate in North, Central, and South
America. He is also to develop our image/contacts with U.S. government
agencies." The memorandum was copied to Spicer, Mann and
Grunberg of Sandline, and also to Barlow, Luitingh and van den
Bergh, the South African contingent of Executive Outcomes.
Documents found by the Papua New Guinea
commission of inquiry unearthed a similar pattern. The commission
located a Hong Kong bank account in the name of Sandline Holdings.
The signatories were Mann, Buckingham, Luitingh and Barlow.
Sandline International still exists, its
Web site was updated as recently as August 2002 with new information
and reports on the campaign to license PMCs. Buckingham has moved
his network to new offices a short distance away at Harbour Yard,
Chelsea Harbour. His modern, glass fronted and terraced suite
offices overlook a yacht basin and marina.
The true owners and directors of Sandline
International remain hidden. But the key players remain the same.
At a British conference held in June to discuss possible new laws
affecting PMCs, Sandline International's delegates were two of
the original South African Executive Outcomes leaders, van den
Bergh and Luitingh. The third was Buckingham's financial director,
Grunberg. Spicer, who has not been part of the Executive Outcomes/Sandline
International operation since 1999, attended separately.
Their presence confirmed that the core
of the old Executive Outcomes was still in being. Under new names,
the group is still believed to be involved in protecting Buckingham's
diamond, mineral and oil assets in Sierra Leone and Angola.
Sandline International continues to employ
South African and other mercenaries in a range of African countries.
Although the company dislikes discussing current clients, Grunberg,
the Sandline financial adviser, told ICIJ that the company had
considered new business in the Ivory Coast, Sudan and Liberia.
Meanwhile, the larger business of private intervention in wars
appears to have died down. Although Spicer has continued to lobby
for his companies' stake in the new age of PMCs, inquiries suggest
that most of the work now available in Britain is being taken
by his less controversial but larger rivals, ArmorGroup Services
(formerly Defence Systems Ltd) and Saladin Security network. According
to some sources, in an ironic post-Cold War spin on events, the
British ex-SAS companies have been contracted to provide perimeter
security defenses for vulnerable Russian nuclear weapons sites.
A successful outcome?
The public relations campaign may have
finally paid off. In February 2002, the British Foreign Office
published a long-delayed response to parliamentary criticism of
Spicer and the mercenary trade. The conclusion of the British
government's "green" paper essentially, a proposal
for legislation on "Private Military Companies: Options
for Regulation" was almost all that Spicer had wanted. The
government opined that PMCs should be legalized and licensed.
Spicer told his business colleague Professor Blankenship (inaccurately)
that "the British government has changed the law on private
military companies," calling it "a significant event,"
according to Blankenship.
Spicer's record of sanctions-busting and
political embarrassment seemed to have been forgotten. He had
welcomed television appearances since leaving Sandline.
"But only serious comment [shows],"
his PR adviser, Pearson said. Spicer appeared again on a BBC current
affairs show in February 2002 to discuss the green paper on private
soldiers, looking pleased and dubbing himself the "proper
end of the spectrum." A week later, speaking on Feb. 19 at
the Royal Institute of International Affairs conference at Chatham
House, Spicer told the international audience that he welcomed
the government's proposal to license private military companies.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw,
whose immediate predecessor, Robin Cook, had been humiliated by
Spicer's conduct, was now toeing the PMC line. Straw announced
"states and international organizations are turning to the
private sector as a cost effective way of procuring services which
would once have been the exclusive preserve of the military."
Straw prophesied that "the demand
for private military services is likely to increase. The cost
of employing private military companies for certain functions
in U.N. operations could be much lower than that of national armed
forces." But he added, "clearly there are many pitfalls."
There were pitfalls in such proposals
and the British Foreign Office's green paper had ignored
nearly all of them. The conclusions the foreign secretary so readily
endorsed drew nothing from British diplomatic expertise or private
knowledge of (or involvement with) mercenary companies. Instead,
it relied on such unofficial sources as a recently published book,
Mercenaries: an African Security Dilemma, edited by Abdel-Fatau
Musah and J'Kayode Fayemi. The British government paper also failed
to mention that the Foreign Office, itself, had hired bodyguards
for more than 20 years from companies that also promoted and provided
mercenary activities around the world. Nor did it say that some
of these companies had been and were being employed by U.S. and
British intelligence agencies for secret operations in Nicaragua,
Afghanistan and Kosovo or that the explicit political purpose
of doing so was official deniability.
But to Spicer, it must have seemed that
his transformation to respectability was complete. Within two
years of his book, his image had been transformed from law-breaking
buccaneer to respectable commentator, a minor celebrity to include
in chat shows and TV quizzes. Less than five years after the debacles
in Africa and the South Pacific, while speaking to a conference
on military cooperation, Spicer seemed confident that the British
establishment had been won over. He enthusiastically endorsed
the future role of mercenary companies and stated that the world
was waiting for "the speed and flexibility with which they
[PMCs] can deploy rather than wait for the U.N. to form
But just as his PR initiatives for PMCs
seemed to have succeeded, Spicer's new PMCs set up since he left
Sandline faltered or fell. Sandline Consultancy Ltd. was dissolved
by official order on March 26, 2002, having failed to file documents.
Spicer's second new company Strategic Consulting has withdrawn
almost all of its Web site, replacing it with a single message
"for further details contact SCI," giving phone and
fax numbers, but no address. His co-director and fellow shareholder
Pearson has sold out and left the company.
His third new company, Trident Maritime,
which continues to boast on its Web site of its network of global
command centers, has also "failed," according to co-director
Blankenship. "It has closed," the University of Maryland
professor said, "we've had to stop the operation just in
the last couple of weeks [Trident] is essentially out of business."
Spicer said that his U.S. partners in Trident have, like Pearson,
disinvested in the company, and have turned their shares over
to him. He claimed that he was "restructuring the company"
and planned to carry on in the maritime security business.
"It wasn't managed particularly well
that's pretty much why the company failed," Blankenship
said of Trident's troubles. "All we ever really did was install
some recording equipment on two ships in effect prototypes.
We did training for some ship companies, but nothing interesting,
[and] security audits of ports in two countries. That's the sum
Questioned in the summer of 2002 by members
of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee about the private
military companies used by the British government, the government
refused to provide information, even about security guards, on
the basis that records were "managed locally and details
are not held centrally." The committee found this excuse
"unacceptable" and asked the government to "take
immediate steps to collect such information and to update it regularly."
The moral dilemma of addressing what to
do about mercenaries in a democracy when they have been integral
to secret and unaccountable foreign policy activities was one
the British government was unwilling even to acknowledge. These
difficulties were set aside in favor of debating the superficial
merits of the PMC campaign for legal recognition that Spicer and
Sandline International had promulgated, and which had focused
almost entirely on reviewing the Papua-New Guinea, Sierra Leone
and Angola engagements.
United Nations workers and the NGO community
do not feel so enthusiastic about the work of Executive Outcomes
or PMCs as the British government or Spicer. In October 1999,
the British government's Department for International Development
backed a high-level conference to discuss the issues. Sandline
and its supporters were excluded. Speaking particularly about
Sierra Leone, Lord Judd, head of the aid organization International
Alert told attendees, "From our perspective, the presence
of external actors, who were able to sell their military wares
to the warring factions, was one of the main stumbling blocks
in forwarding the peace process. [T]hose that fight for financial
gain are an anathema to much of what we strive for."