By the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
ICI brings an unorthodox approach to the conflicts of the third world. For a start, its pilots fly in Russian helicopters and use Russian crew. One former ICI employee described the Russian Mi-8 helicopters as “damn ugly, but they’re tough as woodpecker lips – they fly and they keep flying.” ICI – whose Web site boasts that the company was the “1998 U.S. Dept. of State Small Business Contractor of the Year” – also has been supporting a U.S. military training program in Nigeria. In addition, the ICI Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Boquist, developed a medical training program under U.S.-government auspices in southern Sudan, where Washington has pumped in at least $13 million in recent years in support of the rebel opposition. (DynCorp is another key contractor in southern Sudan.) That a small company like ICI has been involved in so many operations is indicative of the changing nature of war. The lean military of the new millennium cannot be everywhere at once, so contractors fill in the gaps. That need grew exponentially when the Bush administration responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with its war on terrorism.
The increasing scope of the war has led to a bonanza for PMCs. For example, ArmorGroup, the services arm of Armor Holdings, was hired by the British government to provide security for British embassies around the world after a diplomat was killed in a bombing believed related to the al Qaeda network. Kellogg Brown & Root has built camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for U.S. detainees and is providing logistical support for U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan. MPRI says it is supporting homeland security in the United States and hopes to be hired to train the newly constituted Afghan army.
Many worry, however, that the inadequate oversight system now in place will never be able to keep up with the sheer volume and geographical spread of the hundreds of Pentagon contracts being issued. The May 2002 GAO report predicted that weak oversight would remain a problem. “With the involvement of contractors in the efforts to combat terrorism, the potential exists for a similar condition (as in the Balkans) in Afghanistan and the surrounding area.” At the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the agency has begun a review of the oversight of defense contractors in deployment missions worldwide. That report is due out in mid-2003.
3. Marketing the New 'Dogs of War' <!--
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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 military company.”
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 Johannesburg.
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 regional influence.” “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.
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