(Promoted from the diaries by Steven D. I love diaries that provide context to a story so frequently left out of the initial reports by the mainstream print media, and this is a great example of one that does just that.)

My ears pricked up when I was watching a piece on CNN about videos on the web that allegedly show “security contractors” in Iraq shooting at civilian vehicles. The name “Aegis Defence Serices Ltd” rang a bell. The Washington Post piece describes the controvesy over the video but fails to give any detailed background on them.

So who are “Aegis”? For a contractor to an operation that purports to be to “spread freedom” and promote “Liberdy”(sic) the answer is quite surprising. On the other hand those with suspicions about the true motives of the Bush administration in Iraq may find some of their prejudices confirmed.

Aegis is actually fairly well documented. It’s darkest hour was when a flight organised by a former colleague of its Chief Executive was grounded in Harare, Zimbabwe. The subsequent trials into the funding of this flight in South Africa led to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark being convicted and afterwards banned from re-entering the USA with his family.

The Chief Executive of Aegis is one Lt Col Tim Spicer. Indymedia UK gives some information on him which I have slightly cut and reformatted for clarity.

Spicer was head of an army unit in Northern Ireland that shot and killed a 19-year-old west Belfast teenager. Two soldiers were later convicted of murder, despite protests by Spicer. The two were the only British soldiers ever to be convicted of murder for
an on-duty killing in Northern Ireland.


An inquiry by the British parliament into Sandline, Aegis head Tim Spicer’s former firm, determined that the company had shipped guns to Sierra Leone in 1998 in violation of a UN arms embargo. Sandline’s position was that it had approval from the British government, although British ministers were cleared by the inquiry. Spicer resigned from Sandline in 2000 and incorporated Aegis in 2002.

As you might suspect this was not a prinicpled resignation by an executive unaware of what his minions has been planning. Rather it was so that Spicer could have an untainted name to use to contiune his business within a complex web of companies which are often merely the covers for individual former senior officers now selling their killing skills to the highest bidder. These companies recruit their active mercenaries from the ranks of those leaving the British Army at the end of their service. The worrying implication of this is that these recruits are unable to function in civilian life and miss the excitement of toting a gun among the “wogs”. Spicer’s record of “supporting his boys” in the Northern Ireland murders bodes ill for his diligence in investigating the allegations about the Iraq videos.

Sandline’s downfall started in Papua New Guinea. The Wikipedia entry describes it in full (though somewhat confusingly at times). Opposition forces had taken over Bouganville, an island with an important copper mine. Wikipedia goes on as follows. I have reproduced is as some of the names are going to crop up again.

[D]efence minister, Mathias Ijape, requested logistical assistance from Australia and New Zealand, in preparation for an assault on the island. However, both nations refused to provide any military assistance. The decision was then made to investigate the use of mercenaries. Through some overseas contacts, Ijape was put in contact with Tim Spicer OBE, an ex-Colonel in the Scots Guards, who had recently founded Sandline International, a company specialising in providing mercenaries to participate in conflicts.

Spicer attempted to persuade the head of the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces (PNGDF), Jerry Singirok, to support the purchase of a package of military equipment that he had previously discussed with Ijape. Singirok dismissed the idea, and concentrated on proceeding with a planned assault on the island, codenamed “Operation High Speed II”. However, the operation was a dismal failure, and within six days, Papuan forces had retreated from the island.

Later that year, Spicer met Chris Haiveta, the Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, and convinced him of the benefits of using Sandline mercenaries to end the Bougainville conflict permanently, neutralise the Bougainville Resistance Army, and reopen the controversial copper mine at Panguna. While Singirok still refused to deal with Spicer, Haiveta invited him to visit the country and make an assessment of the situation. He did so in December 1996, and received US$250,000 as a result. He estimated that Sandline mercenaries could do the job for a total of US$36 million.

Spicer attempted to persuade the head of the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces (PNGDF), Jerry Singirok, to support the purchase of a package of military equipment that he had previously discussed with Ijape. Singirok dismissed the idea, and concentrated on proceeding with a planned assault on the island, codenamed “Operation High Speed II”. However, the operation was a dismal failure, and within six days, Papuan forces had retreated from the island.

On January 8, 1997, Tim Spicer had his first meeting with Prime Minister Chan. Spicer succeeded in convincing Chan that Sandline could assist in retaking Bougainville before the upcoming elections. They agreed that Sandline would provide 40 special forces personnel to fight alongside PNGDF personnel. The US$36 million was never voted upon by the full Cabinet of Parliament, but instead by the secretive National Security Council. Half was to be paid up front, with the other half to follow after completion of the mission. The money came from cutbacks to a number of ministries, including the education and health departments.

Sandline had subcontracted most of its crew for the Bougainville mission through Executive Outcomes, a South African mercenary provider. The first mercenaries arrived on an Air Niugini flight from Singapore on February 7, 1997. After a week, a total of 44 had arrived. In the meantime, a series of meetings were undertaken between Deputy Prime Minister Haiveta, Tim Spicer, and several other figures, with regard to buying out CRA’s stake in Bougainville Copper Limited, the owner of the Panguna mine, which was at the heart of the Bougainville conflict. On 19 February 1997, Prime Minister Chan mentioned to Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that Papua New Guinea was bringing in mercenaries for “training purposes”. Downer condemned the move, and was particularly opposed to their use on Bougainville. On February 10, the move was leaked to The Australian newspaper.

After protests and a new army revolt the coup failed and the Prime Minister replaced. You well wonder why anybody else would entrust “security operations” to Spicer but he seems to have a remarkable ability to convice others of his competence.

In 1998 Sandline attempted to smuggle arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a UN arms embargo. A UK parliamentary investigation later found that officials had been incompetent at worse. The affair blew apart the “ethical foreign policy” of the then new Blair government. The BBC reported:

Foreign Office officials have been accused of a “total failure” in the handling of the arms-to-Africa affair.

The attack came as the powerful foreign affairs committee of MPs cross examined top diplomat Sir John Kerr for the fifth time on the breaking of the weapons embargo on Sierra Leone earlier this year.

Officials and ministers have already been cleared by an independent inquiry of conniving in the breaking of the sanctions by mercenary group Sandline International.

But High Commissioner Peter Penfold was found to have given the illegal arms shipment “a degree of approval”.

He has insisted he believed the UN sanctions only applied to the military junta in the country and not the democratic government-in-exile which ministers wanted re-established in power.

And, during the latest session of the committee, MPs claimed foreign office officials had totally failed in their duty to inform Mr Penfold that the embargo applied to the entire country, not just the junta.

Pratap Chatterjee of Corporate Watch continues Spicer’s story in his excellent background piece on the Iraq contract. in which we get to meet many of the current players in Aegis.

 In 2000, Spicer left Sandline’s offices in Chelsea to set up another company, Strategic Consulting International (SCI) in Knightsbridge, where he offered advice to governments and shipping companies on the threat from international terrorism. He eventually changed the name of this company to Trident Maritime and moved offices once again, to his current location in Piccadilly.

At first things didn’t go too well. Spicer had Sara Pearson, his publicist, register SCI at her office, which got them into hot water when the media discovered that the shareholdings and directorships were incorrectly registered and that no accounts had been filed. “It was a shock to discover we hadn’t properly organized [our company records],” Pearson later told Duncan Campbell, a British investigative journalist.

Likewise, Trident’s original business plan was drawn up for Spicer by a group of students at the University of Maryland, who were named as vice-presidents of the company, in exchange for an agreement to allow them to submit the plan as a college competition, which they subsequently lost.

After these initial management problems, Spicer slowly created a more respectable image. He won a contract from insurers Lloyds of London to engage in a security audit of the Sri Lankan defence system, after the Tamil Tiger rebel group practically destroyed the international airport in July 2001. After giving the government a clean bill of health, Spicer started to get more work in the shipping industry.

In 2002, Spicer was approached by Per Christiansen, a Norwegian shipping expert who was director of Hudson Maritime, a 16-year-old company that did emergency response to crises like the Exxon Valdez oil spill. New Jersey-based Hudson had just won a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security to review security at ports around the country.

“Some people in the insurance business in London gave me Spicer’s name,” recalled Christiansen. “I knew he had a rather colorful reputation but he knows the sharp end of security, so we set up a joint venture together.”

Spicer brought with him an old friend who had fought beside him in the Falklands War, Mark Bullough, who had spent the past decade in India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, working for Jardine Fleming, a Hong Kong-based investment bank.

“I can recall Mark and me liberating a bottle of champagne and drinking it by the sea wall and then getting into a slight confrontation with a staff officer,” Spicer wrote in his autobiography, recalling the day after the British routed the Argentine army in the Falklands in 1982.

After the Falklands War, Bullough had left the British Army to work in banking. He ran an office for Jardine Fleming in Bombay for five years, where the government had just opened up the financial markets on Dalal Street (the Indian equivalent of Wall Street) to foreign banks. Even in the financial business, Bullough maintained his reputation for being unorthodox. Traders in Bombay were astonished to see the head of this distinguished international bank arrive for work on a motorbike.

Bullough brought with him another well-respected researcher from the banking business, Dominic Armstrong, who had worked for him at Jardine. “It’s fantastic energy working with Spicer–he’s a tremendous doer,” Armstrong said. “Of course, he does have his reputation, but frankly I find all that irritating. We are a very commercial and diverse enterprise today working in many different sectors from the food business to marine security.”

With the Hudson Trident venture off to a flying start, Spicer and Bullough established Aegis, a more secretive business, based in the same building with the same phone numbers, to provide private military support services. A fourth man, Jeffrey Day, who bankrolled the operation, joined them as chief financial officer.

To beef up the security side of matters, the four Aegis partners hired Major General Jeremy Phipps, another ex-SAS man who was once well known for leading a daring rescue of hostages at the Iranian embassy in London in 1980. He was later disgraced for his failure to stamp out corruption at London’s prestigious Jockey Club, to which many members of the Royal family belong and by which Phipps was employed.

To counter any negative publicity, they brought in a high-level public relations consultant Sara Pearson, who had helped Spicer on both the Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone scandals. Pearson has her own press outfit called the SPA Way, which works for up-market British retail and food stores. Her other clients include dental clinics, fresh breath companies and hair stylists.

Previously, Pearson had hired a ghost writer to help remake Spicer’s image for the new millennium after the two disastrous Sandline events. Spicer’s 1999 autobiography, An Unorthodox Soldier, presented him as the “modern, legitimate version of the new mercenaries.”

Events in 2004 show Spicer’s friends’ interest in Africa and mineral resources continued. This time it was a country with large untapped oil reserves. Once again, the planned operation was notable by its lack of success.

In March, Zimbabwean police in Harare impounded a plane which flew in from South Africa with 64 alleged mercenaries on board.

The group said they were providing security for a mine in Democratic Republic of Congo, but a couple of days later an Equatorial Guinean minister said they had detained 15 more men who were the advance party for the group captured in Zimbabwe.

Nick du Toit, the leader of the group of South Africans and Armenians in Equatorial Guinea, said at his trial in Equatorial Guinea that he was playing a limited role in a coup bid.

He told the court he was recruited by Simon Mann, the alleged leader of the group held in Zimbabwe, and that he was helping with recruitment, acquiring weapons and logistics for the attempt. He says he was told they were trying to install an exiled opposition politician, Severo Moto, as head.

Moto was sentenced to a long prison term in absentia for his role.

In September, Mann was sentenced to seven years in jail in Zimbabwe after being convicted of illegally trying to buy weapons. This has since been reduced to four years, his lawyer says. Others arrested with him were acquitted of any links to a suspected coup attempt after magistrates said prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

The Guardian explains who Mann is and how he came to reveal Mark Thatcher’s involvement.

 As well as being an old Etonian, he is a former member of the SAS, head of a firm of mercenaries [Executive Outcomes, Sandline’s sub-contractor in Papua New Guinea], and a neighbour of Sir Mark Thatcher in the exclusive Cape Town suburb of Constantia. The 51-year old is now on trial.

In a letter from prison on March 31, Mr Mann told his wife, Amanda, and his legal team: “Our situation is not good and it is very URGENT. They [the lawyers] get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher [who] asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over!

“We need heavy influence of the sort that … Smelly, Scratcher … David Hart and it needs to be used heavily and now. Once we get into a real trial scenario we are fucked.”

“Scratcher” is thought to be Sir Mark and “Smelly” Ely Calil, the Chelsea-based oil billionaire accused by Equatorial Guinea of helping to organise the coup. Mr Calil has denied any involvement. David Hart was Mrs Thatcher’s unofficial adviser during the miners’ strike and served as special adviser to Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind in subsequent Tory administrations.

Another name now linked to the case is Lady Thatcher’s former spin doctor, Tim Bell, who is now “advising” Mr Mann’s friends. Lord Bell has said that as far as he was aware neither Sir Mark nor Mr Hart were involved in the alleged coup

Thatcher was arrested in South Africa and charged under their laws permitting the prosecution of those who plot such coups. This led to the breakdown of his marriage as the BBC reported:

The couple, who met in the US, moved with their children to South Africa in 1995, but their life was turned upside down last year when Sir Mark was arrested and detained.

In January this year, Sir Mark, 52, pleaded guilty to unwittingly funding the purchase of an aircraft which was allegedly to be used by the mercenaries, but he denied any involvement in the alleged coup attempt.

He was fined the equivalent of US$500,000 (£265,000) and given a four-year suspended jail term.

His wife returned to the US with the couple’s children. Sir Mark planned to join them, but his visa renewal application was rejected in April.


He married Diane Burgdorf, the daughter of a millionaire Texas car dealer, in 1987 after meeting at a party in Dallas while Sir Mark was working as a representative for Lotus cars [A job he is thought to have got by the influence of his mother after he got lost in the Sahara during a rally and had to be rescued]

The Guardian reported at the end of 2004

Britain’s most notorious mercenary, Colonel Tim Spicer, was called into the Foreign Office to discuss the alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea more than a month before the illegal putsch attempt, The Observer can reveal today.

Spicer was quizzed by a senior Foreign Office official in early February, after the government received intelligence reports on 29 January detailing preparations for the planned coup in the oil-rich west African state. The reports specifically mentioned a British military firm formerly connected to Spicer.[Sandline we wonder?]

The former Scots Guards officer told officials he had no knowledge of any plans to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang. The disclosure that Straw had seen intelligence naming a British company in relation to the illegal coup is in marked contrast to the original categorical assertions by his officials that the government had no prior knowledge of the plans

This reluctance to thoroughly investigate Spicer might be down to the Foreign Office being criticised for its incompetence during the Sierra Leone affair. He also has powerful friends on the
Aegis board,
some of who we have met before. The board also inclues General Sir Roger Wheeler, former UK Chief of the General Staff; Sir John Birch, former UK Ambassador to the UN and Nicholas “Fatty” Soames, Conservative MP and grandson of Winston Churchill.

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