|News and opinions on situation in Iraq|
|30/6/04||The Aegis contract and the El Dorado of private security contracting in Iraq Translated by Mark Jensen|
The spectacular development of private military contractors in Iraq and their integration into the U.S. military machine are proceeding apace, but with but scant attention from mainstream corporate media. — This article, published in Le Monde on Jul. 1, focuses on the recent award of an important $293-million contract to the British firm Aegis Defense Services (founded by the legendary Tim Spicer) to coordinate U.S., British, and private military contractors in Iraq — a decision made at the highest levels of the U.S. govenrment, infuriating American military contractors…
[Translated from Le Monde (Paris)]
THE IRRESISTIBLE RISE OF LIEUTENANT COLONEL TIM SPICER IN BAGHDAD'S PRIVATE SECURITY EL DORADO
** At least there are some people for whom Iraq is an El Dorado. A Promised Land. While Iraqis and Americans are caught in a cycle of violence, political mistakes, and impasses, an army that doesn't call itself an army is weaving its web. **
Le Monde (Paris)
Private security companies are said to have about 20,000 “soldiers” in Iraq, paid five to twenty times as much as military personnel in the national armies.
One deal is causing quite a stir these days in private security circles in Baghdad. The British company Aegis Defense Services has just signed a $293-million contract to replace the Program Management Office (PMO) of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which was dissolved on Monday, June 28, after the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government.
According to a consultant to an American company, Aegis's job will be “to coordinate security contractors' operations, supervise the exchange of military and civilian information between the American and British armies and the private companies and, no doubt, set up a rapid reaction force to help the private companies.” Military information, military response capability: thanks to this contract signed with the Pentagon and with the blessing of the Iraqi government, Aegis is in a good position to become, to the great displeasure of the big American companies, the most powerful private military contractor in the world.
Aegis has come a long way. What especially annoys its competitors is that the company has still not worked a day in Iraq. Its boss, Tim Spicer, is an extremely controversial and colorful character in London, though he also enjoys the confidence of the British government and secret services.
THE ELITE OF THE ARMY
Tim Spicer is an ex-soldier from the Scots Guards, an elite unit of the British Army, a veteran of Northern Ireland and the Falklands, who also served in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where during the war he loved to sneak up to the summit of Mount Igman, overlooking Sarajevo, with former SAS [Note: Special Air Service is “one of the best known special forces organizations in the world. It is a small, elite section of the British Armed Forces. It is highly trained in 'insertion behind enemy line' tactics, such as employed in the Falklands conflict and the Gulf war. As with other organisations (such as MI5) searching for new roles, it is also highly trained in counter terrorist situations. Most famously demonstrated to the world at Princes Gate, the Iranian Embassy seige. Their motto is 'Who Dares Wins.'” –M.J.] head Michael Rose and a few other choice companions, and drink a bottle of good Chablis. A lieutenant colonel on his departure from the army, he is one of the first in Europe who grasped that the sun was setting on classic mercenaries of the Cold War. So he created the company Sandline International, which, as he said at the time, “only works for legitimate governments, never does anything illegal, never acts against the foreign policies of the Western powers, adopts for itself the highest military standards, and respects the laws of war and humanitarian law.”
But Sandline encountered one setback after another. First, at the military level, in Papua New Guinea, Spicer was taken prisoner after a failed attempt at a coup d'état — a scrape he got out of through a ridiculous trial, thanks to support from London. Then there was political setback in Sierra Leone when, after having delivered arms and men to the democratically elected president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who had been deposed by a military coup (”I was on the side of the good guys, not the bad guys,” Spicer said at the time), the reputation of the British government came to be tarnished in a serious scandal when the press discovered that the contract violated a U.N. resolution imposing a military embargo.
So Tim Spicer dissolved Sandline and disappeared for a time from the military-political stage, creating other companies — Strategic Consulting International, Trident Maritime — that made fortunes from risk analysis. His customers, maritime transport and insurance companies, including the famous Lloyds, were most respectable.
The creation of Aegis in 2002 announced the return of Tim Spicer to activities that are more secretive, or “unorthodox,” to use his favorite expression, used in the title of his autobiography, An Unorthodox Soldier. In less than two years, Aegis is entering the field of private military contractors with a huge splash. Those inclined to believe legends mention the talent and charm for which Tim Spicer, an extraordinary negotiator, is known. Others are more pragmatic. The Iraqi contract is said to have been obtained, according to a diplomatic source, because Tony Blair complained at a summit meeting with the Americans that British companies had received scarcely any rewards for the United Kingdom's war effort.
“The American companies are furious. Spicer will not be their boss, but he will have access to sensitive information from American military intelligence and will coordinate some of their activities,” says a British consultant. “To have to go through this Brit with an adventurer's reputation in order to deal with the Pentagon seems to them a heresy. . . . To top it off, the others have been in Iraq for a year, while he arrives unannounced in Baghdad and makes a clean sweep.” Whatever happens in the future, Tim Spicer must take satisfaction from adding this new flamboyant and controversial episode to his tally of kills, especially since the American government had, over the past year, been greatly favoring American companies.
With Blackwater, which handled the security of administrator Paul Bremer and other top CPA officials, Custer Battle, which was charged with protecting Baghdad's airport, Kroll, which obtained a contract for intelligence activities, Centurion, Global, SOC, Armor Group, and a lot of others, the American companies dominate the market. Their British cousins, Erinys, Control Risk, Hart, and Olive Security, think they're getting just crumbs, even if these crumbs do amount to tens of millions of dollars and mean, for Erinys for example, a spectacular contract for the protection of the oil industry.
The American government has also been using these private companies and others, more discreet, for secret activities, as the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal revealed recently. Intelligence agencies subcontract their activities, notably for interrogations. Not only are these private “soldiers” not subject to military discipline or prosecution, but their companies are paid, or see their contracts renewed, on a pro rata basis, according to how much information is obtained. This would appear to have pushed some contractors to extract fantastical confessions from prisoners through torture.
In the Iraqi jungle, some, like Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer and many others, are managing, with Washington's and London's help, to find their way, making fortunes in the process. And their employees can't complain. Paid between $5,000 and $20,000 a month, these “gunners” come from all over the world. Mercenaries, soldiers, legionnaires, police, and even discothèque bouncers, American, British, South African, Lebanese, French, Serbian, or Nepalese, they are all participants in this new gold rush.
“IT'S THE WILD WEST”
“The United States government, the American army, and the private security or intelligence companies are today completely interdependent,” sais a European expert. “And, from a military point of view, this is on the increase. Just one example: after the attacks on the Blackwater convoys in Fallujah and Baghdad, the Pentagon proposed providing to the coordinating agency, PMO — Program Management Office — and so today to Spicer, air support for all the private companies officially registered with the PMO. The program's code name is 'Quarterback.' It's incredible. It's the Wild West. Apache helicopters and ground attack fighters are going to henceforth be able to “clear” the roads for private companies.” (Correspondent)