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Robert Young Pelton's Licensed to Kill: A Review

Ryp At long last, Robert Young Pelton's book, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, is out. (Back in December of 2005 when I pre-ordered it, I think it's scheduled pub date was something like April.) Despite its subject matter, the world of mercenaries and private military contractors, the book reads like a fascinating letter from a friend. It is thoughtful, funny, and humane in its exploration of a politically loaded topic.

Licensedtokill_1 In general, I expect that opinions on this book are going to gravitate around this issue of whether or not it's "biased," and in which direction. I'm not going to venture an opinion on that, since surely I am at least as "biased" as Pelton. What I will say is that Pelton treats his subjectmatter as ethically complex, which indeed it is. And he neither succumbs to over-identifying with the dudes he's hanging with, nor to simple repulsion at the whole enterprise.

The book opens with a Prologue detailing his meeting with Eric Prince, owner and founder of Blackwater, who articulates Blackwater’s ambitions, a corporately oriented optimism about the future of privatized military services. In the prologue, Pelton distinguishes between what in generally understood to be the distinction between mercenaries and security contractors:

Mercenaries fight, while security contractors protect,  . . . at least, that’s the dividing line that’s supposed to exist. (5)

Destabilizing this apparent distinction is a theme that continues throughout the book.

The book’s Introduction is just the sort of action scene editor’s like to have at the beginning of books: a round trip down the legendarily dangerous “Route Irish” to the Baghdad Airport with Blackwater’s Mamba Team:

. . . it’s 2:43 and we’ve just completed the most perilous eight-minute drive in the world. (13)

The main text of the book is in three sections:

1. Hired Guns, which discusses

  • the longest running CIA contractor, Billy Waugh,
  • contractors inside Pakistan involved in operations that aren't supposed to exist,
  • and the problematic use of American security contractors to guard foreign heads of state;

2. The New Breed, which focuses mostly on Blackwater; and

3. Of Rogues and Tycoons, which covers such characters as Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema, Tim Spicer, executives of Blackwater, Richard Bethell (Lord Westbury), Simon Mann, and Niek Du Toit.

A fair amount of what is in this book has been touched on at one point or another in my blog.

Billywaugh_1 The Prologue and Introduction introduce companies, characters and topics, while also promising more thrilling action. But it is with Chapter 1, Kill them All, that we really get going. It is the chapter about Billy Waugh and what, through a certain lens, might be seen as the Good Old Days when the CIA and it’s contractors could just go out and kill people; how the backlash against the Vietnam War reined in the CIA; how this played itself out later; how Waugh could have killed Osama bin Laden and didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to; and how this legacy played itself out in post-9/11 Afghanistan with both the CIA and the emergence of companies like Blackwater. Fascinating stuff. In principle, I knew a fair amount of what was in the chapter from reading a pile of CIA memoirs a while back, but Pelton’s chapter has a deeply unsettling historical momentum about it that the memoirs lack.

Chapter 2, Edge of Empire, is a wry discussion of the geopolitical realities (or unrealities?) of the area surrounding the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where bin Laden is sometimes said to be hiding. He finds an American base inside Pakistan that is not supposed to exist, that the actual border seems to be almost unmarked, and much else involving security contractors and surreal layers of deniability cleaving the official story from reality. Last year, when I was helping with disaster relief mapping following the Pakistan earthquake, I heard many peculiar things about the Pakistani government’s attitude towards maps—for example, that the exact location of some of the towns affected by the earthquake was initially considered by the government to be classified information—and this chapter puts some of that insanity into context for me.

Karzaisecurity Chapter 3, The Praetorian Guard, is an interesting exploration of the role of American security contractors as protectors for foreign heads of state. The examples in this chapter are Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, but Pelton revisits this topic toward the end of the book in his discussion of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, and what would have been Severo Moto’s situation had the coup succeeded: not good at all.

In Chapter 4, Confirmed Kills, we get a sense of the new security contractor utopia. The chapter opens at the Dallas Convention Center during the American Society for Industrial Security convention.

Before 9/11, the industry had only a limited market for the services of the men who now flock to these conferences looking for IC opportunities. The war in Afghanistan opened the door to more widespread employment of independent security contractors, and then Iraq kicked that door off it's hinges, stomped on it,  burned it, and scattered the ashes. Iraq has been to the private security industry what the development of the first user-friendly Web browser was to the dot-com boom. (97)

Bremer The chapter concludes with an important discussion of the role of Paul Bremer in the creation of this utopia, a section entitled "On Rules and Resentment."

Bush had opened up the War on Terror by issuing a license to kill with his post-9/11 presidential finding authorizing targeted assassination, but it would be Bremer's Order 17 that would really unleash the security contractors in Iraq. (114)

And this is what the Billy Waugh chapter has set us up for—to understand the nature of this utopia: these guys who might only find marginal employment in the US, can make $600 a day to go to Iraq and do what Waugh, for many years, was not allowed to do. The leash is off and the dogs are out.

Chapter 5, Blackwater Bridge, discusses the Fallujah incident, in which four Blackwater contractors died in gruesome ways and their remains paraded through the streets and hung from a bridge, as a turning point for the public perception of "security contractors" in Iraq, and its complex aftermath.

Chapters 6, Under Siege, is perhaps my favorite in the book. It explores the complexities of two notable combat situations, An Najaf and Al Kut. In the former situation, it seems that security contractors (whom the US military observed but did not assist) were expected to abandon their position on the roof of the Najaf CPA compound. Instead they stayed to fight and videotaped themselves doing it. The videos subsequently circulated on the Internet.

While the rules of engagement allowed contractors to fire in defense of their lives, the formulations of those rules had not anticipated contractors being dropped into a situation where they would engage in hours of combat without outside support. The other outcome that became very clear was that ex-soldiers given a license to kill may choose not to cut and run as they are trained and paid to do, but eagerly and repeatedly fire into the crowds that surround them. (153-154)

Najaf_1 This section gives a much clearer picture of why the security contractors circulated videos of themselves shooting at Iraqis: they were allowed to shoot when the US military and coalition forces were held back. In the "turkey shoot" video, the shooter, whom Pelton identifies as "Mookie Spicoli" clearly enjoys what he is doing.

The Al Kut incident shows the flip-side of this. A group of security contractors alert Bremer to impending problems, who asks them not to exaggerate. The men are unsupported and under attack for days. Some are killed. When they finally come up with a plan to escape with their lives, an official of the CPA tries to prevent their escape. The CPA seemed determined to use them up and throw them away like so much Kleenex: truly appalling. Apparently, although the dogs are out, they are sometimes treated like dogs.

Chapter 7, The Dog Track and the Swamp, chronicles Pelton's visits to Blackwater training facilities, one of which is a dog track. This chapter contains one of the most entertaining sections of the book in which Pelton himself gets to teach in a training program called Mirror Image which simulates, "terrorist recruiting, training techniques, and operational tactics." His students are "Special Forces, Secret Service, marines, FBI agents, independent contractors, and other hand-picked attendees." (183)  Pelton, who has been to Chechnya, has his team play "Chechens." The section is hilarious. I wish they had video of this.

The targets will be expecting the attackers to approach via one of the roads that lead into the village, so the Chechens sneak in from behind the berm of a live firing range and attack from behind, something that freaks out the lead instructor, but gives the team the perfect element of surprise. (192)

Clearly, Pelton was having a good time.

In Chapter 8, we revisit the Blackwater's Team Mamba in Baghdad, first introduced in the book's Introduction. Pelton gives a detailed sense of their day-to-day existence and of the circumstances of their employment. The chapter contains another of the book's funniest sections: when outgoing Blackwater security contractors and the plane crew go through security at Baghdad International Air Port on their way out of Iraq to Jordan:

At the gate, an older American with a bad comb-over pats us all down in a needlessly touchy body search—particularly needless when a flight member admits to Mr. Comb-Over that he is wearing a loaded 9-mm Glock. He gets searched anyway, and then hilariously they put his gun through the X-ray machine before returning it. . . .

Once we're on the plane, the Blackwater crew breaks open a large aluminum box and hands out a loaded M4 weapon to each passenger. (223)

Part 3, Of Rogues and Tycoons, begins with another of the book's funniest sections: Pelton's chapter on Jack Idema, a man emblematic of just how far a wannabee can go in a failed state, in this case Afghanistan in the post-9/11 culture of fear and confusion. The voice of Billy Waugh returns:

We only had 80 guys involved in our [Afghanistan] operations and Idema wasn't one of them. (239)

The best part of the chapter concerns Idema's rewriting of Robin Moore's The Hunt for bin Laden prior to its publication. Pelton writes:

I am actually featured in The Hunt for bin Laden and can speak from my own experience . . . Though they never met or talked to Idema, and despite the fact that almost ten members had carefully detailed their actions to Moore at K2, the first chapter puts forth an account of the team's infill into Afghanistan that the men tell me has been entirely fabricated. (243)

The chapter concludes with a paragraph that begins:

That such a transparent criminal could so easily label himself a contractor to act out his own covert paramilitary fantasy is a warning about the growing ubiquity of independent contractors. (250)

Bookcover Chapter 10, The Very Model of a Modern Major Mercenary, concerns the rise of Tim Spicer, former President of Sandline, widely regarded as an example of upward-mobile failure (though Pelton does not say this), and Spicer's new company Aegis. The description of Pelton's interview with Spicer is a comedy of manners. What Pelton does not mention is that he was previously sued and settled out of court for his depiction of Spicer in a previous book. Our narrator, however, is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places and so does not fear to tread into the office of someone who sued him.  (I myself once had my own run-in with Spicer's attorney, Richard Slowe.) What I found most interesting in the chapter was former Sandline accountant Michael Grunberg's account of what the take was for those running Executive Outcomes:

Even though they had difficulty extracting payments from the second operation, the men had generated extraordinary persona income. After the successes in Angola and Sierra Leone, EO had come to a natural end. According to Grunberg, "Eben [Barlow] took ten million and walked away. They all did very well. Simon [Mann] pocketed $60 million and Tony [Buckingham] banked $90 million." (263)

Simon Mann, one of the Executive Outcomes founders, is to have a starring role in Chapter 12, in which the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt is discussed. Apparently, he wanted more from life.

Chapter 11, The Lord and the Prince, is an examination of how the legacy of Executive Outcomes ans Sandline informs and shapes the ambitions of the principals of Blackwater and of HART Security. Of particular interest to me was the account of HART's contract with the government of Somalia in light of my adventure late last year writing about Top Cat Marine Security's signing of a contract with the Transitional Government of Somalia. Pelton remarks of the HART contract:

Other similar ventures by former soldiers have always fallen apart due to inherent corruption in local governments. (290)

coup5.jpgChapter 12, The Bight of Benin Company, is the chapter I ordered the book for in the first place, back in December. It concerns the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, which is what first interested me in the subject of military privatization. If not for my reading about and researching what was up with N4610, a former US military plane which ended up in Zimbabwe with a load of mercenaries in it, back in March of 2004, I would not be writing this now, nor would I have read this book.

In addition to providing a smooth, gripping narrative of events I learned about by obsessively reading news stories coming out of Africa two years ago, he covers some documents I had previous access to, most notably a document entitled "Assisted Regime Change." All by themselves, these documents, with their paranoia and layers of duplicity even among plotters, give us a blueprint for a future dystopia if "regime change" is privatized on a large scale. Here's a sample:

The "Bight of Benin Company" (BBC), written in the archaic British schoolboy style typical of Simon Mann, is a Machiavellian plan laced with paranoia and greed. The document lays out a plan to turn EG into something resembling the British East India Company. It details the coup backers' intent to claim the sole right to make agreements ad contracts wit the newly installed government . . . The BBC makes it abundantly clear that Moto is disposable and that his main backer, Eli Khalil, was not to be trusted. (318)

N4610 One document he doesn't talk much about, but I have been told the contents of, is the contract for the purchase of N4610 from Dodson. One idiocy of the coup plot was that N4610 was a tail number registered to the US Air National Guard. So to me one big question was always why didn't the plotters take the trouble to paint on a different tail number. The answer is, I think, in the contract. The contract specified a buy-back price for the plane; viewed that way, it was essentially a rental agreement with a damage deposit. In my opinion, they didn't paint over the tail number because the plotters had to give the plane back; Sandline declared itself defunct about a month after the plane was impounded.

coup3.jpgWhile previous chapters showed how security contractors could be treated like dogs by those who employed them, one of the features of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot narrative is "the divide between the backers and those in prison." Though I have little sympathy for Simon Mann, for whom a $60 million take from Executive Outcomes was not enough, the coup backers did far too little to help him  -- and those arrested with him -- once he got busted. Simon Man is currently fighting extradition from his jail cell in Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, where he could expect a much longer jail sentence.

Pelton as it happens had once retained Nick du Toit, leader of the EQ-based portion of the plot, for security in a 2002 trip to Africa. He returns to Africa and interviews du Toit in jail.

What I learned from Niek is that in the debate between contractor and mercenary, it will always come down to the individual. When Niek du Toit was my security man, I knew him as an upstanding, loyal, dependable provider of security in what was at the time the world's most dangerous place. Now, four years later, he is a criminal behind bars for what appears to be the rest of his life. (333)

The book concludes with an Epilogue in which Pelton visits one of the Blackwater contractors he spent time with in Baghdad after the man's return the the US. The man was badly injured after Pelton's departure. The epilogue is a mediation on both the lack of accounting on the actual number of security contractor deaths, and on the contractors' own lack of accountability:

As of spring 2006, there has not been one single contractor charged for any crime that occurred in Iraq, though hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed for offenses ranging from minor violations of military code to murder. (341)

He remarks also:

Working in violent areas and being given a license to kill can be frightening to some and an addictive adrenaline rush to others. It is impossible to predict how successfully the thousands of security contractors now working in Iraq will integrate back into normal civilian life after their wellspring of employment dries up.  (342)

Rypinshadowcompany Elsewhere, interviewed in  Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque's documentary Shadow Company, Pelton is a bit more blunt. He says: "Some of these guys couldn't work in Walmart."

Corporatizing war is presented by the purveyors of private military services as a way of streamlining, of cutting out the red tape, of increasing efficiency, under controlled circumstances. But throughout the book, Pelton has shown just how fluid the line is between security contractor and mercenary, between defending a fixed asset and just plain combat, between security guard and criminal.

Combine this with the current nostalgia for the olden days when political assassination was an essential part of the toolbox of American foreign policy, and a move to reinstate that practice happening simultaneously with a massive swing toward privatization, and we find that our world is a strange place indeed.

An important theme of the book is the contrast between American and British attitudes toward privatized security:

It becomes clear to me during the meeting that there remains a very high wall between the HART's very English view of security, and of Blackwater's view of a brave new neocon world.  . . . While [Blackwater's Erik] Prince paints a flashy, high-tech, road-warrior-style military company that could solve any client's problem by an application of sheer brute force and advanced weaponry, [HART's] Richard [Bethell] and George [Simm] calmly promote the idea of low-key and culturally integrated solutions. (301)

This contrast corresponds roughly to the contrast between American and British imperialism, but an imperialism at least partly uncoupled from the traditional imperialist powers, namely governments; an imperialism increasingly removed from oversight by the British and American publics.

What we have here, in the end, is an important book on where the 21st century is taking us, exploring the dystopian potiential of military privatization, even for the very people engaged in it. If there is any possibility to avert the dystopia, it lies in transparency. And so this book is very much a step in the right direction.

N4610 Lineup

Here is a batch of photos from the Zimbabwe group arrested on their way to allegedly perform a coup in Equatorial Guinea back in March of last year. What I want to know from anyone who can help is attaching names to faces. In particular, I want to know which one is Raymond Stanley Archer. Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures and use the Flickr comments system for giving me IDs. Thanks.

Thatcher's Would-be Coup to be a TV Drama

Ar00I would really enjoy receiving a videotape of the BBC's Mark Thatcher 'coup' drama when it comes out:

Sir Mark Thatcher's role in last year's attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea will be explored in a BBC Two drama. Written by satirist John Fortune, Coup! stars Cold Feet actor Robert Bathurst as Sir Mark and forms part of BBC Two's winter and spring schedule for 2006.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the real Thatcher family drama is not going so well:

Carol Thatcher yesterday revealed that her mother, Baroness Thatcher, the former prime minister, is suffering from a deteriorating memory that has wiped out the present, while sharpening her recall of wartime events.

In an frank insight into the Thatcher family, Carol - who recently chewed kangaroo testicles on the way to being crowned Queen of the Jungle in the game show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! - also launched a bitter attack on her disgraced businessman brother, Mark, blaming his escapades for aggravating their mother's decline.

(This quote gives me a bit of dejavu. What's with the testicle eating theme, anyway?)

And further, Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane are getting a divorce.

SIR Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane announced yesterday they are to divorce on the grounds of an "irretrievable breakdown".

The couple cited a "difficult year" in which Sir Mark was convicted of violating South Africa's anti-mercenary laws by unwittingly helping to bankroll a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

A few screen shots from that ellusive Aegis employee blog

For those following the scandal surrounding the trophy video and the Aegis employee blog, most of which got taken down, here are a few bloggy screen shots. Click on the thumbnails for viewing. Enjoy!

Aegis's Mr. Spicer has had a few problems with quality control in the past. This passage is from an article by UK journalist Michael Bilton, published a number of years ago in the Sunday Times Magazine concerning Spicer and the Sandline Affair:

The Brigadier was beginning to have serious doubts about the Sandline's military plans. Moreover Singirok's Special Forces Unit were sending him disturbing information from the training camp run by the South Africans. The local troops were treated like raw recruits, being taught the basics likehow to apply camouflage.  The foreigners were firing the heavy weapons, keeping them to themselves,  and it quickly became obvious they would be lead the strike force operation against the rebels.

For two days they refused to undergo training in the camp at Wewak when Bougainville islanders, loyal to the Papuan government, were hired by the South Africans as guides. Singirok's men regarded this as a clear breach of security. But their sense of outrage was fuelled, according to one who gave evidence to the Commission of enquiry, when a senior South African mercenary informed him:  "Don't worry, when we have finished we will eliminate them". The idea that the civilian guides were going to be killed after they had served their purpose appalled him. Singirok was told of their concerns. 

(I don't think the article appears in full text on the web, except possibly in the Time's archives, which you may have to pay to access. It was kicking around on my hard drive from the days of the N4610 scandal that brought down Mark Thatcher.)

And then there's Spicer's Peter McBride problem.

Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

Peter Casini of Top Cat Marine Security which signed a deal last week with the transitional government of Somalia to help them out with their pirate problem, has continually claimed he has competent security people to back him up, but had thus far refrained from naming them publicly. Mr. Casini's a little inarticulate, so I'll help him out.  All the quoted text is from a Top Cat brochure from last August. So who are these mystery men with the great reputations that got him the Somalia contract?

Here they are (html; pdf):

  • Bachelor Number 1:

    Rocco Procopio is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army's Special Forces and has more than 16 years concentrated counterterrorism experience with the Army's Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta. He assisted with writing government standards for conducting Criticality, Threat and Security Vulnerability Assessments with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He is recognized as an expert in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection and has personally conducted more than 100 SVAs on and off shore during his tenure with the government. Procopio directs the international security efforts for a major U.S. oil company and is a member of the Overseas Security Advisory Council. He holds a master's degree in international relations.

  • Bachelor Number 2:

    Col. Bernard J. McCabe (Ret.) has 30 years experience in the U.S. Army. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division as an artilleryman, commanded the Howitzer Battery in the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He served 19 years in the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta assuming command in June 1994. He relinquished command of 1st SFOD-D in June 1996 and ended his career at the Army Special Warfare Center in 1996. Since his retirement, McCabe has been a security consultant to three major U.S. petroleum corporations and has been retained as a security consultant by several aviation and maritime companies in the United States. He is currently manager of Global Security for the Marathon Oil Corporation. McCabe holds a master's degree from Harvard University at the Naval War College and has taught military history at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

  • Bachelor Number 3: [See 12/31/05 post.]

    Master Chief Thomas J. Parnin has more than 20 years experience with the U.S. Navy. He completed Hull Maintenance Technician "A" school and then reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal Class 114 graduating in 1981. He completed three six-month deployments to the Western Pacific with Underwater Demolition Team 11 and Seal Team Five. Parnin returned to the tactical mobility team where his primary duties included the operation and navigation of high performance open ocean assault boats, combat rubber raiding craft, riverine assault boats, tactical ground mobility vehicles and the conduct of the full spectrum of unconventional warfare operations. Since 2000, he has been serving as Tactical Mobility Advanced Training Department Head specializing in the selection and implementation of the latest technological developments in maritime and land based navigation systems including radar, GPS, electronic chart plotting and visual augmentation systems.

Bernie McCabe, Bachelor Number 2, is the head of Global Security for Marathon Oil and was formerly the US representative for Sandline. I've written a fair amount about Sandline over time, but I've also had correspondence with their attorney Richard Slowe who takes exception to my use of verbs, and I don't have time to take the trouble to watch my language, so here is it's Wikipedia entry:

Sandline International was a private security ('military') company based in London, established in the early 1990s. It was involved in conflicts in Papua New Guinea in 1997 (having a contract with the government under Julius Chan), in 1998 in Sierra Leone (having a contract with illegally ousted President Kabbah) causing the Sandline affair and in Liberia in 2003 (in a rebel attempt to evict the then-president Charles Taylor near the end of the civil war).

Sandline was managed by former British Army Lt Col Tim Spicer. Sandline billed itself as a "Private Military Company" (PMC) and offered military training, "operational support" (equipment and arms procurement and limited direct military activity), intelligence gathering, and public relations services to governments and corporations. While the mass media often referred to Sandline as a mercenary company, the company's founders disputed that characterization.

Tim Spicer recounted his experiences with Sandline in the book An Unorthodox Soldier.

As of April 16, 2004 Sandline International has officially ceased operations.

McCabe has also worked or works for Lifeguard, another security company that is heir to the Executive Outcomes reputation. I don't know whether to phrase that relationship in the past or the present tense. I'm really curious about when McCabe took the job as head of Global Security for Marathon Oil. Why didn't I notice him when looking into the N4610 farce? I certainly would have written about him then if I had.

And regarding Marathon Oil, there is this bit from last night's post on Mountain Runner, Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia:

Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

Oh, by the way, can anyone fill in the photo captions for these pictures of what I gather is the celebrator dinner following the signing of the contract for Top Cat's Somalia deal?


Who is the guy on the far right in the tie who looks like Robert Redford? Who are the women standing? Anyone know? HERE is a better view of the group shot. [UPDATE: I'm told that the Redford-look-alike is Maryann Johnson's husband who works for Fox News; I'm told that the brunette is Top Cat VP Maryann Johnson who also works for Fox. I'd really like a name for the husband, since Fox is so high on Top Cat and outraged about Somali piracy, and cut-and-run Democrats, for that matter.]

Now, I don't want to demonize Sandline. It is a particular kind of company in a particular kind of industry and its people behave in specific ways. And so I think I should tell you a little more about my Sandline adventure.

Michael Grunberg of Sandline tried to get me to change something I'd written about the company, and I didn't cooperate, and so he had Sandline's attorney's get in touch with me. And they threatened to sue and so I negotiated. We arrived at a mutually acceptable wording, and everyone went away happy.

I thought Grunberg was an extremely vain pedant until I found out later why he cared what some woman in Pleasantville said about him on her blog. A guy named Pasquale John DiPofi, who had been trying to claim money owed Executive Outcomes, was trying to blackmail Grunberg into backing down on Sandline collecting on millions of dollars. DiPofi was at the time a Vice President at the private military firm Northbridge. Judging from the newspaper accounts, DiPofi's tactics were straight out of The Godfather.

I thought, how interesting, the mafia is trying to muscle out f*ing Sandline! Amazing. So what did Grunberg do about DiPofi? Did he have him bumped off? Kneecapped? No. Grunberg called the cops and had DiPofi arrested. Just what I would have done.

Returning to the subject of Top Cat, in the comment section of my previous Top Cat Post, someone calling himself "Subject Matter Expert" wrote the following:

I have a feeling your report could stir up quite a commotion in the private military sector; therefore, unless you've worked for such private firms and as to not endanger yourself (or your family), do not make such accusations or reports on such a private sector company.

Now, this guy wrote in from his desk at work from a small company in the Homeland Security Industry. He might as well have left me a business card. I'm not sure what his area of expertise is, but it certainly isn't Internet Security. Several very heavy dudes from real private military firms wrote in to reassure me that people in their industry don't behave like that. And in fact I know that. And so I infer that someone from DiPofi's industry has penetrated the Homeland Security market.

Then there's that person who wrote to me under the alias "patricia kennedy" whose letter I quoted in my previous Top Cat post. I didn't quote the whole thing. "She" expressed concern for my family and also suggested that I might wish to consider moving out of Pleasantville. Also number of people formerly associated with Casini have written to me to support my efforts, and there is a continuing theme to these letters: that they can't come forward  to tell their stories in public because they are concerned for their personal safety and the wellbeing of their families.

So why is it that when I write about Blackwater going into New Orleans, I get some outraged and insulting letters as well as intelligent correspondence from people in Blackwater's employ. And when I write about a washed up boat company masquerading as a private military firm, I get this? Just what does Mr. Casini bring to the table that the highly qualified gentlemen listed above don't have for themselves?

Perhaps Top Cat is having a little trouble adjusting to the corporate culture of its new industry.
Or perhaps it doesn't have an industry.

The brochure is real enough. But it is awfully hard to understand why a man like McCabe would have anything to do with a man like Casini.

UPDATE: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Top Cat is a fraud from top to bottom. I have emailed a copy of the seminar brochure to Richard Slowe. I have also emailed media relations at Marathon Oil.

UPDATE, December 6th: I heard back from Richard Slowe this morning. It appears that the "Bernie McCabe" associated with Casini and Top Cat may not be who he claims. I'm also told that this "McCabe" is very insistent that he not be photographed.

Previously, I had suggested that Jim Kouri, who called Top Cat "one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists" was either a shill or an idiot. Now I understand that there is a third possibility: that Koui paid good money for Top Cat's security seminars; that he is a satisfied customer, i. e. a mark. Jim, boy, you've been had.

(Nor does he have guys from the original Black Hawk Down ready to go into Somalia and restore order to its seas. I checked.)

A QUESTION FOR CARNIVAL: Does you cruise lines have any contracts with Top Cat Marine Security?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist.

UPDATE 12/9: I have made further inquiries into the matter of McCabe's connection with Top Cat. Despite rumours which seemed to emanate from Top Cat's camp that McCabe was in some way centrally involved with some portions of Top Cat's operations, it seems that McCabe has had no involvement with the management or actual operation of Top Cat Marine Security.

I'm told that information about Top Cat's actual management team would be available via the Freedom of Information Act by obtaining the paperwork they would be required to file with the US Government before signing an agreement with the transitional governemnt of Somalia. But I am also under the impression, perhaps mistaken, that no paperwork was filed. Filing for copies of non-existant paperwork would not be especially illuminating.

Someone who isn't me and has some actual financial stake in all this might want to blow $129 on this report from "Manta - Your Business Intelligence Authority."

UPDATE 12/21/05: Jarry Parnin explains he was only briefly involved with Top Cat, but identifies their management team, including naming McCabe.

Why is an alleged engagement in foreign military operations called terrorism one moment and business the next?

George Monbiot has a really good piece in the Guadian:

Pedigree dogs of war

What is the legal difference between hiring a helicopter for use in a coup against a west African government and sending supplies to the Chechen rebels? If there isn't one, why isn't Mark Thatcher in Belmarsh? Conversely, why aren't the "foreign terrorist suspects" in Belmarsh prison free and, like Thatcher, at large in London? Why is an alleged engagement in foreign military operations called terrorism one moment and business the next?

The question is an important one, for mercenaries are becoming respectable again. On Thursday Tim Spicer, Britain's most notorious soldier of fortune, will speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Last month he addressed a conference at the Royal United Services Institute. Last year one of the companies he runs won a $300m contract from the US government for security work in Iraq. He moves through the establishment like the boss of any other corporation. 

I want to write more about it later, but now I have to get the kids off to school,

Moto Would Have Been a President in a Bottle

We did manage to get home yesterday despite the blizzard. I didn't really belive it was going to work until Northwest atually put us on a plane. (David's son Geoff, who was supposed to fly home from California yesterday, is geting in tonight.) There were a few difficult moments in the airport, mostly having to do with Elizabeth being two. For example, just as we were trying to board the plane, Elzabeth threw her body to the ground in typical toddler fashion and said "No, mamma! Don't make me get on the plane!" I struggled with her all the way down the jetway. But once we entered the plane, she realized she had an audience. She smiled and waved and said hi to each passanger in first class as we walked  past, charming them all.
Further to the subject of Mark Thatcher, London's Sunday Times has an article providing further details on the plans for the Equatorial Guinea coup:

Coup plotters wanted colony of their own

THE FAILED coup attempt involving Sir Mark Thatcher was to have made Equatorial Guinea a private colony run for the benefit of the British plotters, leaked documents reveal.

The papers, passed to The Sunday Times by South African intelligence sources, reveal that the plotters had created a trading company to control the oil-rich West African state.

The Bight of Benin Company (BBC), named after the bay on the state’s coastline, was to have grabbed control of the country’s economy, its oil reserves, army and police.

The company would have controlled the country as a private fiefdom, modelled on the British East India Company, which ran vast swathes of India before it formally became part of the empire.

After executing the coup, the company planned to make Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader, its own frontman, bound by contract to cede power to BBC.

The plotters then planned to use the state’s intelligence services to gather “damaging information” on Moto and his family in case he stepped out of line. 

All this I more or less expected, not because I knew about any documentation, but because this seemed to be the obvious way for the coup plotters to proceed. But the specifics are really interesting:

The documents reveal the scale of the plotters’ greed and the lengths they were prepared to go to to ensure Moto remained beholden to them.

They reveal how BBC was to have “sole right to have physical or other access” to Moto once he became president. It would be the only company that could “make agreements or contracts” with the new regime. It would in effect be the government, controlling the armed forces, intelligence services, palace guard and customs.

Crucially, it would also take over the state oil company, and Moto would hand over economic planning to the plotters. They would use their military muscle to seize the country’s wealth, although they acknowledged the need to create jobs and welfare programmes to silence possible opposition. 

[This is the same article as the one in The Australian which Jan links to in the comments on the  previous post.]

(This guy has comically misread the article.)

Ely Calil, Gregory Wales, and David Tremain May Be Prosecuted in the UK

The London Sunday Times reports that some post-9/11 legislation may allow three of the remaining Equatorial Guinea coup plotters to be prosecuted in the UK:

THREE London-based alleged conspirators in the failed plot to overthrow the dictator of Equatorial Guinea are facing an investigation by British police.

Detectives believe the alleged plotters — including Ely Calil, the Lebanese businessman linked to Peter Mandelson — could be charged under the anti-terrorism act.

An agreement has been struck between Scotland Yard and South Africa’s “Scorpion” police unit, whose investigations led to the conviction last week of Sir Mark Thatcher for his role in the coup attempt.

It has emerged that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Yard’s anti-terrorism branch, met Scorpions in Pretoria five weeks ago.

They agreed to share evidence and co-ordinate inquiries. One of their key informants will be Thatcher, who has agreed to betray those who organised the plot.

It is alleged that Calil conspired with Greg Wales, a London businessman, and David Tremain, a mining tycoon, to plan and finance the overthrow of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, last March. All three men deny the claims.

If a case is made against them, they could stand trial in Britain. Under the 2001 anti-terror act it is an offence to encourage a crime from Britain regardless of whether it is committed abroad. 

What this whole story sorely needs is the name of an oil company that was to pay off all those who invested in the coup plot as a reward for liberating all that oil; and perhaps also the names of the US officials who thought it was a good idea, should such exist. So really interesting facts may drip out if Scotland Yard squeezes Calil, Wales, and Tremain. Perhaps their prosecution might even provide a picture window into the goings on in meetings of Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group.

Continue reading "Ely Calil, Gregory Wales, and David Tremain May Be Prosecuted in the UK" »

Mark Thatcher's Return to Dallas Delayed by the US INS

The Dallas Morning News [irritating registration procedure required] reports that Mark Thatcher's return to Dallas has been delayed "indefinitely" because of an "immigration snag" in Germany:

An acquaintance in Britain said Friday, however, that Mr. Thatcher's        return will be delayed indefinitely because of immigration problems he        encountered in Frankfurt, Germany, where he stopped en route to Dallas.

His passport was seized upon his arrest, and in the meantime, the        acquaintance said, Mr. Thatcher's U.S. visa expired. So he will remain        in Frankfurt while his attorneys negotiate with U.S. authorities. The        source said such negotiations could take days, weeks or even months.

The acquaintance said the plea bargain was for the equivalent of a        misdemeanor – not a felony – and they expected no problem in his        eventually returning to the United States.

However, Marie Sebrechts, an official with U.S. Citizenship and        Immigration Services in Southern California, said Mr. Thatcher's fate        rests with the U.S. State Department, the only agency that can issue him        a visa.

"In the way things are being evaluated right now," said Ms. Sebrechts,        "his connections or position shouldn't have any impact – it's pretty        much a blind system at this point. Whatever he did or was charged with        is all that will be considered. The question becomes, does it make him        admissible or not admissible?"    

MEANWHILE, Gregory Wales denies that he is to be extradited to South Africa. From the Guardian:

The last remaining unconvicted Englishman of those accused of plotting an African coup last night denied that he was to be extradited.

Greg Wales, who remains at liberty in west London following the conviction of Sir Mark Thatcher and mercenary Simon Mann, said through his lawyers that those who had pleaded guilty "obviously had their own reasons for entering into arrangements with the South African authorities".

South Africa says it will continue its investigations thanks to Sir Mark's full cooperation, and sources there have reported that Mr Wales may be a target for extradition attempts. 

Recall that Wales is the fellow who met with Theresa Whelan, US  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, in February and advised her of the coming coup.

. . . no price too high . . .

Now here's an interesting paragraph from the Scotsman by Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg:

SPECULATION mounted yesterday over who Sir Mark Thatcher was set to sell down the river after striking a plea bargain and walking to freedom from a South African court.

The article goes on:

But his release, after nearly six months of virtual house arrest, will send chills through the veins of several prominent men who have been named as backers of the plan to topple President Obiang in court documents lodged in London by lawyers for the Equatorial Guinean leader.

Many will fear he has agreed to expose them and will have taken no comfort from his short statement on the steps of the Cape High Court after yesterdays hearing.

"There is no price too high for me to pay to be reunited with my family, and I am sure all of you who are husbands and fathers would agree with that," he said.

On the other hand, it could be that he agreed to nothing of the kind and that the cork is being put firmly in the bottle and this is the end of it unless the slackers in the US press follow Thatcher's new life in Dallas.

(Note to the US press: You should have been crawling all over Dallas in March and April hunting for the US origins of this attempt at privatizing regime change. This is your second chance. Don't blow it.)

PS: Further to the state of the US news media, don't miss Frank Rich's All the President's Newsmen.

UPDATE: Maybe things are looking up for further revelations: From Johannesburg's Business Day:

Thatcher to Help SA Nail Coup Mates

The Scorpions said the plea bargain was entered into "in order to make use of Thatcher's help in the investigation".

(The Scorpions the South African equivalent of the FBI.)

I occasionally get letters from friends or acquaiatances of those in jail for the coup plot. At this juncture I do want to say that there is a lot more reason for those whom Thatcher might implicate to be in rotten third-word jails than for the hired help to be there. Unfortunately, I expect that even if implicated, they will get off with sentences at least as light as Thatcher's. It is good to be King.

Mark Thatcher, Unwit

Reading the news coverage of Mark Thatcher's guilty plea in the Equatorial Guinea coup scandal, it seems that we have a new euphemism. Now, we all know that Mark Thatcher is no rocket scientist; that seems to be the primary explanation for why his mother, Lady Thatcher, can't possibly have been involved in this mess: Lady Thatcher is smart. But now I am pleased to say we have a new turn of phrase to bring this all into sharper focus:

The Fool

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - Sir Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty Thursday to unwittingly helping to finance a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in exchange for a $506,000 fine and suspended jail sentence.

Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, admitted in the Cape High Court that he paid to charter a helicopter, which mercenaries planned to use in their attempted takeover. But he maintains he believed it was to be used for humanitarian purposes, according to his lawyers and a person close to the family.

Really? Unwittingly as in without knowledge or intention? So, um, how were Thatcher's investors going to be repaid? It might have been fun to have some South African Perry Mason break Thatcher on the stand, but realistically, that wasn't going to happen. So I'm pleased to hear of the guilty plea, even though it rules out the possibility of a trial. While some interesting stuff came out of the Zimbabwe trial, the Equatorial Guinea trial was disappointing on that count.

I'm curious whether the word "unwittingly" occurred in court, or if it was formulated by the AP reporter. I was trying to track it down, but a number of online news stories seems to have been revised to remove that word, probably because it made Thatcher look like, well, an unwit.

Karyn Maughan of Cape Argus sheds some light on the origins of the phrasing:

Holding worry beads as he sat in the dock, Thatcher pleaded guilty to contravening sections of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act according to the legal principle of dolus eventualis.

This means Thatcher admitted that his actions may have recklessly, but unwittingly, contributed to the financing of the coup plot.

She also reports:

A sign hung on a building opposite the High Court read "Save me, Mummy".

Apparently, Thatcher will shortly depart for the US, presumably to return to his lavish home in Dallas and the sympathetic embrace of the oil industry.

(To the uninitiated: I've written a fair amount about Mark Thatcher's role in the coup plot in the past. The link will take you to the Goggle results for this site.)

A Few Distractions

Elizabeth, in a rambunctious mood, put her head through the door of one of our glass-doored bookcases. She is OK, except for a very small cut on the back of her head. I have a few small cuts on my left hand from reaching into the glass to pull her out. (Typical of that kind of mother injury, I didn't feel a thing. Carl pointed out that there was blood on my fingers.) Even the books on the other side of he glass are fine.

Having cleaned up the broken glass, I am calming down at the computer  with a cup of chamomile tea  and am finding much on the web to distract me from the rush of adrelin and maternal hormones:

Now back to my regularly scheduled workload.

Mercenaries Turn State's Evidence

It looks like three mercenaries who have returned to South Africa have turned State's Evidence on Mark Thatcher. The Scotsman reports:

Three men who admitted violating South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws for their role in an failed coup in Equatorial Guinea were ordered to pay fines or go to prison today.

The three said they were involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Guinean President Teodoro Obiang that was foiled in March when scores of suspected mercenaries were arrested in the oil-rich west African nation and in Zimbabwe.

Crause Steyl, Lourens Horn and Harry Carlse pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Military Assistance Act as part of a plea bargain under which they agreed to give evidence in court against other alleged coup participants.

Cape Town Magistrate Adriaan Bekker ordered them to pay fines of up to £18,000 or face prison terms of up to 10 years.

Officials in Equatorial Guinea said yesterday they intend to seek the extradition from South Africa of Sir Mark Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of the former British prime minister, in connection with the plot.

Equatorial Guinea has charged Thatcher with bankrolling the plot, defence lawyer Fabian Nsue Nguema said.

Australia's ABC Online remarks:

Several South African mercenaries have agreed to testify against the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Mark Thatcher.

MEANWHILE, the Equatorial Guinea mercenary trial has resumed, but I haven't had a chance to read up on it yet. IOL in South Africa reports:

The fate of the alleged mercenaries involved in the attempted coup against the Equatorial Guinea government appears to hinge on the detailed confession of Nick du Toit, their alleged ringleader. He claims it was extracted by torture, but local law makes no provision for dismissing confessions extracted by torture.

Their prospects look grim as they face conviction and sentencing this  Friday. Du Toit faces the death sentence, although Equatorial Guinea has apparently promised the SA government that he will not die. The others face long terms in jail, so the tension among them is rising.

N4610 Mercenary Died of Meningitis

One of the mercenaries serving time in Zimbabwe for a conviction related to the Equatorial Guinea coup plot has died, apparently of meningitis (IOL):

Harare - The Zimbabwe government said on Wednesday that a South African man serving a prison sentence in connection with a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea died in a Harare hospital after a bout of meningitis.

Ngave Jarukemo Muharukua, 35, who was serving a one-year sentence, was admitted to the intensive care unit at a Harare hospital on Sunday suffering from meningitis and died the following day, said Zimbabwe's information department.

The prisoner had first complained of nose bleeds and dizziness on September 9 and was examined by a prison medical officer before being taken to a hospital ward in the top security Chikurubi prison.

"His condition worsened on October 2, 2004 and he was referred to Harare Central Hospital," said the statement.

"He was admitted at Harare Central Hospital Intensive Care Unit on October 3, 2004 suffering from clinical meningitis" and died the following day, the statement said.

Meningitis is an infectious disease that causes inflammation around the brain and spinal cord.

A post mortem is to be carried out to establish the exact cause of death, the statement added.

MEANWHILE, in Equatorial Guinea, the trial of the other group of mercenaries alleged to have been involved in the coup plot remains stalled, awaiting a deposition by Mark Thatcher.

Libreville - The trial in Equatorial Guinea of 19 people including 14 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obian Nguema will not resume on Monday as previously announced, sources there said.

Eight South Africans, six Armenians and five Equato-Guineans, including a former deputy minister, went on trial in Malabo in August for allegedly plotting to oust Obiang, who has ruled the small central African country since 1979.

The case was adjourned on August 31 at the request of the state's attorney general, Jose Olo Obono, to get "further information" after the arrest of Mark Thatcher in South Africa.

Mark Thatcher has been fighting a South African court order that he give a deposition to EQ authorities.

AND the President of Uganda ventures his own solution to the mercenary problem (News24):

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday suggested that the easiest way to deal with mercenaries in Africa was to shoot them.

"Mercenaries, you just shoot them. This is a simple matter, it's not a big problem," he said in response to a question at a news conference.

Thatcher Reticent Out of Concern for EQ Human Rights

Here's an entertaining development in the Equatorial Guinea coup plot scandal:

Equatorial Guinea's "appalling human rights record" was a strong motivating factor in Mark Thatcher's reluctance to answer questions from the country's prosecuting authorities, one of his lawyers said on Monday.

This from a man who does business in Sudan.


James Kershaw & the Wonga List

The person I'm currently most intrigued by in the Equatorial Guinea Coup scandal is 20-something computer expert James Kershaw. He is either cooperating with South African police, or has fled, depending on which current news story you read.

According to testimony, he was the mystery voice on the other end of the telephone that recruited Raymond Stanley Archer, fresh from guard duty during the Aristide coup, for the alleged Equatorial Guinea coup project.

The IOL write-up on Kershaw is even more intriguing:

A key witness in the Scorpion investigation may be James Kershaw, described as Mann's right-hand man.

Kershaw, a computer expert in his late twenties, is believed to have played a central role in recruiting mercenaries, buying arms and ammunition and collecting money from "investors".

Kershaw is believed to be in possession of "the Wonga List" - details of rich and influential people who allegedly bankrolled the coup attempt.

The Daily News has learned that Kershaw is preparing to give crucial evidence in South Africa in any future trial of Thatcher. The decision by Kershaw to do a deal with the police means the secret list is likely to be in the hands of the Scorpions.

Kershaw, who was born in South Africa but holds a British passport, has been named in court by a number of arrested mercenaries as one of the recruiters in the coup attempt.

Has he disappeared? Or did he temporarily disappear to confer with his attorney? I can't say, from this distance.

The story of Archer's recruitment is especially interesting. I wonder how Kershaw knew to contact Archer, since the man had  been without a job for less than a week, and how Kershaw knew Archer's cell phone number even though Archer says he knew nothing about Kershaw prior to the contact. Kershaw must know some really interesting people.

In a mystery novel, Kershaw would turn up dead now since, potentially, so many powerful people have so much to lose through his testimony and cooperation. If he has fled, I do wonder if he's in Dallas.

UPDATE: Here's another interesting IOL piece which discusses both James Kershaw and some of Thatcher's other projects.

About Kershaw:

But it has been learned that the keeper of the secrets - accountant and computer expert James Kershaw - has become a witness for the prosecution in South Africa and the explosive list of names is said to be in possession of the police.

The list could provide key evidence in any trials against the men accused of involvement in the coup plot.

A number of the men arrested as suspected mercenaries have named Kershaw, 24, in court as one of the recruiters in the alleged plan to depose President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

He allegedly made a down payment of $90 000 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and also allegedly gave last-minute instructions, by telephone, to the team.

Kershaw decided to co-operate with the authorities after seeking legal advice.

It is believed that he met officials recently in South Africa.

According to a source close to those involved in the controversy: "James is co-operating with the South African authorities and will give evidence on behalf of the state. He is young. He got caught up in something he could not really control."

Regarding Thatcher, this new article says that Nick Du Toit testified regarding Thatcher's mining operations in Sudan. The mention of Sudan in this context rings alarm bells for me. It is a country that companies with any concern for human rights avoid.

Thatcher, who is alleged by the South African police to have financed the coup plot, has strenuously denied culpability.

Attention, however, is now focused on his other supposed business ventures in Africa.

Nick du Toit, a South African on trial in Equatorial Guinea with other men arrested on suspicion of being mercenaries, claims Thatcher wanted to buy helicopters for use in Sudan.

Giving evidence in court this week, Du Toit said: "In my business I also sold military helicopters and I had some available. Thatcher had a mining operation going in Sudan and he wanted two Mi-8 helicopters for Sudan."

Sudan. The very last thing Sudan needs is Mark Thatcher.

Continue reading "James Kershaw & the Wonga List" »

Mark Thatcher, Entitled

Somewhat to my surprise, I find the answer to the timing of the Mark Thatcher arrest: he was getting ready to move to the US where presumably his attempts to liberate the oil of Equatorial Guinea from oppression would be more appreciated.

Over the past week, Thatcher had sold four vehicles, put his house on the market, reserved flights to the U.S. for his family and enrolled his two children in American schools, ThisDay, a Johannesburg-based newspaper reported today, without saying where it got the information. Ngwema confirmed the report in a telephone interview.

I'll bet they were moving (back) to his wife's home state of Texas.

There is a really juicy piece by Keith Dovkants of the Evening Standard on the This Is London site. One again, Thatcher was under mother's wing:

Margaret Thatcher was on sparkling form. Despite her frailty, she insisted on meeting all the guests at her son's lavish Christmas party. There were more than 70 of them, gathered around a sumptuous buffet laid out by the swimming pool at Mark Thatcher's sprawling mansion in Cape Town's Constantia suburb. 

The guests, some of whom had flown in from London, were charmed by the iconic 78 yearold ex-prime minister who, according to one, displayed an irrepressible cheerfulness. 

Baroness Thatcher might not have been so genial if she had known she was meeting the key plotters in a highly illegal plan to overthrow the president of an oil-rich African country. And she would have been distinctly unhappy if she had known that her beloved son Mark was to be accused of being at the heart of the plot - something he has strenuously denied. 

The article also discuses the matter of Mom's old friend, the disgraced Lord Archer:

Our investigation reveals that Mann, 51, sought money to finance the coup from individuals in his influential social and business circle. Leaked legal documents show a payment of $134,980 (£74,000) was made to Mann's company, by a "J.H. Archer", four days before Mann was seized.

The initials are those of Lord Archer, the disgraced Conservative peer and bestselling author who is an old friend of Baroness Thatcher. His friendship with Eli Calil, a London-based businessman who has been accused of being involved in the coup attempt, goes back even further - more than 30 years.

Soon after Mark Thatcher's arrest yesterday, Lord Archer's lawyers sought to quell speculation that the peer might have been involved in bankrolling the mercenary operation and said in a statement that he had "no prior knowledge". His lawyers also denied he had issued a cheque for the amount shown on the bank statement from Mann's company. When it was pointed out the sum was paid by credit transfer, his legal spokesman said Lord Archer "considers the matter closed". 

Here's another good bit from the article:

Barrie Penrose is researching a book on the attempted coup. He said: "If this had worked, it would have been one of the poshest coups in history. Simon Mann, the well-connected Old Etonian ex-SAS officer, went around his well-heeled friends asking them if they wanted to invest in a little project. How much he told them about what he was planning is not clear. Some doubtless knew the full story, but others probably did not." 

And why should an accused cannibal be allowed to sit on 10% of the world's oil reserves in darkest Africa and keep the profits for himself? Aren't the well-heeled and well-connected entitled to take it from him? Isn't that what having a title is all about?

So this seems to be the peak of Sir Mark's career -- combatting his "distinct lack of brains, charm and business acumen" with a deep sense of entitlement, to scale the heights. Wow. What a guy.

MEANWHILE, more arrests are imminent.

UPDATE: Josh Berthume tells a joke I wish I'd thought of:

HERE IS A JOKE FOR MY BRITISH READERS:  Mark Thatcher claims he wasn't trying to overthrow the government, necessarily, its just that "Equatorial Guinea has so much that needs privatizing."  Zing!     

ALSO, I've been wondering where Mark Thatcher was intent on moving to. He and his wife appear on the client list of Harold Leidner a landscape artist whose website claims he did 15 of the 100 most expensive yards in Dallas. This could be from back when the Thatchers used to live in Dallas, or it could be the Mark Thatcher, sandal inventor. But a journalist should enquire whether Mr. &  Mrs. Thatcher have any current projects with the firm.

AHA! I was right! According to the Guardian, the Thatcher family was bound for Dallas:

Police in South Africa, where Thatcher has lived since 1995, have information that the 51-year-old businessman had put his $3.3 million home up for sale and had booked flights for his American wife and two children to Dallas, police spokesman Sipho Ngwema said. Thatcher's two children had already been enrolled in schools in Dallas.

Next question: Who are Thatcher's buddies in Dallas?

Regarding the Texas connection, the Evening Standard remarks:

In 1987 he married Diane Burgdorf, the daughter of a millionaire Texas car dealer he met while working as a salesman for Lotus. Settled in Dallas, he created a complex web of companies, helped along by the contacts he had made through his mother. His ability to alienate people also continued. Neighbours were left aghast at the occasion he stormed into a house across the street and ordered the woman who opened the front door to move her car from outsidehis house. At a get-to-know you party he refused a name tag, saying: "If they they don't know who I am by now they never will." 

But he also made friends. Intriguingly,a 1994 newspaper article reported among his powerful Texan allies were  one George W Bush Jr, then running for state governorship.

As is remarked upon in the Scotsman, Dallas is also home to Triton Energy:

Dallas-based Triton Energy, which has close ties to President George Bush, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco have together invested more than US$5billion in Equatorial Guinea's burgeoning oil production, predicted soon to provide five percent of US oil needs.

Triton has been an important source of Bush campaign funds:

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans is a key link to many of the Bush money sources. . . .  Evans then became Bush's national finance chairman, and from that post organized the pioneers -- a group of more than 100 individuals who pledged to each raise $100,000. In addition to Kenneth Lay, and the Kinders of Enron, the pioneers included executives of First Energy Corp., Texas Oil and Gas, CSX Transportation, Occidental Chemical, Triton Energy Corp., Reliant Energy, the Texas Utilitites Co., Vaughn Petroleum, Sanchez Oil and Gas, and Jerry McCutchin Drilling Co.

And by the way, where's Maggie? Fobes has just ranked her number 21 on their newly released list of the World's Hundred Most Powerful Women. Their article on the list begins:

"I don't mind how much my ministers talk," Baroness Margaret Thatcher once said, "as long as they do what I say." The former British prime minister long ago defied the conventional wisdom that women can gain power only by studiously working behind the scenes to forge consensus. That's why she and 99 other leaders in politics, business and social causes have made it to our first ever ranking of the world's most powerful women.

Kathryn Cramer at August 26, 2004 06:45 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


Mark thatcher really IS "entitled," doubly. I am
a former African explorer, with European roots,
and we are the migrated (from captivity in what
became Parthia, then Iran (=Aryan), thru to Greece
andRomaina and the heartland of Europe to Britain)
LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL (not to be confused with
Jews) to whom Christ came (Mat 15:24 & 15:25)
and he didn't abolish our empowering Israel-favoring laws... such at the fact we we given vast
new lands (2 Sam 7:10-17) and are to take others
slaves forever (Lev 25:44-46), just as our Father
Adam was given dominion over ealier "chay" or
living beings (cl;early including pre-Adamic humans whose remains I saw in Africa). But we are
to obey this law.... which we fail to do!

Our Queen (I'm in land still recognizining her, unlike USA in manmade law rebellion) swore to
uphols this law at her coronation (as did most
European monarchs). But she does not!

Our noblemen (ie Mark thatcher) are to bind the
monarch to this (Magna Carta 1215, Ps 149-150 calls for us "saints" to so bind nobles and king)
But they don't. We let REVISIONISTS destroy our
law and we (illegally) let parliaments/tyrants
make any laws they wish....

And since this madness has infected Africa for
40+ years, it has gone to decay, with lowest of
locals running places like Equatorial Guinea.

It's time for us to RECOLONISE AFRICA (see
www.Rense.com article with less ideology).

and the others be freed... or focus on retaking
such lands for a new, Bible-LAw-based imperialism

About 120 years ago European rulers partitioned
Africa in the great Berlin Conference which we
should recognize as authority for recolonization
(Britain out of German SWA & Ost-Afrila etc.)

see www.geocities.com/royalguardiansweb


Posted by: Wise One at August 26, 2004 07:22 PM

I think we disagree.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 26, 2004 07:53 PM

James Kershaw has apparently disappeared, taking the list of coup backers with him:


Posted by: Steven Kaye at August 26, 2004 10:16 PM

Africa's going to the dogs. If the indigionous population don't pull the ribs out of the African carcass before they all die of AIDS, Muslim fundamentalists will take over, victimise them, and afterwards turn the place into one massive wasteland to be potholed by brainwashed natives performing ethnic cleansing or whatever the hell other excuse they can manage to vocalise from their towelhead "edukashun". Free Mark Thatcher. Free Nick du Toit. Take out Mugabe and stabilize the continent before the maggots devour every last bit of infrastructure still in existence. And sell sub-Saharan Africa to the West who could do something constructive with it.

Posted by: Prophet J at September  1, 2004 09:29 AM

Africa's going to the dogs. If the indigionous population don't pull the ribs out of the African carcass before they all die of AIDS, Muslim fundamentalists will take over, victimise them, and afterwards turn the place into one massive wasteland to be potholed by brainwashed natives performing ethnic cleansing or whatever the hell other excuse they can manage to vocalise from their towelhead "edukashun". Free Mark Thatcher. Free Nick du Toit. Take out Mugabe and stabilize the continent before the maggots devour every last bit of infrastructure still in existence. And sell sub-Saharan Africa to the West who could do something constructive with it.

Posted by: Prophet J at September  1, 2004 09:30 AM

Mark Thatcher, Son of Margaret Thatcher, Arrested in South Africa in Connection with Coup Plot

Check out this story in the Guardian:

Police Arrest Son of Margaret Thatcher         

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - South African police arrested Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, early Wednesday on allegations he was involved in a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, police said.

Police spokesman Sipho Ngwema said Thatcher was arrested at Cape Town home and is expected to be charged with violation of the Foreign Military Assistance Act.

``We have evidence, credible evidence, and information that he was involved in the attempted coup,'' said Ngwema. ``We refuse that South Africa be a springboard for coups in Africa and elsewhere.''

Police raided Thatcher's home in the upscale suburb of Constantia shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday armed with search warrants. Investigators searched his records and computers for evidence.

Investigators believe Thatcher helped finance a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

``We believe Mr. Thatcher assisted in finance and logistics,'' said Ngwema, who declined to elaborate.

I wonder what took them so long. Given the timing, I assume the arrest in connected to information revealed in one of the two ongoing trials of mercenaries, one in Zimbabwe and the other in Equatorial Guinea. It could also be connected to the recent raid on the PMF  International Intelligence Risk Management.

(Thanks to Charles Stross & Chris Williams!)

PS: There are several amusing graphics of Mark Thatcher on the cover of the magazine Private Eye from the 80's here.

UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that the arrest was precipitated by Nick Du Toit's testimony in the Equatorial Guinea trial. I would think that this, by itself, would not be sufficient for the arrest, since Du Toit is testifying trying to save his own life under extremely coersive circumstances. It occurs to me that this may be part of the deal South Africa made to gain assurances from EQ that if convicted, the mercenaries would not be executed.

FURTHER UPDATE: Sir Mark had his shoes, jacket, and cell phone stolen while awaiting his bail hearing. Now he's under house arrest, though out on bail.

MEANWHILE, Jack Straw, who is in Cape Town is "keeping mum" on the subject of Thatcher's arrest.

A FURTHER THOUGHT: Earlier this month there were reports that author/poltician Jeffrey Archer was one of the coup's investors. I wonder if the Thatcher case will shed any light in the matter. (This probably means nothing, but at least one attorney at the firm that represents Archer formerly worked for the firm that represents or represented the PMF Sandline.)

Kathryn Cramer at August 25, 2004 08:09 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit



Posted by: Hello at August 26, 2004 06:22 AM

The blog liked to above  alleges to be the diary of a South African mercenary. I hope it is fiction (see, for example "June 16, 2004: Is it OK to Kill a child? ), though I suspect that at least in part it is for real.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 26, 2004 07:38 AM

Enjoying your thorough blog coverage of the Thatcher case. 


Posted by: Ryan Schultz (Quiplash) at August 29, 2004 08:43 PM

The Equatorial Guinea Coup Trial Has Begun

On Equatorial Guinea, the trial of mercenaries alleged to have plotted a coup in coordination with Simon Mann, currently standing trial in Zimbabwe, has begun. I have been trying to get a clear picture from news reports of what has been happening, but reports conflict. IOL explains:


Reporting of the case is difficult as South African journalists have been denied entry to the country and an agency report on Monday suggested Du Toit had agreed to the main charges.

Nick Du Toit and others have not let been asked to plead on charges. Du Toit has apparently been extensively crossexamined. IOL reports:

Alleged mercenary Nick du Toit denied in an Equatorial Guinea court on Monday that he had organised an attempted coup, said South Africa's ambassador Mokgethi Monaisa.

When the prosecutor put it to him his denial was inconsistent with a confession he had allegedly signed in prison in Malabo, Du Toit said his evidence in court was right and he knew nothing about a confession.

Du Toit's denial of the main charge against him was relayed to the Cape Argus by Monaisa, who is attending the trial.

Whereas South Africa's News 24 reports:

Du Toit told the court on Monday, when the trial opened, that he was in charge of logistics for an attempted putsch to oust the long-time leader of the oil-rich central African nation.  . . .

The South African told Equatorial Guinea's attorney general on Monday that he had accepted the job at the request of Simon Mann, the alleged leader of 70 other suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe days after Obiang announced the coup had been thwarted.

The mercenaries held in Zimbabwe were allegedly due to join Du Toit and the others in Equatorial Guinea to carry out the coup.

Du Toit, who served with the South African special forces in the apartheid era, was evasive on Monday when questioned about his exact role, in particular whether he was involved in the planned attack on a police barracks.

"It was more than six months ago," he said. "I don't remember any more but I think so."

He also said his co-accused were not aware of what was being planned and that he had just asked them to meet people at the airport.

The state prosecutor said on Monday he is seeking the death penalty for Du Toit and prison terms ranging from 26 years to 86 years for the other defendants.

Here's the Guardian's take on the testimony:

Prosecutors said the leaders planned to oust President Obiang using arms obtained in Zimbabwe and soldiers recruited in South Africa. The plotters allegedly hoped to replace him with Severo Moto, an opposition figure living in exile in Spain.

Mr du Toit repeated much of his previous confession in court today, saying he was to have been paid $1m for supplying information on the whereabouts of the president and other coup targets. He was also to have arranged for vehicles for the mercenaries, he said.

"I was told he [Mr Moto] would land in an aircraft 30 minutes after the main force had landed," Mr du Toit said in his opening testimony.

The defendant said that the alleged coup leader, British ex-SAS officer Simon Mann, had told him that the Spanish government would recognise the Moto government. "It had the blessing of some American higher-up politicians," he told the court. . . .

The criminal charges were read out to the largely English-speaking defendants in Spanish only, after an electronic translation system failed, and they had access to lawyers during only three hours shortly before the trial.

It will be interesting to see whether any evidence is offered other that the testimony of the prisoners trying to save their own lives.

Kathryn Cramer at August 24, 2004 11:34 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


News just in - the RSA has nicked Mark Thatcher for involvement in the coup plot. Normally I'm wary of cheering on states, but right now I'm prepared to make an exception. Way to go, South Africa! Throw away the key!

It's about time that the Boy Mark, deprived of the protection of his increasingly gaga mama, spent a long time contemplating the nature of his career of crime from inside a cell.

Posted by: Chris Williams at August 25, 2004 07:39 AM

Liberals allow unspeakable cruelty to continue everyday by hamstringing those who would take action if it weren't for the liberal outcry that would come.  EG.  Unspeakable cruelty goes on in EG everyday. I have heard the screams from EG jails and know!!!

You know the real reason the UK supported us in Iraq was because the US gave a thumbs up to the UK establishment to do the coup in EG and get the oil contracts.  That I am sure is what happened.  I can't believe no one this page figured it out!!   Surely Bush was behind it!! (rubish of course)

But please note.  The bothched coup attempt should show clearly how even little conspiracies are almost impossible to carry out.  This is about as "vast" a right wind conspiracy as there has ever been, and it didn't even get off the ground, litterally..  Incredible that people think Bush is the head of a vast right wing conspiracy and not see that some people simply see what is right to do and do it and there is no conspiracy at all.    The EU won't stop genocide even in it's own backyard much less way off in a forgotten back water of Africa.  With Post Modern Europe dominating things we will simply have more, and more, and more, genocide (like sudan) right now.  Only as long as some traditionalist in the US and Europe hold on will the tide of genocide be held back.  When they are finally all gone from power, a dark, dark, dawn awaits us all. 

Posted by: t at August 28, 2004 11:12 AM

Raymond Stanley Archer

I realized when I woke up this morning that when writing my post Is This World a Little Too Small?I had misread IOL's discussion of Raymond Stanley Archer. His testimony at the N4610 trial does not so much suggest that he worked for the American security company the Steele Foundation (which guarded Aristide prior to his removal from power), but rather that he was with Aristide after or perhaps even during.

One of the 70 alleged South African mercenaries on trial in Zimbabwe was guarding deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide days before he was taken into custody. . . . He said he had arrived back in South Africa three days earlier after an assignment as a bodyguard to Aristide . . . when a man whom he identified as James Kershaw contacted him on his cellphone.

Not much time passes between Aristide's last day in power, February 28th, and Archer finding himself in jail in Zimbabwe on March 7th. And according to Archer, he was at home in South Africa for three days in between. (Here's an Aristide timeline.)

On March 1st, Aristide was flown directly from Haiti to Central African Republic in a US chartered jet. He does not leave CAR for Jamaica until March 15th, by which time Archer is already in jail.

So there are only a few possibilities here: (1) I was right in the first place; Archer worked for Steele even though Steele's usual folks are former US special forces. (2) Archer was in Haiti and then in CAR with Aristide. Or (3) Archer was with Aristide only in CAR. Of the three possibilities, number 3 makes the least sense, because Archer is finished with the job and home by March 4th. And if he worked for Steele (1), wouldn't there have been fuss about American involvement if one of the men on N4610 had been employed by a US private military firm less than a week earlier? What looks most likely is that Archer's assignment was to help get Aristide out of Haiti to CAR; that he was part of the group that escorted/abducted (depending on your source) Aristide from Haiti.

Another question: who hired him to "guard" Aristide? If it wasn't Steele, it looks to be either the US government or a subcontractor. The US chartered the plane that took Aristide out of Haiti. Presumably whoever chartered the plane also took care of personnel needs. Was it the US Department of State? Colin Powell's choice of pronouns immediately after the fact suggests as much:

Mr Powell insisted: "He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth."

Aristide's phone calls to the outside world immediately following his flight were apparently placed on a cell phone that had been "smuggled" into his room, so I doubt he did the booking, (unless of course Archer worked for Steele).

So this leaves us with a number of questions: First of all, how did a man who would have been vetted for security work either by a reputable US security firm or by the US government end up on N4610? Secondly, were any of the 10 men Archer said he recognized among the N4610 bunch similarly vetted? And had they had similar recent employment? And finally, who is "James Kershaw"?

The darkest interpretation of this odd linkage is that Archer is some kind of coup specialist, experienced at escorting heads of state from their home countries into exile.

UPDATE: In the comments on a nearby post somone who claims to have worked for Steele identifies Archer as a former Steele employee. Thanks!

Is This World a Little Too Small?

I've been reading the coverage of the N4610 trial, waiting for something interesting to happen. The defense has concluded its arguments; the mercenaries will not be extradited to Equatorial Guinea.

But here's an interesting bit: Mercenary accused 'guarded' Haiti's Aristide:

Harare - One of the 70 alleged South African mercenaries on trial in Zimbabwe was guarding deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide days before he was taken into custody.

Raymond Stanley Archer told a makeshift court in Zimbabwe's maximum security jail on Thursday that he was having lunch with his ex-wife in Johannesburg when he got a phone call offering him a job to guard a mine.

He said he had arrived back in South Africa three days earlier after an assignment as a bodyguard to Aristide - who has since been granted temporary asylum in South Africa - when a man whom he identified as James Kershaw contacted him on his cellphone.

"He said if I could get to the airport within an hour, I could have the job. I met the rest of the accused and flew out. I had met about 10 of them before.

"As far as I was concerned, we stopped in Harare to refuel."

Now, I know it's a Small World After All, but wasn't a San Francisco-based company provinding Aristide's security? Wasn't it the Steele Foundation? Did Raymond Stanley Archerwork for Steele? How peculiar.

MEANWHILE, Derek Davids (aka Johnathan Constable), chief executive of International Intelligence Risk Management, has been released by South African police following a raid of his company's offices for suspected mercenary activity.

John Cramer Writes to New Scientist

[NOTE, 12/13: I have included the comment section of this post when resrrecting it in Typepad.]
John Cramer (my dad, for those who came in late) responds to issues raised in the the New Scientist Letter Column regarding the Afshar experiment. This just in via email:

Dear Kathryn,

        I sent the following letter-to-the-editor to New Scientist:


A number of your readers have pointed out that Afshar's grid wires are
placed in just the positions that would form a diffraction grating creating
an image of pinhole 1 at the position of the pinhole 2 image.  Does this
destroy the purity of Afshar's "which-way" measurement?

I raised the same question with Afshar earlier this year, and the answer is
no.   Reason: the wires intercept no light and so cannot diffract.  He has
done a variation of his experiment using ONLY A SINGLE WIRE and recorded all
the light in the focal plane of the pinholes under three conditions: (1)
wire in, one pinhole; (2) wire in, two pinholes; and (3) wire out, two
pinholes.  Measurement (1) shows lots of scattering from the wire away from
the image points, indicating that with only one pinhole open the wire is
intercepting and scattering light  Measurements (2) and (3) show clear
images of the pinholes with nothing in between and are indistinguishable.

Conclusion: no light is scattered or intercepted by the wire in measurement
(2) because the interference pattern is present, and the wire is at an
intensity-zero position of the pattern.  A single wire cannot function as a
diffraction grating.   Bohr is still wrong.

John G. Cramer
Professor of Physics
University of Washington

Kathryn Cramer at August  6, 2004 01:13 PM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers  | Edit


Cramer says ( see his power point ): Copenhagen-influenced expectation: The measurement-type forces particle-like behavior, so there should be no interference, and no minima. Therefore, 6% of the particles should be intercepted.

This means (following Cramer) that Bohr will predict that there is no interference in front of the lens. But I have a reply evident to Cramer : Are you sure that you have a which path experiment ???? If you have such proof (I have the proof of the opposite) I think that Afshar could give you his 1000 $ (that he proposed to me and to others ) because you will prove in the same time that Schrodinger equation is wrong or that 1+1 =3.

My conclusion (or my introduction):
A quantum system can not carry enough information to provide definite answers to all questions that can be questionned experimentally ....

my former boss who wrote this sentence and knows quite well quantum mechanics is certainly right...

Think a little to it: the most important word is experimentally but the rest is nice too...
Aurel.: a advocate of Bohr and Einstein (and of beer)

NB: even If dont like the point of view of Bohr it seems that Bohr will win again and again ( always?) . It is sad but Ok we can continue to drink beer ....nevertheless.... perhaps

NB(2): If you can give me a preprint of the  Afshar paper I can write you a comment for FREE  to incredible physics letters  a new journal about donald duck in the quantum word   


Posted by: le grand schtroumph at August 10, 2004 02:01 PM

Raymond Archer was an employee of the Steele Foundation he had been hired sometime around March or April of 2003.

He is not a coup specialist...he was hired as part of the dignitary protection team assigned to protect aristide.

His employment ended when aristide was ousted as did they employment of other Steele members who were not reassigned to contracts in the middle east

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 24, 2004 04:06 PM

For further clarification:

The protection detail assigned to Aristide was a US State Dept approved contract awarded to The Steele Foundation

The protection team was an international team consisting former US military, former British military, and a few former South African Special Forces.

The protection detail was forced to leave by the U.S. with Aristide. For more info concerning this go to Interview with Kenneth Kurtz, Steele Foundation conducted by Amy Goodman on Tuesday March 2nd 2004 in the Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) 
There are major flaws in the answers provided in this interview

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 25, 2004 09:03 AM

I am surpised by the presence of th South Africans, since the news reports I had read of the Steele Aristide group portrayed them as exclusively US special forces.

When you say "The protection detail was forced to leave by the U.S. with Aristide," I presume that what you mean by "with" is simultaneous with, as opposed to accompanying; which is to say that you are not telling me they were forced onto the plane with him?

(That interview on Democracy Now is pretty evasive, isn't it?)

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 25, 2004 09:59 AM

The protection detail left Haiti on the same  aircraft as Aristide. There was a meeting late in the evening the night before we departed the country with protection team members and reps from the U.S. Some of us (protection team) inquired about staying behind and not leaving with Arisitde. We were told we had no choice in the matter and refusal could put in jeopardy our military retirement (US personnel only). This information never was reported or printed anywhere to my knowledge and was certainly not covered by Mr. Kurtz in his interview. The entire detail left with Aristide. Mr. Kurtz denies in the article they (protection team) were forced to leave. This is simply not true. For a more detailed account of the departure and ruse employed by the US Government go to interview with Aristide and his bodyguards conducted by Amy Goodman March 16, 2004 in Democracy Now (democracynow.org) or (www.thirdworldtraveler.com/haiti/aristide&bodyguard_DN.html) 

Posted by: Former Steele Member at August 26, 2004 07:40 AM

Thanks. This is fascinating.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at August 26, 2004 07:43 AM

Peter Mandelson's Alleged Links

The delay in the N4610 trial combined with Simon Mann's smuggled note calling upon powerful friend with connections in UK conservative circle for help provide rich opportunities for the UK's investigative journalists. The Observer has a fine example of what is to come:

Mandelson rented flat from oil tycoon in coup claim: The European Commissioner's alleged links with a millionaire accused of backing a putsch bid in Africa are prompting questions

Peter Mandelson, the twice-sacked minister who is to be Britain's new European Commissioner, rented a luxury London home from the Lebanese millionaire now accused of funding an illegal African coup.

Mandelson's links to Ely Calil - the British-based tycoon who was Lord Archer's financial adviser - will once again raise questions about the former minister's links to rich businessmen.

Mandelson was forced to resign as Northern Ireland secretary in 2001 after he was accused of helping one of the Hinduja brothers obtain a British passport.

Calil, who made his fortune trading oil in Africa, is being sued in Britain for allegedly funding a coup to overthrow the president of the oil-rich west African state of Equatorial Guinea.

The Observer has now established that while Mandelson was Northern Ireland secretary he rented a luxury flat in the prestigious Holland Park area which had been offered to him by Calil. The property was then owned by one of Calil's trust funds.

The N4610 trial doesn't resume until August 18th, which given plenty of time for journalists to crawl all over this and other conservative connections. Enjoy.

MEANWHILE, in the comments, Steven Kaye points out an Independent article:

Mercenaries in trouble spots to be regulated

New laws to regulate mercenaries and private security firms who supply armed guards in trouble spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan are being considered by the Government.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is said to believe that the arguments in favour of a new law have been strengthened by events in Iraq. Ministers say the companies play a valuable role in keeping the peace but acknowledge the "new situation" must be addressed.

Ministers had argued a law would be unworkable, but the growing reliance on the companies in Iraq has prompted a rethink. Contractors employed by the US supervised interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqis were abused.

The article does not give any specifics about what regulations they are considering, but does contain a plum toward the end:

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It is almost impossible to prevent the spread of the use of private military companies. It makes sense to ensure they are regulated."

It is NOT impossible to prevent the spread of the use of PMFs, but the UK lacks the national will. "Security services" are one of the top UK exports since the beginning of the Iraq war. Politicians lack the political will to turn off the taps even though the privatization of military force is a huge power give-away on the part of the government. They could stop it now if they wanted to. Later they won't be able to.

There was some discussion of regulation of PMFs in Parliament following the Sandline Affair. I don't know if anything came of it.

But for starters, there is an additional protocol to the Geneva Convention, International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989, that the UK should sign onto. That would be a step in the right direction. Then Parliament could pass laws aimed at bringing the UK into compliance (as in the case of New Zealand). Those are a couple of concrete steps the UK could take but almost certainly won't. Too much money is at stake.

ALSO, the Guardian's piece on the Mandelson connection quotes a few more intriguing details from Mann's jailhouse correspondence:

New documents suggest Thatcher had financial ties with Mann. A letter written by Mann and smuggled out of his prison cell in Zimbabwe shows that Mann was expecting Thatcher to make a $200,00 investment in a 'project', although he does not specify what project. 

The letter states: 'This is a situation that calls for everyone to act in concert. It may be that getting us out comes down to a large splodge of wonga! Of course investors did not think this would happen. Did I? 

'Do they think they can be part of something like this with only upside potential - no hardship or risk of this going wrong. Anyone and everyone in this is in it - good times or bad. 

'Now its bad times and everyone has to F-ing well pull their full weight. Anyway... was expecting project funds inwards to Logo [Mann's firm] from Scratcher (200)'. Scratcher is Mann's nickname for Thatcher. A spokesman for Mr Thatcher has denied that he had any knowledge of the coup plot. 

Does anyone know if Mann's letter appears anywhere on the Internet in its entirety?

Simon Mann Pleads Guilty to a Weapons Charge

As the N4610 trial unfolds, Simon Mann has pleaded guilty to a charge of "attempting to possess dangerous weapons" [CNN], and the lead defense attorney has resigned [Mail & Guardian, South Africa]:

The head of the defence team for 70 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has withdrawn from the case, his associates said on Wednesday.

Veteran South African attorney Francois Joubert, a specialist in security and terrorism cases, "is no longer a member of the defence team", said fellow lawyer Alwyn Griebenow.

He refused to give a reason. Joubert was not immediately available for comment.

The BBC has a profile of Simon Mann in which they quote from a letter he wrote:

If proven, the charges against them could lead to deportation, decades in detention or a possible death sentence.

Mr Mann, a veteran of several wars, is understandably unnerved.

In a letter smuggled out of his prison cell and quoted by British newspapers, the former British soldier says only "major clout" can save him. 

He says they would be doomed if they got "into a real trial scenario". 

I agree with Mann's assessment of his situation. I am of two minds about his trial. On the one hand, I believe everyone should have a fair trial and I am opposed to the death penalty, and Zimbabwe would not be high on my list of places I would choose to stand trial. But on the other hand, this trial is one of the few forces working against the pernicious trend toward military privatization.

Meanwhile, someone has been attempting to blackmail Margaret Thatcher's son regarding his relationship with Mann. The telegraph reports "The would-be blackmailers are believed to be linked to Afrikaner members of the alleged mercenary gang who have fallen out with Mr Mann since their arrest in Harare." I'm not sure I understand this quite. Are they saying that friends of the mercenaries imprisoned with Mann are angry at Mann and are trying to blackmail Thatcher?

The Telegraph further reports that a letter from Mann smuggled out of the prison was addressed to "Scratcher":

Mr Mann had smuggled a letter out of his Harare prison cell asking for help from "Scratcher", understood to be rhyming slang for Thatcher.

Is this the same letter quoted from above? How interesting.

UPDATE (via Polytropus): I think there's only one letter, described by the Guardian as a "confidential letter smuggled out of Mann's tiny solitary confinement cell to his wife and legal team":

A confidential letter smuggled out of Mann's tiny solitary confinement cell to his wife and legal team pleads for help from a host of friends including the two he calls 'Scratcher' and 'Smelly'. 

South African sources close to Mann's circle claim that Scratcher is none other than Sir Mark Thatcher, the controversial son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Mark has a home close to Mann's in a luxury suburb of Cape Town and is now reputedly worth £60m from a string of ventures in America and the Middle East. 

And the nickname 'Smelly' is believed to refer to Ely Calil, the Chelsea-based millionaire oil trader, who is accused by the Equatorial Guinean government of helping to organise the coup from his home in West London. Calil is a friend and one-time financial adviser to the disgraced Tory peer, Lord Archer. 

Mann's letter, dated 21 March, states: '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! This is not going well.' 

Later he writes: 'I must say once again: what will get us out is major clout. 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 f****d'. (Even in solitary confinement in the notorious Chikurubi prison, Mann's upper-class British background apparently prevents him from swearing on the page despite the desperate situation he faces). 

But the reference to Hart has also intrigued British lawyers acting for Obiang. On behalf of the dictator, law firm Penningtons has launched a multi-million-dollar civil action for damages in Britain against Calil and Mann for conspiring to try to murder their client. 

Hart is the former Old Etonian millionaire adviser to Margaret Thatcher and was her chief enforcer during the 1984 miners' strike. He also served as a special adviser to Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind when they were ministers under previous Tory governments. Hart is known to have excellent access to the US administration and worked closely with CIA boss Bill Casey in the early and mid-1980s. More recently he has worked as a middle man for a number of defence contractors. 

Here's the question that comes to my mind: Why does he think these people will be willing to help him? Because they're buddies and will do anything to get a friend out of trouble? When does this cross the line into a situation in which help is expected because there was some kind of prior approval and support? And whose approval and support might this be? Can this get any curiouser?

AND here's a tidbit I missed, in the paid sub part of the Financial Times:

Dyncorp seeks to overturn Iraq contract

Dyncorp, the Texas-based private military contractor, is seeking to overturn the largest private security deal in Iraq, claiming that the contract was improperly awarded.

The US army surprised many in the industry last month when it awarded a $293m (€237m, £158m) contract to co-ordinate private security companies in Iraq to Aegis Defence Services - a small UK start-up with no experience in Iraq. More controversially, the company is run by Tim Spicer, a former British army officer who was at the centre of a political scandal in the UK during the late 1990s.

Dyncorp, which lost out on the contract, has a long and close relationship with the US government, performing a range of tasks including guarding military compounds and training the Iraqi police.

Dyncorp has submitted a formal protest to the audit arm of the US Congress, the Government Accountability Office, which will rule on the dispute by September 30.

In its complaint, a copy of which was obtained the Financial Times, Dyncorp draws attention to Mr Spicer's past involvement in the "Sandline affair" of 1998, in which a company he was director of sold arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a United Nations embargo.

Mercenaries and the Law in South Africa

IOL in South Africa has an interesting follow-up piece on the N4610 story and its unfolding in the courts, Government determined to put down dogs of war. The main thrust is whether South Africa, furstrated by the ineffectiveness of its anti-mercenary laws, is making an example of the merecenaries by being unwilling to help them get out of the jails of Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea. But they also have an intresting historical summary which made me nearly snort the coffee I was sipping:

South Africa's history as a seedbed for mercenaries dates back to the 1960s when its men fought in the Belgian Congo but it took off in the early 1990s when the end of apartheid put many highly-trained soldiers on the market for lucrative work.

Of the myriad of security firms and "private armies" that emerged from South Africa, the most well-known is Executive Outcomes, set up by Simon Mann who is accused of being the leader of the group of 70 suspected mercenaries going on trial in Harare on Wednesday.

In the early 1990s, Executive Outcomes helped the Angolan government protect oil installations from rebels during the civil war but it went out of business when the government adopted its 1998 Foreign Military Assistance Act barring mercenary work.

Mann was later involved in setting up British-based Sandline International that helped the government in Sierra Leone obtain arms in 1995 in violation of a United Nations embargo.

Sandline closed shop in April of this year due to what it described as a "the general lack of government support for private military companies."

"Without such support the ability of Sandline to make a positive difference in countries where there is widespread brutality and genocidal behaviour is materially diminished," said a Sandline statement posted on its website.

They should have quoted the entire Sandline exit line. The bit crucial to IOL's insinuation that that Sandline is in some way involved with N4610 is in the absence of effective international intervention. (For example?)

The trial of the mercenaries in Zimbabwe, which was to have opened today, has been delayed until tomorrow.

Tim Spicer in Iraq

As the Iraq hand-over vibrates from tragedy to comedy I have to admit, the last thing in the world I expected was for the largest security contract for Iraq's reconstruction to be awarded to Aegis, a company run by Tim Spicer, a self-described "unorthodox soldier," an outside-the-box military thinker with a reputation and a published autobiography who sees himself as "an interesting animal" that the public wants to know about. I missed this story when it first broke in June (though DefenseTech and  USAmnesia were on task). Spicer was formerly the CEO of Sandline, though according to the corporate web site he stepped down in 2000 to pursue his own projects. Under his guidance, Sandline was involved in two scandals, one involving Papua New Guinea and one involving Sierra Leone. I will not wax hyperbolic here. Much fascinating reading awaits the reader who wishes to discover the details of the Sandline intrigues.

I have been mulling over Spicer's new contract for a little while, struck quite speechless by this novelistic development. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute attributes the awarding of this contract to incompetence at the Pentagon, and surely some of that came into play. Indeed no wiser head bothered to type Tim Spicer into Google. But as we have seen from the Abu G scandal and the resulting release of memos, the current regime in the Pentagon is rather fond of unorthodox thinking, so I just can't see the Aegis contract as the pure result of incompetence and lack of background checks. In my humble opinion, Spicer got the job because of his no-more-Mister-Nice-Guy reputation, not in spite of it.

But let us not talk as if the contract had gone to Sandline itself. I started blogging private military firm in March with the advent of the N4610 affair. As of late March, Sandline was still in operation. But checking back with them, I see now Sandline closed its doors, at the height of the PMF goldrush, just a little over a month after N4610 and the load of mercenaries were detained:

On 16 April 2004 Sandline International announced the closure of the company's operations.

The general lack of governmental support for Private Military Companies willing to help end armed conflicts in places like Africa, in the absence of effective international intervention, is the reason for this decision. Without such support the ability of Sandline to make a positive difference in countries where there is widespread brutality and genocidal behaviour is materially diminished.

Meanwhile, as Spicer sails toward new-found fortune, his "good mate" (An Unorthodox Soldier, p. 143) Simon Mann, awaits trial in Zimbabwe. Such is the Hand of Fate.


When Afghan police burst into the large suburban house in Kabul, they were not expecting to see three men strapped to the ceiling and hanging by their feet.

This was supposedly an import business, after all.

But as they released the men, and five other captives who were also in the house, officers realised they had stumbled upon a private jail where Afghan prisoners were being locked up and tortured.

(Via the Yorkshire Ranter. See also Josh Marshall.) Are private jails a growth industry? It would be a great gig for suburban housewives. We've got basements! We know all about discipline! We're home anyway! I should really get in touch with the CIA.

ALSO, Bruce Sterling, writing for Wired, is fun on the subject of our mercenary future. (Via Body & Soul.)

N4610 Full Circle

Just when I think I won't see much new about the N4610 plot any time soon, Charlie Stross sends me a link to a Guardian/Observer story that circles around from tales of civilian contractors in Iraq right back to N4610 just as neatly as a Garrison Keillor anecdote:

Mercenaries in 'coup plot' guarded UK officials in Iraq: Shocked MP demands a rethink of the way government awards its security contracts. Special report by Antony Barnett, Solomon Hughes and Jason Burke

Mercenaries accused of planning a coup in an oil-rich African state also worked under contract for the British government providing security in Iraq, raising fears about the way highly sensitive security work is awarded, The Observer has learnt.

The Department for International Development (DfID) signed a ��250,000 deal last summer with the South-African based Meteoric Tactical Solutions (MTS) to provide 'close protection' for department staff, including bodyguards and drivers for its senior official in Iraq.

Two of the firm's owners were arrested in Zimbabwe last March with infamous British mercenary and former SAS officer Simon Mann. The men are accused of plotting an armed coup in Equatorial Guinea.

MTS is based in Pretoria and run by former members of South African special forces. Its owners are Lourens 'Hecky' Horn, Hermanus Carlse and Festus van Rooyen. Horn, the firm's Iraq contact when the contract with Britain was signed, is now in Chikurubi prison in Zimbabwe with Carlse.  . . . 

MTS director Festus van Rooyen, who is based in Iraq, confirmed his company's contract with the department and the arrest of his former partners, but denied all knowledge of alleged wrongdoing. He claimed that MTS had worked for Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and the Queen.

His fellow directors were on leave when they were arrested. 'I was shocked when I heard of their arrest. Activity like that is totally against company policy,' he said. 

Horn was in charge of the company in Iraq, including the British contract, until last February when he returned to South Africa to 'chill out on a hunting farm'. 

MORE HOT STUFF! Phil Carter discusses a new DoD memo in the hands of The Wall Street Journal:

Normally, I would say that there is a fine line separating legal advice on how to stay within the law, and legal advice on how to avoid prosecution for breaking the law.  DoD and DoJ lawyers often provide this first kind of sensitive legal advice to top decisionmakers in the Executive Branch (regardless of administration) who want to affirm the legality of their actions.  Often times, memoranda on these topics can be seen both ways, depending on your perspective.  I tend to think that the Yoo memorandum and Gonzales memorandum leaned more heavily towards providing advice about how to stay (barely) within the bounds of the law — not how to break the law and get away with it.  But this DoD memo appears to be quite the opposite.  It is, quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct.  This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it.  It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps.  I have not seen the text of the memo, but from this report, it does not appear that it advises American personnel to comply with international or domestic law.  It merely tells them how to avoid it.  That is dangerous legal advice.

(Via Atrios.)

Victor Bout, US Trading Partner?

5/24/04 UPDATE
There is a lot more detail on Bout and his commerical intercourse with the US government in this terrific post from The Yorkshire Ranter. Thanks to Ben in the comments!

The Financial Times has a fascinating story  I have not yet seen in any of the US media: US seeks to protect weapons trafficker. It's about a Russian mafia guy, Victor Bout, alleged to be the world's biggest arms trafficker:

The US is pressing for a notorious arms trafficker allegedly involved in supplying coalition forces in Iraq to be omitted from planned United Nations sanctions, in defiance of French demands.

Washington has UK support in resisting French efforts to freeze the assets of Victor Bout, once described by a UK minister as a "merchant of death" for his role as a leading arms supplier to rebel and government forces in several African conflicts, including Liberia.

The UN is considering who should be on a list of individuals whose assets will be frozen because of their involvement with the ousted regime of Charles Taylor, the Liberian leader overthrown last year.

Western diplomats say they have been told of reports that an air freight company associated with Mr Bout, who is subject to a UN travel ban because of his activities in Liberia, may be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq and that the US may be "recycling" his extensive cargo network.

In 2000, Peter Hain, then British foreign office minister responsible for Africa, described Mr Bout as "the chief sanctions-buster and . . . a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms" for rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone.

A former UN official familiar with the sanctions process said he had also heard of Mr Bout's Iraq connection. The ex-official said he had been told by a reliable source about a month ago that "the American defence forces are using Victor's planes for their logistics".

It really is too bad that the US couldn't afford planes of its own and has to rent them from criminals! But seriously, it seems to me that this equipment may be leased to covert US operations such as those described by Hersh, rather then by the regular troops.

Here's what PBS's Frontline had to say about Victor Bout a couple of years ago:

Victor  Bout is the poster boy for a new generation of post Cold War  international arms dealers who play a critical role in areas  where the weapons trade has been embargoed by the United Nations.

Now,  as FRONTLINE/World reports in "Gunrunners,"  unprecedented U.N. investigations have begun to unravel the  mystery of these broken embargoes, many of them imposed on African  countries involved in bloody civil wars. At the heart of this  unfolding detective story is the identification of a group of  East European arms merchants, with Victor Bout the first of  them to be publicly and prominently identified. The U.N. investigative  team pursued leads that a Mr. Bout [pronounced "butt" in Russian]  was pouring small arms and ammunition into Angola, Rwanda, Sierra  Leone and the Congo, making possible massacres on a scale that  stunned the world.

    And check this out, from the same PBS piece:

Afghan and U.A.E. air industry sources reported a meeting between "two Russians" and the United Arab Emirates representative of  Ariana, the Afghan national airline, in which it was agreed that Bout's Air Cess would provide wheels, tires and other military goods for the Taliban air force. Flying Dolphin would provide charter flights when Ariana was unavailable.

The Afghan permanent representative to the United Nations, citing Afghan and American intelligence reports, said Ariana flights from Sharjah had transported chemical poisons to Kandahar: "cyanide and other toxic substances purchased in Germany, the Czech Republic and Ukraine." He said the Taliban "had nothing to do with this. These chemicals were for Bin Laden and his people. It was some of the chemicals they were using in experiments." Earlier, the  US had reportedly pressured the U.A.E. to clamp down on Bout's operations, which simply resulted in his moving to a neighboring Emirate.
. . .

News organizations around the world, pressing hard to break new stories about Al Qaeda, along with western officials eager to be seen as fighting terrorism may be inflating Bout's significance in describing him as heading "what some officials call the largest arms trafficking network in the world." Such claims were never made before evidence emerged linking Bout to the Taliban. And even if true, the mandate of the U.N. arms investigations - limited to violations of country-specific embargoes - and the nature of the illicit arms trade make it impossible to confirm. Most experts would agree that he is the largest known illicit trafficker in Africa. Beyond that, the extent of his activity is very difficult to pin down.

Why is this guy one of our trading partners and not in a jail cell? And why are we helping him out of a jam with the UN?

Here's a discussion of Bout from a meeting of the UN Security Council, Thursday, 22 February 2001. The speaker is a "Ms. Lee" of Singapore:

Clearly, the arms and diamonds industries have spawned a very profitable war economy, such that the diamonds industry, which was the resource for the arms, has in turn generated an arms industry to protect the diamonds. It is a stalemate that has a high price: violence for economic control. . .

We are here today to review the recommendations of the Mechanism on the effectiveness of the implementation of the many sanctions against UNITA and to consider appropriate action against the sanctions-busters. . . .

In the case of the diamonds sanctions, modes of circumvention similar to those being used in the Sierra Leone sanctions as described in the Ayafor report appear to have been used to conceal the true origin of diamonds from UNITA mines. These include the potential loopholes found in the Swiss tax-free zones. However, a serious allegation was made in paragraph 181 of the Mechanism's report: that well known clients of De Beers are knowingly buying rough diamonds from UNITA. This and other questionable methods uncovered by the Mechanism require further investigation as to the validity of the findings.

On the issue of sanctions-busting, the report mentions some familiar names. On the use of aircraft for sanctions-busting, Victor Bout has been identified as a key player, as has Air Cess. The countries named in the report as being the countries of origin for arms exports to UNITA, and those accused of complicity in permitting the forging of end-user certificates for arms imports, should address the issues raised in the report.

What is most disturbing in the Mechanism's report are the common criminals described in it, namely Victor Bout, Fred Rindel and the European network connection  --  they are "common" because they appear to be the same individuals named in the Ayafor report for activities linked to the trade in illicit diamonds and arms in relation to Sierra Leone. If sanctions-busters continue to be "rewarded" and not punished for their acts, the damage will not be limited to the exploitation of the resources of Angola. It will undermine the credibility of the United Nations itself, because the sanctions imposed against UNITA are one of the tools of the Security Council for carrying out its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

(Note that Fred Rindel, mentioned in the same breath, came up in the N4610 scandal in connection to Dodson Aircraft.)

UPDATE: There is a new Financial Times story, UK set to support sanctions on arms dealer:

ritain is now expected to support French demands to freeze the assets of arms trafficker Victor Bout, amid growing signs that Washington may also drop its objections to action being taken against him.

The decision by the UK has emerged since a controversy erupted when it became clear that the US and UK were seeking other ways to target Mr Bout. The Ukrainian is living in Moscow. One of his companies is said by several diplomats to be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq.

Let's Define Mercenary

I've had a few requests for a more specific definition of mercenary. What exactly are we talking about when we speak of mercenaries here?

When I started writing about mercenaries a few weeks ago, it was much more clear cut: those guys aboard N4610 detained in Zimbabwe are definitely mercenaries; they were hired by someone to overthrow a government. (Whether the government in question is in need of a regime change does not bear on the question of whether they are mercenaries.)

I ignored the matter of Private Military Companies operating in Iraq for quite a while, since it was my assumption that what they were replacing were cooks, stock boys, delivery men, the kind of security guards that stand in the same place all day with a gun, etc.  But I was disturbed that I kept encountering facts suggesting a lot more was being outsourced.

Defining mercenary is difficult and there are a variety of definitions. The short version is that when I say mercenary, I mean either a professional soldier or someone (regardless of professional qualifications) hired to act in that capacity and not formally enlisted in any state's army.

I have been reading P. W. Singer's excellent book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. He devotes considerable discussion to the precise definition.

His definition of mercenary is on p. 43:

What Makes a Mercenary?

Seven essential characteristics distinguish modern-day mercenaries from other combatants and military organizations:

Foreign: A mercenary is not a citizen or resident of the state in which he or she is fighting
Independence: A mercenary is not integrated (for the long term) into any national force and is bound only by contractual ties of a limited employer
Motivation: A mercenary fights for individual  short-term economic reward, not for political or religious goals
Recruitment: Mercenaries are brought in by oblique and circuitous ways to avoid legal prosecution
Organization: Mercenary units are temporary and ad-hoc groupings of individual soldiers
Services: Lacking prior organization, mercenaries focus just on combat service, for a single client

My definition conflicts with his on only two points. Recruitment and Services. While the non-Anglo-American mercenaries in Iraq may have been recruited against the wishes of their home countries, as a group, they seem to have the blessing of the Bush administration. To me, this does not make them any less mercenaries. But rather, this is a problem with the Bush administration. Also, the very fact that they are called "civilian contractors" seems to me a deliberate attempt to conceal the military nature of their mission. Regarding their services, this point seems most useful for distinguishing traditional mercenaries from private military  companies, not mercenaries from true civilians.

He also defines Private Military Firm on p. 47:

How Are PMFs Different?

Organization: Prior Corporate Structure
Motives: Business Profit-Driven rather than Individual Profit-Driven
Open Market: Legal, Public Entities
Services: Wider Range, Varied Clientele
Recruitment: Public, Specialized
Linkages: Tied to Corporate Holdings and Financial Markets

For the most part I would consider the soldier employees of PMFs to be mercenaries.

I'm planning to review Singers book and so I don't want to go on and on about all the illuminating information in it right now, especially since I'm only 1/3 through it. But there is one further passage I think of as a definitional touchstone (p. 64):

While economics has always played a role in conflict, the end of the twentieth century saw a new type of warfare develop, centered on profit-seeking enterprise. It was organized mass violence, but of a type that involved the blurring of traditional conceptions of war (what Clausewitz defined as violence between states or organized groups for political purposes), organized crime (violence by private organized groups undertaken for private purposes, usually financial gain), and large-scale violations of human rights.

BACK FROM PETER'S YOGA CLASS, WHERE I READ FURTHER: Singer does a nice job classifying the role of "security" provided by private military firms (p. 73):

Some [firms], such as Vinnell or Booz Allen, are relatively hidden as divisions within a larger corporate structure. Others such as Armourgroup, identify themselves as outside the military field, using the more legitimate-sounding moniker of "private security firms." Their claim is that they provide only passive services for private clients in domestic situations. However, they are far different from the security guard s that work at the local shopping malls. A number of "private security firms" are neither quiescent in their operations, nor are the settings in which they operate either peaceful or even civilian in nature. From offering training in special forces tactics to providing armed units designed to repel guerrilla attacks, both their services and impact are definitely military in nature.

AND FOR THE TRUE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OUT THERE,  here's a tidbit to feed your fancies: Armourgroup (remember, these are the guys who mention the ex-KGB guys on their staff in a press release) owns NTI, the company that does computer security for CNN, Ebay, and Yahoo (p. 84).

ANOTHER GOOD BIT FROM SINGER, (p. 23 & 25): Niccol Machiavelli looked down on the use of mercenaries:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.

Tayloring the Plot

Ifve been watching the stories of alternate explanations of what the N4610 mercenaries were up to. The most prominent of them suggests that the mercenaries were just out to bring Charles Taylor to justice. Apparently, the families are the source of the story that the men werenft trying to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea but only trying to capture fugitive Charles Taylor:

Charles Taylor may have been 'mercenaries' target

A saga of claim and counterclaim surrounding suspected African mercenaries continued today when the menfs families disclosed that they had been on a mission to abduct Charles Taylor, Liberiafs former warlord-turned-president.

The men, detained in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea, face possible death penalties, having been charged with planning to overthrow the president of the tiny West African

Seventy suspects have been remanded in custody at Zimbabwefs top security prison. Fifteen others are incarcerated in Equatorial Guinea, accused of accepting an offer from exiled opposition leaders of $1.8 million (1m) and oil rights to overthrow the Government.

However, family and friends told South African newspapers today that the men were simply planning to use Guinea as a staging post on a mission to capture Mr. Taylor.

He carries a $2 million (1.1m) bounty to be paid by America on delivery to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone.

So, let me get this straight: The families admit that those arrested in connection with N4610 in Zimbabwe and those arrested in Equatorial Guinea were working together and that N4610 was headed for Equatorial Guinea? Yes?

(I havenft yet been able to determine whether the families also claim that the mission was associated with the mercenary firm Northbridge Services Group -- this seems to be fairly logical speculation on the part of a reporter.)

I donft know why this story is getting such uncritical media coverage: It is obvious to me that this is a maneuver aimed toward getting the mercenaries off on the charges most likely to involve the death penalty.

UPDATE: The Australian has a good write-up on the mercenaries, Dogs of war walk into carefully set trap, with the general thesis that the South African government, aware of the plot, gave the  mercenaries the proverbial sufficiency of rope, setting them up to be arrested and jailed. Along the way, the piece places the Charles Taylor bounty-hunting as the secondary mission of the group, to be undertaken after the EQ coup. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Dodson: a Clearer Picture

I'm beginning to get a clearer picture of Dodson, the company that sold the plane N4610 to the mercenary firm Logo Logistics. Here's a bit on them from a trip report by a fellow who toured their factory:

As promised Chase and Bruce returned at 7.30am and immediately contacted Wendell Barker who turned out to be a true gent. He opened up the Dakotas for a tour and photos. These aircraft are a legend and these particular two were newly purchased as a part lot of 19 by Wendell's employers Dodson International, the one I examined and pretended to fly was used to fly the South Africa President Mandela around.

. . . Back at the airfield Chase handed me over to Wendell who had invited me to look over Dodson's huge facility a few miles away. Dodson's are an unusual company, they are aircraft breakers and buy old and wrecked airplanes of any type from all over the world. The ones that cannot be repaired and sold on are pulled apart and the parts refurbished and sold as secondhand. At the plant Wendell handed me over to Russ who gave me the grand tour, it was very impressive, acres of parts from instruments to wheel axles of every type of aircraft imaginable [except mine] he took me to the "Bone Yard" outside, row after row of aircraft shells including John Wayne's and John Travolta's old personal jets. Some were whole, minus the engines some were stripped down and some had been crashed beyond recognition . On one wrecked jet I noticed splashes of dried blood in the destroyed cockpit and said nothing, I learned later that the two pilots had survived but were badly injured.

On arriving back at Wendell's office he made the tea and it turned out he was the company lawyer apparently there is a lot of red tape involved in buying and selling scrap aircraft across international boundaries.

Dodson seems to get sued a lot. Here's another lawsuit Dodson lost: Ameristar Jet Charter, Inc. v. Dodson International Parts, Inc. This one makes Dodson sound like a combination used car dealer and bad body shop. This ruling involved a $1.4 million judgement against Dodson.

And here's another one: Aerotech v. Dodson, in which it sounds like they didn't have the right to sell the plane they were offering, or something like that. This judgement against them was only a couple of hundred thousand.

Sandline Says They're Not Defunct

Here is a fun write-up of the whole N4610 situation from ZWNews.com plus some great corrections at the bottom:



Sandline International have objected to the text of a the above article. Mr Michael Grunberg, speaking for the company, says:

1. "Sandline is not a "defunct" company. It is very much in operation."

2. "The company is not gtied toh Mr Mann. Mr Mann has had no involvement with Sandline since its inception in 1997."

The New York Times have published the following correction:

"An article yesterday about a foiled coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea misstated the status of a company tied to one of the mercenaries accused in the plot. Sandline International, a private military contractor cited for its activity in Africa in the 1990fs, is still functioning; it is not defunct".

One wonders what business the non-defunct company is  doing. Michael Grunberg is the Sandline accountant who helped the company, allegedly, appropriate tens of millions of dollars from the government of Papua New Guinea for unneccessay mercenary service that if carried out could have resulted in a slaughter of the native people.

Dodson in Financial Difficulties

Dodson Aviation, former owner of N4610 the rent-a-coup plane, was apparently having financial difficulties, according to Lender Liability News:

"2 Million Cap Doesn't Apply"
Lender Liability News (10/31/03) Vol. 16, No. 12,
U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil has ruled that Dodson Aviation is liable for the full amount of its loan from GE Capital. GE Capital sued Dodson Aviation and its owners for breach of contract after Dodson failed to make three consecutive monthly payments on its loan for a $2 million Hawker aircraft. The lender asked to recover $2.75 million from the owners of Dodson Aviation, which filed for bankruptcy shortly after the suit was filed, and argued that the owners of the company were personally liable for the amount of the loan's outstanding balance. Dodson Aviation's owners argued that they were liable for only $2 million, or the credit cap in the initial loan agreement. The judge ruled against Dodson Aviation's owners, saying they must pay the full $2.75 million owed to GE Capital as laid out in the guaranty and security agreement the company had with the lender.

(Via reconpresseusa.)

MEANWHILE, Shameless Agitator has named me the week's Shameless Agitator fo my coverage of N4610.

Executive Outcomes => Northbridge Services Group?

The weblog 911 Skeptics Unite  points out that www.executiveoutcomes.com, the domain of Executive Outcomes, is still registered and forwards into www.northbridgeservices.com, the website of Northbridge Services Group, Ltd:

Northbridge Services Group founders have       identified through their cumulative experiences in various first world       armed forces, government agencies, and the private sector, a growing       demand for a highly discrete, totally reliable yet cost effective service       provider.

       The Company's personnel consist of highly decorated individuals who have,       in aggregate, more than 200 years of operational service predominantly in       Special Forces therefore can guarantee a truly international blend of       experience, pedigree and speciality.��

The creepiest bit of their website is Our Services: Humanitarian Operations

One of Northbridge Services Group's most important roles is participating alongside                   Governments                    and Aid Organisations in Humanitarian Support                   Operations.� Depending on the situation Northbridge                   Services Group has the expertise to assist in:                                       � Securing strategic assets - water, food, electricity, key installations                    � Convoy escorts                    � Humanitarian and disaster  relief command and co-ordination                    � Mine clearance                    � Protection of   Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) personnel                    � Medical support at all levels                    � Air support                    � Peacekeeping

Translation: They can infest humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts with trained mercenaries. Yuk.

Could Northbridge have some connection to N4610, the mystery plane?

(See also: Liberia: Northbridge Services Group Under Investigation, October 1, 2003, and Parapundit last July.)

I think I now understand more about these huge bounties offered for various terrorists. They are not set that high so that your average person who just happens to know the fugitive is can collect. We do not see coverage of an Ed McMahon-like character out there handing out big checks to lucky Iraqis. Rather, those bounties are an announced market price for the fugitive, set to engage the attentions of private military companies. To me, this gives more creedence to the idea that Saddam was precaptured (Gary Farber thinks I'm paranoid for entertaining that idea in the first place), and that a shrink-wrapped  bin Laden may be in storage elsewhere. (Northbridge publically acknowledges that snatching fugitive leaders is one of the services it would like to provide.)

Continue reading "Executive Outcomes => Northbridge Services Group?" »

N4610 Has a Name: Clipper Pathfinder

It's still snowing and the kids are asleep. Poking around, I found a charming bit on N4610, the Rent-a-Coup plane, that I had previously missed. In its first incarnation as a commercial aircraft, the plane had a name: Clipper Pathfinder:

83-4610 . . . Ex-commercial 727-100 operated by ANG 4610 (c/n 18811) was formerly B-727-035 N4610 of National Airlines.  National merged with Pan American and aircraft named 'Clipper Pathfinder'.   Purchased by USAF Aug 21, 1984. Sold Jan 11, 2002 to Dodson International Parts, inc and then to Dodson Aviation Jan 14, 2002. Registered to Dodson Aviation as N4610.  Seized by Zimbawean authorities for carrying suspected mercenaries and military equipment.  Dodson supposedly had sold  the plane to a South African company, Logo Ltd.

Those of us who work primarily in fiction care about such things.

THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, I wanted to return for a moment to the subject of that awful Lucasarts game, Mercenaries, I blogged this morning: Mercenaries will give gamers the opportunity to live out their action movie fantasies with its explosive combat and non-linear gameplay set in massive interactive environments. If you can see it -- you can steal it, use it or blow it up. says the press release. Calixte, on African Oil Politics has noted the misplaced sympathy the Western media are giving the captive mercenaries. And I, meanwhile, have been patiently waiting for some competent coverage of the whole mess from the US media.

I'm beginning to worry that they're too caught up in whether Spain is giving in to terrorism  (oh, please!), or whether the misquoted John Kerry can be badgered into claiming foreign governments among his supporters. But I worry, on further meditation, that the problem is not these distractions at all, but rather that Americans assume that oil politics take place only in the Middle East and that, worse still, Americans as a group really do think the way the Lucasarts copy suggests; that the very idea of  mercenaries poses us serious point-of-view problems, that in our hearts we believe that the world needs mercenaries so we can have the opportunity to vicariously live out our action movie fantasies.

I have been thinking about this point-of-view problem -- that the Western public is more prone to identify with the mercenaries than those they are hired to shoot at -- and it seems to me that we need to understand that in many ways, mercenaries are not that different from al-Qaida's terrorists except that they lack a strong religious and moral framework. (We may disagree vehemently with the nature of that framework, but it undeniably is present in those choosing to die for their cause.)

I have seen it argued in a variety of places, from al-Jazeera to conservative think-tank documents, that al-Quaida tends to concentrate in places where there is oil. Could it be that they are the mirror-image of these mercenaries, funded and deployed by the Saudi faction that would prefer to see the world's oil supply under the control of Islam (as opposed to under the control of Texans)?

This failed coup is a scandal, a big scandal with a broad reach. The press needs to stop romanticizing (when not ignoring) the captive mercenaries, and get on with the business of actually covering the story.

Trackback: The Gutless Pacifist.

Some Belated Trackbacks

As the storm moves in, we are preparing to be snowed in. I went out for more firewood and some last-minute groceries this morning. Now we're all home. Two inches of snow have fallen, and it's supposed to snow for another six hours. We have a very satsifying fire going in the woodstore, a strawberry and rhubarb pie, and a pot of Earl Grey tea. Elizabeth is watching The Wiggles; Peter is playing in his room and listening to a tape of a Bruce Coville book, David is answering his email, and here I am.

I've been getting some nice trackbacks on my recent pieces involving N4610 and Africa. For some reason, my trackback thing never works. (Perhaps it will start working the next time I upgrade Movable Type.) Some come from my usual intelligent readers, but several come from terrific blogs I've never seen before. Here they are:

also thanks to THE MUMPSIMUS for the trackback on our Year's Best tables of contents.

(One day this will all happen automaticly here too!)

I had more to say, but david has been loitering in the background with urgent tasks for me, so I'll stop for now.

Report in Barbados: N4610 Departed U.S. from Air Force Base in North Carolina

This just in from the Daily Nation in Barbados [Extremely slow server. Give the link time]:

A UNITED STATES registered plane at the centre of controversy after being detained on Monday with 64 suspected mercenaries aboard by the Zimbabwean government did stop at Grantley Adams International Airport last Saturday morning.

Informed sources told the DAILY NATION yesterday that the aircraft, a Boeing 727 (100 series), with registration number N4610, landed in Barbados shortly after midnight for refuelling before leaving around 6:30 a.m.

Sources also indicated that the aircraft, which Zimbabwean officials alleged also carried military equipment, had arrived from the Hope Air Force Base in North Carolina, United States, before its stop-over in Barbados.

Further reports stated that the plane, originally a commercial PanAm Airways aircraft up until a week ago, was being operated by the American Air Force, but international Press reports stated it had been sold to a South African company.

The plane was detained by Zimbabwean security officials after its owners made a false declaration of its cargo and crew at Harare's main airport.

I think they probably mean Pope Air Force Base.

We'll discount their discussion of the plane's provenance, which is a bit garbled, and presume their information about its itinerary comes from local records.

Another question for the next White House Press conference: Did flight N4610 depart the U.S. from Hope Air Force Base in North Carolina?

ONE MINOR FUSSY POINT: If you've been following my attempts to track down all the Boeing C-22Bs, you know that I have had a little bit of a hard time tracking down exactly how many there were. I thought I'd cut it down to four, but this photo of a C-22B, on the web site of the U. S. Air Force, clearly shows a plane with a number just beyond the sequence I was researching: the 34618 indicates a serial number 83-4618 associated with an original tail number N4618. Interesting.

(On an extremely speculative note, an anonymous commentor apparently on the scene at Wonderboom Airport in South Africa claims that there is a second 727 at Wonderboom. He implies that it is also of U.S. military provenance.)

A Question for Dick Cheney

After thinking overnight about the materials from the conservative think tanks I blogged yesterday concerning African oil, it seems to me that Vice President Cheney needs to be asked directly whether the desirability of a regime change in Equatorial Guinea and the means by which such thing could be accomplished were ever discussed in the closed-door meetings of his National Energy Policy Development Group; if so what means were discussed; and who was party to the discussion.

The White House would, of course, refuse to answer such questions, but the nature of that refusal might be very illuminating. This question should also be asked since the NEPD is the obvious source of the formulation of the American Enterprise Institute's panel topic formulation and also the sentiments coming from the Heritage Foundation.

There's a nice piece in Foreign Policy Focus on the Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, entitled Bush-Cheney Energy Strategy: Procuring the Rest of the World's Oil by Michael Klare:

The Cheney report is very guarded about the amount of foreign oil that will be required. The only clue provided by the report is a chart of net U.S. oil consumption and production over time. According to this illustration, domestic oil field production will decline from about 8.5 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2002 to 7.0 mbd in 2020, while consumption will jump from 19.5 mbd to 25.5 mbd (2). That suggests imports or other sources of petroleum, such as natural gas liquids, will have to rise from 11 mbd to 18.5 mbd. Most of the recommendations in Chapter 8 of the NEP are aimed at procuring this 7.5 mbd increment, equivalent to the total oil consumed by China and India.

One-third of all the recommendations in the report are for ways to obtain access to petroleum sources abroad. Many of the 35 proposals are region- or country-specific, with emphasis on removing political, economic, legal, and logistical obstacles.

For example, the NEP calls on the secretaries of Energy, Commerce, and State "to deepen their commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and other Caspian states to provide a strong, transparent, and stable business climate for energy and related infrastructure projects."

The Cheney report will have a profound impact on future U.S. foreign and military policy. Officials will have to negotiate for these overseas supplies and arrange for investments that will increase production and exports. They must also take steps to ensure that wars, revolutions or civil disorder do not impede foreign deliveries to the United States. These imperatives will be especially significant for policy toward the Persian Gulf area, the Caspian Sea basin, Africa, and Latin America.

Applying the Cheney energy plan will have major implications for U.S. security and military policy. Countries expected to supply petroleum in the years ahead are torn by internal conflicts, harbor strong anti-American sentiments, or both. Efforts to procure additional oil from foreign sources are almost certain to lead to violent disorder and resistance in many key producing areas. While U.S. officials might prefer to avoid the use of force in such situations, they may conclude that the only way to guarantee the continued flow of energy is to guard the oil fields and pipelines with soldiers.

To add to Washington's dilemma, troop deployments in the oil-producing areas are likely to cause resentment from inhabitants who fear the revival of colonialism or who object to particular U.S. political positions, such as U.S. support for Israel. Efforts to safeguard the flow of oil could be counter-productive, intensifying rather than diminishing local disorder and violence.
. . .
Another area the Bush administration views as a promising source of oil is West Africa. Although African states accounted for only about 10% of global oil production in 2000, the Department of Energy predicts that their share will rise to 25% by 2020. That will add 8.3 mbd to global supplies, welcome news in Washington. "West Africa is expected to be one of the fastest-growing sources of oil and gas for the American market," the Cheney report observes.

The administration expects to concentrate its efforts in Nigeria, its neighboring states in the Gulf of Guinea, and Angola. As in the Caspian region, however, U.S. hopes to obtain additional oil from Africa could be frustrated by political unrest and ethnic warfare. Indeed, much of Nigeria's production was shut down during the spring of 2003 because of ethnic violence in the Delta region, the site of much of Nigeria's onshore oil. Local activists have occupied offshore oil facilities to bargain for community project funding. Crime and vandalism have also hampered Nigeria's efforts to increase oil production.

The United States is not likely to respond to these challenges by deploying troops. That undoubtedly would conjure up images of colonialism, provoking strong opposition at home and abroad. But Washington is willing to step up military aid to friendly regimes in the region. Total U.S. assistance to Angola and Nigeria amounted to some $300 million in fiscal years 2002 through 2004, a significant increase over the previous three-year period. In fiscal 2004, Angola and Nigeria also became eligible to receive surplus arms under the Pentagon's Excess Defense Articles program. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has begun to secure rights for the establishment of naval bases in the region, most notably in Nigeria and the islands of Sao Tom e Principe.

And The Progressive ran a piece on Cheney by Wayne Madsen in 2000, Cheney at the Helm with some newly relevant discussion of Cheney's involvement in Africa:

Cheney's links to defense contractors and the intelligence community have made him suspect among human rights activists. Halliburton and Brown & Root have played a role in some of the world's most volatile trouble spots. These include Algeria, Angola, Bosnia, Burma, Croatia, Haiti, Kuwait, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, and Somalia.

In 1998, while I was in Rwanda conducting research for my book, Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999 (Edwin Mellen, 1999), a number of U.S. military personnel assigned to that country raised questions about Brown & Root's activities. "Brown & Root is into some real bad shit," one told me. The U.S. Army Materiel Command has confirmed that Brown & Root was in Rwanda under contract with the Pentagon. One U.S. Navy de-mining expert told me that Brown & Root helped Rwanda's U.S.-backed government fight a guerrilla war. Brown & Root's official task was to help clear mines. However, my research showed it was more involved in providing covert military support to the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Army in putting down a Hutu insurgency and assisting its invasion of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (Cheney and Halliburton declined numerous opportunities to comment on this story.)

Cheney was no stranger to covert activities in Rwanda. In 1990, during his tenure as Secretary of Defense, Rwandan strongman Major General Paul Kagame, then a colonel in the Ugandan People's Democratic Force, attended the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Kagame, with the likely knowledge of the U.S. Army and Cheney, suddenly dropped out of the school to assume command of the nascent Rwanda Patriotic Army, which later that year launched a full-scale invasion of Rwanda from rear bases inside Uganda. U.S. military advisers were present in Uganda at the time of the invasion, another fact that would have been known to Cheney and his Pentagon advisers.

While three separate commissions appointed by Belgium, France, and the Organization of African Unity have charged their own officials with complicity in central Africa's turmoil, no American panel has ever probed the involvement of the U.S. government, military, and defense contractors in central Africa's woes. If there were such a panel, Dick Cheney, the man in charge of both the Pentagon and Halliburton during various invasions of Rwanda and the Congo, would certainly have to be called and asked, "What did you know about covert U.S. military operations in central Africa and when did you know about them?"

But that's not all of Halliburton's questionable involvements. The other most serious charge against Halliburton comes from a group called Environmental Rights Action based in Harcourt, Nigeria. "In September of 1997, eighteen Mobile Police officers . . . shot and killed one Gidikumo Sule at the Opuama flow station at Egbema in Warri. . . . [elipses in original] Several other youths were injured during a protest," said the group in a report dated October 16, 1998. It implicated Halliburton in this repression, saying that the company was in collaboration with the police. Cheney was at the helm of Halliburton at the time.

Halliburton has worked with Chevron and Shell in Nigeria, which have been implicated in gross human rights violations and environmental devastation there.

Leaders like Equatorial Guinea's Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Congo (Brazzaville) President Denis Sassou-Nguesso also use the revenues generated from Halliburton-built offshore oil platforms to enrich themselves and their families while ruthlessly suppressing ethnic and political opposition.


All this is, of course, old news, but it is old news with a new relevance. We have already been told by the Bush administration that sanctions and other peaceful means do not work to force out undesirable heads of state who rule countries that swim on a sea of oil. Yet there is this persistent magical thinking in conservative discussions of how Africa will help meet our rising energy needs. What options were discussed in meetings of the National Energy Policy Development Group? I think we're owed an answer.      

UPDATE: New Zealand's Sunday Independent reports that Eli Cahlil [also spelled Ely Calil elsewhere], the London-based Lebanese businessman accused of helping to organize and finance the coup attempt, is "close to " Halliburton:

Sources think the money for the coup attempt came from rival members of the ruling family, money that is stashed in the Canary Islands. Logo Logistics, the company that owns the aircraft on which Mann and his associates were arrested, has been linked by Africa Confidential to a Lebanese businessman, Eli Cahlil, who is also close to the United States oil company, Halliburton. Halliburton has an oil concession in Equatorial Guinea.


How close is he? What is meant by "close"?

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting it , too, though a bit more tactfully.

And there is some other interesting material in the CSM article on the situation of mercenaries in Africa:

Equatorial Guinea, nestled in the crook of Africa's west coast, is the region's third-biggest oil producer. In 1995, the year a big oil field was discovered, the country's per capita annual income was $370. By 2002, it had jumped to $5,000. But as in most of West Africa, much of the wealth is held by the ruling elite. This can spark envy - and coup attempts, thus boosting a government's desire to protect itself by hiring military muscle.

But oil is just one reason for West Africa's growing demand for guns for hire. The US, for instance, is now more engaged in West Africa. But with troops tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, it's increasingly hiring private security firms to represent it.

In a recent speech, Theresa Whelan, a top official for Africa at the US Department of Defense, put it this way: "The use of contractors in Africa ... means that the US can be supportive in trying to ameliorate regional crises without necessarily having to put US troops on the ground, which is often times a very difficult political decision."

So, in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and elsewhere, private firms are training militaries to become more professional, courtesy of the US government.

These firms are also key to supporting peacekeeping efforts. The US has paid them to provide logistics support - transportation, fuel, and other supplies - to African-led peacekeeping units in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast.

"If you didn't have private companies doing what they're doing in West Africa, things would fall apart," says Doug Brooks, head of the International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group based near Washington. He argues that private firms should be allowed to run full-blown peacekeeping operations, saying they could do it better and cheaper than the United Nations and regional peacekeepers. He once calculated that private firms could stop all Africa's wars for just $1.1 billion.

But many people worry private firms can be roguish and unaccountable.

Jan Breytenbach, founder of South Africa's infamous apartheid-era Battalion 32, a mercenary group, warns that today's seemingly upstanding private-security firms will employ ex-soldiers "under false pretenses" in order to get them involved in clandestine operations. "You can think you're being hired to protect a diamond mine," he says, "but then you end up fighting other people" - or participating in a coup. He cautions ex-military men: "It's better to stay out of this stuff all together; otherwise you'll get caught with your pants down."

(And for desert, read  Theresa Whelan's speech at the International Peace Operations Association dinner (pdf), speaking as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, November 19th 2003, Washington, DC.)

Trackback: Chrononautic Log

N4610: More Names, a Face, & Some Conservative Thoughts

Here, from SABA News in South Africa, are more names of those arrested on board N4610 in Zimbabwe: Newspaper says these 13 were on plane

March 14, 2004, 11:09

A Johannesburg Sunday newspaper has published the names of 13 men it says are the South Africans being held in Harare on charges of planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Rapport says it obtained the names from diplomatic and intelligence sources.

It named the sole British subject being held as Simon Mann and the only Zimbabwean as Malani Moyo.

Zimbabwe detained 70 suspects, the majority of them being South Africans, Namibians and Angolans.

The 13 names are: Johannes Muyongo, Avelino Dala, Errol Harris, Never Matias, Raymond Archer, Maitre Raukuluka, Louis du Preez, Harmanus Carlse, Simon Witherspoon, Kenneth Pain, pilot Neil Steyl,  Hendrik Hamman and Lawrence Horn.

Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said Friday the charges on which the accused were being held were "quite clear, they were bent on actually destabilising an independent country, a sovereign country and we are bound by the AU (African Union) charter and the UN charter to protect other states from any aggression." - Sapa

And here is a lovely picture of Simon Mann in his role as Colonel Wilford in the movie Bloody Sunday. (I'm not kidding.) He's the guy in the middle.

Simon Mann

I owe this piece of infomation to calixte of the blog african oil politics. He also has a nice  writeup of journalistic attempts to turn our sympathies toward the poor mercenaries. Mann  comes across to me as a parody of the celebrity executive, a dynamic movie-star-like character unafraid to take risks to pursue an opportunity. If the celebrity executive thing were in need of any more debunking, he provides the broadest possible satire.

The Sunday Herald has a generally good piece with a bit more detail about him:

Only days before the main team of mercenaries arrived in Harare aboard the plane, a group of their advance guard, led by former British SAS man Simon Mann, met with one Colonel Tshinga Dube, Director of Zimbabwe Defence Industries, to finalise the arms deal worth $180,000.

For much of his life, old Etonian Simon Mann has been part dog of war and part modern-day businessman. Son of the late England cricket captain George Mann, he has been described as a "maverick and bon viveur". After leaving the SAS in 1985 he and an associate, Tony Buckingham, established the mercenary group Executive Outcomes, which had offices in South Africa and in Chelsea, West London. One of Simon Mann's "co-conspirators" in his present adventure, Simon Witherspoon, is another old Executive Outcomes hand.

EO shot to fame during the 1990s when it assisted the Angolan government in fighting the rebel movement UNITA and helped the Sierra Leone authorities deal with the Revolutionary United Front. The firm, like Simon Mann's latest planeload of mercenaries, included many former personnel of the notorious 32 Buffalo Battalion of the South African special forces and Civil Cooperation Bureau, which was responsible for the deaths of several anti-apartheid activists.

But despite Mann's previous shadowy exploits, associates, and gift of the gab, it didn't prevent him and his band being arrested and imprisoned in Chikurubi maximum-security prison by the Zimbabwean authorities last week.

Also via calixte, is a bit more elaboration of the Equatorial Guinea end of things from The Scotsman:

Documents obtained by Scotland on Sunday suggest that Obiang's own brother is linked with the South African mercenary who has admitted his part in the putative coup plot.

Obiang, who came to power in a military coup by overthrowing his uncle, has ruled with an iron fist for 25 years by stuffing the government with his relatives and blatantly rigging elections.

But in recent months tensions have risen within his family over an apparent desire to hand power to his son Teodorin, a rap music entrepreneur and international playboy.

The 30-something has been seen at parties in Hollywood, Rio de Janerio and Paris, where he stays at five-star hotels and travels in Bentley and Lamborghini cars. He has his own rap label, TNO Productions, and has reportedly had a relationship with a female American gangster rapper.

Now company documents link Nick du Toit, the 48-year-old South African arrested as leader of an alleged "advance team" of mercenaries, with Armengol Ondo Nguema, the national security chief and brother of Obiang.

Both men are shareholders in Triple Options, a joint venture company established last October to provide "security services" to Obiang, but which the government now says is implicated in the plot to topple him.

One of the things I find quite striking in this whole mess is the extent to which "security" is a euphemism for something very like (if not indistinguishable from) organized crime. This is something that those of  us in the post-9/11 security-conscious U.S. should take to heart.

In the context of all of this, I'm not sure what to make of the AP story from late February, U.S. Military Shows Interest In Africa:

An increased focus on Africa comes amid a push by some in the United States - conservative think tanks in particular - to do more to secure alternatives to oil from the volatile Middle East.

West Africa supplies the United States with 15 percent of its oil. The U.S. National Intelligence Council has projected the figure will grow to 25 percent by 2015.

Western security officials also are concerned about terror along Saharan routes linking Arab nations and north and west Africa.

U.S. security think tanks and others have listed Nigeria and Mauritania as being among nations that have al-Qaida cells.

The Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, a group alleged to have links with al-Qaida, is believed to have spread across borders into Niger and Mali.

A U.S. State Department program drawing on members of the European Command is helping train and equip security forces of Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad to better guard their borders against incursions by terror groups and others.

Military proposals on overall reconfiguration of forces are awaiting a decision from Washington. 

Which conservative think tanks, I wonder. The Heritage Foundation seems to be among those meant, judging by the section on Africa on their web site. In particular, the article U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution caught my eye:

Today's geostrategic realities suggest that Africa shares interests with the countries in the Middle and Near East that are aligned with the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In matters of transnational threats and economic issues like energy (specifically oil) and trade, not to mention the significant Islamic populations in Africa, there are good reasons to view Africa and the Middle East as an appropriate grouping for U.S. security interests.

Hmm. And there's also this piece, A New Vision for Africa

Since the end of the colonial era, much of sub-Saharan Africa has been a playground for spoilt despots wreaking havoc on their fiefdoms. In this trip to Africa President Bush must declare an end to the era of dictatorships. At the dawn of the 21st Century it should not be acceptable for tyrants to terrorize millions of their own citizens in the Middle East, Europe, Asia or Africa. The Bush Administration should operate a zero tolerance policy towards African dictatorships, imposing strict economic and political sanctions against those regimes that tyrannize their populations. In certain circumstances, particularly where the US national interest is involved, the credible threat of military force should be exercised. . . .

While Washington should remain wary of the perils of nation-building, the US must not be afraid to intervene militarily when vital national interests are threatened, or when military force can be effectively used to prevent genocide or other gross violations of human rights. The West's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda must never be repeated. The US must work closely with its key ally Great Britain and with other European nations in intervening where necessary and feasible to stop genocide from taking place. The highly successful British military operation in Sierra Leone should serve as a role model for future intervention in Africa.

There's a couple of ways to read that last bit, I think.

I'm certainly agaist dictatorships and genocide, but the Heritage Foudation's formulation implies an efficacy to U.S. desires for regime change that I can't quite parse.

UPDATE: There is an interesting piece in London's Sunday Times [by subscription], Bungled trail of an SAS veteran's coup

The Equatorial Guinea authorities have claimed that Moto is backed by Ely Calil, a London-based Lebanese businessman with substantial oil interests in the Gulf of Benin. He denies any involvement.

In addition they have mentioned a London-based accountant said to be close to powerful interest groups in the region. It has also been speculated that a top oil company could be involved. 

I wonder which "top oil company" they could mean. The name ExxonMobil looms large on the U.S. Department of Energy's page on Equatorial Guinea.

REGARDING THINK TANKS: The American Enterprise Institute sponsored a panel, entitled Into Africa: Policy Implications of President Bush's Trip to a Forgotten Continent, on July 8, 2003. The panelists were Anthony Carroll, Manchester Trade, Thomas Donnelly, AEI, Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI, and Robert Shapiro, The Brookings Institution. The description of the panel reads:

This month, George W. Bush will travel to Africa for the first time in his presidency. Plagued by vicious civil wars and crushing poverty, Africa has long been written off as a geopolitical and economic sinkhole. But with evidence of al Qaeda's growing presence there and increased concern about the confluence of failed states, Islamic fundamentalism, and oil wealth, it may no longer be possible to ignore Africa's problems.

What role will Africa play in the post-Iraq strategic order? What is the significance of the Bush administration's decision to establish America's first semipermanent sub-Saharan military base last year? Will the Pentagon dispatch troops to Liberia? How might African oil reserves impact U.S. national security and the U.S. economy? Will the spread of HIV/AIDS threaten regional stability, and what can the United States do to address this crisis? Are European and American agricultural subsidies contributing to the continent's misery? A panel of experts will address these and other questions.

This is Anthony Carroll in his opening remarks:

Now let's talk a little bit about why Africa has been so attractive to the energy industry, to the American industry particularly.

Firstly, let me say that major deepwater reserves are being found. That is in part because of the increases in technological capacity to drill off deepwater. We are now being able to raise oil from the depths of as much as 10,000 feet, and that, of course, has opened up a whole new horizon of off-Continental Shelf reserves, and Africa will certainly be the great beneficiary of that.

The reserves that are being explored and the wells being found are massive in size. Average well size is about 35 million barrels per wildcat well. This is about--compared to about 22 million barrels, which is a Gulf-of-Mexico average. So the reserves are large.

It's in the early stage of exploration and development. Clearly the environment right now is open. The opportunities for companies are very malleable. You are not dealing with very ensconced institutional type of negotiating environments. I think there is a lot of flexibility.

West African oil has a very high discovery ratio. Most discovery ratios, technology has certainly increased discovery ratios from about 20 to about 35 percent on global average, but in Africa about 50 percent of the discovery ratio, so you are pulling a lot of oil when you are finding it in Africa compared to elsewhere.

West Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, has benign weather conditions. If you look at the conditions compared to the North Sea, where you have a lot of requirements and technical support and turrets and other support mechanisms, in Africa you can drill and you can drill offshore or you can drill on vessels as opposed to platforms. Because of the benign weather conditions you are able to have more time drilling as opposed to off-drilling because of weather.

Sweet crude, Africa's sweet crude is sort of the global standard. It requires less refining and is a preferred crude than other sources.

We are also looking at a location of 50 percent closer to the U.S. market than the Middle East. There are no canals or precarious sailing passages that are required. The oil can come directly in from West Africa to Houston and, you know, some are viewing Africa as a safe alternative to the Middle East. Clearly the Middle East, which has 65 percent of the known reserves, is clearly going to be the standard-setter for many, many years to come, but Africa is also willing to produce a lot more, ramp up their production, in part because they need it, in part they want to curry favor with the United States, and they need foreign direct investment in whatever form. Oil is not a large employer, unfortunately. It's a very capital-intensive industry, but nonetheless there are downstream and upstream opportunities that can flow from oil investment, and the Africans are working and trying to find out how that can be best done.

Sweet crude has such a nice ring to it, so sensual, so emblamatic of desire.

More on N4610

Here is a further refinement of my researches on the history of N4610.

There is a good piece from the Zimbabwe independent on the provenance of N4610 which answers some questions about inconsistencies in the database info I was looking at.

The plane impounded by government on Sunday carrying suspected mercenaries on their way to Equatorial Guinea to stage a coup has been in service under different owners since 1964, information at hand indicates. The aircraft, whose registration number in the United States was N4610, made its first flight on October 15, 1964. The ex-commercial 727-100 was formerly N4610 of National Airlines in the United States. Records show that it was previously owned by NAL (National Airlines)/PAA (Pan American Airlines). PAA bought NAL.

It also operated as ANG (Air National Guard) 4610 (c/n 18811). Its previous engine number is given as PWJT8D-7B, while the past registration number is supposed to be 83-4610. ANG is a vital part of the US Air Force. . . .

The plane was then sold by US Air Force on January 11, 2002 to Dodson International Parts, and then to Dodson Aviation on January 14, 2002. Dodson International Parts Inc, which belongs to the same group as Dodson Aviation, has a subsidiary, Dodson International Parts SA (Pty) Ltd, which is based at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria, South Africa, from where the seized plane took off on its way to Zimbabwe.

This makes sense to me. Aero-web.org lists planes with serial numbers 83-4610, 83-4611, 83-4612, 83-4613, 83-4614, 83-4615, and  83-4617 as being C-22Bs. The site describes C-22Bs as being Boeing 727-100 "modified for air national guard support missions."

This implies that they were all custom built for the U. S. Airforce. However, I don't think this is the case. Rather, I think the planes acquired by the USAF were bought used and were customized in 1985. My mother, a retired Boeing engineer and the source of the information that the original tail number is associated with a specific set of drawings in Boeing's archives, also tells me that the plane has a relationship with Boeing throughout it's lifetime, in that Boeing provides modifications and maintainance during the life of the plane, and the drawings associated with these services also must be tracked and associated with the original tail number.

Jetlairiners.com lists dates in the early 60s as the maiden flights for 83-4610 - 83-4617, but lists a date of Halloween 1985 as Boeing's delivery date on all the C-22Bs also listed as operated by the U. S. Air Force. Putting together the history of N4610 as described in the Zimbabwe newspaper above with some of the more cryptic acronyms on the Jetairliners.com page, what I think is that National Airlines ordered the whole sequence of 727-100 model 35 planes from Boeing and took delivery in the early 60s. Then in the 80s, when Pan Am bought National and drove them into the ground, the planes were sold, and only four of them -- 83-4610, 83-4612, 83-4615, 83-4616 -- were sold to the USAF. (This in contradiction to the serial number list on Aero-web.org.) So only four of the planes on the sequence became C-22Bs.

In the comments, someone who wishes to be known as "A" points out:

I found photos of this suspect plane on airliners.net one from 2001 and the other from 1987. 83-4610.

This turns out to be a really useful link. Airliners.net is a searchable database of photos of airplanes. Searching on Boeing C-22B pulls up photos of all the planes I now think were modified to become C-22Bs and none of the rest from the sequence. (Whee! Confirmation of my new hypothesis.)

The site includes two pictures of N4610 while in use as a US military plane. Here's a nice big one of the plane in use as a US Air National Guard plane at Cottesmore (Oakham) (OKH / EGXJ) the UK on July 30, 2001 taken by photographer Robert Flinzner.

And regarding the N4610 Official Action Figure set, there's a really entertaining piece on Allafrica.com (you might have to pay to read it) from the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian: Rent-a-Coup: Who's Who

The men behind the alleged Equatorial Guinea coup plot represent a who's who of South Africa's mercenary market - but key players also have links to the American and British security establishments. ...

Mann, a former British special forces soldier who has been resident in Cape Town and who is known for his association with disbanded South African mercenary company Executive Outcomes, was earlier a senior member of Sandline International, a private military firm which has been regarded as close to the UK security establishment.

Du Toit was arrested with 14 cohorts earlier on Sunday in Equatorial Guinea. On Wednesday he "confessed" on national television that the plan had been to remove the West African country's President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, from power to make way for exiled opposition leader Severo Moto Nsa. The latter has denied his involvement.

Du Toit is a director of Miltary Technical Services (MTS), a Pretoria company whose founder, Tai Minnaar, worked for the CIA in the 1970s and seems to have retained contact with the organisation until his mysterious death in 2001.

Military Privatization and the Mystery of N4610

I'm really fascinated with the story of the planeload of mercenaries detained in Zimbabwe. First of all, the details read like the opening of a good solid commercial thriller, which is to say in it an interesting story in its own right regardless of its relative political import -- there's a book in this for someone -- and also because this is a story better covered in the blogs than in the mainstream media.

Here's the Reuters version from two days ago:

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has seized a U.S.-registered cargo plane which the government says carried 64 suspected mercenaries of various nationalities and a cargo of military gear but no weapons.

The Boeing 727-100 aircraft was impounded on Sunday evening at Harare International Airport "after its owners had made a false declaration of its cargo and crew," said Home Affairs (Interior) Minister Kembo Mohadi in a statement.

"The plane was actually carrying 64 suspected mercenaries of various nationalities," Mohadi said on Monday, adding an investigation had also found military material.

Authorities said no formal charges had been made.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters: "We have no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. government."

The Pentagon also denied a connection with the aircraft. "It isn't one of our planes and not any of our people," said Pentagon spokesman Army Major Paul Swiergosz.

Mohadi said investigations were under way to establish the identities of the passengers, who Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. said were mostly white, and the nature of their trip.

There was no word on where the airplane arrived from, or whether Zimbabwe was its destination.

Mohadi said a fuller statement would be released later.

Reporters were taken aboard the plane to examine the cargo, which included a rubber dinghy, military uniforms, wire cutters, armour, compasses and other military hardware, said chief police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena.

"There was a false declaration by the captain and also investigations are leading in that direction that these are possible mercenaries," Bvudzijena said.

Footage on state television showed a white plane with the figure N4610 printed on the body. Several army personnel were shown sifting through equipment including what appeared to be army boots, communication radios and sleeping bags.

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration records show N4610 to be a 727 plane registered to Dodson Aviation based in Ottawa, Kansas. Dodson Aviation said it sold the plane in question about a week ago to an African company called Logo.

Atrios picked up the story and it didn't take long for his commentors (me included) to Google out a fair amount of hard information about the plane, information that it may be assumed that the State Department and Pentagon folks are aware of:

First of all, N4610 isn't just any random former US cargo plane. Rather it is a specific military plane with a specific history which is relatively easy to find out on the web.  As is widely reported, the plane was registered to Dodson Aviation, Inc. of Ottawa, Kansas. Jetliners.com lists the plane as operated by the U. S. Air Force. It also gives additional information: that the plane is a specific type of Boeing cargo plane, a C-22B, and it gives an additional identification number 83-4610. Airlink has a nice factsheet with a picture of the type of plane, a Boeing 727-100 modified for air national guard support missions. There are only eight, with serial numbers 83-4610 (tail # N4610, the plane in question), 83-4611 (N290AT, orig. tail # N4611, destroyed 1993), 83-4612  (orig. tail # N4612, currently in use by the US Air National Guard 201st), 83-4613 (orig. tail # N4613, registered to Cargo Aircraft Leasing Corp., Coral Springs, FL), 83-4614 (C-GOFA, orig. tail # N4614,registered in Canada), 83-4615  (orig. tail # N4615, currently in use by the US Air National Guard 201st), 83-4616 (currently in use by the US Air National Guard 201st), and 83-4617 (OB-1465 , orig. tail #N4617, registered outside the US) [See corrections and refinements in my 3/13/04 post]:

The C-22B, a Boeing 727-100, is the primary medium-range aircraft used by the Air National Guard and National Guard Bureau to airlift personnel.

The C-22B's unique arrangement of leading-edge devices and trailing-edge flaps permit lower approach speeds, thus allowing operation from runways never intended for a 600-mph (Mach 0.82) aircraft.

The aircraft has heated and pressurized baggage compartments - one on the right side forward and the second just aft of the wheel well. The two compartments provide 425 cubic feet (12.75 cubic meters) of cargo space. The fuselage also incorporates a forward entry door and hydraulically opened integral aft stairs in the tail cone.

The flight controls consist of a hydraulically powered dual-elevator control system with control tab to assist during manual operation. Hydraulically powered rudders use two main systems with a standby system for the lower rudder. The ailerons also are powered by dual-hydraulic systems. They have balance tabs on the outboard and control tabs on the inboard, which assures adequate maneuverability in the event of a total hydraulic failure. The flight spoiler systems assist ailerons and also function as speed brakes.The aircraft's tricycle landing gear consists of a dual-wheel nose gear, left and right dual-wheel main gear, and a retractable tail skid which prevents damaging the aircraft in case of overrotation. Nose wheel steering is hydraulically powered and controlled by a steering wheel to approximately 78 degrees in either direction. Fuel is contained in three main tanks inside the wing center section. Rapid pressure fueling and defueling is accomplished at the fueling station on the right wing. The total fuel capacity is approximately 50,000 pounds (22,500 kilograms) of JP-4. Fuel may be dumped down to 35,000 pounds (15,750 kilograms) from all tanks.

The C-22B requires four crew members and three or four in-flight passenger specialists for passenger service and safety. The avionics package includes one UHF and two VHF radio altimeters, variable instrument switching and two Collins FD-108 flight directors. A third vertical gyro and an additional VHF transceiver are available in case of failure of the primary systems.

The C-22B was introduced by the airline industry in 1963. It proved to be a major innovative design with its three Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan engines, one on each side of the rear fuselage and the third in the tail cone.  Currently, there are three C-22B's in use, all assigned to the 201st Airlift Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard.

General Characteristics
Primary Function:  Passenger transportation
Builder:  Boeing Co.
Power Plant:  Three JT8D-7 turbofan engines
Thrust:  14,000 pounds each engine
Length:  133 feet, 2 inches (40.3 meters)
Height:  34 feet, (10.3 meters)
Wingspan:  108 feet (32.7 meters)
Maximum Take-off Weight:  170,000 pounds (76,500 kilograms)
Maximum Payload:  20,000 pounds (9,000 kilograms)
Maximum Speed:  619 mph (Mach 0.82)
Range:  2,000 miles (1,739 nautical miles)
Endurance:  5.5 hours
Crew:  Pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, flight mechanic, and three or four in-flight passenger specialists
Unit Cost:  No longer available.
Date Deployed:  1963.
Inventory:   Active force, 0; ANG, 3; Reserve, 0.

Point of Contact
National Guard Bureau, Public Affairs Office; 2500 Pentagon, Washington DC 20310-2500; DSN 225-3454 or (703) 694-3454.

March 2003

The plane in question was on display at the Andrews AFB, Department of Defense Open House  on May 15, 1999. The records of the airshow suggest that it was also assigned to the 201st Airlift Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard.

The State Department disingenuous claim -- endlessly repeated in news stories around the globe -- is that they have " no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. government." After a nearly forty-year relationship with the US government, you would think the poor old plane would deserve better! [Actually, it seems to have been a nearly 20 year relationship. See corrections and refinements in my 3/13/04 post] Peculiarly, of the eight planes of its type, it is the only one not currently in use  by the Air National Guard, listed with the site I consulted as operated by the U. S. Air Force.

I give you more than you really wanted to know about the plane, (some of which, prized from unfamiliar databases, is bound to have a mistake somewhere) since it is most definitely "connected" with the U. S. Government. Why couldn't the State Department just come out and say, "It used to be ours, but we sold it"? Why lie when the truth would do?

And why didn't reporters check out the tail number in more detail rather than just endlessly repeating the government line?

This morning, Josh Marshall remarked on something that has also been raised by Atrios's commentors: that the head of the South African branch of Dodson seems to be something of a shady character with a history of arms trading:

Dodson Aviation of Kansas has a South African subsidiary, Dodson International Parts SA Ltd (According to their website, "Dodson International Parts SA (Pty) Ltd is the African division of United States based companies Dodson International Parts Inc. and Dodson Aviation. The company was established in 1998 and is based at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria.") And it was from this subsidiary's hangar at an airport just north of Pretoria that the aforementioned mercenaries boarded the plane.

Now, here's where this gets a little murky.

I wanted to find out more about Dodson International Parts SA Ltd.  What I found something out about was a company that sounded very similar: a South African company called Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They're also in the airplane business.

Not exactly the same name.  But remember, the South African company is the subsidiary of two American companies, Dodson Aviation and Dodson International.  If these aren't the same company, or closely related companies, I'd figure they often get confused for one another.

In any case, here's what I found about Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

Marshall quotes from Report Of The Panel Of Experts Appointed Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19 in Relation to Sierra Leone:

South Africans Providing Training in Liberia

187.  Fred Rindel a retired officer of the South African Defence Force and former Defence Attach to the United States, has played a key role in the training of a Liberian anti-terrorist unit, consisting of Liberian soldiers and groups of foreigners, including citizens of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger and The Gambia.

188.  The panel interviewed Mr Rindel extensively. Rindel was contracted as a security consultant by President Charles Taylor in September 1998, and training started in November 1998. The contract included consultancy services and strategic advice to convert Charles Taylor's former rebel militia into a professional unit. The Anti-Terrorist Unit is used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion and the international airport, and to provide VIP Security and the protection of foreign embassies. The numbers trained were approximately 1200. Because of negative media attention, Rindel cancelled his contract in Liberia in August 2000.

189.  In 1998, ECOMOG identified a plane, registration number N71RD, owned by a  South African company, Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts, as having carried weapons to Robertsfield in September of that year. The plane is a Gulfstream 14-seater business jet that cannot be used for arms transport, but there are other relevant connections. Fred Rindel was the owner of Dodson. The company was closed on 31 December 1998, but during the period under investigation, the plane was leased to, and operated by, Greater Holdings (Liberia) Ltd., a company with gold and diamond concessions in Liberia. The plane was used for the transport of the Greater Holdings' staff to and from Liberia.

Are they the same company or sister companies? If so, how does a guy like Rindel come by a U. S. military surplus plane still listed in some places as being operated by the U. S. Air Force?

Dodson says they sold the plane to Logo Logistics, Ltd. (registered in Britain's Channel Islands), but Logo Logistics claims that they're leasing the plane from "an asset management  company" called "Systems Design." (Could these company names get any blander? They sound very slush-pile to me. Do either of these companies actually exist?)

In this morning's news, mostly coming out of papers in South Africa, there is much fuss about the race of the burly, alleged mercenaries and also about whether they are South African citizens. I don't know enough to care much about this. But the specifics, from iafrica.com, get more interesting:

Zimbabwe Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi has told a South African radio station that all the men arrested aboard a Boeing 727-100 were carrying South African passports.

"We've confirmed there are 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans and two DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)... all these people even if they've confirmed their nationalities to be different, they all hold South African passports," Mohadi told Durban-based East Coast Radio

He has also identified the group's leader as Simon Mann. "(He) has actually two passports, a British passport and a South African passport."

Sinister motives

Mohadi went on to say there was still no confirmation of exactly  where the plane, detained on Sunday, was heading but, "they had sinister motives and were going to an African country".

The minister also told the radio station a map of their destination was found on board the former US Air Force transport.

He named KwaZulu-Natal  resident Simon Witherspoon as another key  member of the group

"Some of them are known to be mercenaries. Witherspoon is one of  them. And the company that they say they're working for, Executive Outcomes, is a company that's widely known as a company that is used by mercenaries to stage coups and mostly in Africa," said Mohadi.

Executive Outcomes disbanded - reports

However, it has been widely reported that Executive Outcomes, a mercenary outfit that assisted the Angolan government defeat the Unita rebel movement and the Sierra Leone authorities deal with the  barbaric Revolutionary United Front, disbanded in 1999 when South Africa's Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act, passed by Parliament the previous year, came into effect.

Claims that the company has continued since then under other names have never been proven, or disproved.

Meanwhile, the President of Equatorial believes that it was him the mercenaries were after. What does Equatorial Guinea have that others might covet?

Equatorial Guinea is situated on the oil rich Gulf of Guinea and comprises the Rio Muni coastal enclave, the island of Bioko and the islands of Annobon, Corisco, Elobey Grande and Elobey Chico.  The upstream oil industry is key to the economy of Equatorial Guinea and is growing rapidly with expanding foreign interest and investment.  Oil accounts for 60% of GDP and 90% of total exports.  Equatorial Guinea has proven oil reserves of 12 million barrels and gas reserves of 1.3 Tcf.  In the three years since 1996, oil production has risen from 17,000 bpd to 90,000 bpd in mid 1999.  At the end of 1999, the estimate for annual oil investment in Equatorial Guinea was over $2 billion.

The offshore area of Equatorial Guinea falls into two separate sections; the shelf around Bioko Island and the Shelf off Rio Muni, an enclave between Cameroon and Gabon.  Both have good hydrocarbon potential.

Although oil was first discovered in the 1960's, it was first produced offshore in 1991 from the Alba oilfied discovered by Mobil.  Production of liquified natural gas (LNG) began in 1997, using wet gas from Alba field.  In March 1995, Zafiro field was discovered in Block B with an eventual production rate of 100,000 bpd.  Zafiro oilfield is Equatorial Guinea's major oil producer.  Additional discoveries were made on Block B, including Jade, Topacio, Amatista, Rubi and Serpentina.  In 1999, a deepwater field, La Ceiba with estimated reserves as high as 300 to 500 million barrels was discovered by Triton Energy and Energy Africa in Block G of the Rio Muni Basin.  In mid 2000, Chevron and Vanco Energy have signed production sharing contracts for the deepwater Block L and Corisco Block respectively.

In other words, Equatorial Guinea swims on a sea of oil. Could Halliburton have anything to do with this mess? In my thriller they would. Speaking of Halliburton, what's going on with Cheney and the Nigerian bribery allegations?

UPDATE: The plot thickens as Nicholas du Toit appears on Equatorial Guinea TV to describe the mission to remove President Obiang Nguema; and Severo Moto Nsa, the accused would-be-EQ-head-of-state exiled in Spain, denies allegations but claims that Obiang wants to eat his testicles (now there's a political allegation we don't hear much in North America!):

Malabo - A plot to abduct the president of the small, oil-rich west African nation of Equatorial Guinea was unveiled on national television on Wednesday by the alleged leader of a group of mercenaries, apparently a 48-year-old South African.

"It wasn't a question of taking the life of the head of state, but of spiriting him away, taking him to Spain and forcing him into exile and then of immediately installing the government in exile of Severo Moto Nsa," said the man, introduced as Nick du Toit.

Malabo called on Wednesday for the extradition of Moto, who tried to mount a coup against Obiang in 1997 from Angola and recently set up a government in exile in Spain.

"The leader of this mercenary operation whose aim was to topple the current government had been recruited by the "escapee" from Equatorial Guinean justice Severo Moto Nsa for a sum of $10m," the state radio said.

But Moto denied any involvement in the alleged plot. Severo Moto "has at no time left Spain," said a statement issued by his government in exile.

Moto also went on the offensive, telling Spanish radio station Onda Cero that Obiang was an "authentic cannibal" who "systematically eats his political rivals".

"A while back he paid millions to those they call marabou (sorcerers) to tell him if his power base was safe. They told him that to keep his grip on power he had to kill people close to him.

Wants to eat my testicles

"Obiang wants me to go back to Guinea and eat my testicles. That's clear," he told Onda Cero.

Hot stuff!

AND MEANWHILE, a Zimbabwe paper alleges that "United States forces are reportedly carrying out military exercises around Equatorial Guinea." Interesting if true.