Previous month:
June 2004
Next month:
August 2004

July 2004

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The head of the defence team for 70 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has withdrawn from the case, his associates said on Wednesday.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