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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.