N4610 Feed

Tim Spicer in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This was supposedly an import business, after all.

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

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

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

N4610 Full Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Via Atrios.)

Victor Bout, US Trading Partner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And check this out, from the same PBS piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Define Mercenary

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

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

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

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

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

His definition of mercenary is on p. 43:

What Makes a Mercenary?

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

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

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

He also defines Private Military Firm on p. 47:

How Are PMFs Different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tayloring the Plot

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

Charles Taylor may have been 'mercenaries' target

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dodson: a Clearer Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandline Says They're Not Defunct

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



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

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

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

The New York Times have published the following correction:

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

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

Dodson in Financial Difficulties

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

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

(Via reconpresseusa.)

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

Executive Outcomes => Northbridge Services Group?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N4610 Has a Name: Clipper Pathfinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trackback: The Gutless Pacifist.

Some Belated Trackbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think they probably mean Pope Air Force Base.

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

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

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

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

A Question for Dick Cheney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trackback: Chrononautic Log

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

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

March 14, 2004, 11:09

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Anthony Carroll in his opening remarks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on N4610

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military Privatization and the Mystery of N4610

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

Here's the Reuters version from two days ago:

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

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

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

Authorities said no formal charges had been made.

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

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

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

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

Mohadi said a fuller statement would be released later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're also in the airplane business.

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

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

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

South Africans Providing Training in Liberia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinister motives

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

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

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

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

Executive Outcomes disbanded - reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wants to eat my testicles

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

Hot stuff!

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