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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.

Top Cat Marine Security Has an Executive Level

I just received a really interesting piece of email (posted as a comment in my comment section) from Jerry Parnin, who was briefly associated with Top Cat Marine Security. He identifies Top Cat's super-secretive executive level as follows.

Dear Kathryn,
My name is Jerry Parnin. I'm refered to as Bachelor #3 in one of last months blogs about Top Cat Marine Security. I would like to inform you and the world that I was only associated with TCMS for a short time over a year ago. We had our differences and I'm no longer associated with Peter Casini, TCMS, Cobra Boats, Topcat Design or any other Casini enterprise. As for the names of the people in the photo you are correct about Maryann Johnson being the brunette. Her son is the boy, his name and the name of her husband escape me but the blond is Susan Procopio, wife of Rocco Procopio (Bachelor #1). Maryann was introduced to me as Casini's sister. Colonel Bernie McCabe, Maryann, Rocco and Susan Procopio are all officers of one sort or another in TCMS.

Through an intermediary, McCabe has previously denied involvement with management or operations of Top Cat Marine Security.

Here is the photo to which Parnin refers, originating from the Top Cat web site:


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.

Topcat Marine Security: A Very Crowded Office Space, a Shell Corporation, or Just a Scam?

545_8th_2Who could resist the tale, not long ago, of a cruise ship fending off Somalian pirates with its handy sonic blaster? Well, someone somewhere just had to do something about those blasted pirates!

Today the BBC announced that the American firm Topcat Marine Security, of 545 8th Ave. Suite 401, New York, NY 10018, had gotten the job! Now you might think that chasing pirates would be too scary, but these guys at Topcat (or Top Cat, depending on which bit of their web site you look at) have strong motivation: a VERY crowded Manhattan office! Wouldn't you rather go chase pirates if you had to share an office with The Center for Risk Communication, a magazine called "Animal Fair", and a bank, Liechetensteinische-Amerikanische Union Bank Corp. (which apparently conducted unauthorized banking activities in the state of NY in 1999), a "home income" business called Maychic, a web site called NY Club,, an online video store (not PTA safe, so I won't post a link), The Law Office of Gary Ruff “Defending Consumers Against Electronic Piracy Claims”TM, and much more! What a racket they must make! If I shared that office, I'd go to sea to fight pirates, too!

Topcat seems to share a web designer, and probably a few boats, with Cobra Boats. Compare the following screen shots from each site's "Reviews" page:
Cobra_reviews Topcat_reviews

I wonder who's providing the guys with the guns.

In all seriousness, it seems obvious that [if this isn't just a scam] a boat company has found a private military partner who wishes to remain anonymous, and that the boat company has perhaps just made half of fifty million dollars for providing a front. I don't think the Topcat execs have ever set foot in that office any more than I believe that the babe on the site would answer if I went there and knocked. Also, it appears that Peter Casini, the executive quoted in the BBC story, has been involved with a number of corporate bankruptcies.

Who is going to provide these security services in Somali waters? Employees of these other dotcoms? Very experienced boaters? Who can tell? Why are they hiding behind a fake address? Manhattan rents are expensive, but you can rent a lot of office space for that kind of money.

Would you give fifty million to someone who can't be bothered to rent a real office and misrepresents their street address? If there's no office, how can anyone be sure actual security services will be provided?

UPDATE, 11/26: It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. In April, 2004, Topcat moved to Berekely County, SC. Six months later, they left:

The apparent failure of Top Cat is "very disappointing. We're in an economically depressed area when you look at the job losses balanced with what's created. It's like having the rug pulled out from under you," Mayor Hoffman said.

Rozier and Berkeley County Economic Development Director John Scarborough said it appears the finances didn't work out for Top Cat. Hoffman said he didn't know what happened to the company after its promising debut.

"I went to investigate myself a couple of times, just to drop in and see what was going on, and I haven't been able to find anybody there," Hoffman said.

He's not the only person who's been interested in Top Cat.

"A lot of law enforcement people are looking for them, and I don't think it's about buying a boat," Crosby said.

Vendors and others who find the Top Cat door padlocked often stop at the Onyx office to ask if the boat company still is in business or when its employees will be there, she said.

Nobody from Top Cat showed up Monday in small claims court in Moncks Corner to contest a complaint Onyx filed against the company for nonpayment of services, including providing electricity. Judge David Brown entered a default judgment of $5,960.45 against Top Cat.

Top Cat's vice president of sales and contracts, Marianne Gillard, 36, is due in magistrate's court in St. Stephen today following her arrest last week. Gillard is accused of writing a $650 bad check drawn on a New Jersey bank. Gillard said the day after her arrest that she didn't want to comment and referred questions to company attorneys, who couldn't be reached for comment.

It does occur to me to wonder if any actual setting up of bases or training or pirate fighting will take place even if Somalia pays out all this money. I hope Somalia hasn't cut any actual checks yet.

MEANWHILE, the EU has pledged to help foot the bill.

Queries on Somali dealFURTHER 11/26 UPDATE. The Nation in Kenya has picked up on Top Cat's financial problems, and their reporters called both Casini and his publicist:

On whether the company had failed to meet its payroll, he said: "No. You may be talking about the wrong company. Our company is Top Cat Design.''

However, contacted via e-mail for comment, Maryann Johnson, Top Cat's vice president for public relations, said the story "was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. Topcat was never contacted directly for comment on this article".

Ms Johnson said: "Topcat remains financially secure and stable, with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors."

(The Nation has a tortuously difficult registration procedure. Here is a screen shot of the article.)

2TopCatsAccording to court papers I linked to earlier today, Casini actually has two corporations called Top Cat: Top Cat Design, incorporated in 2000, and Top Cat Marine Security, incorporated in 2002. (UPDATE 12/2/05: Karl E. Meyer, of Egg Harbor, the attorney that represented Casini in that case and through who Casini registered the copyrights of a number of his boats, was on on the New Jersey State list of attorneys ineligible to practice law until two weeks ago.)

CharlestonThe unfavorable news stories in South Carolina date from 13 months ago. These folks really have a way with words, don't they?

UPDATE, 11/28: It does occur to me to wonder how they plan to work around both a US and a UN arms embargo when providing these services. Even if all they brought to the table was really fast boats designed for security use, this looks to me like it runs afoul State Department regulations, since there is a subsection covering boats on the United States Munitions List.

FROM THE MAIL BAG: A number of people have written to me with questions that they would like to see answered.

One of the biggies is, who is paying for this? Several people have raised this point, as does Reuters. I had speculated earlier that the EU funds mentioned in the news earlier this week might go towards paying Top Cat, but I am told that is not the case. So if not the EU, then who?

Given the scope of the project Top Cat is taking on, is fifty million too much? Or is it too little? (This also gets into the question of exactly what the contract specifies that they will do, an issue about which there appears to be some confusion. Are they going to fight pirates or not? Most of the headlines about the deal take the form "American company to fight pirates off Somalia," but the guy in the comments who claims to be in the know claims there will be no guns and that Casini will provide no training.)

What ports does Top Cat plan on operating out of? (Note that this is a country in which the transition government declines to locate in Mogadishu because of security concerns.) So what will they use for ports? (Who is going to keep Top Cat's fine boats from being stolen, for that matter? I'd think an ultra-fast boat would be really useful to the pirates!)

Also, I'm told that usually when a contract of this nature is awarded, there is recruiting of ex-special forces from various countries, and that no recruiting is going on. (This is not something I'd know about one way or another.) Anyone flowing in from Defensetech know about this?

And finally, has Top Cat registered with the Dept. of State's Office of Defense Trade Control, as required? (Dotmil & PMF folks: Is there a public registry that one could check?)


While no one is saying it, the United States is basically taking over coastal security duties for Somalia. The Transitional Government there has no money for this sort of thing, so it appears that the U.S. is picking up the tab. This could get interesting, for the Somali warlords who operate along the coast are not going to take kindly to some foreigners trying to interfere. The first priority of the new coast guard is to put the pirate gangs, and especially the two larger "mother ships", that are supporting attacks far out at sea, out of action.

See also The Bow Ramp and its discussion of using privateers to fight pirates; and also Eaglespeak, which remarks of the Top Cat-Somalia contract, Must be an interesting contract to read. I'll just bet.

AND FURTHER: Untravel also has a good post:

There are several reasons I think this little story is important:

First, a private military company (PMC) is engaging in independent military action. In the controversy over PMCs a few years ago, the claim was that they served a support role and did not wage war on their own. In this instance, this is clearly not the case. Topcat Marine Security is not helping the Somali coast guard. They were hired to be the Somali coast guard.

Second, American mercenaries (Topcat) have been hired to wage war at the behest of a foreign government (Somalia), independent of the foreign policy of the US government. As the practice of hiring PMCs for independent action becomes more commonplace, at what point has the nation-state lost it's monopoly on the legitimate use of force? What happens when an independent PMC and their government have conflicting objectives? If the interests of the PMC are taken ahead of that of the government, who is in charge?

Third, the Somali Transitional National Government is hardly a government in the strictest sense. They are set up in Kenya and are still debating over when and how to return to Mogadishu. Where did they get 50 million dollars? Or any money at all, really? I don't know enough about world politics to know how these sort of 'governments in exile' operate, but that 50 million has to come from somewhere. I'd like a journalist to ask who. A concerned alliance of rival warlords? One of Somali's neighboring countries, simply trying to protect itself? A country or countries concerned with keeping the link between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean free and safe for shipping? Or a government interested in fighting terrorism without necessarily going through all the legal steps necessary to engage in military action?

This last question is not meant as a conspiracy theory, but something, from a journalistic point of view, that might be worth investigating as a possibility.

UPDATE 11/30/05: I came across a brand new blog started yesterday, consisting only of an interview with Somalia's Prime Minister. It discusses the piracy issue but does not seem to address this deal specifically.

Mountain Runner is also interested in Top Cat's profile:

Top Cat Marine Security is registered under Laura Casini, Esq. at what seems like a residential location. I mention the location because there are some interesting circumstances surrounding this company. It had moved its operations to St Stephen, South Carolina, to the great expectations of the locals. But, then in Oct 2004, things changed . . .

(According to court documents linked to earlier, Laura Casini is Peter Casini's cousin. She is registered with the New York Bar at a different [probably residential] address in Queens.)

FURTHER UPDATE, 11/30: Mountain Runner has a long, thoughtful follow-up post that I won't attempt to summarize, and suggest instead you go read.

After considering many less elaborate alternatives, he ends on a speculative note:

Or, has TopCat become a necessary cover for regional operations of the US armed forces or intelligence services? This would mean the anti-piracy line is either a cover or a secondary mission. The public diplomatic efforts of the US are meaningless in the region without virtually zero contact or interest with outside media. With media coverage nearly nil, even the humanitarian orgs are mostly gone, sightings of "US military-style" personnel would be adequately covered by this story.

If this were to be true, it would mark the end of the Bremer-style use of PMFs, out-sourcing -- perhaps excessive outsourcing, as I have argued previously -- things that are essentially government functions to private enterprise, with the (perhaps unexpected) benefit of increased secrecy and deniability. This would be a recognition that, no, using PMFs didn't really save that much money, no, re-hired contract Special Forces people were not somehow better qualified for the job that Special Forces folks already on the government payroll, that private enterprise didn't really have the bucks to have an infrastructure ready for whenever Big Government felt it needed something. But boy oh boy, was the secrecy and deniablity nice! Can you just imagine the genius, who in a different life would have been a studio executive in Hollywood, saying something like "Can't we just have a PMF that's staffed with our own guys and uses our own equipment?" Much as I dislike Bremmer's grand vision, this would mark its end.

UPDATE, 12/1: There's an interesting news story this morning that I'm sure ties into this whole subject. Another agreement signed by the Transitional Government: Ethiopia, Somalia pledge to fight terrorism in Horn of Africa

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia signed a comprehensive agreement with the transitional government of Somalia, covering security cooperation, trade and investment, transport and port services, the official Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported Thursday.

It was the first agreement to be signed with a neighbouring country for the transitional government of Somalia, which operates from Johar, some 90 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu as it was unable to operate from the capital for security reasons.

The agreement was signed Wednesday between Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu and Somalia's Foreign Minister Abdulahi Ismael on the sidelines of a council of ministers meeting of member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Cooperation and Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa.

And then there's this bit of damage control from Top Cat's backers, posted at the Conservative Voice, austensibly authored by Jim Kouri but with material mostly from Top Cat's press releases. (Or is it merely a late entry to the field? It also appears at Voices Magazine, and in three other venues.) The prose that is new is interesting:

In response to this latest attack, the Somali government -- a government practically in exile because of warlords, Al-Qaeda and Wahhabi terrorists -- has signed a contract with an United States-based security company that specializes in marine special operations. The hope is that the security firm will put an end to the proliferating piracy in that African region.

New York-based Topcat Marine Security signed a deal worth more than $50 million with the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which is temporarily based in Nairobi, to escort ships traveling through Somali waters.

Topcat is one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists. Topcat's client list includes the US Department of Homeland Security. They use state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment in order to mount offensive operations against pirates or terrorists who use the high seas for their acts of terrorism and piracy.

I've highlighted the interesting bits in bold. Kouri's remarks, which probably originate with Casini or his backers, support the notion I've heard floated that our story starts with the pirate attack on the cruise ship. Also, Kouri provides a new and different account of what exactly Top Cat is going to do for this fifty million. Escort? So now they're and escort service? But if they escort, they are actually going to fight pirates, right? With, like, weapons? Right? That's what the viewing audience really wants. So, back to the subject of arms embargos, are they importing these weapons?

I believe that the third paragraph I quoted originates with Top Cat's online brochure which I can't seem to get at this morning. Interesting is how the rationale for the contract is slipping from fighting pirates to fighting terrorism. While these activities may be intertwined, the first big PR bang on this story focued exclusively on piracy.

Also, it is interesting how Kouri describes the way the pirate attack on the cruise she was repelled. The ocean liner was able to escape the attack using security countermeasures. Why doesn't he say it was an LRAD that was used? Does he have a security clearance that prevents him? And if the LRAD belonged to the cruise lines, why would its use be classified? Elsewhere, he throws a few more words at the subject, but is similarly evasive:

They assailants were repelled by the ships crew who implemented their security measures which included setting off electronic simulators which created the illusion the ship was firing back at the terrorists.

Spit it out man: Can you say sonic blaster?

And then there's this bit of entertaing reading, Somalia: National government or kids in a candy store? which begins:

Somalis all over the world celebrated wholeheartedly when the new Somali interim government was established in nearby Nairobi, Kenya last year. Likewise, it was another historic moment when it finally relocated to Somali soil. Now, the honeymoon is over and Somalia’s elected president and prime minister are at the helm without any opposition of any kind. There’s no authority above the duo to oversee and scrutinize their actions. The international community gave them a blank check with no strings attached.

Spending other people’s money is very sweet. Confined in Jowhar town limits with its members unable to visit next door towns and villages like Balcad, the interim government is signing multimillion contacts silently. No advertised tenders, biddings, and of course no independent watchdogs. There's no National Supreme Court or any other independent court for that matter.

And Mountain Runner has a meaty new post which gets into such issues as Somalia's oil resources, competition in the region with China, and much more.

Of course TopCat will be providing more than boats in this contract. Where they will base, if its in country, and remain littoral? Then won't TC be just like the pirates USED to be before they acquired their "mother ship"? Will TC acquire an expensive but highly suitable ship (probably not that expensive) for blue water operations?

If security was really a big deal, the Yemeni arms market might gain greater attention. Still, some problems continue to linger over this deal:

  1. Transparency. There is none. This provider has a checkered history. Purpose and design of this contract ($50m+ barrier for example) makes this opaque if anything.
  2. Fair play. Was TC really the best candidate for the job? Did the "local" "government" really come to the finding that this provider was superior or were there other contributing factors?
  3. Money and Morals. $50m+ is a lot of spending money for some boats. There is something else here.

One last comment. If active duty will be deployed, then again, it should and could have been done more discretely. If however, this is a completely private operation, then further "foreign policy by proxy" is not going to help when the our chief for Public Diplomacy is amazed that countries are larger than her state. The world is looking and so is our own military. Trust in the Executive branch is waning from abuse. Intelligence and military services are direct reports to the Executive branch. In effect, they serve at the whim, the intelligence services especially, of the President. The buck stops there, except in this Administration.

He also has a good Pirate Primer.

UPDATE 12/2: From The Strategy Page:

December 2, 2005: Somali pirates are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransoms for hijacked ships. This is big money for poverty stricken Somalia, and the warlords are not going to readily give it up because of some foreign mercenaries. There is likely to be some sharp fighting before the Topcat organized coast guard gains control of the coast with its naval and air patrols. Six ships are still being held for ransom.

And Matt Armstrong ar Mountain Runner has a good, long meditatio, Accountability of Non-State Force, which begins:

The issue of private military companies, private security companies, or private military firms brings up the question of accountability. This question can be asked in different dimensions: moral, legal, ethical, and command and control. This is a brief draft on the legal accountability of private military forces, divorced from any profit motives. It is my belief that private military forces fall into the same "loophole" (really a misnomer, it is an intentional gap) in regulation in which non-governmental forces "approved" by the international community, namely Blue Helmets, are also found.

And, in the context of the more speculative aspects of this story, I found this post from Josh Marshall interesting:

In recent days we've being seeing a lot of stories about various top-secret or 'black' programs being run out of the Pentagon. The reports about fake stories being planted in the Iraqi press are just a single example. I'm told that this matter of top secret Pentagon spending -- stuff free of almost all oversight -- may connect up with the Duke [Cunningham] investigation and may reach up higher than we might imagine in the Pentagon.

Also, Casini was on FOX News on the 27th talking about the contract. There's a little info in the TV interview, but not much. Casini is not very articulate.


FROM THE MAILBAG, someone writes in from Herndon, Virginia, IP #

If any checking of facts should come to be - it should be checking on kathryn cramer 's totally weird interest in destroying a boat company. So many questions about you kathryn- but a simple one is this- pictures of your family?  Thou dost protest too much!   Who and what are you really? A coast guard? If one sells a police car to a town's police force does the seller become the police?

Oh, no. My cover is blown. Since my picture shows a thin white blonde with kids, I must be none of the above. ;-)  (Also, blogging about this has brought about an increase in the Nigerian Spam making its way to my inbox.)

Also, I should say that there seem to be a fair number of people to whom Casini and his operation owe a lot of money and they are very interested in having his current address. Somewhere in Virginia is my best guess at present.

AND from the Voice of America:

Energy experts say by the year 2020, about one-fourth of the oil the United States consumes could come from Africa.  With this anticipation, African and U.S leaders are joining forces to help Africa reach its potential as a world energy leader.

Africa currently supplies the United States with 12 percent of all the oil it needs, but energy experts say that could jump by 25 percent over the next two decades.  The Corporate Council on Africa, headed by Steven Hayes, organized an international oil and gas conference this week on exploring Africa.

Mr. Hayes says one of the goals of the forum was to give U.S. companies an opportunity to better understand a very rapidly-changing environment in Africa.

"We don't quite realize -- the broad population -- how strategically important Africa is to us, not simply on energy, but clearly more and more of our needs are going to come from Africa," said Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes says he is urging the United States to recognize the importance of the U.S.-African energy partnership, especially as competition from China grows.

Regarding Somalis oil reserves, a geologist from Marathon Oil in and interview in 1993, fills us in:

Presenting their results during a three-day conference in London in September, 1991, two of those geologists, an American and an Egyptian, reported that an analysis of nine exploratory wells drilled in Somalia indicated that the region is "situated within the oil window, and thus (is) highly prospective for gas and oil." A report by a third geologist, Z. R. Beydoun, said offshore sites possess "the geological parameters conducive to the generation, expulsion and trapping of significant amounts of oil and gas."

Beydoun, who now works for Marathon Oil in London, cautioned in a recent interview that on the basis of his findings alone, "you cannot say there definitely is oil," but he added: "The different ingredients for generation of oil are there. The question is whether the oil generated there has been trapped or whether it dispersed or evaporated."

Interestingly, Somalia is emerging at the moment as an organizing issue for Republicans, trying to distinguish themelves from those "cut and run" Democrats. Whatever could the authors of Republican talking points have in mind? To send in the Marines to show that Bush is Man enough? Surely they can't think that Bush has the public support to start a third war? On the other hand, those generous folks at Marathon did give over fifty-eight thousand dollars to the Republicans in the last contribution year, and campaign contributions do make this administration frisky! 

And, um, isn't the Manager of Global Security for Marathon Oil, the very same Bernie McCabe who was Bernie McCabe, U.S. Representative, Sandline International a while back? Maybe the folks in the comment section suggesting a connection with the remnants of Sandline aren't as far off the mark as I thought. It can't be. Can it? Somalia isn't supposed to be the New Iraq?

UPDATE 12/3: Matt at Mountain Runner has an interesting new post, which begins:

More information on the Somalia, Oil, and possibly TopCat continue. 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.

SEE ALSO MY POST: Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

UPDATE 12/6: New govt's move to tackle piracy hits a snag  from In gneral, the article covers some of the same information covers here about Top Cat's financial problems. But here is Maryann Johnson's fallback position when cornered on Casini's bankruptcies:

ut the company's vice president for public relations, Maryann Johnson, said the article was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. "Top Cat was never contacted directly for comment on this article, but rather the reporter chose to undertake a smear campaign to camouflage small-town corruption."

She said Top Cat remains financially secure and stable with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors and that an employee's personal information has no bearing on the stability and structure of the company. "Mr Casini is head of research and development and has been awarded the notable honour of being named one of the top three boat designers in the world. He is an employee of and not the owner of the company. There are over 50 major stockholders," she said.

In signing the deal with Somalia, Mr Casini said his company would target a mother ship off the Somali coast that is launching smaller craft to attack commercial vessels.

Several questions come to mind:

  1. If Casini is not the President or CEO of the company, who is?
  2. If he is neither president or CEO, what authorization does he have to enter into such a contract on Top Cat's behalf?
  3. If Casini doesn't own Top Cat, who does? Who are its "investors"?
  4. How are Top Cat's investors distinct from its creditors?

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

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,

(In fact, many of those mercenaries were black Africans.)

WorldNetDaily is running a peculiarly sympathetic series on "white mercenaries in black Africa" by Anthony C. LoBaido, author of the self-published Christian fantasy Our Name is Legion which the author says "takes up where the popular 'Left Behind' series left off."

The first two parts of the series begin with a flattering introduction to  LoBaido's protagonist:

The  Part 1 begins:

"Mercenaries have always been misunderstood," says Bert Sachse. He knows from whence he speaks. Mr. Sachse is a 34-year veteran of the old Rhodesian and South African special forces. Moreover, Sachse commanded the world's most recent mercenary war during the mid-1990s in the troubled West African nation of Sierra Leone.

Sachse is a part of an ancient legacy of mercenaries, such as the white, Christian Serbs who served the Ottoman Sultan over the course of several centuries, the Swiss Guards who have and still guard the pope, the men who expanded Napoleon's Empire, the myriad of faces who forged the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkhas of Nepal, who still serve in the Indian and British armies. Of course, there exists the latest and most special breed of mercenary soldier  the white African. 

And here's the opening to Part 2:

When it comes to mercenaries, it could be fairly said that South African Bert Sachse is "the real thing." Sachse is an elite special forces soldier who can handle everything from logistics to intelligence gathering to diplomacy, air-to-ground special forces tactics and even the close up "hard killings."

A charming and wiry man with bright eyes, this writer remarked upon meeting him: "I "had been expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Sachse simply smiled and flexed as though in a bodybuilding pageant. Clearly, being a special forces soldier involved far more than muscles.

Sachse's story is a long and amazing road that sheds a great deal of light on the exploits and motivations of the modern mercenary. 

There are certain literary tropes I begin to recognize in non-fiction favorable to mercenaries, and among them are comments about how charming these fellows are and what amazing lives they've lead, as though they were movie stars. (When stuff like that is published or broadcast, I sometimes get notes from impressionable young men asking how they can join up.) Judging from his earlier stories, LoBaido has been a mercenary groupie for a while.

I'm almost tempted to read his novel to see what role mercenaries play in the rightwing Christian imagination. His novel was published by 1stBooks Library, now known as AuthorHouse, "the leading self-publishing company in the world." (For a full discussion of this kind of publisher, I direct you to the fine archives of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light. See, for example, her most recent post in her popular series on self-publishing and the self-published: Motivation and doubt.) There are many good reasons to self-publish-- surely on a self-published blog I would not condemn self-publishing. Judging from the excerpts of his books available online from his publisher, were these books commercially published, Dave Langford would find much to appreciate in them for the Thog's Master Class column: He dove headlong into Lake Baykal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world, reaching a depth of some sixteen hundred meters. My, what long arms!

I note from checking out his publisher's web site that he has has three books out from 1st Place Libarary. The first is The Third Boer War:

American journalist Trooper Grace is recruited into the shadowy Boer Republican Army, South Africa’s extreme right-wing paramilitary organization, to assassinate the RSA’s newest president–the man they claim to be the "Antichrist"–who will soon rise to the position of global Fuhrer with the blessing of the United Nations.

The second is Our Name is Legion:

Petra England is no ordinary British tourist. In fact, the pristine southern islands of Thailand have never seen the likes of this British Intelligence MI-6 agent before. When Petra’s grandfather Lord Wellington is assassinated in Burma while trying to help the persecuted hill tribes of Southeast Asia, she is stripped of her intelligence access, protection and even her vast fortune.  Petra then journeys to the island paradise of Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand, where she meets Jean-Claude, a handsome and mysterious soldier, who has gone AWOL from the French Foreign Legion. Jean-Claude is harboring a terrible secret – a secret generated by the CIA's supposedly defunct MK-Ultra program. But MK-Ultra continues and is directed by Legion, the powerful demon mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. The same demon Christ was forced to confront.  Jean-Claude’s secret will send Petra on her most dangerous mission yet, into the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where the hell unleashed only a generation ago is merely an appetizer for Legion’s plans for all of mankind in the near future.

Our Name is Legion is a novel for everyone who ever felt alone, abandoned, betrayed and helpless, only to realize that the Lord was about to grant them an incredible victory they could never have imagined.

His third book is his autobiography.

I presume WoldNetDaily cleans up LoBaido's prose when they publish his articles, though perhaps not quite as well as they should. (Recall the line, A charming and wiry man with bright eyes, this writer remarked upon meeting him: "I "had been expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger.")

Part 3 of the series invokes one of the standard tropes of the white makes right argument: cannibalism. Sachse is back to tell it like it is:

"There is a lot of cannibalism in Sierra Leone," said Bert Sachse, a 34-year veteran of the South African special forces and commander of the mercenary war during the mid-1990s in the troubled West African nation.

"If you capture the enemy, you want to interrogate them. For the Sierra Leone army, they wanted to eat the heart and or other vital organs of their enemies. We would have to fly out the prisoners we wanted to interrogate on the helicopters back to Freetown so they wouldn't be eaten. The MI-17 would fly over and the Sierra Leone soldiers would look up and say, 'There goes dinner.' They would look upset. In certain parts of Sierra Leone cannibalism is rife." 

This is not to say that LoBaido's articles aren't full of facts. He often includes them even when they get in the way of his argument. Consider the second paragraph in this passage:

Sandline/EO became a political wrangle in the UK as previously mentioned, and this problem festered throughout the operation in Sierra Leone. The whole issue of legalizing PMCs probably got a good boost from the whole affair. After all, who is against stopping limb-hacking rebels?

Consider that in 2000, British troops returned to Sierra Leone after United Nations troops were overrun by the same RUF troops Sandline/EO had only recently vanquished. The British army retook the country again, and some 45,000 rebels were disarmed. It was like a cul-de-sac of sorts. Rebels attack. Mercenaries sort them. Mercenaries leave. Rebels take the country again. British army comes in to the former colony and disarms rebels. Rebels capture soldiers. SAS comes in and sorts rebels. There was a certain rhythm to it all, an ebb and flow. Yes, a cul-de-sac of violence. As Plato said, "Only the dead are the end of war."

Says Sachse, "People could see a private military company operating in a theater could be a good thing and beneficial, and be sanctioned by the government. There is the question of why the idea did not catch on. If you use PMCs, you don't need to send in British troops. If the troops are killed, the families are naturally very upset. The government sending in troops could lose votes and support in operations the citizens were not in support of." 

Interestingly,  in a parenthetical remark, he notes, "(In fact, many of those mercenaries were black Africans.)", though only in the second-to-last paragraph of the third part of three. I was wondering when he'd mention that. He concludes the series with the line "It is hoped this report will help to bring out more of the truth about the embattled history of Sierra Leone."

I am left with many questions, mostly about LoBaido's audience. Does he have an audience? Do they, too, connect mercenaries with Christian fantasies about Africa? Are mercenaries in any way central to fundamentalist Christian thought about how the world ought to be run, or is this LoBaido's own obsession?

Private Military Rivalries

First, a little background about why this is so interesting: Executive Outcomes is considered the ur-private military firm; the new corporate model upon which many others are based: military services could be contracted from businessmen with databases, not from ragtag "dogs of war." When South Africa outlawed that sort of company, Executive Outcomes, located in South Africa, closed up shop. Though there was a network of companies thought to be affiliated with EO, the British PMF Sandline is widely considered the be EO reborn. Sandline closed up shop in April.  However, until recently, if you typed into your browser, you were automatically forwarded into the site of a US company, Northbridge Services Group. The original Executive Outcomes site was actually at (link via the WayBack Machine). So it is my impression that Northbridge has been trying to pass itself off as one of the EO spin-offs. There was some overlap in personnel between EO and both companies.

So here's the new story:

Federal prosecutors say Pasquale John DiPofi  -- described in court proceedings as a security contractor, mercenary and bodyguard for entertainers -- threatened a French businessman who was trying to collect a $23-million debt the government of Sierra Leone owed to a company that provided military assistance during the country's civil war in the 1990s.

DiPofi was arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on Sept. 4 after returning from a 2 1/2 -month trip to Iraq. . . .

According to the criminal complaint, Executive Outcomes, a private military company in South Africa, contracted with the government of Sierra Leone in 1995-97 to provide military equipment, security and training during the African nation's civil war. The company was to receive $30 million.

DiPofi, a married father of two, was president of the U.S. arm of the now-defunct company. He also is a director of Northbridge Services Group Ltd., a British-based private military company.

When the government of Sierra Leone failed to pay Executive Outcomes, the complaint said, the company asked a sister firm, Executive Outcomes of Panama, to collect the debt. It hired Michael Grunberg of Paris  to try to negotiate with Sierra Leone.

In January 2001, Executive Outcomes sued the government in a Sierra Leone court. Although both sides agreed to settle the dispute for $23 million, the government didn't pay. Later, the Sierra Leone government produced documents from Executive Outcomes of Mt. Clemens and its president, DiPofi, which said he was the person to whom the debt was owed.

The criminal complaint said Grunberg and a London law firm later discovered that DiPofi and others had submitted fraudulent documents to the government of Sierra Leone to discredit Grunberg and bolster DiPofi's claim.

In August 2002, Grunberg received an anonymous fax at his home in Paris warning him that he had underestimated his adversaries and should be concerned.

A few days later, he received an envelope containing seven color photos of the interior and exterior of his  homes in England.

The same day, Grunberg received a phone call on his private line warning him to settle the differences with "the other party."

"Don't be greedy," the caller said. "If you have not made contact by Friday, then I will make my move. I have been with you for two months, and it will be swift and you won't know anything about it."

Grunberg contacted the police and hired bodyguards.

First of all, though the article doesn't mention Sandline. Grunberg was rather recently affiliated with Sandline. I would guess that Grunberg's attorney mentioned in the article is Richard Slowe of S. J. Berwin, through whom Grunberg threatened to sue me a while back. Slowe was also the attorney Sandline used to sue the Government of Papua New Guinea when they didn't pay their Sandline bill.

Though, in  my personal opinion, Grunberg is a vain, irritating man*, if  DiPofi operates as described in the allegations, he should be in jail now, not out on bail. It sounds like Grunberg was lucky not to wake up with a horsehead in his bed. I find it noteworthy that a Director of Northbridge is accused of using mafia tactics to intimidate a business rival.

See also the US Department of Justice.

UPDATE: Here is another (AP)version of the story, suggesting that DiPofi's Executive Outcomes had nothing in common with the South African comapny of that name except the same name:

Two Michigan men tried to defraud the government of Sierra Leone and a private military company of $23 million, according to a federal indictment.

Eastpointe police Officer Christopher Belan, 40, and New Baltimore security contractor Pasquale DiPofi, 33, were indicted Tuesday, the Detroit U.S. attorney's office said.

The men tried to trick Sierra Leone officials into believing that DiPofi's company was owed $23 million for providing military equipment, security and training during the west African nation's civil war in 1995-97, the indictment said.

DiPofi owned the now-defunct Executive Outcome Inc., based in Mount Clemens. His company had the same name as a South African company that did the work for Sierra Leone.

The indictment said Executive Outcomes of South Africa was to receive $30 million for its work in Sierra Leone.

A British company, Audax Trading Ltd., contacted the Mount Clemens company, mistakenly believing it to be the company that had done the work in Sierra Leone, and offered to help collect the payment, the indictment said.

DiPofi and Belan gave Audax and Sierra Leone's government fraudulent documents to justify their claim for payment, the indictment said.

That this Michigan company would just happen to have the EO name and that its owner would just happen to be a director of the PMF Northbridge seems to me far too mich of a coincidence. What I am curious about is whether Di Pofi's company had already been trying to give the impression of affiliation with Tony Buckingham's Executive Outcomes, or whether DiPofi's company was in fact an offshoot. Given the byzantine financial network surrounding such companies, this is a much more complex question than it appears. I wonder what DiPofi's legal defense will have to say about the matter.
* Check out Grunberg's letters of complaint linked to from this page and you'll see what I mean.

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

Trying to Lose the Post in Postimperial

Oh, this is tasty. From the Independent: UK to fund 'security advisers' for Sierra Leone:

Britain is to pay for a private security firm to provide intelligence training and advice to Sierra Leone, the West African country slowly recovering from a 10-year civil war.

The revelation will raise fresh questions over the Government's close relationship with the security firms after the Sandline arms-to-Africa scandal.

The Department for International Development (DfID) is offering a 12-month contract to provide "intelligence and security advice" to the government of Sierra Leone, headed by President Ahmad Kabbah.

As well as training, the winning firm will work "at the highest level" with the country's new security service and even draft an official secrets act.

Security industry sources said Control Risks, Erinys International and Aegis Defence Services are possible bidders.

A bid from Aegis would embarrass the Government. The company is headed by Col Tim Spicer, the former Scots Guard who was at the centre of the arms-to-Africa affair. His former company, Sandline International, tried to smuggle arms to forces in Sierra Leone in 1998 in contravention of a UN arms embargo and in apparent collusion with the Foreign Office.

A spokeswoman for Mr Spicer refused to say if Aegis would bid for the contract in Sierra Leone. A DfID spokeswoman said: "All applications will be judged on their own merits."

It seems to me that some in the British government are so hot to lose the post in postimperial power that they do not stop to contemplate what they are creating when they fund these companies. I especially like the part about the winning company getting to draft an official secrets act. My guess such a law would make it illegal for the Independent to report on such contracts.

Peter Mandelson's Alleged Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercenaries in trouble spots to be regulated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Mann Pleads Guilty to a Weapons Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mann's letter, dated 21 March, states: 'Our situation is not good and it is very urgent. They [the lawyers] get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher [who] asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over! This is not going well.' 

Later he writes: 'I must say once again: what will get us out is major clout. We need heavy influence of the sort that Smelly, Scratcher, David Hart and it needs to be used heavily and now. Once we get into a real trial scenario we are f****d'. (Even in solitary confinement in the notorious Chikurubi prison, Mann's upper-class British background apparently prevents him from swearing on the page despite the desperate situation he faces). 

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

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

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

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

Dyncorp seeks to overturn Iraq contract

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

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

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

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

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

Mercenaries and the Law in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Spicer in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This was supposedly an import business, after all.

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

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

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

The Problem of Civilian Commandos

"This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do," said Peter W. Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written a book on the industry, "Corporate Warriors" (Cornell University Press, 2003).

"And they're not out there screening passengers at the airports," Mr. Singer  said. "They're taking mortar  and sniper fire." (NYT, 4/2/04)

I think we can all agree that the civilian commandos killed the other day, and all the rest of those privately employed as soldiers, deserve the same consideration as any one else. That having been said, how can we go about getting it for them?

When killed, they are not reported as military casualties. That is one feature which makes them attractive to the coalition government. Secondly, if they go off the wires, the coalition government has deniability. (No one has yet rushed forward to claim responsibility for retaining the planeload of privately employed soldiers currently held in Zimbabwe.)

I'm getting a lot of people emoting in my direction about the deaths of the civilian commandos. But it was not I who sent them out, without backup, into a situation deemed too dangerous for US troops and used them up like so many paper plates. The problem for Bremer is not that they died, but that the desecration of their corpses happened on camera. This is a huge PR disaster for him, both because it raises the prices of this kind of outsourcing and because it engages our sympathies for the plight of expendable privately hired commandos.

Let's all get together and ask for more transparency in the process: How many privately employed soldiers are there? What companies are being retained and for what purpose? How many privately employed soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq? Were they employed by the US, by US companies? In what capacity? Have there been any problems with the quality of the service provided by these privately employed soldiers? What has been done about it? What safeguards exist? Have there been Iraqi civilian casualties resulting from the actions of these privately employed soldiers? Have there been any friendly fire incidents involving privately employed soldiers?  For the benefit of everyone involved, privately employed soldiers need to become less expendable and deniable.

And then there's the small matter of money. The New York Times sheds some light on the civilian commandos' level of compensation:

To meet the rising demand, the  companies  are offering yearly  salaries ranging from $100,000 to nearly $200,000 to entice senior military Special Operations forces to switch careers. Assignments are paying from a few hundred dollars to as much as $1,000 a day, military officials said.

What do US soldiers in Iraq make? Why are we paying these guys so much more when the money could be spent training and supporting our own troops?

In the same article, Representative Jan  Schakowsky had some very smart things to say:

Representative Jan  Schakowsky,  Democrat of  Illinois, has also argued that the United States'  growing use of private military companies  hides the financial, personal and political costs of military operations overseas, since the concerns  face little public scrutiny.

In particular, Ms. Schakowsky has objected to administration plans to increase the number of private military contractors in Colombia, where three American civilians working for a Northrup Grumman subsidiary have been held hostage by Marxist rebels for more than a year. The three were on a mission to search for cocaine laboratories and drug planes when they were captured.

"I continue to oppose the use of military contractors who are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny and accountability as U.S. soldiers," Ms. Schakowsky said  last week. "When things go wrong for these contractors, they and their families have been shamefully forgotten by their American employers."

BY THE WAY, it seems to me that I ought to discuss the composition process of my post Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. Particularly among the trolls whose posts I've deleted, there seems to be the general assumption that the post is in response the deaths of the civilian commandos. It was not.

Rather, I had been working on the post for three days, accumulating links and quotes on the problem of mercenaries overrunning Iraq and was adding the last few links before publishing the post. I wanted an appropriate picture of mercenaries to link to and has having a hard time finding one, a much harder time than I would have expected. I guess they don't like having their pictures taken and they have guns, so photographers don't mess with them.  I was trying out all kinds of euphemisms for mercenary on Google Images, and finally got this picture of a burning car.

I noticed a few minutes later that the date associated with the picture was the 31st, that very day. I followed the link to the story, and that is when I found out about the deaths. My brief write-up and links were nearly the last things I did on that post. It was pure coincidence that it was timely.

I do not believe that private military firms are all bad nor that they can do only harm. Most of the world's removal of mines from former combat zones is contracted to private military companies. This is appropriate and all for the good.

But what's going on in Iraq is very large scale, anarchic, and probably largely untracked. (I don't think most of my questions above can be answered by Bremer because I think he doesn't know the answers.) And what's worse, the Bush Administration is doing this as a matter of conscious strategy because of an ideological commitment to outsourcing and because it is politically expedient even though the longterm result of this policy will be to seriously weaken American armed forces by robbing them of money and personnel while at the same time hatching new military actors with desires that will eventually run contrary to our national security.

The descriptions of how many private military companies operate strike me as awfully similar to the lengthy explanations of why al  Qaida is so insidious: the portability and discretion of their operations, etc. Also, Sandline, at least, was know to use an Enron-like maze of shell companies to hide the true nature of its dealings. Never mind that the high salaries paid by companies like Blackwater are luring the best and brightest from our military forces out of public service. It is very hard to distinguish this realm of free enterprise from organized crime.

What I think is it's most important point of that first post, one that the emoters seem not to get, is that this security blanket being spread over occupied Iraq has become the UK's largest export. That's how big this thing is. This is not really about the morals of four commandos, but about an immense economic shift, one that should make all of us uncomfortable because it is so little examined. Also, this is not really a left vs. right issue. This shift has been going on since about 1990 and administrations from both parties have participated. This is a shift that neither party has properly examined, and neither has coherent policy statements on. My fear is that the industry has grown so big so fast, that for economic reasons, we may already be too late for policy.

Sandline Says They're Not Defunct

Here is a fun write-up of the whole N4610 situation from 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.

Executive Outcomes => Northbridge Services Group?

The weblog 911 Skeptics Unite  points out that, the domain of Executive Outcomes, is still registered and forwards into, 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?" »

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. 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. 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 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 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 one from 2001 and the other from 1987. 83-4610.

This turns out to be a really useful link. 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 (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.