Special Asignment


International dogs of war on security mission in Lanka

The devastating Tiger guerrilla attack on the Sri Lanka Air Force Base and the adjoining Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on July 24, last year threatened economic doom for Sri Lanka.

Lloyds underwriters in London imposed massive war risk surcharges. An eight-member Sri Lanka team headed by the then Minister of Port Development, Ronnie de Mel, went to London to plead the country's case before them and their War Risks Committee.

The latter recommended that the Sri Lanka Government hire a British-based company, Trident Maritime to carry out a security survey of the country's ports (and airports), in conjunction with another security consultancy, Rubicon. This was a prelude to lowering or withdrawing surcharges.

In hiring Trident, the Sri Lanka Government was blissfully unaware that it hired retired Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, a man simultaneously at the centre of a number of scandals provoked by his global mercenary activities.

In a near two-year long worldwide investigation, a team of ten reporters from the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has laid bare the role of mercenary groups worldwide during a probe on THE BUSINESS OF WAR. Their detailed eleven-part report was released in Washington this week.

The ICIJ was launched in 1997 as a project of the Centre for Public Integrity to extend globally the Centre's style of watchdog journalism in the public interest by marshalling the talents of the world's leading investigative reporters to focus on issues that do not stop at the water's edge.

Amid the military downsizing and increasing number of small conflicts that followed Cold War, this probe focused on Governments turning increasingly to private military companies (PMCs) - a euphemism for mercenaries - to intervene on their behalf.

Iqbal Athas, Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent of The Sunday Times, a member of the ICIJ, was the only Asian journalist to serve in the probe team. He examined the role of private military companies in Sri Lanka.

In an exclusive account, The Sunday Times today reveals excerpts from a lengthy chapter titled - Marketing the New 'Dogs of War'- the adventures of Lt. Col. Spicer as a mercenary and the companies he operated.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been fighting one of the world's longest and bloodiest terrorist wars, but July 24, 2001, marked their most devastating attack in 18 years of fighting against the Sri Lankan government. In virtually destroying Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital of Colombo, the Tamil Tigers cut the country's only link to the outside world.

Half of the civilian fleet of SriLankan Airlines, the national carrier, was destroyed. The Sri Lanka Air Force lost almost a third of its assets - Russian transport helicopters and fighters, Israeli interceptors, and Chinese trainers. The cost of the attack was estimated to exceed $500 million. Tourism vanished overnight, trade collapsed, and Sri Lanka's economy slumped.

The long-term impact of the Tigers' attack was magnified by the conduct of the City of London, the financial nerve centre of the United Kingdom. Brokers at the Lloyd's of London insurance market imposed massive war risk surcharges on shipping to Sri Lanka. The shipping-dependent nation suddenly faced the loss of trade and even essential food imports. With insurance surcharges rising to a multiple of freight rates, costlier air transport replaced surface ships. At a stroke, the country faced rampant hyperinflation and economic collapse.

The terrorist Tigers had struck the blow, but it was the London financiers whose conduct now threatened national survival. Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in London, Mangala Moonasinghe, was instructed to open negotiations, not with the Tamil Tigers, but with the City's brokers. Eight Sri Lanka government negotiators flew to London on Aug. 17, 2001, to meet with Lloyd's underwriters and their War Risks Committee. After three days of talks, the Lloyds team set up a "London Market Sri Lankan War Facility."

The rates for ships sailing to Sri Lanka would still be high, despite the Sri Lankans agreement to pay, within seven days, a bond of $50 million against any claims that might be lodged for damage to vessels heading for or in Sri Lankan waters. The Sri Lanka government was also required to commission a full security review of its airport and seaports and to implement any recommendations.

The London brokers recommended that the Sri Lanka government hire a British-based company, Trident Maritime, to carry out the security survey, in conjunction with another security consultancy, Rubicon. In Trident, the Sri Lankans had hired Tim Spicer, a man simultaneously at the centre of a number of scandals provoked by his global mercenary activities and of an effort to legitimise the status and sanitize the image of the country's "dogs of war" - soldiers of fortune who have mounted coups, guarded British, U.S. and Arabian dignitaries and ambassadors, engaged in civil wars, and run sabotage and terror activities from behind hostile lines.

From the Contra campaign in Nicaragua to organizing and training Afghan or Kosovar insurgents, British mercenary operators have been employed by the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. State Department, as well as by Britain's own Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

After decades of controversial intervention in the developing world, these private military enterprises are seeking legal recognition and standing. They wish for re-branding as peacekeepers and conflict resolvers as against dogs of war.

Although the acronym is now nearly universal, PMC (in the sense of mercenaries) was unheard of in the English language prior to late 1995. The term has commonly been used to refer to Executive Outcomes and Sandline International, two names used by a single group of British and South African businessmen and ex-military officers. Their interventions in Angola, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea during the mid 1990s aroused repeated concern, setting off the current debates on "PMCs." The most prominent figure from those debates was Spicer, a 50-year-old ex-British army officer who signed up as a mercenary in 1996.

Although his profile is lower now, Spicer's adventures with Sandline resulted in police and customs investigations, raids on his home and offices, arrest, incarceration and deportation.

Spicer's exploits in Papua New Guinea in 1997 and Sierra Leone in 1988 left a trail of judicial, government and parliamentary inquiries in their wake, not to mention the collapse of one government in Papua New Guinea.

In Papua New Guinea the year before, Spicer's intervention had already had more serious consequences. He had arrived on the islands with 70 hired guns, mainly South Africans. They were there to attack rebels on the detached island of Bougainville, home to the world's largest and most lucrative copper mine, recover it and restore it to operation.

The army rebelled and staged a coup. Spicer became the new military target. He was arrested, handcuffed, jailed and interrogated. At one point, he thought, he was about to be summarily executed. Police found he was carrying $400,000 in cash. Army chiefs accused his company, Sandline, of having made corrupt payments through a Swiss bank account to Mathias Ijape, then the defence minister of Papua New Guinea. In the wake of the scandal, the country's prime minister, Julian Chan, resigned, and his government collapsed.

Although he agreed to be interviewed for this ICIJ report, Spicer refused to discuss his operations for Sandline International. Spicer was never fully signed up to the old-boys network that clusters in the confines of the Special Forces Club - an elite private social organization in central London whose membership is limited to serving and former members of the Special Forces and intelligence services from Britain, the United States and selected Allies. He would not say whether he had been refused membership.

In 1978, Peter de la Billiere, then a brigadier, became director of the U.K. Special Forces. De la Billiere was responsible for overseeing the SAS's most famous operations of the decade, among them the recovery of hostages from the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980, and for commanding Special Forces operations in the 1982 war with Argentina to recover the Falkland Islands. In 1990-1991, as general, he commanded British forces in the Gulf War against Iraq.

In April 1992, de la Billiere returned to London and retired from his military career. He immediately took up a new post as the British government's "Middle East adviser." The job involved selling military services to and obtaining or retaining British bridgeheads in the Gulf. Spicer, who had spent the Gulf War as a lecturer at the British Army's staff college, heard that de la Billiere would need a military assistant.

Secret world
He applied for and got the job, and finally entered the secret world of the Special Forces. De la Billiere's office was in the Duke of York's headquarters off Sloane Square in London, where the offices of the directorate of Special Forces were also located. Soon after joining de la Billiere, Spicer contacted fellow ex-Scots Guards officer Simon Mann and "co-opted" him into the operation, according to Spicer's autobiography. Mann, an anti-terrorism and computer specialist, who had left the SAS in 1985, later went on to found Executive Outcomes in the United Kingdom in 1993.

According to Spicer, de la Billiere and Mann were employed "as liaison with the rulers of the Gulf States." According to a business associate of Mann's at the time, who spoke on condition of anonymity, this story was "absurd." British ambassadors were hired to do that job, and given the staff and resources to do so. Mann's "real job," according to the associate, was "to help Peter de la Billiere market the training services of 22 SAS" and thus gain new clients for Britain's official mercenaries. Meanwhile, according to his autobiography, Spicer moved "down the corridor" to work directly for the Director of Special Forces on "highly classified" projects.

The government's motive in employing de la Billiere and Mann was not necessarily or even primarily to earn money. By placing British appointees in key security or defence posts, Britain could gain information; win influence, influence policy, recruit informants and even agents. In these sensitive operations, the enemy was not necessarily the likes of Saddam Hussein, but rather political and commercial rivals including France and the United States.

Toward the end of Spicer's stint in the Special Forces directorate, Mann offered him a military contract in Angola, which Spicer declined. Instead, he continued his military career until early 1995, finally being employed as spokesman for former SAS commander Gen. Michael Rose, then head of the U.N. protection force in Bosnia.

Disappointed not to have been put in line for senior military staff jobs, Spicer retired from the military and followed de la Billiere, who had joined the merchant bank Foreign and Colonial, in the City of London. But Spicer was soon ill at ease with the new job. What happened next was the train of events that Spicer calls "this PMC project."

Like the offer of a military contract in Angola, the "PMC project" was offered to Spicer by his former Scots Guard colleague, Simon Mann. Mann was the scion of a wealthy brewing family, and the fifth generation in his family to attend Britain's top private school, Eton College. His upbringing put him at the centre of the British establishment. He could not have been better endowed with connections in the military, diplomatic, intelligence and financial world.

Mann's old-boy network had put him in touch with oil entrepreneur Anthony Buckingham. Buckingham, also ex-military, has been described as a former member of Britain's naval special forces, the Special Boat Service, although the description has never been confirmed.

Like Executive Outcomes, the entrepreneurial Buckingham had been gaining influence, but his area of interest was the United Kingdom. By 1995, the presence of the South African mercenaries in Angola made a significant impact on the war between government and UNITA forces. Meanwhile, Buckingham and Executive Outcomes were moving in on Sierra Leone.

Subsequently, British diplomat Rupert Bowen who served in Europe and Namibia, disclosed that the government was hiring Executive Outcomes. Thus began a two-year Executive Outcomes operation to "pacify" Sierra Leone, which ended in February 1997. Selling soldiers of fortune the skies around Executive Outcomes had been darkening for some time. Though buoyant with its military and financial success, the company had engendered growing hostility from South Africa's new government of national unity and in the OAU. Facing international pressure, President Nelson Mandela ordered the enterprise shut down. Anti-mercenary laws were passed in South Africa in 1998.

After the 1997 Papua-New Guinea scandal and the 1998 Sierra Leone debacle, the reputation of Sandline went into a nosedive. Spicer's response was to seek to re-brand himself and his profession once again. Spicer resigned from Sandline International at the end of 1999, but was back in the business within six months. A week before the British-based Executive Outcomes dissolved on May 16, 2000, Spicer created Crisis and Risk Management Ltd. In April 2001, he changed its name to Strategic Consulting International (SCI) Ltd.

Trident venture
The same year, he launched a third new venture, Trident Maritime. Trident describes itself as "an international maritime safety and security company," Strategic Consulting International is registered in Britain at the suburban offices of the financial advisers for Pearson's public relations agency, Spa Way. According to the records, Spicer was not even a director of SCI; instead, the company's only director was Pearson; its secretary was David Hawkins, one of her financial advisers.

Spicer's other new company, Trident, is less obscure, listing him as a director and its operating address next door to his home in Cheval Place, Kensington and Chelsea. Spicer is listed as a director of Trident, together with Gilmer Blankenship, a University of Maryland electrical engineering professor. None of the three new companies has as yet filed legally due accounts with Britain's Companies House, a violation for which directors could face criminal charges. The new Sandline Consultancy Ltd has already been dissolved because of the violation.

Shortly after ICIJ interviewed Pearson, Spicer's PMC group underwent significant changes. Pearson resigned as a director of both companies and transferred her shareholdings to Spicer, leaving him as the sole director.

Trident Maritime, which specialized in maritime risk assessment, claimed on its website to have offices and a "command center" in Washington, with plans for a "global operational presence" through command centres in London and Singapore. The company specializes in maritime risk assessment. Trident's website offers an impressive range of sophisticated and customized maritime safety and security packages labelled Nautilus, Poseidon, Juno, and Neptune, all designed to curb and counter piracy.

Each combines risk assessment and insurance policies with electronic tracking and security systems provided by another Maryland-based corporation, Techno- sciences Inc., run by Blankenship. Scratch the surface of Trident's publicity, however, and a less convincing picture emerges. Spicer, its managing director and chief executive officer, has no naval or maritime experience or qualifications. Trident's vice president of marketing - according to a personnel list published by Trident - is Pearson, Spicer's public relations adviser.

Pearson also has not served in the Royal Navy or any other maritime organization. Trident's vice president of business development, Jared Feit, graduated from the University of Maryland with a business undergraduate degree in 2001.

Feit and the Trident team, including Spicer, competed in the university's March 2002 "Best Business Plan" award. Spicer "came to the meeting and stood on the stage, but he didn't do anything," according to Blankenship. "We lost - that was really depressing."

Trident has yet another, very different cast of characters - the traditional personnel and patterns of the underworld of British intelligence, special forces, and covert operations, linked by an umbilical cord to the clubby, wealthy world of the entrepreneurs, bankers and brokers of the City of London, the traditional milieu of mercenary and mercantile comrades in arms.

Lankan job
In 2001, after the Tamil Tiger terrorist attacks nearly destroyed the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, underwriters for Lloyd's of London recommended that Sri Lankan government hire Trident to conduct a full security review of its airport and seaports, and implement its recommendations. It was one of only two contracts that Trident won, according to Blankenship. Spicer's proposal for the security survey, submitted to Colombo in August 2001, showed what his end of Trident consisted of. Excluding Spicer and a professional photographer, the majority of the 15 names on his personnel list were retired British Special Forces and Intelligence Officers.

The most prominent among them was Harry Ditmus, described as the British government's "former co-ordinator of transport secu rity." A fuller profile would have identified "Hal" Doyne-Ditmus, CB (Commander of the Bath) as a senior career intelligence officer with Britain's ultra-secretive internal Security Service, conventionally known as MI5. After serving as assistant director of MI5, Doyne-Ditmus was posted to Belfast, Northern Ireland in the mid 1980s to serve as the U.K. government's director and coordinator of intelligence at the height of its 20-year battle with the Irish Republican Army.

Two were specifically identified as covert intelligence operators: John Wilson, QGM (Queen's Gallantry Medal), as a "methods of entry expert" and Tom Lockhart, QGM, QCVS (Queens Commendation for Valuable Service) as a "U.K. Special Forces surveillance and technical surveillance expert." Four of the team were described as having had more than 30 years service with Special Forces. "It wasn't managed particularly well - that's pretty much why the company failed," Blankenship said of Trident's troubles.

Also on Spicer's list was Mike Coldrick, a highly decorated army and police bomb disposal expert, and a one-time official of the Special Forces Club, the exclusive private club for British and Allied intelligence and special forces operatives and veterans. The names, said Spicer, were drawn from his database run by SCI. They were "a network of …. people who are recommended by word of mouth." "You tend to know who's who," he said, "there is an informal network of people who know each other and have worked with you [or] have served together in the armed forces." The Trident list did not include students or staff from the University of Maryland.

After an initial survey of Sri Lankan ports in 2001, Spicer and members of his Trident team returned to Colombo on Jan. 21, 2002, to check on security enhancements - part of a long-term program aimed at "gradually phasing out the war risk premium."

Although the Sri Lanka government seemed unaware of his chequered past, British diplomats had not forgotten that his Sierra Leone sanctions-busting episode had cost Penfold, the British representative to Sierra Leone, his career. Coincidentally, as Spicer arrived that January Monday morning, a British diplomatic party was also present at the airport to meet a visiting official. Spicer appeared embarrassed. According to one of the British officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Spicer "hid behind a pillar" in the forlorn hope of not being seen. Six weeks later, Spicer seemed less reticent when he spoke to reporters for Lloyd's List, the daily newspaper of the insurance industry.

The paper was told that the London War Risks Committee were "set to lift a war-risk surcharge on vessels trading to Sri Lanka, following a security audit of the country's ports by a leading British private military company … the new measures to ensure port and airport safety have been drawn up by security firm Trident, led by Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, the man at the center of the so-called 'arms to Africa' affair. … "Lt. Col. Spicer said the review, which involved the efforts of about 20 people, took several months to complete and act upon, although the work was delayed by a general election and subsequent change of government," the paper reported.

"I would say (Sri Lanka) is now as safe as anywhere in the region, and safer than some," Spicer boasted to the paper. The Spicer-inspired report neglected to mention that in late in February 2002, a Norwegian-led peace initiative had resulted in the first ceasefire in eight years between the Tamil Tigers and the Colombo government. On March 1, 2002, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a press conference that the ceasefire had led Lloyd's to agree to drop the surcharges.

Sandline International's website stipulates "the company only accepts projects which … would improve the state of security, stability and general conditions in client countries." To this end, Sandline added, "the company will only undertake projects which are for internationally recognised governments" - governments that are "preferably democratically elected." Prospective clients are told in brochures and presentations that "Sandline policy is to only work with internationally recognised governments or legitimate international bodies such as the U.N." This was a key "operating principle" for the new age mercenaries.

On publicizing his new companies in 2001, Spicer told the Financial Times that SCI "would look carefully on a case-by-case basis at working for liberation movements in overseas countries," the paper reported. Asked at a conference in 2002 on "Europe and America - a New Strategic Partnership - Future Defence and Industrial Relations," sponsored by the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs, how he would resolve his contradictory pronouncements, Spicer replied: "I don't think anyone would object if a private military company, American, British or whatever - was to become involved at the behest of the international community with the Iraqi resistance. I don't think people would have objected if a PMC was working with the Northern Alliance.

Asked how he reconciled this with his 1998 position that he could not work for a resistance movement even in "a country where the insurgents are in the right," Spicer did not answer. His third new company, Trident Maritime, which continues to boast on its website of its network of global command centres, has also "failed," according to co-director Blankenship. "It has closed," the University of Maryland professor said, "we've had to stop the operation just in the last couple of weeks … [Trident] is essentially out of business."

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