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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
. 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."
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
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
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'
"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.
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
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.
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
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
is essentially out of business."