Problems with how mercenaries are handling your war in Iraq? Why not hire Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer, one of the world’s best known mercenaries to handle security for you. He’s certainly no stranger to controvery and bad press.
Spicer’s previous firm, Sandline, was so intimately involved in a scandal in Sierra Leone, the event is generally referred to simply as “The Sandline Affair”. Spicer’s company procured and distributed 35 tons of light weapons to arm supporters of deposed Sierra Leonean president Kabbah – it’s likely he was hired by a bauxite dealer who wanted to recover concessions negotiated with the deposed Kabbah. Unfortunately for Spicer, this was illegal under British law and a UN resolution, and while Spicer avoided prosecution, the careers of several people in Tony Blair’s administration were damaged in the process.
The Sierra Leone affair wasn’t even Sandline’s darkest moment. That was Papua New Guinea, where Sandline mercenaries were hired to help put down an indigenous rebellion concerning a copper mine. The operation went off badly, and Spicer was captured by PNG soldiers, who wanted to know why government money was being spent on foreign mercenaries, not on local soldiers. British diplomats had to intervene on Spicer’s behalf and rescue him.
Sandline doesn’t exist any more, of course. A few weeks back, their site went offline with the poetic parting words:
“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. “
But don’t shed too many tears for Sandline alumni – they’re doing a good job of making a name for themselves around the world. Simon Mann, who cofounded Sandline with Spicer, is in custody in Zimbabwe, accused of plotting a coup to overthrow the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Remember that story? I know I do…)
The complaints on the Sandline site aside, the US government seems to be quite willing to use Private Military Companies. Spicer’s new company Aegis, which looks a lot like a reformed Sandline, is in line for $293 million in security work on a cost-plus basis – i.e., they get they money spent plus an administrative overhead charge. Speculation suggests that the contract was given to Aegis, a British firm, to help reward the UK for their participation in the “Coalition of the Willing”.
But I gotta ask – what were they thinking? Anyone who’s concerned about dirty dealings in the developing world knows who Spicer and Sandline are, and what they’re done in the past. With accusations that PMCs tortured people at Abu Ghraib, why would the Bush administration hire a PMC with such a questionable track record? Was this an accident, or just incredible arrogance and an assumption the press wouldn’t follow this story?