Now for Baer's piece...
"I knew who [Tim] Spicer was. He'd popped up on the C.I.A.'s radar after he
retired from the British Army and went to work, in 1996, as the C.E.O.
of Sandline International, a private military company offering
"operational support" to "legitimate governments." A year later Spicer
was in Papua New Guinea, where he fielded a mercenary army for the
government in order to protect a multi-national copper-mining company.
After Spicer was expelled, he moved on to Sierra Leone, this time
helping to ship arms to coup plotters. Spicer's name resurfaced in 2004
in connection with a putsch aimed at Equatorial Guinea, allegedly led
by Simon Mann, his friend, former army colleague, and onetime business
associate. Though questioned by British officials, Spicer was not
implicated in the incident.
But then, somehow, two months later, Spicer's company, known as
Aegis Defence Services, landed a $293 million Pentagon contract to
coordinate security for reconstruction projects, as well as support for
other private military companies, in Iraq. This effectively put him in
command of the second-largest foreign armed force in the country—behind
America's but ahead of Britain's. These men aren't officially part of
the Coalition of the Willing, because they're all paid contractors—the
Coalition of the Billing, you might call it—but they're a crucial part
of the coalition's forces nonetheless."
"In November of 2005 a disgruntled Aegis ex-employee posted a
so-called "trophy video" on the Internet depicting Aegis
contractors—Tim Spicer's men—shooting at Iraqis in civilian cars. In
one sequence, the Aegis team opens fire with an automatic weapon at an
approaching silver Mercedes. The Mercedes rams a taxi, sending the
taxi's occupants running. In another sequence, an Aegis employee fires
at a white sedan, running it off the road. Elvis Presley's "Mystery
Train" provides the soundtrack. Aegis subsequently conducted an
investigation and concluded that the actions represented "legitimate
operations" undertaken in compliance with the rules of engagement.
Aegis argued further that the video was "taken out of context" and
noted that there was no evidence that civilians had been killed. The
Pentagon looked into the video and declined to take further steps.
According to a February 2006 Government
Accountability Office report, there were approximately 48,000 private
military contractors in Iraq, employed by 181 different companies.
There may now be many more. These are the kinds of people Tim Spicer
and Aegis are supposed to coordinate. The bulk of the military
contractors are American and British, with a sprinkling of other
nationalities. Formal oversight is lax, to put it mildly. Many are
retired from elite units such as the British Special Air Service or the
U.S. Special Forces. According to a report in The Economist, a
former British official who now heads a trade association for private
military companies estimates that mercenaries are Britain's largest
export to Iraq. Not food, medicine, or construction
"After U.S. forces took Baghdad, in April of 2003, Aegis, like every
other private military company in the world, set out to elbow its way
in. The pot of gold was the $18.4 billion reconstruction fund. And that
money was in all likelihood just the beginning. If Iraq could be
stabilized, there was the prospect of an oil boom such as the world had
Two things happened which, together, led to Spicer's big break. The
first occurred in March of 2004, when four Blackwater contractors were
ambushed and murdered in Fallujah. The Pentagon knew it couldn't
dispense with military contractors, but it now had leverage to make
them play by the military's rules. Henceforward, contractors would keep
the military informed of their movements. They would also carry
transponders, allowing the military to locate them in an emergency.
What the Pentagon needed was a single military contractor to manage the
"The private military company Erinys also had a South Africa problem.
In 2004 an Erinys subcontractor, François Strydom, was killed by Iraqi
insurgents. It turned out that Strydom was a former member of the
notorious Koevoet, an arm of apartheid South Africa's
counter-insurgency campaign in what is now Namibia. There have been
press reports of a link between Erinys Iraq and Ahmad Chalabi (the
onetime head of the Iraqi National Congress, which was a conduit for
the fabricated intelligence used to justify the Iraq war), which both
Erinys Iraq and Chalabi deny. After securing an $80 million contract to
guard Iraq's oil infrastructure in 2003, Erinys did hire many of the
soldiers from Chalabi's U.S.-trained Free Iraqi Forces as guards.
Chalabi himself eventually became acting oil minister. He was probably
not the best custodian of Iraq's national treasure. (Among other
things, in 1992 he had been convicted in Jordan of defrauding the
country's Petra Bank of at least $30 million.) His foot soldiers were
not all that trustworthy, either. When I was in Iraq with Chalabi in
the mid-1990s, he was trying to sell his army to Washington as an
insurgent force that, properly equipped, could one day march on
Baghdad. It was nonsense. When the Kurds took on Saddam's V Corps north
of Kirkuk in March of 1995, overrunning three Iraqi divisions,
Chalabi's men sat out the fighting.
I wasn't surprised that Chalabi's army never morphed into Delta
Force. An F.B.I. official recently back from Iraq told me that agents
billeted next to Chalabi's mercenaries (now no longer employed by
Erinys Iraq) had had a real problem with them. They were stealing
everything, from F.B.I. computers to batteries for helicopters.
In an odd but lethal twist, it came out last November that the rogue
K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko had visited the London office of
Erinys shortly before his death, by means of radiation poisoning,
leaving behind traces of polonium 210.
Step anywhere inside the world of private
military companies and you're suddenly in a demimonde where everything
seems connected to everything else. When retired general Jay Garner
arrived in Iraq in April of 2003 to become the country's civilian
administrator, he hired two former South African commandos as part of
his security detail. They were known to Garner only as Lion and
Louwtjie, and they worked for a company called Meteoric Tactical
Solutions. (Where do they get these names?) After Garner was replaced
by Paul Bremer, the two commandos went to work for Bernard Kerik, the
former New York police commissioner, whom Bremer had brought in to
create an Iraqi police force. Under a $600,000 contract, Meteoric
agreed to provide Kerik's protection and to help train the police."