i find irony in the fact that he tries to down play african intelligence and say the cia blew the whistle http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15468540
Private Armies Profit From America’s Wars
Peace Researcher 39 – January 2010
- Murray Horton
It’s been several years since Peace Researcher last reported on the sordid world of the modern mercenaries, now sanitised as “private security contractors”. I did so in detail in my articles “The Privatisation Of War” (PR 29, June 2004, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr29-96.html) and “Mercenaries: A Peculiarly British Disease” (PR 30, March 2005, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr30-114.html). It’s an issue that deserves ongoing scrutiny. Let’s start with the old school (and old school tie) British mercenaries that we last reported on five years ago. What happened to them? Equatorial Guinea In The Spotlight
In March 2004, Equatorial Guinea, a completely obscure little country in the sweaty armpit of West Africa, was suddenly catapulted into world headlines. Zimbabwe arrested 64 alleged foreign mercenaries plus three flight crew, and seized the cargo plane that they were on, at Harare Airport. The men were South Africans, Namibians, Angolans, Congolese and a Zimbabwean. The plane, which was full of military equipment, had started from the tiny West African island state of Sao Tome and Principe and had flown to Zimbabwe to collect its passengers and weapons. Equatorial Guinea alleged that the men were mercenaries hired by exiled opposition leaders in Spain, with the backing of British, American and Spanish intelligence services, aiming to overthrow its government. Furthermore, both Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe alleged that unnamed transnational corporations backed the plot to overthrow the government of the tiny, oil rich nation. An additional 15 foreign mercenaries, the alleged advance guard, were arrested in Equatorial Guinea itself. One of them, a South African, said that their mission had been to abduct President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, force him into Spanish exile (or kill him, if he resisted) and replace him with the leader of the opposition who has already been in Spanish exile for many years (the latter had tried to mount a coup in 1997 and was sentenced, in absentia, to 100 years prison).
The company that owned the plane said that it was all a dreadful misunderstanding and that the men were being flown to the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide security for transnational mining projects there. What has been described as Africa’s first world war, with millions of Congolese deaths, and the role of mining transnationals in that, is a whole other story. But neither Zimbabwe nor Equatorial Guinea was buying that explanation. Zimbabwe identified one of those arrested as a former member of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) and a leading figure in the South African mercenary firm, Executive Outcomes, and the notorious British company, Sandline International. These two firms were controversial leading players in several of Africa’s interminable wars of the 1990s, most notably in Angola and Sierra Leone (and, much closer to home, Sandline and its high profile leader Tim Spicer, had been involved in a mercenary fiasco in Papua New Guinea in the late 1990s that resulted in the fall of the Government which had hired it). Zimbabwe was adamant that the arrested men would face charges under aviation, firearms and immigration laws, and that they could face the death penalty.
This tragi-comic misadventure in an utterly obscure African dictatorship became a major world news story in subsequent months. The men held by Zimbabwe underwent a trial that lasted several weeks. The court rejected their cock and bull story about the Congo. A number of the South Africans were allowed to return home, where they were due to be arrested and charged under that country’s tough anti-mercenary laws. Several others, including ringleader Simon Mann, were sentenced to several years in Zimbabwean prisons. Mann was a colleague of Tim Spicer and fitted the archetypal British mercenary mould – a public schoolboy (Old Etonian in his case), and a product of the British Army’s officer corps and the SAS. Those dealt with by Zimbabwe were luckier than those captured in Equatorial Guinea itself. 19 mercenaries went on trial there, in late 2004, and the prosecution called for the death penalty for the South African ringleader and the exiled opposition leader alleged to be the figurehead.
No Honour Among Thieves
What really caught the world’s attention was the revelation of who was financing this elaborate and expensive coup attempt. The moneymen were a collection of millionaires in London and South Africa. The name of the notorious author, Tory politician and criminal Jeffrey Archer came up (he strenuously denied it). But the most high profile financier turned out to be none other than Sir Mark Thatcher, the ne’er do well son of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. In August 2004 he was arrested at his South African home and charged with bankrolling the debacle. This sent the British press into a frenzy. Mark Thatcher has been a well-deserved target of media scorn for decades, having traded on his mother’s name and position to enrich himself. He is a singularly graceless and unlikeable individual. One lengthy profile of him was headlined with the description of him by the Financial Times as: “’A sort of Harrovian Arthur Daley with a famous mum’” (Press, 14/1/05, Chris Moncrieff. Harrow was the British public school that Thatcher attended; Arthur – or, more properly, Arfur – Daley was the shifty Cockney wheelerdealer in the classic 1970s and 80s’ British TV series, Minder).
There was no going down in a blaze of glory for Thatcher. He cut a deal and pleaded guilty to contravening South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws. He got a four year suspended prison sentence and was fined $NZ736,300. He admitted funding a helicopter which he claimed he believed was supposed to be an air ambulance. The January 2005 deal allowed him to avoid a prison sentence or the even less appealing prospect of extradition to Equatorial Guinea to face trial and a possible death sentence there. He agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors in unravelling the full details of the plot, including who financed it. There was no honour among thieves – he was quite happy to rat on his partners in crime and retreat to an exclusive estate in Spain.
In May 2007 Simon Mann, who had been sentenced to four years prison in Zimbabwe, was released but immediately rearrested and held in prison pending extradition to Equatorial Guinea. This led to a fresh burst of publicity for these singularly inept former public school boys (Mann was the son of a former England cricket captain), with absurd code names such as the Cardinal, Smelly, Nosher and Scratcher (Thatcher). They spoke mockney (mock Cockney slang affected by the British upper class, popularised by Guy Ritchie movies) – Mann smuggled a message from his Zimbabwean prison demanding that his mates come up with a “large splodge of wonga” (translation: a lot of money) to get him out – they didn’t.
Mann was the subject of a Sunday Times profile reprinted in the Press (16/5/07; “Simon Mann: an adventure too far”). “’None of us thought that at that age, 50, with all his wealth and a family and a wife with a bun in the oven, he’d go on another bloody adventure’, a friend said. The fatal lure was Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s third largest oil exporter and the second most corrupt African country after Chad, according to Transparency International. South African intelligence sources believe Mann and his co-plotters planned to seize control of the country and run it as a private fiefdom, modelled on the British East India Company, after installing Severo Moto, an exiled opposition leader, as their frontman. The operation seems to have been doomed from the start. Thanks to the conspirators’ lamentable security, indulging in poolside bragging about their plans, the South African government received regular updates for months before passing on the information at the last moment”.
Mann was duly extradited to Equatorial Guinea, being held in a notorious prison in its capital, Malabo. He was put on trial in August 2008, when his testimony was described as “electrifying”, naming Mark Thatcher as one of the five central figures in the plot and Lebanese-Nigerian tycoon, Ely Calil, as the boss of the whole operation. Thatcher “was not just an investor. He came on board completely and became part of the management team” (Press, 20/6/08; “Mann says Mark Thatcher was ringleader in coup bid”, Martin Fletcher). Mann said the attempted coup was sanctioned by the Spanish and South African governments, with the blessing of the Pentagon, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US oil companies who have heavily invested in the country. A patriot to the end, he denied any British government involvement and expressed amazement when told that it had known about the plot.
President Obiang’s regime is one of the most corrupt and murderous in Africa (and that’s saying something). He has been in power since seizing it from his uncle in 1979. Among the atrocities committed by his predecessor were having 150 people shot in a sports stadium while a band played “Those Were The Days, My Friend”. Among many other crimes, Obiang himself has been accused of cannibalism. So he saw the Mann trial as golden opportunity to get some positive public relations for his revolting regime. He allowed foreign journalists into the country and made sure that the diplomatic corps attended the trial in numbers to hear Mann’s unforced testimony that the operation had been an international conspiracy to seize the country’s oil wealth. Obiang made sure that Mann was treated well, including having a daily lunch with the Minister of Security.
In August 2008 Mann was sentenced to 34 years prison (longer than the sentence demanded by the prosecution) and fined $NZ312,000. This was the same term which had already been meted out to the South African and other foreign mercenaries who had been caught in Equatorial Guinea itself in 2004 and who had already stood trial. A Lebanese businessman tried with Mann got 18 years, while four locals got six years each. It was fully expected that if Mann had to serve anything like the full term then he would die in prison. But his cooperation with the regime he plotted to violently overthrow, his naming of names, earned him his freedom only 15 months into his 34 year term. In November 2009 Mann was released from prison and given 24 hours to leave Equatorial Guinea. He was flown back to Britain on a private plane paid for by unnamed “friends” (four South African mercenaries were released at the same time, just ahead of a State visit of South African President Jacob Zuma).
It Was All About Oil, As Usual
So what’s the attraction of Equatorial Guinea? The mercenaries would have us believe that they were foot soldiers in a glorious crusade to bring democracy to a particularly benighted part of Africa. But the reality is not quite as noble. Equatorial Guinea is knee deep in oil, being one of West Africa’s smallest counties but a significant player in the region that the US is cultivating as the acceptable replacement for Middle Eastern oil. It is already full of thousands of American and other foreign oil workers, who live in exclusive suburbs (Marathon Oil’s is known as “Pleasantville”), which stand in stark contrast to the slums in which the vast majority of locals have to live. The Bush Administration saw this part of the world as a vital part of its strategy of securing reliable new sources of oil, and wasn’t bothered about the fleabag dictators that control it. “Official” US mercenaries, in the form of security advisers, are helping the Equatorial Guinea regime. And the hapless unofficial mercenaries and their financiers simply wanted part of that action, in the form of highly lucrative new oil concessions, which would be granted by a new government, to be installed at gunpoint.