Tony Blair’s Pet Bulldog? The Curious Case of Colonel Tim Spicer By William Bowles

20 May 2006


Tim Spicer (right) is an ex-soldier from the Scots Guards, an elite unit of the British Army, a veteran of Northern Ireland (where he got his OBE) and the Falklands, and he also served in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s. Spicer’s (defunct) company, Sandline International took over from Executive Outcomes (EO) which was disbanded after South Africa made it illegal for South African nationals to engage in mercenary activities.

Spicer has close connections to the government of Tony Blair who hired Spicer’s Sandline to illegally supply weapons to restore the Kabbah government in Sierra Leone.

The successor to Spicer’s Sandline is Aegis Defence Services and just awarded a $239 million contract by the US DoD to supply “75 close protection bodyguard teams to coalition and Iraqi officials” as well as “co-ordinate intelligence gathering for other private security firms in Iraq, including the multi-billion dollar US Dyncorp” [1], it became clear that there is much, much more to Colonel Tim than meets the eye.

Could this connection have something to do with Aegis Defence Services winning the DoD contract (more payback for supporting Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq)? [2]

The contract has been contested by Dyncorp and there are currently three separate US government investigations into the awarding of the contract to Aegis.

Aegis, formed less than two years ago, is small potatoes by PMC standards, In fact in 2003, the company made a loss of £378,000. Investors in Aegis include Frederick Forsyth, author of “The Dogs of War”. [3]

Aegis is also bidding on a 12-month contract offered by the British government’s Department of International Development (DFID) to “provide intelligence and security advice” to the government of Sierra Leone. An irony considering Spicer’s prior involvement with Sierra Leone when his company broke a UN embargo on arms to Sierra Leone on behalf of Tony Blair’s government. [4]

“It’s The Wild West”

“The United States government, the American army, and the private security or intelligence companies are today completely interdependent,” says a European expert. “And, from a military point of view, this is on the increase. Just one example: after the attacks on the Blackwater convoys in Fallujah and Baghdad, the Pentagon proposed providing to the coordinating agency, PMO – Program Management Office – and so today to Spicer, air support for all the private companies officially registered with the PMO. The program’s code name is ‘Quarterback.’ It’s incredible. It’s the Wild West. Apache helicopters and ground attack fighters are going to henceforth be able to “clear” the roads for private companies.”” (Correspondent)[5]

It’s estimated that there are at least 20,000 mercenaries operating in Iraq (some put it as high as 30,000), earning between five and twenty times as much as their state-employed ‘comrades-in-arms’ [6].

So why all the fuss over PMCs? After all, there was a time when most wars were conducted by mercenaries until the time of large-scale state-enforced conscription at the beginning of the 20th century when mechanised warfare demanded millions of young men to fight and die for capital.

What started out as a fairly ‘straightforward’ investigation of Aegis Defence Services, a small PMC with connections, tailspinned into a global spider’s web of corporate and government connections that (so far) spans countries from South/North America, Africa, the Middle and Far East, with a multitude of players including government leaders from Burma to Uganda with stopovers in South Africa, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, then on to Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia and the United States.

This article can only scratch the surface of the intricacies of the global network of mercenary armies and the connected oil, gas, precious metal mining companies as well as the lucrative arms trading that the companies named here are or have been involved in. (See the Center for Public Integrity links below.)

Various and sundry companies owned by a host of connected players as far apart as Canada, Burma and Uganda, with one company leading to another via ‘fronts’, shared directors and shareholders, cross-ownership, tax shelters, in a word, all the devices of corporate capitalism designed to obscure who really owns (and hence is responsible for) what.

In addition, one of the hidden players, ‘Toxic’ Bob Friedland, a power behind the throne of Tony Buckingham’s Heritage Oil & Gas, and also a sidekick of Colonel Tim Spicer, has left a trail toxic waste behind him as he dug his way across Burma, the United States, Canada and Venezuela in search of gold. A search that thus far has left cleanup costs (not his to pay) of hundreds of millions of dollars of the cyanide and heavy metal-polluted landscapes.[7]

The sordid doings of these ‘Soldiers of Misfortune’ is therefore, not restricted to doing the dirty work of imperialism, but leads them wherever they see a fast buck to be made. This is the side of PMCs that the media doesn’t report on when it reports the glib comments of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw when he talks of engaging the “reputable private military sector”.

Executive Outcomes
The starting point is Executive Outcomes (EO) (now defunct but not before morphing into Sandline International and then ending up as Aegis Defence Services, with a few stopovers inbetween). EO was one of the first of the Private Military Contractors, set up around 1989, after it became clear that Apartheid South Africa was all washed up. The man credited with creating EO is Eeban Barlow. In addition to Barlow, the other major players in EO/Sandline were Simon Mann (currently languishing in a Zimbabwean jail having been arrested for participating in an alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea in exchange for oil concessions after the coup was over[8]), Tim Spicer, Michael Grunberg, Tony Buckingham and Nic van der Berg, who later took over from Barlow as head of EO. The military network was controlled by shadowy holding companies, called Plaza 107 in the UK (controlled by Grunberg) and the Strategic Resources Corporation in South Africa. [9]

“EO was registered in the UK in September 1993 by Simon Mann, a former troop commander in 22 SAS specializing in intelligence and South African director of Ibis Air, and Tony Buckingham, an SAS veteran and chief executive of Heritage Oil and Gas. The Heritage Oil and Gas board of directors includes former Liberal Party leader David Steel, and Andrew Gifford of GJW Government Relations, an influential parliamentary lobbyist. The company, originally British, now registered in the Bahamas, is associated with a Canadian oil corporation, Ranger Oil. Both companies had drilling interests in Angola, a country that since the mid 1970s was torn by civil war between the Marxist MPLA government and UNITA rebels who were covertly assisted by the South African special forces.

“Most of EO’s approximately one thousand soldiers (70 per cent of whom are black) are veterans of South Africa’s four elite apartheid-era counterinsurgency special forces: 32 ‘Buffalo’ Battalion; the Reconnaissance Commandos (‘Reccies’); the Parachute Brigade (‘Parabats’); and the paramilitary ‘Koevoet’ (‘Crowbar’). Their assignment was the destabilization of the apartheid regime’s southern African enemies.

“The 32 Battalion, comprised mainly of Portuguese-speaking Angolans, became South Africa’s most highly decorated combat unit since the Second World War. Eeben Barlow, the director of EO until July this year, was second-in-command of the 32 Battalion. He chose the paladin, the chessboard knight once featured in the old television series Have Gun, Will Travel, as the company logo when he set up EO in 1989.” [10]

EO’s first known major operation was Angola in 1993 where it traded on its 32 Battalion experience defending oil drilling sites and ironically being hired by the Angolan government to fight UNITA, the force Barlow had been working with to destroy the MPLA government during the Apartheid era. In reality, the oil drilling site it recovered from UNITA in Angola at Soyo, was in fact owned by Heritage Oil (which in turn has shares owned by Toxic Bob Friedland’s Branch Energy) and at the time, EO was also part-owned by Branch Energy. Heritage Oil has operations in Angola, Congo-Brazaville, DR Congo, Oman, and Uganda. Executive Outcomes was involved in Sierra Leone, Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Canada.[11]

“Angola seems to be where EO head Barlow met former SAS officer [Tony] Buckingham, now believed to have ultimate control over EO and the complex web of some 80 companies involved in businesses ranging from landmine removal to water purification. Buckingham was representing Heritage Oil at the time of their meeting and had requested that Barlow recruit soldiers to recapture Heritage’s assets in Soyo that had been taken by UNITA during the renewed conflict of the Second Civil War. The success of EO’s special forces operation in Soyo had inspired the Angolan government to hire EO to direct frontline operations against UNITA.

“Payments for EO’s services were made substantially in partial ownership in Branch Energy, were then transferred through a subsidiary, Carson Gold, and were finally exchanged for shares in DiamondWorks. Capture of vital diamond mining territory was part of the subtext of EO’s operations in Angola.” [12]

Also involved in EO’s Angolan ‘adventures’ was Simon Mann, an ex-Royal Scots Guards officer and troop commander with the ‘elite’ British Special Air Services (SAS). Mann, together with Tony Buckingham, another prominent player in the private army business, awarded Eeben Barlow, the founder of EO, his first contract in Angola.

Led by Lafras Luitingh, a former 5 Reconnaissance Regiment officer, and like Barlow, also an ex-Civil Cooperation Bureau operative, less than 100 EO fighters seized the town in three months and handed it back to the Angolan government. They got huge rewards, including a US$30 million mining contract.

Eeban Barlow
Barlow, joined the SADF in 1974 and went to become a commander of South Africa’s notorious 32 Battalion’s Reconnaissance (Recce) Wing where he ‘assisted’ the anti-MPLA UNITA, (the Union for the Total Independence of Angola) guerrilla army. Later, Barlow went on to become a high-ranking employee of the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) formed in the last years of the Apartheid regime. Barlow it seems, was based in London during the 1980s and it was his job to disseminate disinformation about the ANC but one can speculate on what other activities he and the other CCB operatives got up to whilst stationed in Europe including their involvement in the assassination of the ANC representative in France, Dulcie September in 1987. The CCB was definately involved in assassinations elsewhere, including the assassination of Anton Lubowski, a leading member of Namibia’s SWAPO (South West African Peoples’ Organisation) in 1989. The manufacture and distribution of drugs, involvement with the so-called Third Force, utilised to destabilise South Africa during the pre-1994 election period. Dr Wouter Basson (so-called Dr. Death) was also part of the CCB operation and behind a CBW programme code-named Project Coast. [13]

The activities of EO, the clients it served, and the global transnational corporate elite that included the DeBeers diamond cartel, Texaco and Gulf-Chevron reveals the role of mercenary groups like EO, especially in Africa. Much of its income came from ‘doing deals’, that is, getting lucrative mining concessions as payment for providing protection or overthrowing governments that ‘got in the way’ of doing business such as those conducted in Sierra Leone, Angola and DR Congo. And here the connections between EO and companies such as Diamondworks, becomes important, for the close association between EO and the diamond and gold concessions reveals that EO not only got paid cash for supplying mercenary forces but also obtained lucrative mining concessions as well. [14]

“In Sierra Leone, Branch Energy had a 60% stake in Branch Energy Sierra Leone, the government had 30% while a local businessman/investor held a small stake of 10%. The same pattern was repeated in Angola and in Uganda. Branch Energy’s African assets were mainly concentrated in countries where civil wars and rebellions were raging, so was it just pure luck or coincidence that these countries were selected? In fact the selection appears to have been guided by very defined criteria: the potentials in minerals (diamonds, gold and oil), a bankrupt national economy and armed rebellion threatening the ruling strongman.”[15]

Aside from the fact that the UN outlawed the practice, mercenary outfits are ‘free agents’ not covered by Geneva Conventions or indeed aside from countries like South Africa who have outlawed the practice, are not regulated by the leading exporters of war, the US and the UK.

“The American government has also been using these private companies and others, more discreet, for secret activities, as the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal revealed recently. Intelligence agencies subcontract their activities, notably for interrogations. Not only are these private “soldiers” not subject to military discipline or prosecution, but their companies are paid, or see their contracts renewed, on a pro rata basis, according to how much information is obtained. This would appear to have pushed some contractors to extract fantastical confessions from prisoners through torture.” [16]

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the drive to privatise war is the fact that our political elite is busy producing rationales for it. Hence British foreign secretary Jack Straw had this to say on the subject:

“…[a] reputable private military sector might have a role in enabling the UN to respond more rapidly and effectively to crises”.[17]

This followed the Sierra Leone affair, where the UK government had hired Sandline to smuggle weapons into the country in contravention of an UN arms embargo. Clearly Straw’s statement (following the publication of a Green Paper that called for the hiring of PMCs to do the work of government) was part of the drive to circumvent all the ‘inconvenient’ laws that prohibit governments from acting without due process or being accountable to public oversight.

Straw’s forward to the Green Paper went on to say:

“Today’s world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavoury kind involved in post-colonial or neo-colonial conflicts.”[18]

Unsavoury seems an odd choice of word especially in the light of the subsequent events in Abu Ghraib and the involvement of CACI, the US PMC in the torture of Iraqi prisoners, for surely the point of privatising state activities is primarily to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions. The smokescreen being used by the likes of despicable individuals like Straw who seeks to justify privatising such activities under the guise circumventing ‘bureaucracy’, is the height of cynicism. It reveals that far from being the advocates of freedom and democracy, our rulers feel that they can write their own rules in this dog-eat-dog world that they have created.

But unlike the US government who have already made it quite plain that PMCs are above the law:

“If accepted by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, it would put the highly visible U.S. foreign contractors into a special legal category, not subject to military justice and beyond the reach of Iraq’s justice system. … Two U.S. contract employees at Abu Ghraib prison who were accused in a Pentagon report of participating in illegal abuse of Iraqi prisoners … have not been charged with any crimes in Iraq or the United States. … Estimates of the total number of foreigners working here — from Americans to South Africans to Chileans — have ranged from 20,000 to 30,000.”[19]

The British government hides its actions, embarrassed perhaps that its activities expose its hypocritical position? But this is nothing new for the Blair government whose activities ever since coming to power in 1997 have been exemplified by an endless trail of broken promises and lies about its true intentions as it attempts to resurrect the empire. So the fact that it rewards the dregs of its former colonial empire’s military occupiers with crumbs off the US table should come as no surprise.


1. ‘Controversial Commando Wins Iraq Contract’ by Pratap Chatterjee, Corporate Watch June 9th, 2004.

2. ‘The Irresistible Rise Of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer In Baghdad’s Private Security El Dorado’, Rémy Ourdan, Le Monde, By July 1, 2004. Original in French, See translation here.

3. ibid

4. ‘The Iraqi contract is said to have been obtained, according to a diplomatic source, because Tony Blair complained at a summit meeting with the Americans that British companies had received scarcely any rewards for the United Kingdom’s war effort.’ See Note 2.

5. ibid

6. ‘US Auditors probes Col Tim Spicer’s £160m Iraqi Deal’ by Severin Carrell and Solomon Hughes, The Independent on Sunday, 15 August 2004.

7. ‘”Toxic Bob” Wastes Burma: Forced Labour And Pollution Rampant At Canadian-Owned Mine‘, March 2001.

8. ‘Rent-a-coup: Who’s who’, Mail & Guardian, 12 Mar 2004

9. ‘The Privatisation Of Violence: New Mercenaries And The State’ by Christopher Wrigley, March 1999. Campaign Against Arms Trade

10. ‘Foot Soldiers of the New World Order: The Rise of the Corporate Military’ By Simon Sheppard, New Left Review March/April 1998.

11. ‘Canadian Mercenary Corporation Strikes Oil In Uganda. Oil Is Potential Source Of Conflict In Great Lakes Region’

12. ‘From Enemy to Peacemaker: The Role of Private Military Companies in Sub-Saharan Africa’ by Jesse Selber and Kebba Jobarteh, 2000.

For other sources on EO see the following:

The Observer, 19/1/97, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 13/11/96, Jane’s International Defence Review 3, 1998, Independent 13/5/98, Africa Confidential, 1/5/98, 29/5/98, 23/10/98.

13. ‘Van Rensburg believed there was a threat of chemical warfare against South African security forces’, Freedom of Expression Institute, June 2000.

14. ‘Mercenary Connections: DiamondWorks, Executive Outcomes, and the New Corporate Military Market’ 1999 by Linda Lebrun.

For an massive resource on the activities of EO, see ‘Executive Outcomes: Mercenary Corporation OSINT Guide’ Dr. Robert J. Bunker and Steven F. Marin, July 1999 and prepared, predictably for the US Army. Unfortunately, many of the links no longer work, so see Center for Public Integrity links below. I’ve made the OSINT resource available locally just in case it disappears.

15. ‘Mercenaries in Africa: From Soldiers of Fortune to Corporate Warriors’ by Eva Dadrian August 17, 2004.

16. ‘Sandline Affair, The True Story’, 3 July 2001, Center for Media, Education & Technology.

17. See Note 9.

18. ‘Peacekeeping ‘Role’ for Mercenaries’, BBC, February 13, 2002.

19. ‘Military Contractors in Iraq: Privatizing Unaccountability and Torture?’, June 17 2004, Common Dreams.

The following links are also extremely useful for anyone wanting to followup on the sordid world of mercenary armies. All are from the excellent
Center for Public Integrity

‘Making a Killing: The Business of War’ by Phillip Van Niekerk

‘Privatizing Combat, the New World Order’ By Laura Peterson

‘Marketing the ‘New Dogs of War” by Duncan Campbell

‘The Curious Bonds of Oil Diplomacy’ By Sunday Dare

Supporting Documents

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