Mercenary Hits It Big, Thanks to the U.S.

Posted By: March 29, 2013

Published on Thursday, June 24, 2004 by the Los Angeles Times

by Robert Young Pelton

On May 25, the U.S. Army awarded Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, formerly of the British army, and his company, Aegis – a tiny 2-year-old London-based holding corporation – the largest and most important security contract of the Iraq war. Over three years, Aegis will be in charge of all security for the $18.4 billion in ongoing reconstruction projects being overseen by the United States.

As part of the contract, Aegis will hire a “force-protection detail” of about 600 armed men. It will also coordinate the operations of 60 other private military companies already working in Iraq and their 20,000 men, including handling security at prisons and oil fields. It’s a no-risk, cost-plus arrangement that could earn the company up to $293 million. And as the owner of almost 40% of Aegis, Spicer could pocket $20 million, according to one financial expert.

No problem there, right? It’s the American way.

But it turns out that the United States may have made an enormous error: Apparently nobody bothered to ask who Timothy Simon Spicer really was – a controversial British mercenary.

Spicer has not responded to requests for comment. However, his exploits are well documented.

For example, Spicer’s memoir says he was hired by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1997 to put down a rebellion. The prime minister was ultimately forced to step down and Spicer ended up arrested, charged and jailed on weapons violations there. The charges were later dropped.

Spicer was also a central figure in a British “arms to Africa” scandal in which a 1998 U.N. arms embargo was broken. Spicer’s company supplied arms to Sierra Leone, and, as he recounts, he accepted $70,000 from a fugitive financier accused of embezzlement to look into overthrowing the government there. And according to the Boston Globe, when he was in the British military he commanded a unit in which two members were convicted of murdering an 18-year-old Catholic in north Belfast. Spicer’s business background isn’t any more reassuring. He has owned or worked for four private military corporations that have either failed financially, done poorly or have suspended business.

Although Aegis has no track record in Iraq, Spicer is known to members of the Coalition Provisional Authority staff – retired British army Brigadier Tony Hunter-Choat, for example. Hunter-Choat heads security for the program management office of the CPA. He and Spicer both worked in the Balkans, where Hunter-Choat was part of the British U.N. contingent and Spicer was a spokesman for the commander of the U.N. Protection Force.

How did Aegis win the security contract? Last month in Ft. Eustis, Va., an Army board reviewed six competing proposals, including entries from giants like Dyncorp and Control Risks Group and others with long histories of successful contracting with the U.S. military. Army spokesman Maj. Gary C. Tallman said Aegis’ proposal did the best in meeting the bid requirements. He said Spicer’s resumé showed that he had an impeccable career in the British army and that Spicer had done “security work in Africa and Southeast Asia.”

When asked if he knew details of Spicer’s background, Tallman replied: “My understanding is that they [Aegis] met all the [bid] requirements.” He said that other than checking candidates against an official list of those barred from getting Army contracts, “it’s not part of the process to look into the backgrounds of the principals.”

The growing controversy over Aegis’ qualifications may force the Army to once again review how it hires private contractors. Security analysts and human rights activists have questioned the contract, and one of the losing bidders has asked for a review.

As for Spicer, he is reportedly already at work in Baghdad – Washington’s newest private contractor, building a huge private security force with a famous mercenary at its head.

Robert Young Pelton is the author of the “World’s Most Dangerous Places” (HarperResource, 2003) and “Three Worlds Gone Mad” (Lyons Press, 2004).

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times