To catch a thief

It’s a nice idea for a work of fiction, perhaps – hire some infamous “dogs of war” to round up all the evil doers left in a ravaged middle eastern country. But this stuff isn’t supposed to happen for real, is it?

As highlighted by Ethan Zuckerman, the Boston Globe reported earlier this week that the Pentagon has hired Tom Spicer’s private security firm to coordinate policing in Iraq.

Yes, that Tom Spicer – Lieutenant Colonel Spicer, ex-SAS, former head of Sandline (ring a bell now?), a “Private Military Company” best known for their role in supplying 35 tonnes of arms to President Kabbah’s forces in Sierra Leone in direct contravention of UK and UN embargoes (although the deal was, allegedly, much discussed over tea and scones in Lancaster House).

The “Sandline Affair” hit UK headlines in early '98, when engineers from a Royal Navy frigate were photographed helping to service Sandline's Russian-made helicopter while docked in Freetown.

Under Spicer’s leadership, Sandline’s rich catalogue of specialised services also expanded to include customizable rent-a-coup offerings – although his clients (Rio Tinto) were not too pleased with his miserable failure in Papua New Guinea – especially after they coughed up $36 million for the “deluxe” package. In a wonderful Frederick Forsyth moment, Spicer was actually dragged in front of the PNG court and asked to explain how he happened to have a suitcase bulging with $400,000 in used bills.

Spicer quit Sandline to build his current company – Aegis Defence Services – the firm just awarded the $293 million Iraq gig.

PR for Aegis, btw, is handled by the same people who look after Anadin, Gold Spot breath fresheners, Mothercare, and Harmony hair spray. Really. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.

Clearly, the US government applies the same standards of vetting to its contractors as it does to members of the cabinet.

Um...no big epiphany there then.