PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANIES
Companies such as Executive Outcomes (EO), and other private military companies (PMCs) that followed in our tracks, would never have been able to operate across the world if the international community and the UN in particular had taken decisive action in so-called trouble spots or flash points. Time and time again, the UN blue-helmeted peacekeeping forces proved themselves incapable of doing the job. Most of their soldiers, who come from third-world countries, lack the training, discipline, leadership and determination to have any chance of success. Where this doesn’t apply and the UN commanders on the ground are keen to make a difference, they are invariably hogtied by bureaucracy and international politics.
A classic example of UN impotence was the case of Canadian General Dallaire, who pleaded with the Secretary-General to be allowed to intervene in the imminent Rwandan genocide. Permission was refused. There is no doubt that timely action would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. One has to ask what the purpose of the UN deployment was in the first place.
In Africa, certainly, the Blue Helmets are regarded by the average citizen with suspicion, distrust and even scorn. Several African governments believed they played both sides of the fence in an attempt to secure a peace that was faulty at best and bound to fall apart. I have personally had good reason to question their dedication to the task at hand — UN troops operating in close proximity to us frequently asked permission to seek cover in our training camps if they came under fire. Small wonder they are notorious for scuttling when things get hot. Just how the UN or anyone else thought that peace could be kept, when there was no peace to keep, truly boggles the mind.
In addition to Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone and Burundi are perfect examples of poorly planned and uncoordinated UN operations. There too, the UN stood by, often in full view of the television cameras, while thousands of unfortunate people were slaughtered. But as these flash points were in Africa, the world just turned a blind eye. Had they been in Europe, I suspect that the UN and the international community would have acted very differently.
Where the Western powers have politico-economic interests at stake, intervention is likely to be swift and decisive —we need look no further than Afghanistan and, later, Iraq. After we had blazed the path for military consultancy and advisory work — or private military companies as others referred to us — these mostly newly established companies realised that the military market was an open playing field. Personnel were not difficult to recruit. Many ex-soldiers found themselves in the same situation as we did — it was either work, turn to crime or starve. The only work we all knew and still really know, is how to be soldiers. And, unlike EO, they did not suffer the political betrayal that many of us, both black and white, had to contend with.
They have their government’s backing. Using these PMCs, foreign governments ensure that they are able to get a foothold in the countries they work in. The PMCs that followed in our footsteps often used as their template the work that Executive Outcomes did in Angola and Sierra Leone.
Executive Outcomes had created a lucrative bandwagon which many wanted to jump on and drive their way. Some of these companies apparently even negotiated contracts under the name of Executive Outcomes, but signed the final agreements in their own name.
When Executive Outcomes closed its doors on 31 December 1998, it was not because of the South African government’s newly enacted ‘anti-mercenary’ legislation, as was so widely proclaimed in the press. Rather it was due to a difference of opinion amongst those to whom I had given the company. In reality, the government’s bill was largely irrelevant to Executive Outcomes, as the company had a government-issued licence to continue with its work — something the media refused to acknowledge.
Greed and power can wreak havoc in any organisation, as these men were to discover. Nor were their clients so stupid as to not realise what was happening. I had left the company in a healthy financial condition with several potential contracts pending. After my departure, two of these agreements were never finalised. The then senior officers of EO asked me to intervene on their behalf to secure the work. Apparently the client governments had decided that if I was no longer involved in EO, they were not interested in dealing with the company.
Outside South Africa, several companies were doing exactly what EO did. The only difference was that they had the approval and encouragement — and often the financial backing— of their governments, who realised the value of PMCs. These companies could be measured in terms of success in providing a stable arena for their client governments. Sadly, South Africa did not have that foresight. It had become the victim of its own intelligence services’ disinformation.
Companies such as MPRI, DSL, Blackwater Security, KMS and others are today operating in conflict areas around the world where they are known as ‘civilian contractors’ in support of national armies. In Iraq today, there are several such US-, UK- and South African-based PMCs operating under the guise of security companies. Happily, the South African firms are doing so without the daily assaults on them from the local media. I have to wonder why.
The British Army still uses ‘contract officers’ — private individuals whose skills are sought after and bought. I see nothing wrong in this.
In early 2000, new rumours started surfacing that Executive Outcomes was still alive and operating. As the rumours inevitably gathered momentum, it was claimed that Executive Outcomes had become involved in the Ivory Coast.
Over the years that followed, rumours that Executive Outcomes was still operating were kept alive by the media. There were literally hundreds of articles on Executive Outcomes, many of them fabricated, several of them regurgitated misinformation, and many of them just an attempt by some journalists to justify their positions and earn their salaries. The stories, however, had neither fact nor substance to them — as the South African Intelligence Services have realised at great financial cost to the taxpayer.
In November 2002, Nico and I heard a rumour that Executive Outcomes was planning to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe. This caused alarm bells to ring, as the company was no longer in operation. I knew from my experiences with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Scorpions that the finger would be pointed straight at me and what the implications of that could be.
I urged Nico to issue a press release immediately, which he did:
An urgent appeal is being made to mainly African governments and their representatives in South Africa to go to the police with information about bogus companies that fraudulently obtain multi-million rand contracts by posing as the military advisory company Executive Outcomes that closed its doors in 1998.
The same story resurfaced almost a year later. I received a disturbing telephone call from somebody who identified himself as ‘Gerrit.’ He told me he had heard that we were recruiting ex-soldiers for a coup in Africa. He was interested in joining the company as he was unemployed and needed to earn money to care for his family. I warned him to stay away from such activities, as Executive Outcomes was most certainly not operating and that if it were, it would not be to conduct coups. He continued to plead with me, even offering to come to our offices in Johannesburg to discuss his lengthy curriculum vitae. Initially thinking that I was being targeted for a sting operation, I let the matter lie. It later occurred to me that, given the number of people and organisations claiming to be Executive Outcomes, perhaps something should be done to protect the real company and those who served in it.
I contacted Nico, who was and still is the custodian of the dormant EO. I suggested he contact the South African Secret Service (SASS) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as well as the SAPS, and inform them of the story doing the rounds. I was concerned that the media would pick up on it and make capital out of it as usual.
Being well aware of the pro-Mugabe stance of the South African government and its policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ toward Zimbabwe, this was something I didn’t want EO’s name associated with.
The rumours of ousting Mugabe eventually died down. But in late 2003, a story emerged that EO was this time planning to overthrow a government somewhere in West Africa. We were also told that Simon Mann had opened an office in Sandton, Johannesburg, and that his company was referring to itself as Executive Outcomes. My concern grew rapidly and I asked Nico to once more contact SASS and inform them of what we were hearing. Both SASS and NIA were aware of the state of affairs and it appeared that they were already monitoring the situation.
Recruitment for the operation had apparently begun sometime in late December 2003 or early January 2004. I received perhaps four telephone calls from people who asked whether I could offer them a part in the ‘job,’ as they had heard that I was recruiting people for a ‘special mission.’ All they knew was that Executive Outcomes was about to launch a coup in order to replace an African president. The grapevine buzzed, claiming that a coup was being planned in Equatorial Guinea and after that another coup would be mounted in the DRC. (A coup attempt in the DRC was quashed on 28 /29 March 2004.)
The news continued to alarm me. ‘Have you heard any more rumours about the coup that this phoney Executive Outcomes is apparently planning?’, I asked Nico.
‘No, everything seems to have gone quiet on the grapevine,’ he assured me.
Unbeknown to us, on or about 2 March, 2004, a Boeing 727-100, with registration number N4610, left Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, United States, made a brief refuelling stop at the Grantley Adams International Airport and set course for Barbados. The aircraft, until very recently owned and operated by the United States Air Force, had been sold to a Kansas-based company called Dodson Aviation, Inc. Dodson in turn claimed that the plane had been sold to a company known as Logo Logistics, based somewhere in Africa. Dodson Aviation had a very strong link to Fred Rindel and, according to my one-time double agent Johann Smith, was a close friend of Sean Cleary, who kept popping up on our shady activities radar. Rindel was not only the man known as Watson, who was engaged in illegal diamond operations with UNITA, but it was also alleged that he had trained Sierra Leonean rebels in Liberia.
At Lanseria Airport, over 60 men commanded by Simon Mann boarded the Boeing and left for Harare to refuel and load supplies. Meanwhile, the authorities in both Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea had been notified by South African Intelligence that a plot was afoot to overthrow President Obiang Nguema—presumably to take control of his copious oil supplies.
On 8 March 2004, the aircraft was summarily impounded at Harare International Airport and all those on board were arrested. Simultaneously, in Equatorial Guinea, a 15-man advance party under Nic du Toit was also taken into custody. The men had been told that they were being recruited to serve as security personnel at a mining operation in the DRC. I’m sure that had they known they were being hired to overthrow a government, many of them would have turned down Simon Mann’s offer.
The prime mover behind the plot was Logo Logistics, to which Simon Mann was in some way affiliated. Although I had never yet even heard of Logo Logistics, I was, according to media reports, very closely connected to them.
The background and scheming surrounding this attempted coup were never really discussed in the media, although the aftermath generated a huge amount of copy. A South African journalist by the name of Bruce Venter reported on 19 March, 2004:
Executive Outcomes is now operating under the name of Saracen and has close links to Logo Logistics.
The men were recruited by “an agent representing Logo Logistics, which had connections with the now defunct Executive Outcomes, a private security company owned by former SADF intelligence officer Eben (sic) Barlow.”
It was just further proof of the inability of the media to get their facts correct. Either that or perhaps they were once again asked to report such nonsense. Venter’s wild claim that Executive Outcomes was now operating under the name of Saracen and based in London was just another lie. I wondered what the true motive of Venter’s purported ‘intelligence source’ was. Saracen had indeed been a company which we established with the express purpose of conducting contracts related to physical security in Africa and beyond. To this day, Saracen owes both Nico and me a tidy sum of money, but getting it has been largely unsuccessful as the director never returns any of our telephone calls.
Venter’s statement that I owned Executive Outcomes contradicted a previous press report on 11 March asserting that Simon Mann, Simon Witherspoon and Nic du Toit (part of the Logo Logistics group arrested in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea) ‘formed the basis of Executive Outcomes.’ It was just another lie propagated by the media to mislead the public about the true composition and activities of EO.
Henri van der Westhuizen, the man who had visited me years before with Eugene de Kok, popped up again — this time as a partner of Nic du Toit. It seemed as if the ‘man from MI,’ currently a director of Executive Research Associates (ERA), certainly got around. If this was indeed so, then no wonder that the operation ended in such a debacle.
The South African Institute of International Relations reported Johann Smith, a confidante of Sean Cleary, as saying:
‘I used to command these guys,’ said Johann Smith, a former South African Defence Force commander, referring to the 80 suspected mercenaries now waiting trial in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe, where many were arrested allegedly en route to topple the government of President Obiang Nguema. ‘There are 2500 to 3000 of them in South Africa. This will definitely happen again, given their current economic realities. One former soldier lamented that he had missed the Equatorial Guinea ‘recruitment drive’ by 30 minutes.’
Smith’s statement had to be taken with a lot of salt. He had most certainly not commanded ‘these guys,’ as he claimed. Perhaps he knew some of them, but that was all. I wondered about his claims to me in the past that he had been working in Equatorial Guinea. Did he know more than he was admitting?
The ramifications of the Equatorial Guinea fiasco would reach further. Mark Thatcher, son of the erstwhile British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was implicated in the coup. He had been living in South Africa since 1995. As the plot continued to unravel, the elite Scorpions police unit said it had arrested Thatcher after learning that he had put his house on the market (for R22 million), arranged to sell four of his cars, found boarding school places in the US for his two children, and bought his family plane tickets to America. When officers arrived at his home in the up-market Constantia suburb of Cape Town, they found his suitcases packed in the hall.
Further details of the charges against Thatcher emerged. According to police, he had invested $271,000 to fund the logistics of the coup attempt. Sipho Ngwema, spokesperson for the Scorpions, said they were confident they had evidence against Thatcher that would stand up in court. ‘We have evidence that Thatcher has been financing the plot against Equatorial Guinea. We found information when we searched his residence that is going to assist us in the case.’
Thatcher denied involvement but was put under effective house arrest for allegedly helping to fund the coup attempt. At subsequent court hearings, Thatcher admitted that he paid for the helicopter that was to be used in the execution of the coup. The Mail & Guardian reported:
Meanwhile the number of businessmen and establishment figures involved in the coup plot was widening. Jeffrey Archer, who was dragged into the controversy after $134,000 (£74 000) was deposited into Mann’s bank account in the name of J H Archer four days before the coup attempt, was at the Olympics in Athens. He referred inquiries to his lawyers in London. They said he had never met, spoken to, or communicated in any way with Mann, but the statement stopped short of denying he had paid the money into Mann’s company account.
New allegations also emerged about the role of Greg Wales, a British businessman and friend of Mann. He was named in a writ issued in the high court in London by the government of Equatorial Guinea. He was also identified as a conspirator by Du Toit. Ashley Jacobs, a South African security consultant, told The Guardian that Wales employed him to conduct an intelligence survey in Equatorial Guinea.
Thatcher was fined R3 million for his role in the coup and allowed to leave South Africa. His colleagues weren’t that fortunate. Simon Mann was sentenced to seven years (reduced to four) — to be served in a particularly unpleasant Zimbabwe jail, and Nic du Toit is languishing in a prison in Equatorial Guinea that he might never leave. The rest of the men who appeared in court alongside Simon Mann were found not guilty — only to be charged again in South Africa under the ‘mercenary’ law. The case was thrown out and they are now free men.
In early 2005, I was again contacted and asked if I would consider restarting or reactivating Executive Outcomes. The caller was a person claiming to represent an African government that needed help urgently.
The caller told me he knew we were operating ‘just a few countries away’ from his country. I declined his request —after confirming that the company was no longer in operation.
On 19 December, 2005, the Afrikaans daily Beeld pointed the finger at another so-called Executive Outcomes. The article, translated from Afrikaans, recorded that:
First National Bank, an affiliate of First Rand, has been sued for an amount of R145 million in the Pretoria High Court for the alleged unauthorised use of a system to protect clients of the bank from fraud and theft.
Also being sued along with them is Mr Chris Troskie, the previous risk manager in the fraud division of First Card — the credit division of First Rand.
The claimant is Mr Engelbertus Parkin, executive head of Executive Outcomes of Rustenburg. It is astonishing that companies and their so-called executive managers get away with claiming that they represent or own a company known as Executive Outcomes. During the lifetime of Executive Outcomes, every meeting held in our boardroom at Danny Street was covertly video-recorded and those tapes, along with the tapes of all of our recorded telephone discussions, are kept in a very secure location.
The phoney Executive Outcomes companies that ride on the back of our hard won reputation will continue to sprout as long as the media gives them attention and as long as there are shadowy hands grasping for profits gained by duplicity. They will also continue to expose and compromise themselves if they act in the way they have been doing.
In the final analysis, Executive Outcomes had a renown and stature that has been unequalled by everyone who tried to copy what we did. We were approached by governments from across the world to assist them with their ‘problems’ and we never have failed in anything we did. Nor did we run away from danger, but faced it like the soldiers we were.
Our reputation, established through hard work and the blood of my men, has sadly become part of the phoney Executive Outcomes’marketing strategy. The reputation of the real Executive Outcomes was written in blood and ink.
It will always remain so.
Executive Outcomes is published by Galago Press, 552 pp. It is available on Amazon.com.