Private military companies have been engaged in
an intense struggle in recent months – over a $475 million deal billed, perhaps
optimistically, as the
last major security contract in Iraq.
The contract, originally due to be awarded on April 10, involves a wide range
of services, from the provision of personal security details to the management
of six regional reconstruction operation centers (ROCs) interfacing between
coalition forces and private contractors, as well as a national reconstruction
operations center that distributes sanitized intelligence to contractors.
One current method of intelligence distribution is an ROC
Web site, which is supposed to be password-protected, although the site's
main page appears to be accessible as the top Google
search result for the phrase "Reconstruction Operation Center."
Material designated "For
Official Use Only," including information about patterns of insurgent
activity, is publicly accessible under the headings "ROC
National Weekly Summary" and "Special
The site is run by Aegis Defense Services,
British company that has held the ROC contract since 2004.
Aegis is among the bidders for the new contract, but it emerged earlier this
month that the company's existing arrangement has instead been extended for
six months, after rival bidders lodged protests against the army.
to the Washington Post, objections by U.S. firm Blackwater
and British company Erinys
are currently being considered by the Government
Armorgroup, a British firm that has
Aegis to several major contracts in Afghanistan, is also
reportedly a bidder.
The struggle over the new contract comes as private contractors in Iraq face
growing congressional scrutiny. The Aegis deal was heavily criticized earlier
this year by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio)
during a hearing
of the House
Defense Appropriations Committee.
"Both in closed door meetings and in public, I have yet to find a person
other than the auditor, who is able to shed any light on how it was that Aegis,
a foreign corporation, was given a contract where now we have the second-largest
force in Iraq, larger than the Brits, headed by someone named Tim Spicer,"
The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction
has agreed to launch a new audit of the Aegis contract, following a request
An investigator for the inspector general's office last week
told the committee that a previous audit found Aegis had
not fully performed its contract responsibilities and had failed to sufficiently
document employees who carry weapons in Iraq.
Aegis' attempts to win business from other governments have also sparked controversy
in recent months. The company was the subject of a critical
documentary by Italian public broadcaster RAI in March, after it bid for
a contract to protect Italian workers in southern Iraq.
The British government has been threatened with legal action if it allows Aegis
to bid for future contracts.
The warning comes from Belfast resident Jean McBride, whose
son Peter was murdered in 1992 by soldiers under the command of current
Aegis CEO Tim Spicer, who was then a battalion commander in the British Army's
Scots Guards regiment.
After Aegis bid unsuccessfully for a British
government security contract in Afghanistan last year, Irish
human rights group the Pat
Finucane Center (PFC) wrote to the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Mrs. McBride's behalf.
In its letter,
the PFC criticized Lt. Col. Spicer's role in the McBride case:
"In his sworn affidavit and again in his autobiography Spicer has sought
to portray an entirely fictitious and untruthful version of the events preceding,
during, and following the actual murder. It is essential to point out that the
version of events as described by Spicer, which constituted the defense offered
by the soldiers, has been totally rejected by the courts and described as a
'concoction of lies' by the trial judge. The original judgment has been upheld
in subsequent appeals."
The Foreign Office reply conceded that "as CEO of Aegis, Lt. Col. Spicer's
conduct is relevant to our consideration of bids received from Aegis,"
but added, "We are aware of the comments that Lt. Col. Spicer made
in his autobiography and elsewhere to the effect that he disagreed with the
convictions of Guardsmen Wright and Fisher. However, we do not consider
that these views constitute grounds for denying Aegis participation in FCO tender
The reply also dismissed concerns related to Spicer's previous company, Sandline.
Among the issues raised by the PFC was Sandline's abortive
attempt to intervene in the Bougainville conflict in 1997, which
inadvertently caused the
overthrow of the government of Papua New Guinea, and its involvement
in importing arms into Sierra Leone in 1998, in violation of a UN embargo.
The latter episode sparked the so-called Arms-to-Africa
Affair, which led to serious criticism of FCO officials in the
British Parliament and briefly threatened to force the resignation of the then
foreign secretary. Nevertheless, the FCO has said the affair is not a reason
to rule out doing business with Spicer.
The Foreign Office's response to the Finucane Center stated:
"You refer to activities of Lt. Col. Spicer's previous company, Sandline,
in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone. The FCO does not consider that the
information you refer to in relation to Sandline's activities in either country,
taken individually or together, justifies the giving of the assurances that
Mrs. McBride seeks."
The PFC also raised concerns about Aegis's record in Iraq, including an episode
in 2005 when videos released on the Internet appeared to show
company employees shooting at Iraqi civilians. The Foreign Office responded:
"The FCO accepts that Aegis's conduct in Iraq, and the manner in which
it has discharged its responsibilities to the DOD may be relevant to the FCO's
consideration of any tender submitted by Aegis for future contracts. However,
the FCO does not consider that that conduct justifies Aegis' being excluded
from tendering, as Mrs. McBride suggests."
In the wake of the negative response from the FCO, the PFC has announced that
lawyers for Mrs. McBride are considering a possible judicial review in the British
courts."We welcome the fact that the FCO has accepted that Tim Spicer's
conduct and Aegis' record in Iraq are relevant matters for future contract bids,"
a spokesman said. "However, the FCO reply otherwise fails completely to
address the issues of concern around Tim Spicer and Aegis."
The spokesman continued:
"Tim Spicer has proved on numerous occasions that he is unfit to command
troops empowered to use lethal force. The public should not be asked to fund
this man's private army. That is why lawyers for Mrs. McBride will initiate
legal action in the UK, and why we are asking our supporters in the U.S. and
around the world to lobby against the renewal of the Pentagon's contract with
If Mrs. McBride gets her day in court, it is likely to mean an extensive examination
of Aegis' record, something that may yet overshadow the company's attempts to
hold on to its lucrative U.S. contract.