Military contracts are big game. And one of the most notorious hunters is a former British soldier whose past business ventures include violating a UN arms embargo in Sierra Leone and unwittingly triggering a coup in Papua New Guinea. His name is Tim Spicer, and in March his London-based company, Aegis Defense Services, bagged a $293 million contract from the Pentagon to protect US diplomats in Iraq.
One might think that the government would be wary of awarding such largesse to a man with a dubious background. But not only did the Pentagon have no idea who Spicer was when they gave his company a huge contract, they didn’t seem to care when challenged about it.
Five Democratic senators, led by Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, protested the Aegis contract on humanitarian grounds, urging the Pentagon to reconsider the deal in light of Spicer’s background. He is, they noted, a man with a remarkable talent for entangling himself in scandal. In August, they asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to review the Spicer deal. In a response last month, the Army admitted that its contracting officer was unaware of trouble spots in Spicer’s past, but it refused to reconsider the contract.
“It is significant that the British Ministry of Defense was apprised of our intention…and did not object or advise against the action. Moreover, neither Aegis nor Mr. Spicer are on the…list of parties excluded from Federal contracting,” wrote Sandra Sieber, director of the Army Contracting Agency. “We therefore had no legal basis to deny the award to Aegis, which won the competition fairly based on the rules and criteria established by our solicitation.”
The $293 million pays Spicer’s company to coordinate the dozens of private security forces operating in Iraq and to provide as many as seventy-five of its own teams of bodyguards per day. It’s a “costs plus” contract, so Aegis is guaranteed a profit even if its costs increase. Using this type of contract for a firm run by a fellow of dubious ethics seems particularly questionable–especially considering that other contractors, most notably Halliburton, are under investigation for overcharging abuses.
In a country where insurgents are responsible for scores of attacks each day–including a mortar attack at the end of November in Baghdad’s Green Zone that killed four workers for another British mercenary company–one might think that few people would be lining up to work as bodyguards. But the business is quite lucrative, and former special forces soldiers are queuing for jobs that can pay more than $100,000 a year. More than fifty private security companies are in Iraq today, with an estimated 20,000 hired guns working for them. Spicer’s group is supposed to coordinate them all. And there’s one more catch: Spicer appears to have no previous experience handling such a large security operation, nor any ties to Iraq.
How the Army was so inept in awarding Aegis a contract is anybody’s guess. The Army invalidated four other competing proposals, including one from a much larger and more experienced firm, DynCorp International LLC, which has drawn its share of controversy, including when it fired a whistleblower who revealed that DynCorp employees in Bosnia were running a sex ring using 12-year-old prostitutes.