Analysis; No More Must They Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War ; Tired of the Trigger-Happy Tag Picked Up in Battle Zones like Iraq, Private Operators Want Tighter Laws to Get Rid of the Rogues. Clayton Hirst Reports
Hirst, Clayton, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
hey are shady gunslingers who operate in secret. They prey on highly unstable countries and have, in extremes, plotted to overthrow entire governments. Mercenaries - or, to use their more modern title, private security firms - have never had a good press.
And new allegations that private security guards abused Iraqi civilians, together with the trial of Sir Mark Thatcher over his alleged involvement in the attempted political coup in Equatorial Guinea, have done little to change the perception of this sometimes lawless industry.
But a group of some of the biggest and most powerful British security firms have had enough. They are tired of the allegations and criticisms and have decided to take action. At a conference to be held at Oxford University a week tomorrow, leading figures in the industry will gather to discuss ways of weeding out the rogue firms in an attempt to create a distinction between the legitimate security companies and the mercenaries.
Participants at the meeting will include the controversial Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, the former Scots Guard who was at the centre of the 1998 arms-to-Africa affair. Lt-Col Spicer is today chairman of Aegis Defence. Also speaking will be Harry Legge- Bourke, a former Welsh Guard and brother of the one-time royal nanny, Tiggy. Mr Legge-Bourke now runs Olive Security, founded three years ago, which has built a big presence in Iraq.
Both men are expected to make a surprising demand. They will argue that the security industry should be tightly regulated and new restrictions placed on their operations.
Andrew Bearpark, the vice-president of special projects at Olive Security, says: "There are a raft of reputable companies. But there is a cowboy end of the market. They are disregarding humanitarian laws and going around killing people."
Mr Bearpark, a former director of reconstruction at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, adds: "I am going to propose at the conference that, for example, all security companies train their staff in humanitarian law. And I would like to see all private security companies adopt the laws of the country they are based in, as well as the ones in which they operate."
ArmorGroup, a security firm chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Conservative foreign secretary, will present a "white paper" on the future of the industry. This will call for new regulations to be placed on the firms and will say that the free market has "offered opportunities for ill-prepared or less scrupulous companies to thrive".
The private security industry has boomed in the past three years on the back of global security fears caused by 11 September and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Foreign Office alone spent pounds 20.2m hiring security companies last year. Of this, pounds 14.2m was spent in Iraq. And it is estimated that a tenth of the total budget for Iraq's reconstruction is being spent on security.
London has emerged as one of the main centres of the global security industry, partly because it has an abundance of trained former special forces and intelligence officers, regarded by headhunters as prime security material.
Other reasons for the boom in this British export are the lax regulation and legal loopholes that are being exploited by unscrupulous companies. It costs just a few hundred pounds to set up as a "security consultant" and virtually no proper government checks are made on companies before they are allowed to sell their services to business clients and foreign authorities.
One source at a private security firm says: "Take Iraq. There are a lot of private security personnel who think it is `Showdown at the OK Corral'. Some of the people out there have `issues' with past conflicts and they are passing on bad advice to their clients."
The grey areas in the rules pose significant ethical questions, such as when a private security guard or soldier is entitled to open fire. …