Irish Echo Online - News

Pentagon circles the wagons around 'Spicer' deal

By Ray O'Hanlon

The U.S. Department of Defense is standing behind its decision to award a major security contract in Iraq to a company run by a controversial former British army officer.

The decision apparently removes all impediments to a $293 million payday for Tim Spicer, commander of the Scots Guards at a time when the regiment became embroiled in a controversial killing in Belfast.

The Department of The Army has written to five U.S. senators stating that the decision to award the contract to Aegis Defense Services last May was a "well founded" one.

The army's endorsement of the contract follows a separate decision by the Government Accountability Office to deny an appeal by a rival U.S. company for the contract, one of the largest tendered by the U.S. government for private security work in Iraq.

It was that protest, brought by Texas-based Dyncorp, that put the Aegis contract on hold and resulted in an investigation and legal determination by the GAO, the congressional and federal government financial and legal watchdog formerly known as the General Accounting Office.

The GAO denied Dyncorp because it did not have "standing" in the matter.

This was due to the fact that another unnamed company was considered the closest alternative to Aegis in the bidding process.

"We have very strict rules. To raise a challenge you must have standing," said Dan Gordon, who heads the GAO's bid protest unit.

Gordon said that the GAO had "in no way, shape or form" belittled the problems expressed by individuals and groups with Aegis and its head man.

However, the GAO was required to decide on the issue within strict and more limited legal parameters, Gordon indicated

"We simply never reached those issues," he said in relation to questions raised against the head of Aegis, former British army Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who commanded the Scots Guards regiment in Belfast when teenager Peter McBride was shot dead in September 1992.

McBride was shot in the back and his death remains one of the most controversial of the Troubles.

In addition to the Pentagon, President Bush has also been urged to cancel the Aegis contract because of the controversy swirling around Spicer, not just in relation to Northern Ireland but also due to later business ventures around the world involving so-called "private military companies," a term widely viewed as merely a sanitized way of describing mercenaries.

The Iraq contract allows Aegis to supply "security services, anti-terrorism support and analyses, movement escort services, and close personal protection services" in Iraq.

But it was the specific role of Tim Spicer in the deal that prompted the concern of members of Congress, including five U.S. senators.

The five -- Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Chris Dodd and John Kerry -- wrote Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last August calling on him to investigate the granting of the contract to Aegis. In the letter, the senators pointed to Spicer's record in Northern Ireland and allegations of his involvement in illicit arms deals in Africa.

The letter to Rumsfeld stated that the U.S. government required that all contractors be "responsible bidders" with a "satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics"

The senators asked Rumsfeld to disclose whether the government adequately considered Spicer's human rights abuses, or his vigorous defense of them, as part of Aegis's record and past performance rating when awarding the contract.

"It would be unfortunate if, in our effort to set an example of open government and democratic principles abroad, we undermined those principles through awarding contracts to an individual with a history of supporting excessive use of force against a civilian population," Sen. Clinton said separately.

The response to the senators' letter came last week, not from Rumsfeld, but from Sandra Sieber, director of the U.S. Army Contracting Agency.

Sieber wrote that beyond the GAO's decision denying the Dyncorp protest, it was "significant" that the British Ministry of Defense was apprised of the decision to award the contract to Aegis and "did not object or advise" against the action.

Sieber noted that neither Aegis or Spicer are on the U.S. General Services Administration list of parties excluded from federal contracting. She said that the contracting officer responsible for selecting Aegis had not been aware of human rights allegations against Spicer and Aegis at the time the contract decision was made.

"However, our post-award review of the facts surrounding these matters did not establish that Mr. Spicer's advocacy on behalf of his former soldiers had any bearing on his or Aegis's record of integrity and business ethics," Sieber wrote.

Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus described the army's response to the senators' letter as "outrageous."

McManus, who has waged a campaign to have the contract scuttled, said that the decision put President Bush in the position of actually defending terrorism.

The president, he said, was funding an ex-British army officer who in Northern Ireland had "terrorized the McBride family and continues to terrorize them."

--This story appeared in the issue of November 17-23, 2004

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