By Susan Falvella Garraty
Earlier this month, Aegis Defense Services set up a non-operating holding company in Basel, Switzerland. Aegis has an estimated 20,000 employees involved in private security efforts around the world; it formed the new holding company in the neutral European nation's more hospitable tax environment.
Several media reports indicated Tim Spicer, the controversial founder of Aegis, was leaving the company after its move out of the United Kingdom.
"He has most definitely not left Aegis," responded Sara Pearson, publicist for Aegis, when asked if Spicer had left the company.
Spicer is, according to Pearson, the Group Chief Executive and Director of Global Operations.
That has the Swiss government a little nervous.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, said in a radio interview this week that private military firms must respect international humanitarian law and human rights, and following Aegis' move to Basel, commissioned an investigation into how the presence of such a security firm might impact the perception Swiss military neutrality around the world.
"The Swiss have every reason to be nervous," says Fr. Sean McManus, the president of the Irish National Caucus.
Contacted while he was home in Fermanagh for the summer holidays, McManus says wherever Spicer goes, trouble follows.
In 1992, two members of the Scots Guards killed an unarmed teen named Peter McBride. Tim Spicer defended the men that shot Peter McBride in the back and who were later found guilty of murder. Their murder conviction has never been overturned, but the pair were allowed to return to active duty after their release under the terms of the Good Friday Accord.
Spicer was then involved in arms for hire controversies in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone. In 2004, Spicer and Aegis received one of the largest security contracts from the US government for more than 293 million dollars.
Then senator Hillary Rodham Clinton joined other senators including Edward Kennedy (D-MA,) Charles Schumer(D-NY,) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT,) in protesting the awarding of the contract to Aegis because of Tim Spicer's connection to the McBride murder and other incidents. The senators sent a letter to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking the contract to be rescinded.
When a then new senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, was apprised of the situation, he joined with those fellow Democrats in targeting the Spicer contract for removal.
"As you know, the CEO of Aegis Defense Services Tim Spicer has been implicated in a variety of human rights abuses around the globe. Given his history, I agree that the United States should consider rescinding its contract with his company. Several of my colleagues have contacted the Pentagon expressing their concerns about this issue. I will be in touch with their offices to see how I can be of assistance in their efforts..."
The Aegis contract was never rescinded, and the Aegis legacy of controversy continued when in 2005 there emerged "Trophy Videos" of Aegis employees allegedly shooting arbitrary civilians in Iraq.
Yet now under the Obama administration, Tim Spicer stands to continue to make millions of dollars in new contracts. Even as President Obama makes a prime-time speech to the nation from the Oval Office about the draw down in combat troops in Iraq, the role of private security firms becomes more prominent. The role of how the US will bolster security in Iraq and Afghanistan will become more in the hands of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Will she continue the practice of awarding Aegis and Tim Spicer more US dollars for private security services?
"I am a great admirer of Hillary Clinton, but I would hope that she would take a strong position and oppose the use of these soldiers of fortune," says Fr. McManus.
The Echo contacted both the White House and the State Department of comment on the new Aegis contracts, but received no reply.
The contract, obtained by the Echo, shows Aegis charges the U.S. government any where from $500 to almost $1,200 a day for services for hundreds of their employees. The contract is good from May 2009 till May 2014.
Examining the whole process of military and civilian contracts for the Iraq and Afghan wars is the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. This past spring, the commissioners held hearings on Capitol Hill to investigate whether best practices were being employed as the US government paid hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to large and small defense and civilian contractors.
Professor Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Maryland, is a commissioner and he had some questions for Aegis' US president, Kristi Clemens Rogers when she appeared before the commission. Tiefer asked if Tim Spicer was a mercenary.
Clemens did not deny that Spicer had been a mercenary, but explained repeatedly that he had only acted on behalf of "governments that were Western-allied governments."
"I was less than reassured than I had hoped to be at the hearing," explained Tiefer in a telephone interview with the Echo.
"Congress charged the commission to pay especially close attention to private security contractors whose work arouses more public concern than say the suppliers of bulk food or gasoline," he added.
The commission already recommended that Aegis be stripped of some supervisory powers over itself and other private security contractors it had been acting upon within the Iraqi theater.
But will the commission be another paper tiger and cog in the bureaucratic wheel where many have circuitous relationships between government and contractors?
Kristi Clemens Rogers, the Aegis US president, is married to Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mi.) She was a Homeland Security official under the Bush administration, and started out as - a contractor for her husband.
"We're not doing this because we like the cafeteria food," said Tiefer.
He hopes that he and his fellow commissioners will make sure precious budgetary resources are allocated fairly and to firms of integrity.
[PHOTO: President of Aegis Defense, LLC, Kristi Clemens Rogers (center) testifying at the Commission on Wartime Contracting.]