The British and French governments are voicing their complaints about the activities of Russian private military companies (PMCs) in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. In an utter display of hypocrisy, London and Paris are not as critical when their own PMCs, also known as “mercenaries,” are caught engaged in all sorts of skullduggery in various countries around the world.
Michael Ancram, the 13th Marquess of Lothian and a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords, recently requested the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to provide him with details about the Russian military and mercenary presence in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe. Ancram has a personal vested interest in the matter as the chairman of the consulting firm, Middle East Consultants International (MECI), which employs several former officials of the FCO and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). It is noteworthy that in light of Ancram’s angst about Russian mercenary forces being active in Africa that he is the descendant of Henry Kerr, the 9th Marquess of Lothian, who was active as a knight in the late 1880s of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, which, among other things, was active as a mercenary force to assist the Greek war of independence.
Ancram is also the past chairman of the shadowy group “Le Cercle,” which was established by French Prime Minister Antoine Pinay and French intelligence agent Jean Violet in the 1952 as “Cercle Pinay.” The group, which has included government and intelligence agency officials from 25 Western countries, meets twice a year in Washington, DC, and is believed to receive its funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. In past years, members of “Le Cercle” have not been reticent to support the use of mercenaries, especially in former French, British, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies in Africa. However, these same intelligence “circles,” as exemplified by Ancram, now complain about the presence of Russian private military forces in Africa.
It is very interesting that Ancram, a former official of “Le Cercle,” with its French and British founding links, is complaining about Russian private military companies in Africa.
Stung by the past exploits of mercenary companies, the Western military-intelligence complex came up with the term “private military companies” to mask the true nature of these corporate brigands. The PMC term stands as a stark example of “newspeak” employed by the CIA and their friends in Britain and France. Mercenary firms even have their own Washington, DC-based lobbying organization, the International Stability Operations Association, which, among other tasks, is keen to inform journalists that the use of the term “mercenary” for their member firms is pejorative in nature.
Their Washington lobbyists can contend whatever they wish, but disdain for mercenaries has a historical precedent that goes back to the time of Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who opined that mercenaries were “disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, and faithless.”
At issue presently for London and Paris, as well as for the increasingly powerful clique of neoconservatives in the Donald Trump administration, is the reported presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian PMC that is no different from dozens of internationally-active British, French, and American PMCs. Wagner Group is reportedly engaged in military and logistics operations in Syria, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Yemen, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela.
The Trump administration neocons, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, are silent on the activities of the Abu Dhabi-based PMC, Reflex Responses (R2), in countries ranging from Libya, Yemen, Colombia, Malta, Somaliland, and Somalia. The silence is because R2 is run, on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, by the founder of the infamous Blackwater mercenary firm, Erik Prince. Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, happens to be Prince’s sister.
Prince and Blackwater were cited for several human rights violations in US-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan. Western mercenaries, in general, have sordid records similar to that of Prince. For example, the British-Irish mercenary, Colonel Thomas Michael (“Mad Mike”) Hoare, fought in the Belgian mercenary-led and CIA-supported Katanga rebellion in Congo in the 1960s. In an interview, Hoare said of his exploits in Congo, “killing communists is like killing vermin, killing African nationalists is as if one is killing an animal. I don’t like either one or the other. My men and I have killed between 5,000 to 10,000 Congo rebels in the 20 months that I have spent in the Congo. But that’s not enough. There are 20 million Congolese, you know, and I assume that about half of them at one time or another were rebels whilst I was down here.” In 1981, Hoare made another mercenary appearance. He and a group of white South Africans, Rhodesians, Belgians, and American veterans of the Vietnam War, disguised as an English rugby club, flew into Seychelles to stage a coup against President France-Albert René. The attempt failed and Hoare and his mercenaries were found guilty of treason by the Seychelles government.
France had its own version of Mad Mike Hoare. He was Colonel Robert “Bob” Denard, also known as Gilbert Bourgeaud and Saïd Mustapha Mahdjoub. He fought alongside Hoare’s men in the Katanga secession rebellion in the 1960s in Congo. There was hardly a civil war or insurrection that did not see Denard’s participation: Rhodesia, Yemen, Iran, Gabon, Guinea, Benin, Mozambique, Angola, and Comoros. In 1978, Denard helped former Comorian President Ahmed Abdallah oust President Ali Soilih in a coup. Abdallah named Denard as the commander of his 500-man presidential guard. Denard converted to Islam. In 1989, Denard was believed to have ordered the assassination of Abdallah. At a later trial in Paris in 2006, a former chief of the French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) testified, “When special services are unable to undertake certain kinds of undercover operation, they use parallel structures. This was the case of Bob Denard.” Every coup and attempted coup involving Denard had the blessing of top Gaullist French government officials, including “Monsieur Afrique” Jacques Foccart and Charles Pasqua.
Although Denard was never a French Foreign Legionnaire, he served with several active and former legionnaires during his mercenary career. By their very nature, the French Foreign Legion is composed of mercenaries. The same holds true for the Spanish Legion, the Gurkha Brigade of the British Army, the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, the Gurkha Reserve Unit of the Royal Armed Forces of Brunei, and the Swiss Guard of the Vatican City State.
The British and French were not alone in the mercenary business. In 1981, American and Canadian mercenaries, many of them white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan, planned an invasion of the Caribbean island nation of Dominica to return former prime minister Patrick John to power in a coup. The operation was interdicted by US federal authorities in New Orleans. The planned operation was dubbed “the Bayou of Pigs,” a reference to the 1961 CIA-run Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiled mercenaries living in south Florida.
The commander of the former Royal Jordanian Army, called the Arab Legion, was British Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb, known in Jordan as “Glubb Pasha.” Glubb remained in charge of the Jordanian army until 1956, subsequently returning to England. Unreconstructed British colonialists are entitled to their own delusions, but Glubb was a mercenary in service to the British crown and “seconded” to service under Jordanian Kings Abdullah I and Hussein.
Another British officer, Colonel David Smiley, was seconded to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman in 1958, where the British officer commanded the Oman Legion until 1961. Smiley, like Glubb, was a glorified mercenary.
Today, the groaning, hair pulling, and gnashing of the teeth in London, Paris, and Washington about Russian PMCs in Africa and elsewhere ignore the ignoble pasts of British, French, and American mercenaries. Those who live in glass houses should learn not to throw stones.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).