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A Dirty Business - Oxford University & the Dogs of War!

It’s difficult to imagine Oxford University professors having cosy chats with seasoned mercenaries. It’s even more difficult to believe that there is a strong link between leading Oxford University academics and men who are paid to go to war and whose only loyalty is to their bank accounts. Or is it? We have already highlighted the long-standing attachment between the major pharmaceutical companies and Oxford University (who were involved in the Vioxx trials, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people), so it’s probably no surprise that Oxford University professors are rubbing shoulders with another type of trained killer. The common denominator here is not just the trained killer (read: mercenary and vivisector): it's money.

From Wednesday 20th September to Friday 22nd September, a conference is being held at Christ Church College in Oxford University. The conference has been organised by a company called 'Oxford Analytica', who are in the business of risk assessment. Part of their remit would be for example, to provide information to a company who might want to set up an outlet or do business in Sudan or Iraq. A company wanting to do business in different areas of the world might contact Oxford Analytica in order to be given a comprehensive analysis of likely problems that might arise. The conference to be held at Christ Church College has been billed as bringing "together decision makers from around the world” and providing them “with a coherent framework for developing corporate strategy".

Now of course, nothing wrong in this you might think: corporations are in the business of making money and of course, they would want to weigh up all the possible problems that might arise with certain decisions they make. However the point that interests us is not the fact that big business wants to make as much money as possible (tell us something we don’t know!): our interest is in the organisations and companies that work in the corporate risk assessment business and in the links they have with Oxford University.

One of the leading sponsors behind the conference to be held at Oxford University is a company called 'Aegis'. Aegis describe themselves as "a London-based strategic risk management company, providing a comprehensive package of "nation-building" security solutions, as well as innovative and commercially focused specialist security and risk management solutions to extreme threats". Which is actually a rather convoluted way of saying they’re mercenaries!

The company has an interesting and chequered history and the man who heads the company - Col. Tim Spicer - can be called anything but dull. Spicer is an ex-member of the Scots Guard and a Falklands War veteran who over the last 15 years has notched up an impressive resume - if you’re a mercenary that is! Spicer’s career after leaving the British Army has seen an involvement in international scandals in Southeast Asia and in the breaking of international arms trafficking bans in West Africa, when Sandline, a company run by Spicer, organised a $10 million operation in Sierra Leone financed by a fugitive who was wanted for embezzlement.

A lot of what Spicer turns his hand to has ended in failure and on a number of occasions, he has had to be rescued himself! The Papua New Guinea government hired Sandline in order to do their dirty work, with the result that the Papua New Guinea soldiers turned against their own political leaders, angered by their massive expenditure on the hiring of foreign "mercenaries."

Eventually Spicer quit Sandline, which finally folded in April 2004. However that’s far from the end of the story and just seven weeks later, a new phoenix rose from the ashes calling itself 'Aegis', made up of some of the employees that had once worked for Sandline and boasting a $293 million contract in Iraq. Many in the business have told SPEAK that the folding of Sandline and the setting up of Aegis was just a convenient way for Spicer to attempt to eradicate his dubious past with the company.

However, just because there’s a name change doesn’t mean the company is any less controversial:

Shooting Gallery

Taken from the Corporate Watch website at:

The grainy video (click to download -- 4.81MB) shows the view of an Iraqi street from the back of a moving vehicle. The long barrel of a gun, held by someone inside the vehicle, swings across the frame and viewers see the effect of bullets, apparently fired from the vehicle, spraying civilian cars coming up behind. Bloggers claim that the man with the gun is Danny Heydenreycher, a South African employee of Aegis at Camp Victory.
In one of four separate incidents after shots are fired, viewers see a Mercedes car crash into a taxi; passengers flee from the taxi, but no movement is seen in the Mercedes, suggesting that the passengers were injured or killed.

According to Robert Young Pelton, author of an upcoming book, “Licensed to Kill: The Privatization of the War on Terror,” the people driving the vehicle are part of a convoy of private military contractors. The video was originally posted on an unofficial website run by a disgruntled contractor working for Aegis Defence Services. (The website claims to be a voice for "the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company.” The video has been deleted from the site but has taken on a life of its own in the blogosphere.)

Aegis holds several sweeping Pentagon contracts in Iraq worth over $430 million. In published news reports, Tim Spicer, the head of Aegis, insists that an internal investigation of the matter is ongoing and notes that there is no evidence that the video involved Aegis. Authorities in Baghdad are also apparently looking into the video, which has torched a firestorm of criticism as bloggers ponder if the United States uses private contractors who shoot unarmed Iraqis..."

There is little doubt that Spicer and Aegis have many friends in high places - why else would they be getting lucrative contracts in Iraq and at the expense of US based security businesses? However this might be explained by revelations by Spicer himself who during the controversial Sandline shipment of 30 tons of arms to Sierra Leone disclosed that both the Blair and Bush Government were aware of the illegal shipment.

Little wonder then that more work is being put his way. But Spicer doesn’t appear content with a mere $430 million: there’s a lot more money to be made in other sectors! It’s not a great leap to suspect that one of the sectors that Spicer appears keen to break into (if he hasn’t already) is the animal rights market. Let’s not forget that the Blair government are putting up an estimated £100 million in order to complete work on the Oxford animal lab. As one inside source in the intelligence industry commented to SPEAK: "there are a lot of people out there who wouldn’t just dig up someone else’s granny to get a small percentage of the £100 million - they would dig up their own"! SPEAK aren’t suggesting for one minute that Spicer or Aegis would entertain such an idea but it's interesting that even in the intelligence business, it's recognised that there are many rogue elements.

In a report published by Aegis entitled 'Terrorism and Geopolitical Instability', which one can pick up for a snip at £4,800 (though we suggest you keep your money in your pocket as the report is more a work of fiction than truth and a way of Aegis touting for even more business), the subject of "Single Issue Extremism" appears under point 10 of their predictions. Aegis talk about the threat from animal rights extremism and who could blame them, the Blair government are throwing around £100 million and allot of people are going to want a cut of that taxpayers' money!

So, back we come by a slightly circuitous route to the picture-perfect image, which Oxford University are so keen on promoting – it’s a world in which the shooting of Iraqi civilians plays no part, and in which the illegal shipments of arms have no bearing. Or at least, that’s the theory. However, the fact remains: the main sponsor of the scheduled conference at Christ Church College is Aegis - a conference in which nearly half the speakers will be Oxford University professors; in which Vice Chancellor John Hood (Oops, we’ve probably broken the injunction there - and people say we don’t live in a democracy?) will be one of the key speakers, and a conference in which one of Aegis's main players, Dominic Armstrong, Managing Director, Research and Intelligence at Aegis, will be a key speaker.

Oxford University are enthusiastic about selling themselves as a centre of academic excellence. Yet academia and learning seem for quite some time now to have been displaced by cold financial considerations, and making money is something Oxford University are very good at, even if it means getting into bed with the corporate pharmaceutical companies (Vioxx and Merck), or the conducting of drug trials in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline in India (bear in mind that there’s a neat little safety net here for them: if things go disastrously wrong as they did in the Vioxx trials - and let’s face it, the chances of gross error aren’t that slim, given that drug trials are a dodgy business – the consequences aren’t so bad if a couple of thousand indigent citizens die. After all, how much backlash can there be from a nation where 40.5% [44,361,755,797] of people aged 15 and over cannot read or write and 25% [273,837,999] live in poverty, [1]?).

Oxford University has some strange bedfellows, and this, their most recent, is perhaps the strangest and most sinister thus far. To an objective onlooker, a relationship between Oxford professors and trained killers would seem like a misalliance, but maybe there are more similarities than dissimilarities between them than people might think. It’s a troubling picture, and a disturbing trend - a trend, which in the end, comes down to one familiar word: money. It’s a dirty business, but someone’s got to do it…don’t they?

1. Source: CIA World Factbook

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