Simon Mann's remarkable firsthand account of his life reads like a thriller, taking readers into the world of mercenaries and spooks, of murky international politics, big oil and big bucks, action, danger, love, despair, and betrayal. On March 7, 2004, former SAS soldier and mercenary Simon Mann prepared to take off from Harare International Airport. His destination was Equatorial Guinea; his was intention to remove one of the most brutal dictators in Africa in a privately organized coup d'etat. The plot had the tacit approval of Western intelligence agencies and Mann had planned, overseen, and won two wars in Angola and Sierra Leone. So why did it go so wrong? Here he reveals the full involvement of Mark Thatcher in the coup d'etat, the endorsement of a former prime minister, and the financial involvement of two internationally famous members of the House of Lords. He discusses how the British government approached him in the months preceding the Iraq War, to suggest ways in which a justified invasion of Iraq could be engineered. He also describes the pain of telling his wife Amanda, who gave birth to their fourth child while he was incarcerated, that he believed he would never be freed.
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|Publisher:||Bonnier Books UK|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)|
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When I Set Out to Overthrow an African Tyrant, I knew I would either Make Billions or End Up Getting Shot ...
By Simon Mann
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2011 Simon Mann
All rights reserved.
SATURDAY 6 MARCH 2004: D DAY MINUS TWO: EN ROUTE WONDERBOOM TO PILANSBERG SOUTH AFRICA
Gun-smoke grey vapour rips past; a silver spate river of cloud. A jagged mountain ridgeback lies too close beneath the thin metal hull of our Hawker biz jet. The Kruegersberg Ridge. Rock-crag fingers claw my arse.
Up front, the three pilots bicker and shout. Pien is number three. His arse is on the jump seat, but this is his airplane. Pien doesn't give a toss about 'cockpit human resource management' – he knows this Instrument Approach. He knows the Kruegersberg Ridge. The other two have got us below the published approach height; I can see it. That's a fuck-up. Pien bollocks them. Fly up!
Imprecisely, we are flying a Precision Instrument Approach into Pilanesberg, near Sun City, a playground for wealthy whites.
From our base, Wonderboom, Pretoria, that's a 20-minute hop. This odd route is part of today's cunning plan, by which we will fly out of South Africa without being clocked by Immigration. I mean, we will be clocked, of course, but this makes it easier for the powers that be to scrub around their seeming dopiness in failing to detect a large number of mercenaries leaving the country at the same time. That's if we make it as far as a landing at Pilanesberg.
Rock reefs rip up through cloud below. I don't need an altimeter; through my port-side window I can see that the ground is too close. The flying is shit; this cockpit tantrum is an omen.
Here I am, about to give the 'GO GO GO' on the most risky job of my ramshackle career. The lives of many now hang from this beam of fate: victory or an abyss. But bad omens hurt.
Thankfully, ten minutes later we've landed. We ask to clear Pilanesberg Customs and Immigration, outbound. We josh black officialdom. But Pien has bribed them.
We take off for Kinshasa, Cathedral of Crime, heart of the 'Heart of Darkness'.
We reach the cruise. Our Hawker is straight and level – MACH 0.74, 440 knots TAS (true airspeed), Flight Level 340 (approximately 34,000 feet ASL [above sea level]) – en route from Pilanesberg to Kinshasa. One thousand four hundred and thirty nautical miles (NM); Estimated Time En Route (ETE) 3 hrs 30 mins.
The cabin is fridge chilly. I zip my jacket to the neck. If I tell the air crew to warm us, then in five minutes we'll be toast. After their toddler tantrums I don't want to talk to them.
Sitting back in my wanker's black leather biz jet executive power chair, I close my eyes, breathe deeply, count to ten. I listen to myself. Who I am, what I am about.
Tugged, scratched, I pull myself through tangled jungle thorn. Tearing with haste. Hunted. Never sure which way. Harried, soaked. Sweat and dirt grime. With this piece and that, I've cobbled together a monster child. I drag him along with me, through sopping, super-heated thicket. Can I shoot the little bastard now, after all this? I wish. That's how I feel.
More calm, my mind runs through the night before. Dinner with Frank Thomas. Red-faced, fat. I find him pompous, sly, often drunk. Blimp. He is a liar and traitor by profession – a private spook – but he hasn't betrayed me yet ... and he is clever. It was Frank who introduced me to some of the great and the good in Constantia, Cape Town.
Frank is on my payroll for this Op – a Coup d'État against the regime who rule EG: a private-venture Assisted Regime Change (ARC) – all the rage. Frank has already been paid $10,000. He's my spy and secret agent – into Nigeria, that is – and he's set up and ready. He'll go to the capital, Abuja, straight after the coup has struck. He's already been up there once for me.
After that he is earmarked to ride shotgun to those EG locals who will be running security and anti-corruption in the new interim government. That's the one I'm about to put in power. I hope.
Frank is also my snout into South African National Intelligence (SA NI) In fact – come to think about it – he is more like one of the Liaison Officers we had in Northern Ireland than a snout. Jesus. An LO between me and NI? But that's the way this bloody thing's going.
Frank's fat face of last night swims in front of my shut eyes. It looks flushed across the dinner table, as if through a Vaselined lens, soft focus, candle-lit.
'Well, ha ha ha, Simon! Dicky and the Director ...'
'The Director, Frank?'
'The Director of NI.'
'Well, ha ha ha ... They think it's funny how you're dashing in and out of the country ... up and down Africa ... up and down like a whore's drawers.'
This is Frank-speak. Blimp telling me how closely I am being watched.
But I know that I am being closely watched from other – better – sources than Fat Face. For God's sake: I've seen the transcripts of my own phone calls with Amanda, complete with snotty handwritten shit down the margins.
But I've also been shown the top-secret INT (intelligence) report that tells SA NI of our coup plot. Of course, that report's spook author – not Frank – had been unaware that he was in fact telling them about a coup that – in the lush imagination of NI at least – is their coup anyway.
I'd not only seen that intelligence: I'd ordered it to be hacked off the computer of the creep in question, a spook who was sending reports to both MI6 and the CIA.
Frank stuffed in more food.
'Mmm ... mmm ... So, it looks like everything will work out then, doesn't it?'
'What do you mean, Frank?'
'I didn't think it would work.'
'You've said that before ... often.'
'I thought that Severo Moto wasn't well enough known – to become the new President of Equatorial Guinea, I mean. But now you're going ... and everything's gonna be all right! ... So when are you all off, then?'
'Tomorrow morning – to Kinshasa – to see the Greek ... By the way, thanks for the intro, Frank.'
'He's good ... but his partner is the Boss, don't forget ... That means even the Greek has to do what he's told.'
'Sure ... then Harare – direct from Kinshasa ...'
'What are you flying?'
'Pien's Hawker ... so we've got the range ... D Day is the day after ...'
We both paused, knowing that D Day might mean D for Death, or – God forbid – capture. For me it might mean that. Not for Frank.
'Can you get me the contact details for Severo Moto, Simon? The Director asked me to ask you.'
'I'll clear it – then let you have the numbers tomorrow.'
I think: South Africa's thumbs-up for what's going on couldn't come clearer.
During dinner my mind keeps hopping to Amanda, the woman I love. The child inside Amanda – one she had told me about only a few days before – would be our fourth. I'm in love with her. How many times had the two of us had dinner together here in the Sandton Towers, Jo'burg's finest?
I think of when I drove the children to school just last week. When I said goodbye to them, the idea like a burr in my head had been that I might never see them again. I may not.
For the thousandth time I scan my virtual instrument panel of this Op: a Coup d'État – a putsch – against the gangster regime who boss EG. My feet are cold: I want to see a red light. One would do. With just one clear red I can jack it in, shoot the bastard child.
We are living dangerously. Sixty-nine mercenaries fly from South Africa to Harare tomorrow night. They will rendezvous in Harare with me and the weapons. Then we fly into Malabo, capital of EG, to execute Plan E: a coup against the gangster regime which tyrannises the poor bastards who scratch away their lives in that oil-rich shithole. Plan E for Easy. Sure.
On D Day – the day after tomorrow – in the early hours, we'll take out EG's self-appointed President Teodoro Obiang, one of the most brutal tyrants in Africa. We're flying in with the exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto. He'll take Obiang's place. Moto's mission is to take democracy and the rule of law into EG. To spend their petrodollars on clean water, education programmes, blitzing malaria – the good stuff.
Our plan – our hope – is for a bloodless coup. Just in case it isn't, we'll be bombed up with enough guns and ammo to win a war.
It is 2004 and regime change is in vogue. The US and UK governments have just unseated another despot: Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We too are doing the right thing. But, as I feign sleep in the Hawker, it's as I say. My feet are cold. We are living dangerously.
We've already tried this Op once, two weeks ago – Plan D for Daisy. But the little flower fucked up. After Daisy was all over – without tears, just – we had to laugh. The little flower turned into a rolling goat fuck. Better than anything else – giggled the troops – had been the sight of three DC-3s (the WWII vintage Dakota – except these all had the old South African Defence Force (SADF) conversion, their two piston radials each replaced by Pratt & Whitney PT6 gas-turbine prop engines) sitting all afternoon on the apron of Ndola International, Zambia, stuffed with 70 mercenaries and their kit, waiting for the 'Red ON ... Green ON ... GO!' A 'GO' that never came.
There are geeky anoraks who would find that sight a bigger, better thrill than Farnborough Bloody Air Show. To others it would smell as fishy as a Grimsby trawler. Not even to the village idiot would it have looked kosher.
And – of course – that meant that the news of this – and of other strange goings-on earlier – had spread; not only to those intelligence agencies betting on the Op, but also to a motley gang of African warlords. Apparatchiks on the Beltway. Whitehall. Rebel armies. Hedge fund managers. Merchant bankers. And, of course, Big Bad Oil – what I call 'the Barrel Boyz'.
If we can make this Op work, then each of these will want a better share of the new EG's massive oil production. But – if it all turns to rat shit – then they'll all deny us. Or they'll switch sides, running to Obiang to tell on us. The tyrant. School playground bully Numero Uno.
In West Africa, it's a war. As everywhere, that war is about oil. We are the pawns in the war. Our Op is one part of a great web of top-flight skulduggery – a part where I am being shouted at. Get a bloody move on – GO!
So, yet again, I scan my virtual instrument panel for this Op. It is how I try to weigh our pros and cons.
China – a nod and a wink – GREEN
US – more than a nod and a wink – GREEN
UK – more than a nod and a wink – GREEN
Spain – telling me: get on with it – FLASHING GREEN
South Africa – telling me: get on with it – FLASHING GREEN
I have five green lights now: the intelligence agencies of China, the US, the UK, Spain and South Africa ... although none of them will ever say so.
Two of those greens flash urgently: Spain and South Africa.
But the real deadline now driving this job is 14 March: the Spanish General Election.
My boss in all this (but by no means the Head Shed) has said that, if we are not 'in' by the 14th (and it's already the 6th), then we will have to go to HOLD.
But HOLD won't be HOLD. HOLD will be Op CANCELLED.
You see: international recognition – for our new interim EG government, with interim President Severo Moto at the helm – is life-and-death critical to the job. Recognition by Spain – as the old colonial power – is the essential diplomatic trigger. It's the sine qua non to secure the recognition of the US, the EU and then the African Union (AU). Recognition de facto, then de jure: the final seal. Without that international recognition we could all look very silly. Dead. We have a promise of that recognition from the Spanish powers that be. But the Spanish elections are on 14 March and who knows who will be in power after that. That's why 14th is cut-off day. That's why we are helter skelter to GO. So all I need, to stop this thing – to give in to my cold feet, to let loose the top of my bottle – is just one red light.
But red lights? None. Orange lights? Plenty. Green lights? Five.
Our plan – a long way down the road from Plan A – is now Plan E. E for Excellent. But E is makeshift. Rushed. Shoestring. Intelligence-industry scuttlebutt. Actually, Plan E is a heap of shit.
Inside our Hawker, cold air blows against the back of my neck. Up front sit our three tetchy airmen.
Alongside me sits Charles West – a mercenary who's fought with us, with our set-up Executive Outcomes (EO), from the start – and a man named Lyle, here on Charles's say-so. Charles tells me that Lyle knows Eastern Bloc weapons and ammo inside out. As does he.
I open my eyes. I had dozed off. We're coming in to land. Kinshasa is always hairy: very busy, pilot-driven, a Tower of Babel. Air Traffic Control (ATC) has no radar, but, with luck, a handheld radio and a blackboard. There are no radio-navigation aids. Towering A-bomb Cumulonimbus thunderheads menace all around; columns of dragon smoke.
As the Hawker halts, refuellers rush up. So does the Greek. He is the cause of all this efficiency. He drives up in his own 4x4 and parks beside us, airside.
I need a favour from the Greek. I need a back-up aircraft for the Op. The machine earmarked for the job of transporting the South African troops from Wonderboom to Harare, then all of us – plus weapons – on to Malabo is still in the United States.
I bought the machine days ago. Pien sourced an unbelievably good deal. It was an ex-US Air Force VIP Flight Boeing 727-100, going for just $300K. It had low hours and low cycle times (the number of take-offs and landings). And, of course, it had been well looked after. It was dead cheap because it had no civilian engineering paperwork.
Trouble is, it's stuck in Miami, Florida.
I know the Greek's boss owns a Boeing 727. Frank told me. I know the Greek's boss has a dislike for Obiang.
We shake hands, then talk.
The Greek is typecast: pasty white, podgy, white nylon shirt, midday stubble. Soft-spoken. He looks out of place among the black African madhouse chaos of Kinshasa International airside. Yet he is the Main Man. He listens, then tells me quickly, quietly: he is willing to let me use his aircraft tomorrow night – a Boeing 727 – for our coup, and at a good price. With as good an answer from the Greek as I could have wished for, we shake on it. I pay cash for the jet fuel, then we fly off: Harare, here we come.
Waiting for us at that airport are weapons and ammo, sold to us by a key middleman in the Op, one Captain Brodie. Lately of the Zimbabwe Air Force, Brodie is a veteran of their rape and pillage of the DRC for diamonds – and anything else that's worth taking. But Brodie is also a senior – but covert – officer in Mugabe's notorious Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Bob's Gestapo.
These men are good friends of Mark Thatcher – himself one of the high-profile secret backers of this Op. ZDI are supplying me with 100 AK-47s, 20 PKMs, 20 RPG-7s, nine 60mm mortars, six Dragunov sniper rifles, ten 9mm Star handguns and box upon box of mortar bombs, grenades and ammo. Two and a half tons and 250, 000 US dollars worth in all. Charles and Lyle are here with me to make sure we get what we've paid for.
Tomorrow will be the first time that the key components of the party attacking EG – men, weapons, the 727 – will be all in the same place.
I had two golden rules for this operation. Golden rule number one is that favourite of the Provisional IRA: men and weapons come together for the least possible time. They meet for the Op – that's all. Tomorrow golden rule number one is going to be broken, but it's that or jack this in.
Anyway, my 727 is stuck in Miami. The ferry crew flying the thing to South Africa phoned in. They are Aircraft On the Ground – AO fucking G – with a 'no fly' equipment failure. Just to make sure that I go pear-shaped, the ferry captain is also grousing about paperwork. I know that the paperwork can be torn up, then sorted out later. If there is a later.
I've dealt with ferry crews before. They're always a waste of rations. They land somewhere sun 'n' fun – like Miami – then bingo: the airframe goes unserviceable (U/S). What I need to do is get hold of someone in the States who'll ride shotgun, to get crew and aircraft into the sky. Flying south. Fast.
I know just the man. But Bill comes at a cost, and at a risk. Anthony – my Jo'burg-based PA – is trying to get hold of him, but we're running out of time.
The whole picture is looking shonky. The plane picture worse. My 727 has to be flown out of Florida for South Africa in the next few hours. Finding a plane is only one of my 'No Go' headaches.
Already in EG is my number two – Niek du Toit – and an advance party of ten men. Tomorrow night – before me and my 69 men land at Malabo International – his ten must secure the airport's control tower. This must be done silently. Maybe by force.
Excerpted from Cry Havoc by Simon Mann. Copyright © 2011 Simon Mann. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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