David Cameron's defence guru joins US engineering giant

'Outstanding' Richard Freer expected to work on Bechtel's bids to win lucrative MoD contracts
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The Independent Online

US engineering giant Bechtel has hired David Cameron's top gun defence adviser as the San Francisco based group beefs up efforts to win huge Ministry of Defence contracts worth billions of pounds.

Richard Freer has helped mastermind the coalition's overhaul of the UK's defence strategy as one of the Prime Minister's small team of private secretaries in the No 10 Policy Unit.

The Oxford University graduate previously advised Nato on how it should be reformed for a post-Cold War world and, in 2010, was named in the WikiLeaks files over discussions about Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent. He has also worked on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Government's huge reformation of the way the MoD does business includes proposals to put the private sector in charge of running the £14bn Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) division, which buys weapons, submarines and satellites.

Similarly, the MoD is looking for a consortium of companies, which include engineers and outsourcing experts, to run the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO). This looks after the MoD's land and buildings.

Bechtel, which is one of several huge US engineering companies that is targeting MoD work, is part of the consortium that is considered the favourite to win the DIO contract. The 115-year-old group is understood to have teamed-up with accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, defence technology group Qinetiq, and PA Consulting – a London-based firm that developed a vehicle that could detect improvised explosive devices in warzones – on DE&S.

Mr Freer has started his Bechtel career in Washington state, where he is using his doctorate in chemistry to work on the design of a waste treatment plant to decontaminate underground tanks that hold liquid and semi-solid nuclear by-products. This waste dates back to plutonium production during World War II.

However, it is understood that Mr Freer will eventually help Bechtel on their defence bids. Under civil service rules, Mr Freer is likely to have been banned from working on defence work for a set period after leaving Downing Street.

A defence industry source said: "Freer is an outstanding intellect and was essential to the coalition's defence reform programme."

A spokesman for Bechtel said: "In his role as a programme technical manager, his education, technical skills and experience provide valuable insight into technical decisions for the final design of the plant.

"We recognise the importance of ethics and transparency in our hiring practices, and we are careful to comply with the letter and the spirit of every requirement and guideline."