'Racing certainty' that MI6 knew details of Sandline operation

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The Independent Online
BRITISH mercenaries who helped organise a coup in Sierra Leone may have links with the intelligence community, it emerged last night.

MI6-watchers said that if the Secret Intelligence Service did not know about the operation involving Sandline International, a firm of "military consultants", then its head should be sacked. If it did, it had a duty to inform the Foreign Secretary of any illegality that was taking place.

The reinstatement of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah using arms flown into Guinea from Bulgaria via Nigeria apparently broke a United Nations arms embargo. Sandline has maintained that it was acting with the approval of the government, but a Customs and Excise investigation has been launched.

Senior figures in Sandline have long experience of military intelligence. An employee of another company run from the same London office is a former senior British diplomat and a friend of the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold.

Robin Cook was forced to promise an independent inquiry into the affair this week after it was revealed that Sandline's chief executive, Tim Spicer, met both Mr Penfold and Foreign Office officials.

Two key figures in Sandline have long experience of military intelligence. Rupert Allason, the former Tory MP and editor of Intelligence Quarterly, said it was a "racing certainty" that MI6 knew about the operation.

"If the SIS weren't aware of it then its chief should be sacked. Provided SIS don't become aware of any law-breaking, there would be no reason for it to intervene," he said.

Both Lt-Col Spicer and his deputy, Simon Mann, have been involved in military intelligence. Lt-Col Spicer was a Staff Office director of Special Forces in 1991-92 in charge of "doctrine development" and in 1988-89 he was responsible for intelligence in the 11th Armoured Brigade in Germany.

Simon Mann is a former SAS troop commander specialising in intelligence who has worked as an intelligence expert in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Nigeria, among other countries.