Posts Tagged ‘Wikpedia’

Global: Söldner-Firmen manipulieren Wikipedia

Mittwoch, Juli 13th, 2011

“Erinys International: Spinning for the private military

By Steven Harkins and David Miller

 

soeldner

With billions of dollars of government and corporate contracts to be won in conflict hotspots such as Iraq and the Congo, today’s private military companies work hard to distance themselves from scandal and the age-old ‘dogs of war’ and ‘mercenary’ tags. Spinwatch examines how one leading firm, Erinys International, has even taken its PR drive onto Wikipedia.

 

The Erinys is an ‘avenging deity’ from Greek and Roman mythology sometimes used to represent ‘conscience personified’.[1] Alternatively spelt as Erinyes, the creature can also take the form of ‘hideous snake-haired monsters (usually three in number) who pursued unpunished criminals’.[2] The private military contractor Erinys International is likely to have chosen the name because of its association with the concept of justice. This mythology is explained as such on the firm’s Wikipedia entry:

    ‘The word ’Erinys’ refers to the avenging deities in Greek religion, who lived at the entrance to the Underworld. Their first duty was to see to the punishment of those who had committed some crime in the world above, but had arrived at Hades without obtaining absolution from the gods. Sometimes this duty extended to the world of men, where the Erinys (also called Dirae, Furiae, Eumenides or Semnae) would pursue criminals, at the behest of Nemesis, permitting the fugitive no rest’.[3]

This description of the Erinys mythology more than likely captures the company’s thinking because it was added to Wikipedia by Erinys business and legal advisor Peter W Roberts.[4]

Under the username ‘Peterwroberts’, Roberts made 11 edits to Erinys’ Wikipedia entry between 9 May 2008 and 6 March 2009 out of a total 38 edits by other users since its creation in December 2006. He summarised his edits as: ‘Update Iraq contract detail’, ‘Update details on J Garatt and A Morrison’, ‘Update Group company functions’, ‘Update of Greek Mythology’, ‘Updated and corrected references and allegations’, and ‘Correcting errors and completing information on Ministry of Oil contract. Erinys Iraq did not have a contract with KBR’.[5] These were his only edits across Wikipedia with that username.

‘Deleting’ the scandals

Roberts’ summary descriptions cover the information he added to the Wikipedia page yet neglect to mention what he removed. This included an entire section entitled ‘Scandals’. Roberts also removed references, including an Observer article stating how many staff Erinys had in Iraq, and describing photographs of ‘two employees of Erinys restraining [a] 16-year-old Iraqi with six car tyres around his body. The photographs, taken last May, show the boy frozen with fear in a room where the wall appeared to be marked by bullet holes’. [6]

Erinys admitted the photographs were genuine but argued they acted at the behest of the boy’s father and that:

    This process lasted for approximately three minutes, when the youth broke down in tears, at which point the tyres were immediately removed and the individual released into the custody of his father. [7]

A Guardian article removed by Roberts from the deleted ‘scandals’ section outlined a lawsuit brought against Erinys by the family of a US soldier killed in a collision with an Erinys vehicle in 2005.[8]

Roberts also removed reference to a Pacific News Service report alleging Erinys had employed former South African security personnel Francois Strydom and Deon Gouws.[9] Strydom was killed in a bombing incident in Baghdad on 28 January 2004. The article alleged Strydom was a former member of Koevoet, the South African apartheid-era paramilitary police unit notorious for acts of violence, torture, and murder, which had also waged a dirty war against Namibian rebels. Gouws, who was injured in the bombing that killed Strydom, was a former member of the South African Security Branch and the notorious Vlakplaas death squad. In 1996 he had received an amnesty from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after admitting to acts of petrol bombings, arson, car bombings and murder. These included:

    between 40 to 60 petrol bombings of the homes of political activists; a car bombing in 1986 that killed an ANC activist; an arson attack on the home of a doctor who was later assassinated by a Security Branch death squad; the deaths of at least nine recruits to the military wing of the ANC who were shot and their bodies burned; and the extra-judicial murder of five would-be bank robbers who were lured into a trap by the Vlakplaas.[10]

Gouws was also involved in the 1986 murder of regional minister and opposition leader Piet Ntuli.[11] The two men were not directly employed by Erinys but were hired via a subcontractor named SASI.[12] Erinys issued a statement after a War on Want report highlighting the allegations, distancing themselves from Stryom, Gouws and SASI:

    Erinys carries out detailed background checks of its prospective employees and has never employed `former apartheid-era paramilitary police and mercenaries from South Africa’. The War on Want reference is to an incident in January 2004, when a subcontractor to Erinys in Iraq was found to have employed such people after failing to carry out background checks: Erinys terminated that subcontract shortly afterwards. WoW would have known this by reference to articles in the Pretoria News of 29 January 2004, which stated that the individuals were employed by a sub-contractor. [13]

From the scandals section, Roberts also removed an article claiming that traces of Polonium 210 were found at their London offices after they had received a visit from Alexander Litvinenko.[14] A report by Global Security.org into the Erinys subcontract arrangement with private military contractor Airscan was also removed. This report said:

    The contract for aerial surveillance granted in December 2003 was awarded to Erinys Iraq, which awarded a subcontract to Florida-based AirScan Inc for aerial surveillance of the pipelines in support of Erinys. AirScan provides night air surveillance of the pipeline and oil infrastructure, using low-light television cameras.[15]

Conflict of interest editing?

Although some of the removed Wikipedia material may have contained inaccuracies, it is also clear that much undisputed information was removed too. In one example, accurate coverage of the Iraq lawsuit even contained the caveat ‘It was a very tragic accident for which Erinys and its employees have been thoroughly exonerated’.[16] The wholesale deletion of these paragraphs and references may well breach Wikipedia’s ‘Conflict of Interest’ rules, which it describes as ‘an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor’.[17] It also raises questions over Erinys International’s public relations activities and why the material was removed. On the Alexander Litvinenko case it was widely reported that Litvinenko had visited Erinys’ offices, not just in the article Roberts removed from Wikipedia.[18] [19]Roberts argues however it was inaccurate because Erinys International has never had offices in the UK:

    Erinys International does not have, and never has had, offices in the UK. The confusion may be because Erinys UK Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of Erinys International) subleased part of its offices at 25 Grosvenor Street to Titon International – a company set up by John Holmes and in which Erinys International was a shareholder. I believe that Titon International had used the services of Litvinenko in some way (although I have no details) and I am aware that Tim Reilly of Erinys UK Ltd had met Litvinenko on at least one of his visits to the Grosvenor Street office.[20]

However in 2009, Erinys International headed notepaper in fact listed its ‘Europe’ office as being located at 25 Grosvenor St.[21] While there may have been inaccuracies in the article, Roberts also removed material that was true.

The Southern Africa connection

The removal of the article about the South African SASI employees is more interesting. Several Erinys group founders have worked in the private military industry in Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. Some have served in the military or intelligence services of southern African States. For example, former non-executive chairman of Erinys International[22] Sean Cleary has a military intelligence background and co-founder of Erinys International Fraser Brown left the British military to sign up with the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) where he served for four years in the Para Commandos between 1975 and 1979.[23] At that time the Rhodesian regime was engaged in a bitter guerrilla war with the liberation movements whose demands included ending the racist system of government, which denied black people the vote. The RLI remained one of only two ’all-white‘ units in the armed forces until the war ended in 1979-80.[24] Some accounts describe the culture of the all white RLI as deeply racist and at least some of the regiment as engaging in torture. One memoir recounts the experiences of ‘K’, a veteran of the RLI:

    This is painful listening. Starkly, Fuller relates K’s confessions, particularly the torture of a young African woman. The veterans’ conversations are saturated with racial slang and expletives, echoing the violence of their acts. He and his friends, said K, were not animals – they were ‘worse than animals’.[25]

Erinys is often reported to be ‘full of former South African special forces soldiers’.[26] A team of bodyguards assigned to Tom O’Donnell, the man in charge of policing the Iraqi oil pipeline, were all South African nationals.[27] In 2005 a PBS journalist went on patrol with an Erinys team and observed that ‘Most of them are South Africans, with thick accents.'[28] Peter Roberts plays down the significance of the South African contingent of Erinys employees arguing that:

    ‘The maximum number of expatriates employed by Erinys Iraq (under the OPF, USACE and other contracts) was probably about 400. They were not exclusively British and South Africa[n] and in 2005 I noted 21 different nationalities in the expatriate workforce’.[29]

However the 2002 appointment of Sean Cleary as a non-executive chairman of Erinys also connected the company to Apartheid-era intelligence and propaganda networks, albeit that his activities with such groups came before his time with Erinys. Cleary was a South African military intelligence operative in the 1960s and later became a South African diplomat based, among other places, in the US.[30] After leaving the diplomatic service in the 1980s Cleary set up a series of companies in London and elsewhere. Some were reportedly lobbying and propaganda fronts for the Apartheid regime. Cleary also acted as spokesperson for Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, the US and Apartheid proxy engaged in subverting the Angolan government.[31]

One company set up by Cleary in the 1980s, Strategy Network International, was described by Africa News as a key part of ‘an extensive network of right-wing organizations linked to the South African government’. According to the Africa News investigation, ’Cleary’s group spearheaded the 1989 election campaign in Namibia for pro-South African politicians running against the Namibian independence movement, SWAPO.[32] The Independent reported that Strategy Network International was specifically created to lobby against economic sanctions and as propagandist for Unita, the Angolan opposition group, and for the so-called ‘transitional government’ of Namibia set up in defiance of UN resolution 435 on Namibian independence.[33] The company was also involved in trying to convince Margaret Thatcher’s government to continue to oppose sanctions on South Africa, in this capacity they facilitated a 1989 visit to apartheid-era South Africa for current Prime Minister David Cameron.[34]

Cleary resigned from his position with Erinys in October 2003 because, according to managing director Jonathan Garratt, they had ‘gone beyond his operational experience’.[35] Cleary argued that he left because ‘once I understood that Erinys would be acting in Iraq in a role that might cross the line and take it into that grey zone of international law that you delineate’.[36]

In 2010 the spotlight turned on Erinys’ activities in Iraq again with the Wikileaks publication of the Iraq war logs. It was reported that Erinys had been involved in a high number of ‘escalation of force’[37] incidents.[38] Erinys issued a statement arguing they had always acted ‘in accordance with the terms of RUF (Rules for Use of Force) and, in all cases where Erinys staff fired a weapon during the term of the USACE contract, a serious incident report was completed and sent to USACE, who had the option of mounting an investigation if they considered it appropriate’. [39]

This rebuttal is one of several sent to more than 10 media outlets and non-governmental organizations by Erinys International in an attempt to manage their public profile.[40] It was against this backdrop that the Erinys Wikipedia entry was amended. Although it is clear that some of this spin operation corrected errors or mistakes it also appears to have removed from Wikipedia and the web legitimate materials that Erinys perceived might cast their activities in a negative light.


Notes

[1] Erinys Definition, Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co, Freedictionary.com, Accessed 09-May-2011
[2] Erinyes Definition, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Accessed 09-May-2011
[3] Erinys International, Wikipedia, Accessed 09-May-2011
[4] Peterwroberts, Revision as of 15:49, 9-May-2008 (Update of Greek Mythology), Wikipedia, , Accessed -9-May-2011
[5] Peterwroberts, User contributions, Wikipedia, Accessed 09-May-2011
[6] Anthony Barnett and Patrick Smith, ‘British guard firm ‘abused scared Iraqi shepherd boy’, The Guardian, 14-November-2004, Accessed 09-May-2011
[7] Anthony Barnett and Patrick Smith, ‘British guard firm ‘abused scared Iraqi shepherd boy’, The Guardian, 14-November-2004, Accessed 09-May-2011
[8] Suzanne Goldenberg, US soldier’s family brings legal action against British private security firm, The Guardian, 30-October-2007, Accessed 9-May-2011
[9] Louis Nevaer, Hired Guns in Iraq May Have War Crimes Pasts, Pacific News Service, New America Media, 3-May-2004,  Accessed 09-May-2011
[10] Mark Perlman, Apartheid Enforcers Guard Iraq For the U.S., Jewish Daily Forward, 20-February-2004, Accessed 05-October-2009
[11] Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Human Rights Violations, Truth & Reconciliation Commission, 4-December-1996, Accessed 09-May-2011
[12] Erinys International, Response to allegations made by War on Want against Erinys, Erinys International, Accessed 09-May-2011
[13] Erinys International, Response to allegations made by War on Want against Erinys, Erinys International, Accessed 09-May-2011
[14] Robin Stringer, London Police say Polonium Found at Two More Premises, Bloomberg, 28-November-2006, Accessed 09-May-2011
[15] Intelligence Facility Protection Service (FPS) Facilities Protection Forces, Globalsecurity.org, Accessed 9-May-2011
[16] Erinys International, Revision as of 18:15, 27-April-2008, Wikipedia, 27-April-2008, Accessed 09-May-2011
[17] Conflict of Interest Rules, WP:Conflict, Wikipedia, Accessed 09-May-2011
[18] Duncan Gardham, Bodyguard with friends in high places The accused, The Daily Telegraph, 23-May-2007
[19] Suzanne Goldenberg, US soldier’s family brings legal action against British private security firm, The Guardian, 30-October-2007, Accessed 9-May-2011
[20] Peter Roberts, RE: Erinys Profile, 8-October-2009, E-mail to editor@spinprofiles.com
[21] See Screengrab of Erinys response to War on Want showing the company’s London address, created 20 December 2009, Powerbase,
[22] Sean Cleary, E-Mail to David Isenberg, 25-December-2004
[23] Erinys International, Company Overview – Management Profiles, Erinys International, Accessed 12 April 2008
[24] Kevin Douglas Stringer, Military organizations for homeland defense and smaller-scale contingencies: A comparative approach, New York: Praeger, 2007. Google Books, , Accessed 09-May-2011
[25] Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier Alexandra Fuller. 2004. Read by Lisette Lecat. 7 tapes. 9.5 hrs. Recorded Books. 1-4025-8277-3, Accessed 09-May-2011
[26] Jim Krane, ‘U.S. employs private armies: Missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world use freelance fighters’, St. John’s Telegram (Newfoundland) November 2, 2003 Sunday Final Edition, SOURCE: The Associated Press, The Big Picture; Pg. A11
[27] Chuck Yarborough, Plain Dealer Reporter ‘Struggling with security’, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio),February 15, 2004 Sunday, Sports Final / All, Correction Appended, NATIONAL; Pg. A1
[28] Marcela Gaviria, Private Warriors: Frontline, PBS, 21-June-2005, Accessed 09-May-2011
[29] Peter Roberts ‘Comments on Article and Reasons for Amendment’, modified 9 September 10:26, attached to Peter Roberts ‘Re: Application for User Status’, email to editor@spinprofiles, 9 September 2009, 11:28
[30] Sean Cleary, Speakers: World Knowledge Forum 2002, World Knowledge Program, Accessed 10-September-2009
[31] Elaine Windrich, Angola’s War Economy: The Role of Oil and Diamonds, HNet Book Reviews, 11-September-2009, Accessed 11-September-2009
[32] Victoria Brittain, ANGOLAN WAR SPAWNS COMPLEX WEB OF PROFITEERS Fierce, deadly conflict continues, Insight Guardian News Service, 5-April-1993
[33] Patricia Wynn Davies, Richard Dowen and John Carlin, The Attack on Sleaze: How apartheid regime set out to woo Tories: Patricia Wynn Davies tells the story of the firm which gave MPs a South African perspective, The Independent, 26-October-1994, Accessed 11-September-2009
[34] Jane Merrick & James Hanning, Cameron’s freebie to apartheid South Africa, The Independent, 26-April-2009, Accessed 09-May-2011
[35] Jonathan Garratt, Letter to David Isenberg, Asia Times, 04-November-2004, Accessed 09-May-2011
[36] Sean Cleary, E-Mail to David Isenberg, 25-December-2004
[37] According to the Guardian ‘escalation of force’, is ‘military parlance for a series of actions that begins with nonlethal measures (such as visual signals with flags, spotlights or flares), but may graduate to potentially lethal force, with warning shots, disabling shots (to vehicle tyres) or, if all other measures have failed, deadly shots, depending on the perceived level of threat’.
[38] Pratap Chatterjee, Iraq war logs: military privatisation run amok, The Guardian, 23-October-2010, , Accessed 09-May-2011
[39] Pratap Chatterjee, Iraq war logs: military privatisation run amok, The Guardian, 23-October-2010, Accessed 09-May-2011
[40] A list of known examples is compiled at ‘Managing Erinys’ public profile’: ‘Erinys’, Powerbase ”

(Quelle: Spinwatch.)