A senior member of George W. Bush's Pentagon policy team met with an associate of Simon Mann, a colorful British mercenary leader, not long before Mann led a team of soldiers of fortune in an unsuccessful 2004 attempt to oust the dictator of Equatorial Guinea. Last week, Mann—who had been sentenced to 34 years in a dismal prison in the oil-rich African state after his plot to depose the country's president, Teodoro Obiang, collapsed—was suddenly pardoned, released from prison, and allowed to return to the United Kingdom. Media reports before and after Mann's release quoted claims by Mann that the governments of Spain and South Africa had backed the attempted coup and that it had the tacit support of the Bush-era Pentagon and U.S. oil companies. Documents related to the alleged coup plot have been posted here by the BBC.
This NEWSWEEK story from October 2004 confirms that Greg Wales, a self-described British security consultant and associate of Mann, met only weeks before the failed putsch with Theresa Whelan, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs—in practice the top Africa adviser to Douglas Feith, Pentagon policy chief under Donald Rumsfeld. (Feith was one of the key planners and promoters of the war to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.)
According to our 2004 story, Wales approached Whelan after she gave a speech in November 2003 to the International Peace Operations Association, a lobbying group for mercenaries. A few months later, in mid to late February 2004, Wales wrangled a meeting with Whelan during which, the Pentagon acknowledged, he had discussed that trouble might be afoot in Equatorial Guinea.
Mann's coup plot went belly up in spectacular fashion on March 7, 2004, when authorities in Zimbabwe arrested Mann and a plane full of 70 mercenaries who allegedly were on their way to Equatorial Guinea to depose Obiang. Mann was subsequently extradited to Equatorial Guinea, and some of his alleged associates, including Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Lady Margaret Thatcher, faced investigation for their alleged roles in the abortive plot.
Contacted by NEWSWEEK this week, Wales said that while he was "very pleased" that Mann had now been released by Equatorial Guinea, he was "not really interested" in talking about other aspects of the failed plot. He added that he had "no links with the USA." However, an extended e-mail exchange with the Pentagon official quoted in our 2004 story confirms the 2004 meeting between Whelan and Wales, and includes the quote published in our story.
A fresh e-mail inquiry about the Pentagon's dealings with Wales met with no immediate response.