I started investigating a very strange incident in Benghazi in May and came away with something of a counterweight -- if qualified -- to the optimism surrounding the Libyan Transitional National Council:
On a dark night in May, five employees of a prominent French private security company left a restaurant in the Libyan revolutionary capitol of Benghazi. Before they could return to their hotel, they were accosted by a group of armed rebels. As their colleagues explain it, they had little reason to believe there would be trouble: In the morning, the guards had an appointment with representatives of the rebel government to discuss a contract about securing a crucial material transit route from Cairo.
Very little about what happened next is clear. But one stark, bloody fact remains. Moments later, the rebels shot dead Pierre Marziali, a French ex-paratrooper who founded the security company, Secopex.
I got the company to open up -- somewhat -- about what was going on:
An official statement issued on May 11 accused the security contractors of “illicit activities that jeopardized the security of free Libya.” A promised investigation would determine if they were “spies hired by the Gadhafi regime.”
The curious incident made headlines — briefly. Then it faded away, a murky incident in a confusing war. Secopex has said next to nothing about the incident publicly — until now. Karen Wallier, a Secopex representative, told Danger Room that she herself “do[es] not have all of the answers” to what happened that night. But she said that the Secopex team “made no resistance” to the gunmen before Marziali was shot.
“The circumstances of his death were accidental,” Wallier added. “Allegations of espionage are totally unfounded.”
Bottom line stuff:
It could be argued that after the initial shooting, the Libyan rebel government acted responsibly by releasing the Secopex guards without charge, instead of keeping them detained. But if their release is an implicit admission of error, the Transitional National Council has never owned up to it — nor apologized to Secopex, France and Marziali’s family. Will that be the style in which it governs Libya?
By the same token, Secopex hasn’t fully explained what it was doing in Libya, a country that has become awash in private security firms and mercenaries. And with Gadhafi still on the loose and NATO sending mixed signals on putting peacekeepers into a wealthy country, it’s unlikely that private security firms are done with Libya.