Simon Mann Copyright
15th November 2011
An All Greek Wheeze
A piece paid for but never published by a National Sunday Newspaper
Thursday night is the night for a coup d’etat. That’s when you catch a national capital at its turning point. The working week is dragging to a tired conclusion yet the big players, the politicians, and the money men, are still in town. It’s not yet time for the armoured Mercedes and the high speed dash to a weekend villa. When it comes to rounding up your opponents, you’ll know where to find them on a Thursday: changing to go out, or at dinner, watching telly, at home.
I have some experience in the realm of Assisted Regime Change. Twice I led counter-insurgencies with battle-hardened groups of mercenaries, once in Angola and then in Sierra Leone. Then, there was the ‘Wonga Coup,’ my infamous attempt to overthrow the despotic regime of Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea. I was jailed for my pains and very nearly killed.
So I know enough to know that Greece is not EG, let alone Angola. Toppling a Western democracy, even a shambolic one, takes more than a battalion of South African hard-nuts with bazookas. Seizing Athens is a job for the Greek generals. They are the men with the means, the know-how. And, it is said, the inclination: last week, as Greece’s plight reached new depths of desperation, Athens was rife with rumours that the army is poised to intervene.
Yet the basic principles apply: secrecy, surprise, speed of preparation, speed of execution, timing, propaganda and cold hard cash. Lots of wonga. These are the four pillars of a good coup. Most powerful of all is the selection then maintenance of the aim: whatever it takes, grab power.
And it is the propaganda, the ‘branding’, that must come first. Insurgents need good packaging. People must believe in what you’re doing.
The Greek army needs a Cause, but it has a starting point – the country is in chaos – but that is not enough. Greek citizens must feel that the fabric of their world is under threat. Unrest must be stirred up from within.
So strikes, riots, and insurrections are weapons every bit as useful as Kalashnikovs and Uzis. There are plenty of street mercenaries and troublemakers for hire if the price is right. Disorder is needed so that order can be restored – on favourable terms.
An ambitious Greek colonel might, for example, think about deploying agitators in Turkish Cyprus, a place of continuing sensitivity, to fuel a sense of national anger.
Maybe a couple of Al Qeda suicide attacks in Athens, aimed at Embassies.
Maskirovka: that Russian military principle: Camouflage. Deception.
The flickering screens of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have their uses, too. As the Arab Spring made clear, ‘social media’ help spread tentacles of trouble to new and dangerous places. This software can be used by the military also, not just by the masses: for intelligence, for deception, for entrapment.
Greece is a vast and sprawling land with a network of islands, another reason why change could only realistically emerge from its own hierarchy. In this case the Greek navy. But the army has done it before: the Colonels launched a coup in 1967, ushering in a series of ruling right wing Juntas who governed for seven years. They were not popular. Military rule rarely is.
But their execution was flawless. The coup leaders placed tanks in strategic positions throughout Athens, gaining complete control of the city, while dispatching small mobile units to arrest leading politicians and figures of authority.
The world has changed since then, but not completely. Speed is of the essence, still. Parliament, the central Bank, the main television stations, transport and telecoms Vital Points must all be ‘secured’ – seized, in fact – within a matter of hours.
It takes Speed, Aggression and Surprise – the three letters of the SAS.
Which brings us back to Thursday evening. At this time of year, we’d pick 7.30 pm as the witching hour, when day has rolled firmly into night.
WE NEED THE BIG GUNS ON MY SIDE FOR SURE: TANKS, FAST JETS, WARSHIPS, …. AND THE POLICE.
We’d deploy my troops swiftly – into Parliament, into the Telephone exchanges, into newspaper and TV offices and into the homes of the country’s politicians. A news blackout would follow. Road blocks. Curfew. By dawn, the city would be under coup command. Borders are closed: roads, ports, airports. Telecomms dead.
Then, and only then, would we slowly restore access to vital services, while emphasising that this is the start of a long term, orderly plan. There will be an interim civilian government, we proclaim. It will be backed by the military and followed by free and fair elections – or the appearance of them. If our execution has worked, we will find a population grateful for the restoration of calm, despite the cost to their liberty.
To get that far, of course, requires luck as well as planning. The cat must stay firmly in the bag. The ‘Need to Know Principle’, as it is called. Discretion is essential, yet help and support are necessary, too. You can’t operate in a vacuum. (It’s a conundrum, as I found to my cost. The moment I showed a South African arms dealer my list of requirements (for the Equatorial Guinea coup), he knew what I was trying to do. Not ‘where’, but he knew ‘what’) The secret is bound to get out, and quickly.
A 3am door-knock is never far away.
There are wider risks. Little fires become infernos; small acts of deliberate agitation can have uncontrollable, maybe terrible, consequences. Overturning a democracy is a gamble even for an ambitious Greek colonel.
The lure of money and power – the motivation for any coup – are potent. Hopefully, there is the notion of a greater good, as well. When I am asked to defend what I tried to do in Equatorial Guinea I always point out that it was a chance to depose an outrageous tyrant. And by that measure, I do not remotely condone such extreme action in Greece.
Others, of course, some of them in uniform, might take a different view.