Tim Spicer’s career as a soldier of fortune seemed over by 2001, when he attended a lunch at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London. Founded in 1927 to train officers and diplomats for imperial service, the college, now housed in a Belgrave Square mansion, provides a discreet venue for current and former military officers to meet high-fliers from government and the private sector. But lunch, as Spicer later told me, was soon interrupted by a staff member. “You’d better come and watch this,” he said. “I think a small plane crashed into the twin towers.”
As Spicer watched the World Trade Center disintegrate on television, his fellow diners called their offices or left for headquarters. Foreign soldiers and one defense minister made reservations to fly home, where they might be needed to support an American response.
Spicer, however, had nowhere to report. Having retired in 1994 as a lieutenant colonel after twenty years in the British Army, he had first tried his hand at investment banking, then entered a more appropriate profession: freelance soldiering. Unfortunately, a couple of scandal-ridden missions in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone had sullied his reputation and caused both the press and the Foreign Office to label him a reckless mercenary. His subsequent exoneration by a parliamentary inquiry made little difference in a business where discretion, not notoriety, attracted clients. Spicer was, by most measures, damaged goods.
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