KMS is no ordinary security company. From an address in Kensington, it runs a global network of mercenaries. Those who know it from the inside and who are not easily shaken, are in awe of it – and particularly in awe of the two SAS veterans who run it, Major David Walker and Colonel Jim Johnson.
A week ago, it was dragged into the limelight by the Tower Commission, one of three bodies conducting investigations into ‘Irangate’ and the Contra arms scandal in Washington. Papers found in the White House safe of Lt Col Oliver North named KMS as part of his secret network of companies pumping arms and money around the world.
That disclosure has not simply brought London into the bizarre story of Oliver North’s operation. It has, more importantly, started to threaten the British government with a new scandal, for KMS is now emerging as the key to a hidden world in Whitehall.
Hard evidence is still thin on the ground. But the report of the Tower Commission and then this week’s disclosure by the London Daily News that KMS mercenaries had walked out of their controversial contract in Sri Lanka, have started to crack the wall of silence which usually protects this world.
The picture that emerges is of a pool of ex-soldiers, most of them from the SAS, who hire themselves out through companies like KMS for politically sensitive work. The Contra operation is only one among many. Reliable sources have given us a list of these operations, all of which they say have been conducted at Whitehall’s request. They cover the globe:
KMS units are said to have been infiltrated across the border from Pakistan to supply and train the Mujaheddin resistance movement, as well as planting sophisticated British and American eavesdropping equipment to spy on Russian diplomatic and military activity. More recently, sources say, KMS was asked by Whitehall to conduct an evaluation of Pakistan’s special forces. To do this, KMS took Pakistani soldiers into Afghanistan and set up a confrontation with a Russian unit. The unit is said to have included members of the Russian version of the SAS, the Spetznaz. “They gave the Pakistanis one hell of a bloody nose.” we were told.
KMS has had a long-running contract to train and supervise the Sultan of Oman’s special forces. Former SAS men played a key role in helping the Sultan to quell the Dhofar rebellion in the mid-70s. KMS is said to have earned millions of dollars from its contract, although last December it was revised to give financial control to the Sultan’s palace.
They have also been able to deal with requests for bodyguards from some of the most powerful figures in the region, including King Faud of Saudi Arabia and the former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Yamani. The requests are understood to have been made initially to the Foreign Office, who were unwilling to supply serving British soldiers but maintained their credibility by passing the job to KMS.
In North Africa, the Foreign Office is said to have made its mark with the deposed President of Sudan, Gaafar Numeiry, by arranging for KMS to train his bodyguards. The company’s men are also providing bodyguards in Uganda. One of them is Peter McAleese, who took over from the notorious ‘Colonel Callan’ in the ill-fated British mercenary expedition to Angola in 1975. Mr McAleese, who now has the title Major, has a criminal record for assaulting members of his family.
The company is now said to have forged a new link with Angola, where the American-backed rebel army of Jonas Savimbi has been receiving covert support from Oliver North’s secret network in its attempt to topple the Government.
For two years, KMS has been training and supervising the Sri Lankan government’s Special Task Force. Again, it was the Foreign Office who provided the job, anxious to please the Sri Lankans without alienating the Indian Government, which supports the Tamil nationalist movement in Sri Lanka. Now, to Whitehall’s intense embarrassment, 60 KMS mercenaries have walked out after complaining that the Task Force was brutalising the Tamil community.
Unconfirmed reports from security sources say the company has also been deployed by the British government in the Phillipines, where supporters of the deposed President Marcos are trying to regain power.
Reports of operations go on and on. According to our sources, it is KMS who now provide protection for the Aga Khan at his holiday retreat in Sardinia, scene of a series of kidnap attempts. They are also credited with organising the unsuccessful search for the kidnappers of the Aga Khan’s horse, Shergar – an exercise which meant the ex-SAS men had to work in the politically sensitive Irish Republic without disclosing their military links. They coped with this this by saying that they worked for a rival security company.
Nigeria, Belize, South Korea and Yemen all figure in the story. Finally, the company works directly for the Foreign Office, supplying bodyguards for diplomats in troublespots – something the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, felt unable to confirm in the House of Commons this week on the grounds that he would not discuss security arrangements.
Secrecy is an integral part of KMS’s existence. Maj Walker and Col Johnson are both powerful and respected members of the British intelligence community. “They are very close to MI5 and M16,” we were told. “They have carte blanche. They can just walk in and out of these places and get whatever they want. Other security companies can’t compete. They might match them for performance and price, but not for contacts. They don’t need to advertise for work. They just get handed it by the intelligence people.”
Walker left the SAS in 1974 and became managing director of Control Risks, an upmarket security company which specialises in kidnap insurance. The next year, he also became managing director of a new subsidiary – KMS. “KMS was set up predominantly to handle government work,” according to a Control Risks spokesman.
In 1977, Walker organised a management buy-out and went out on his own with KMS. He linked up with Jim Johnson, former commander of the SAS reserve and an insurance broker with the City firm of Blackwall Green. Johnson had earned his colours in the mid-60s in North Yemen, where he organised a small army of ex-SAS men to fight on the losing Royalist side against the Republican movement.
It is common knowledge in the security world that Walker and Johnson run KMS. But the company is registered in Jersey where confidentiality laws allow nominee-directors and shareholders to conceal the role of others. KMS is registered there in the name of four London bankers. The names Walker and Johnson appear nowhere.
It is equally common knowledge that KMS is based at 7 Abingdon Road, Kensington, but callers at the office are told the company is not there. Walker and Johnson also sit on the board of a second London security company, Saladin, which is run by the former head of Special Branch, Rollo Watts. But he says his company has nothing to do with KMS.
Col Johnson’s insurance company, Blackwall Green, which has three directors on Saladin’s board and which holds some of the company’s shares, also denies having any connection with KMS. But they conceded to us that they hold the lease on the Abingdon Road property and pay the salaries of staff there. They too denied that KMS were there but then agreed that Walker and Johnson do work there.
Both Walker and Johnson have become wealthy men in the process. Recently, Walker has been telling friends that he is thinking of quitting to become a Conservative MP. Until then, the two men remain the unrecognised generals of Whitehall’s secret army.