Darfur

Sounds like a good guy

The Sunday Star-Times has a profile on one of the candidates in the National Party Rodney selection battle, Mark Mitchell. I have blogged extensively on the skulduggery going on up there with delegate stacking at local and regional level in order to favour two candidates, and I also blogged about the dirty tricks and rumour-mongering that was going on.

The SST article covers all of those aspects and sheds some light on the background of Mark Mitchell that shows just how scurrilous those rumours were. I have met Mark Mitchell only once, ironically at the Botany victory party, where some of the rumour-mongers were also in attendance but wouldn’t speak with me. Hell even Peter Goodfellow talked with me that night.

Anyway this bloke seems to have the goods. Decorated hero, tough on crime, self-made man, tough under pressure and handles adversity well. The selection battle just got interesting.

Former cop Mark Mitchell’s exploits in the Middle East sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster – but has he got what it takes to make it as a politician?

HE’S HAD violent confrontations with gangs and criminals during 14 years in the New Zealand police force. He’s spent eight years as a top international hostage negotiator, at one point fighting for his life in a five-day siege in Iraq, a story which is set to feature in a movie made by Brad Pitt. He’s built a multimillion-dollar business from scratch.

He’s engaged to Peggy Bourne, the widow of Kiwi rally ace Possum Bourne.

Now Mark Mitchell is chasing a political career, and hopes to succeed Lockwood Smith in the safe National seat of Rodney.

That’s one thing John Key hasn’t done! Getting a movie made of his exploits by Brad Pitt.

Wouldn’t the 42-year-old find parliament a bit, um, dull?

MAYBE NOT, if things continue as they’ve started. Mitchell was one of five people contesting the National Party candidacy for Rodney when the selection process was abruptly postponed earlier this month amid allegations of delegate stacking.

That dirty laundry was aired, but there’s been little publicity about a smear campaign against Mitchell. Documents were circulated questioning his work in the Middle East, appearing to suggest he was involved in a Muslim-funded Somalian private army. Things were getting nasty: cue the false start.

What the hell was going on in Rodney? The would-be-politician is already practised in the art of diplomacy.

“I’m not going to comment on that. All I’ll say is that any behaviour that can be seen to try to control an outcome, well, we shouldn’t accept that.”

Those rumours were particularly nasty and at the time very hard to counter because of the ban on speaking to the media. The ones spreading the rumours are well versed at these sorts of tactics, having employed then successfully over 30 years in politics.

It hasn’t deterred him. When nominations close for the second time tomorrow, Mitchell will be back on the candidate list.

Good to see he is tough and able to man-up.

“I was lost for a bit. I enjoyed the physical work, but my grandfather and family had instilled in me a strong sense of duty and I decided to join the police.”

Mitchell’s 14-year career was served in Auckland, Rotorua, Gisborne and Taupo, and he quickly became used to the physical danger. He and his police dog Czar were stabbed by a samurai sword-wielding criminal in Rotorua; both recovered to be awarded a police bravery commendation.

A decorated hero! Now that is quite a bit different from the rumours. I bet about now there is a few face-slaps going on with some people who should ahve known better.

In Gisborne, there were many violent confrontations with Mongrel Mobsters. In one incident, he and another officer were surrounded by 30 gang members. They talked themselves out of certain trouble, an early sign of Mitchell’s negotiation skills.

Mitchell left the force in 2003. He was carrying several injuries and decided to pursue new interests. He intended training polo ponies; he ended up an international security contractor.

Sounds like he could handle the inept machinations of longtime party hacks easily. He could even probably handle the Labour caucus meetings right now as well.

British kidnap and ransom risk-management firm Control Risks had been contracted by the British government to set up the security programme for the interim coalition government in Iraq. Someone he knew worked there and wanted Mitchell on board. His job would be to protect the diplomats and officials working for the interim government.

“It seemed like an interesting opportunity, and there was this sense of history in the making. What was happening in the Middle East was having a pretty profound effect on the rest of the world.”

Mitchell faced daily threats at the Coalition Provisional Authority Government base in An Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq.

The work involved transporting government officials to meetings around the country and protecting the sites where they lived. He was shot at, and his vehicles were blown up in roadside bomb attacks, but he was proud that no-one was hurt or killed on his watch.

In 2004 he did a stint training Iraqi security forces, including the National Guard and police, in crisis management, before deciding to go home for good.

Hmmm…that is really different from the rumours. He’s supposed to be a mercenary, but it turns out he was working for the British Government and the Iraqi Provisional Authority. More face-slapping from the gossippers.

BUT THE draw of the Middle East and the work pulled him back. The next call was from the Kuwait global logistics firm supplying food to the military forces in Iraq.

Agility Logistics was being targeted by Al Qaeda and the militia, and many staff were killed. They wanted Mitchell to improve security.

“Security was being subcontracted and I discovered fairly early on that when the heat was on, our people weren’t a priority. One week, we lost 32 staff.”

So the company set up subsidiary Threat Management Group to take security in-house. As CEO and shareholder, Mitchell grew the company from eight staff to about 500 in the first year.

The quality of their work soon won them top-level contracts, including protecting crucial infrastructures like ports, and keeping supply chains open.

Mitchell also became adept at kidnap and ransom negotiations, dealing with more than 100 hostage negotiations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur.

One of the more haunting jobs was working alongside The Hague scientists charged with gathering evidence for Saddam Hussein’s war crimes trial.

Mitchell’s job was to protect the scientists, setting up a safe camp “in the middle of nowhere” next to mass graves, open them to allow the scientists access to evidence, and close them again.

“That was a very emotional job. We were confronted with the badly decomposed bodies of children clinging to their mothers. They’d just been bulldozed into the graves. Awful.”

And working for the UN on war crimes trials….really not a mercenary now. If I was one of the gossippers I would be really worried about a law suit about now. They were so far wrong it isn’t really funny anymore.

The closest Mitchell and his men came to being killed was in 2004, during a five-day siege of the An Nasiriyah compound, home to diplomats, officials, coalition forces and security staff.

The uprising Shi’a militia, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, was putting coalition forces under pressure across the country. The Italian-controlled compound was surrounded and under sustained attack. Mitchell was charged with defending it.

“They’d hit us during the day with mortar fire, and at night mount a physical attack. My team’s responsibility was the roof. We were very exposed. It was hot, dusty. We didn’t get much sleep and we had to ration our food. I saw every human emotion over those days.”

Armed with AK47s and two 50-calibre machine guns, they kept the militia at bay until coalition forces regained control. Their efforts would later be rewarded with a commendation from the Italian government.

The compound was evacuated and within 48 hours, Mitchell was having a barbecue and talking to his neighbours in Taupo. “That was surreal. I couldn’t really talk to people about it, as it was hard to comprehend.”

Did he kill anyone? “We were fighting for our lives, and the lives of the diplomats. There were casualties on both sides.” That’s all he’ll say on the matter.

During the siege, Mitchell worked closely with British Governor Rory Stewart, who headed the compound’s diplomat contingent. Stewart has made the leap into politics, and is a Conservative MP for Penrith, England. Stewart wrote a book on his time in Iraq, and Brad Pitt’s production company has bought the rights to his story.

Not only a commendation award for the Police but now one from the Italian Government. Everyone who was handed printouts by un-named party officials will now be wondering just what their game was. Clearly it wasn’t about telling the truth, or even about making sure the best candidate got selected. They now appear more interested in feather-bedding their mates than the best interests of the party.

He is proud of his achievements, and believes he has the skills to help New Zealand prosper. “I’ve run a successful international business, and have worked closely with foreign governments and officials. I have a strong global network and have built up excellent working knowledge of how different emerging markets work.

“I’m aware of the trade channels and where the opportunities are. A big part of our continued growth and prosperity relies on exports, and opening up those trade channels.”Some of those global contacts come from his volunteer work as security adviser to a World Economic Forum initiative which sees emergency logistics teams deployed into humanitarian disaster areas to ensure critical supplies get through.

Last year he oversaw missions to Haiti after the earthquake and Pakistan after the floods, and helped evacuate refugees from Lebanon.

Right, so decorated police hero in NZ and awarded for bravery by the Italian Government, and now he also has helped in humanitarian disaster zones and evacuating refugees for free. Unlike Helen Clark who is a disaster tourist for the UNDP, Mark Mitchell rolls up his sleeves and actually helps those in need.

Sounds like a bloody good guy, I’ll be watching very carefully what happens in the Rodney selection now. The National party can’t afford to put low level or even high level party hacks into parliament and leave far better qualified, capable candidates on the sidelines. I await the new delegates list and the results of pre-selection with interest.