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Exclusive US mercenaries accused of plot to put ‘boots on the ground’ ahead of Bolivia's crucial elections

SECURITY operatives with links to the notorious Blackwater firm have been accused of recruiting about 1,500 mercenaries to provide “boots on the ground” in Bolivia ahead of today’s elections.

Details leaked to the Morning Star appeared to reveal a clandestine plot to recruit law enforcement, medics and private security contractors to take part in a “unique mission” surrounding the elections.

An email seen by the Star, which appears to have been sent by Texas-based security specialist Joe Milligan, indicated that he was in charge of recruitment for the Bolivian operation. 

“This project is very sensitive right now and I don’t want to see anyone talking about it on Facebook,” it warns recipients.

“There is a lot of moving parts to this and we don’t want to jam up the other guys that are working on the ground to make this happen,” the email says.

It asks for those involved to send details of their passports and other relevant documents to David Shearman, a former police official who runs the website Viper One Six — his call sign while he was operating in Afghanistan.

According to sources, those taking part in the operation are being paid between $150,000 to $250,000 (£118,000 to £194,000) for contracts of between two and seven months.

It was believed that the entire contract is worth some £300 million, although it was not clear who is funding the mission.

An intelligence specialist told the Star that US government contacts had been unaware of the operation. The specialist said that the CIA was also unlikely to be behind it as those allegedly running the contract appeared “too stupid” to have been trusted.

But he said that the motivation would almost certainly be to gain access to Bolivia’s vast lithium deposits.

Ousted president Evo Morales has suggested that this was the motivation behind last year’s coup against his government.

A follow-up email sent under the name of Mr Shearman calls for “throwbots [spy devices which transmit audio and video to a remote control unit], drone pilots … and technical surveillance software personnel who can support the maintenance of drones.”

It advises participants to maintain a low profile and to wear clothes which blend in with the local population, such as jeans and “long and short-sleeved shirts capable of concealed carry” of weapons.

The date of the mission “revolves around politics there,” the email said. The election was delayed four times to yield today’s date.

The Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) appears to be identified as “the main foe.”

The email tells “Guerilla Group,” which sources say could be operatives that were already in Bolivia: “MSA [sic] the main foe down there.” 

WhatsApp messages seen by the Star make references to training bases inside Bolivia and name associates who appear to have a military background.

“You will all be getting briefings when we travel and you will get a more enhanced view of the operation, mission and the concerns/sensitivity of it. Keep this opportunity off of social media and other sites. Don’t get spread or hung up on rumours, they are not productive,” the email warns.

A personal Facebook account under Mr Milligan’s name has photographs showing the logo of Blackwater, which was closed down and rebranded after it was accused of committing war crimes in Iraq.

Under one of pictures, the account owner asks for people associated with the firm to contact him if they are experiencing any trouble. An account under the name of James Monzel responded: “Don’t you think its time we got the band back together?”

A LinkedIn profile under Mr Milligan’s name indicates that he is based in the Dallas & Fort Worth area of Texas.

It lists him as a personal security specialist, police and military trainer and director of security for hlh&r Metals — a scrap yard.

The account cites a wealth of experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, in training, “hunting down insurgents” and facilitating the infiltration and targeting of “criminal networks.”

According to the profile, he spent four years and nine months working for Blackwater USA.

Sources also believed that the contract was connected to the China National Group (CNG) mining company, which formerly operated in Bolivia. Its website and social media accounts are inactive.

Joe Pereira, who appears to have been president of oil and gas at CNG, is also believed to be linked to the operation. A Facebook page under his name carries numerous posts attacking Mr Morales and praising US President Donald Trump.

According to sources, Mr Pereira was recently released from prison in Bolivia where he had been jailed for fraud.

Bolivia went to the polls today after months of delay following a right-wing Washington-backed coup last year.

Polls pointed to a decisive victory for MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce and the leftist party was also expected to win a majority in the parliamentary election.

The Star has previously reported a number of plots by the right to discredit and overturn the election results, including blaming the party for the bombing of hotels where international election observers are staying.

Those arriving in Bolivia to observe the elections have reported being threatened and intimidated by right-wing forces.

Argentinian lawmaker Federico Fagioli, who is part of his country’s  delegation to observe the elections, was released on Saturday, hours after being detained by police at El Alto airport on charges of crimes against humanity.

He was subsequently being housed in the Argentinian embassy in La Paz.

Election results were due to arrive after the Star went to print. 

Mr Shearman was contacted for comment.


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