Securing the diamonds
Ex-military colonel hired to ward off criminal activity

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 10/98) - When BHP's Ekati mine goes into production this October the company expects to be hauling 10,000 carats worth of diamonds from the ground every day.

To protect these precious gems, the company has gone all out and hired Mike Loper, a former American military colonel, as head of security for the project.

"The way we're approaching it is we are not going to be doing anything that is not normally done in a banking institution," said Loper, who is also in charge of the diamond mine's security at the both the Yellowknife and Vancouver offices and its marketing office in Antwerp, Belgium.

Loper specialized in security and law enforcement for 15 years within the American military, working at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Nuclear Plant, which manufactured plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons.

At the plant, security held an "ultra-high" priority, much in the same way as he now sees diamonds.

Paul Haack, who specializes in security at the diamond mine at Ekati, will assist Loper.

BHP plans to spend millions of dollars both at the Ekati site and at the diamond sorting and valuation plant, whose location has yet to be determined.

The company is also intent on having in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 security guards on site.

The biggest threat to the diamond mine at Lac de Gras is organized crime, said Loper. "Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the people we're going to be dealing with are good, honest hard-working people. We're only looking at a fraction of a per cent. The bad apple in the barrel is the one we're trying to guard against," said Loper.

It's a known fact that organized crime, once it gets started, can siphon off tens of millions of dollars worth of product from a diamond mine, he said.

Criminals have been known to use techniques that come right out of the Cold War espionage-recruiting manual, he added.

Loper laid out a typical organized-crime operation:

"If you were a married employee, a guy sitting at a bar drinking a beer minding your own business, organized crime might have a prostitute come up to you and make you think you were the greatest thing since sliced bread, suggest you might have a little fun together. More than likely end up at her apartment or her hotel room and in the end of all of this you find out the entire thing has been video-taped. Now the question becomes 'OK, do you want us to play this for Mama or do you play ball with us?'" said Loper.

"Any kind of a personal weakness these people will exploit."

BHP also has contingency plans in place to protect employees who may be approached by organized criminals, but Loper would not go into details.

"If we take care of our employees they'll take care of us," Loper summed up.

"It's not paranoid, it's just simply we're operating from a basis of known fact." We know organized crime is going to try to penetrate our system. We've taken steps to prevent that."

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