The time was the late '70s. The place, Rhodesia, the white-ruled breakaway British colony in Africa that was a pariah among nations—now known as Zimbabwe. The Rhodesian Army was fighting to suppress guerrillas fighting for black rule, and no division did so more ruthlessly than the Selous Scouts, whose tactics were believed to include torture of enemy soldiers and killing of civilians.
Enter David Scott-Donelan, "a deceptively soft-spoken, mild-mannered, smallish blond man," as one article at the time put it, who was the commander in charge of training recruits. Captain Scott-Donelan, the article went on, taught his trainees to "to kill in several sophisticated ways."
What is Scott-Donelan doing now? Training law enforcement officials in Washington state and around the country. While he doesn't teach guerrilla warfare exactly, he trades on his image as a kind of Rambo from the bush in order to sell courses in "tracking," the skill of finding people (or animals) by following the marks they leave behind on the land. He runs the Nevada-based Tactical Tracking Operations School, which law enforcement agencies hire on contract.
According to his promotional material, he "pioneered" his tracking courses with the Washington state Criminal Justice Training Commission, the agency that trains all the cops in the state except its troopers. Last spring, the commission's quarterly catalogue of training courses, circulated among various law enforcement agencies, listed two Scott-Donelan courses, scheduled for May and June.
The listings caught the eye of Enid McAdoo, an African American probation officer for King County District Court. McAdoo first noticed the way the colonial name "Rhodesia" was peppered throughout an attached biography of Scott-Donelan, then his extensive credentials for white supremacist governments. When the Rhodesian government fell, Scott-Donelan went on to the South African army.
"I was aghast," she says. To McAdoo, it was incomprehensible that the field of law enforcement, long troubled by its treatment of minorities, would look for instruction to someone associated with some of the world's most racist regimes. "It's like an SS officer coming over here and teaching a class."
A former Zimbabwe official, now living in this state, is similarly appalled, but refuses to go on the record out of fear. "It's ironic to me that he is training law enforcement officers," the former official says, "because one thing about the Selous Scouts is that they did not operate within the rule of law. . . . What is he going to teach them? How to torture people without being found out? How to get confessions out of people they arrest?"
Unlike the Zimbabwean, McAdoo acted on her concerns. She called and wrote a slew of police and political officials to complain, but no one seemed to care or even know about southern African history. "I felt like a history teacher," she says.
Possibly, another reason for the apathetic reaction is the understated way she presented his background—basically as a soldier under apartheid. But Scott-Donelan's biography, in the course description and on his Web site (members.aol.com/mantrack/staff.htm), paints a picture of someone who led rather than followed in some of apartheid's most elite and notorious units.
He was responsible for training troops not only for Zimbabwe's Selous Scouts but for a special services force in South Africa called the "5 Reconnaissance Regiment." In that regiment, his Web site says, he "conducted training programs for several guerrilla armies." These would have been forces attempting to destabilize surrounding postcolonial governments, such as the particularly thuggish Renamo force in Mozambique, which had a penchant for cutting off ears. South Africa later made him a "company commander" for its South-West-Africa Territorial Force, which was fighting the independence movement in Namibia. In the past two weeks, Scott-Donelan has failed to respond to the Weekly's questions about his background, despite repeated phone messages.
Enid McAdoo might be surprised to learn that representatives of the black governments Scott-Donelan was trying to keep from power are unfazed to learn of his presence here. Lloyd Sithole, consul in Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington, DC, acknowledges that atrocities attributed to the Selous Scouts—like killing ordinary villagers while pretending to be guerrillas in order to give the independence movement a bad name—were "never quite proven." Zimbabwe, under a policy of reconciliation, didn't have any kind of tribunal for war crimes.
Nelson Mandela's government in South Africa followed a similar policy of reconciliation, as evidenced by the fact that its military attach頩n Washington, DC, was himself a part of the apartheid army.
Perhaps more predictably, given the seeming remoteness of African history, officials here in Washington are blas頡bout his past. "At the time I employed him, he was a US citizen," says Philip Shave, manager of advanced training for the state's training commission, which has usually offered a Scott-Donelan course once or twice a year since 1995. "He had already had his background checked by the government. It's no different than if you or anybody else walked through the door with a certain product."
But it's not every day that someone like Scott-Donelan walks through your door. Even more remarkable than his unsavory past is the unabashed way he glories in it. His promotional material—which the state training commission reprints verbatim in describing his courses— boasts of his record as a "career soldier spanning almost three decades of active duty in the war zones" of southern Africa. He describes the Africans fighting for independence in the former Rhodesia as "Communist trained nationalist insurgents." His "mission" at one point was "tracking down and annihilating" them.
Scott-Donelan has also posted to the site links to other sites for the kind of people who still consider themselves "Rhodesian," people who can't accept the name and the government chosen by black Africans.
And that article that talks about his "sophisticated" killing lessons—he's put it on his Web site. From a 1979 issue of a publication called Paratus, it's an amusing case study in war propaganda, both fawning and breathless. It begins by citing the "formidable reputation" of the Selous Scouts "for cool (some say 'cold') efficiency," then describes the hunkiness of its blue-eyed, fair-haired commanding officer ("'the most handsome man I've ever seen,' sighed a Salisbury woman journalist"), and moves on to Scott-Donelan's tough-it-out approach ("He likes his men to live off the land . . . , report sick only when already dead and lay down his life for any Government of the Day").
Clearly some of this rhetoric is designed to create a mystique that he also seeks to attach to his "product." He describes his tracking techniques as "bold and aggressive," differing from other "benign" methods. He calls the kind of "tracking team" he advocates a "rural version of an urban SWAT team."
All this hype raises some unsettling questions, and not only the obvious racial ones. Are local cops learning how to behave in a guerrilla war, how to "track down and annihilate" people? If not, what exactly are they learning from this guy? And why do law enforcement officials, in the age of community policing, turn to such a militaristic character?
Ron Van Boening, assistant superintendent for the Washington state penitentiary in Walla Walla, says that his facility hired Scott-Donelan for a week-long training in 1995 in order to jump-start a new team for finding escaped inmates.
The prison wanted to do more to find fugitives who could disappear in the wide-open terrain around the facility, so it looked around for a specialist in tracking. Scott-Donelan appealed, according to Van Boening, because he goes beyond what's called the "step-by-step" method, whereby searchers go from one clue to the next, whether it be a footprint or a broken twig or discarded clothing. Scott-Donelan shows how to use those clues to make educated guesses about where a person is heading and then to box the person in with teams in front and behind.
Nothing appears sinister there. Yet Dennis Heryford, chief investigator for the state Department of Natural Resources, offers more insight into Scott-Donelan's teachings. A longtime tracking buff, Heryford has helped arrange several Scott-Donelan courses with the training commission, including the most recent ones. The DNR, Heryford says, uses tracking every day on the heavily wooded state land it manages, to investigate timber thefts, for instance, or find hazardous materials from methadone labs dumped among the trees.
Heryford maintains he never got so much as a "hint" of racism from Scott-Donelan. Heryford admits, however, that he has come to find Scott-Donelan's approach on the "militaristic" side. "The rules of engagement are different for law enforcement than for the military," he says. "If you're in a hostile situation, basically you fire," he explains. "We, on the other hand, try to effect an arrest."
Heryford says his misgivings, combined with the expensiveness of Scott-Donelan's courses, made the DNR decide to cancel the courses initially offered for May and June through the training commission. (Undoubtedly, Enid McAdoo's complaints were also causing some discomfort.) He instead put together a course taught by instructors versed in police practices.
Scott-Donelan doesn't seem to be suffering for business. A schedule posted on his Web site lists courses through the end of the year. He appears to be taking his unsavory background all the way to the bank.