Monday, March 10, 2008

Viktor Bout, our good buddy.

I kind of paid attention to the story about the arrest of international arms dealer Viktor Bout (or Butt) in Bankok, Thailand, last Friday, but not that much. Until I realized, that is, I'd heard this guy's name before in relation to Iraq.

The WaPo reports:

"The list of Bout's alleged customers since the early 1990s stretches across at least four continents, with a focus on Africa, Western law enforcement officials and human rights groups say. The Treasury Department accused him of supplying armaments to both the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while also providing weapons to the opposing Northern Alliance." [And his planes flew some of our troops in 2001. But, that's when we went over to Dick Cheney's Darkside.]

What you could have missed in the WaPo article if you had blinked was that also supplied weapons to the US military in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. The WaPo gives one sentence to that particular tid-bit: "Cargo companies connected to Bout were also linked to hundreds of supply flights into Iraq for private contractors and the U.S. Military early in the Iraq war."

In reality, according to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, who wrote "Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Plans, and the Man Who Makes War Possible," there were more than 1000 flights in and out of Baghdad International Airport. And get this, US contractors -- KBR again -- paid Bout $60 million and gave him half a million gallons of aviation fuel, too.

I like the WaPo's wording here: "Companies connected to," and "early in the war;" sounds like Pentagon-speak: Military reported last week that: "In a January 2005 letter to Congress, then-Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted the Defense Department 'did conduct business with companies that, in turn, subcontracted work to second-tier providers who leased aircraft owned by companies associated with Mr. Bout.'"

And remember that GAO report about all those missing weapons the Pentagon lost track of that may have gotten into the hands of the same people who are killing our troops? The LA Times reported last August:

"When the U.S. government needed to fly four planeloads of seized weapons from an American base in Bosnia to Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in August 2004, they used a Moldovan air cargo firm tied to Bout's aviation empire. The problem is that the planes apparently never arrived. When Amnesty International investigators tried two years later to trace the shipment of more than 99 tons of AK-47s and other weapons, U.S. officials admitted they had no record of the flights landing in Baghdad."

Mistakes were made . . .

The US knew exactly who this guy was, yet the Bush administration fought international pressure to roll up his operation and worked with him for two full years.

The Dailykos reported in 2004:

"The UK is backing the US in pressing for a notorious arms trafficker alleged to be involved in supplying goods to coalition forces in Iraq to be omitted from planned United Nations sanctions, in defiance of French demands. Washington is resisting efforts by France to freeze the assets of Victor Bout, once described by Peter Hain, now leader of the House of Commons, as a 'merchant of death' for his role in supplying arms to rebel and government forces in several African conflicts, including Liberia."

So even though he was a bad guy, he was useful, that sounds familiar. John C.K Daly wrote for Global Policy Forum in 2004 that Bush & Co. really needed Bout: "As one specialist in the arms trade, speaking on condition of anonymity said of his crews and aircraft, 'they're accustomed to land in any kind of war zone without having a fit. And if one of their planes is shot down, there's no risk of American pilots' bodies being dragged through the streets.'"

So, what finally got the US interested in going after Bout? Who knows? It's pretty strange he was arrested by the DEA over a weapon's deal in Columbia involving the FARC. Bout is reputed to have ties to Vlad Putin's FSB, perhaps the US is interested in getting a litte payback on Putin? Did Putin turn him in? Probably not.

The Moscow Times reports that:

"The Russian bureau of Interpol confirmed on Thursday that Bout had been on its list since February 2002, when Belgian police issued an international warrant, alleging that he was behind a scheme to launder the profits from sales of weapons in Africa. A bureau official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said that even if he had been arrested in Russia, Bout would not have been extradited to a third country. [my italic] The Russian authorities have not shown much interest in arresting Bout, who gave interviews at the Moscow offices of Ekho Moskvy radio and the Izvestia newspaper not long after the international warrant was issued. "

Naturally, no one gets on one of Vlad's media outlets without official permission, so it was nice of Vlad to allow Bout to defend himself.

As usual, after we ghave Bout his big payday in Iraq, he moved on to greener pastures and new battlefields in the GWOT. The LA Times reports that in 2006:

"A jumbo Il-76 flying the Khazakh flag swooped down to a landing in Mogadishu to unload arms for radical Islamic leaders who briefly seized control of Somalia. It was one of Bout's planes, concluded U.S. military intelligence officials."

And, oh yes, he also was busy supplying Hezbollah with armor piercing bullets around the same time. Nice people W. &Co. do business with. All in the name of protecting the Homeland, I guess.


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