Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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What is Russia's Real Game (Again-With Viktor Bout)
What is Russia's real role in the efforts to combat terrorism? While the Bush administration seems to cling to the notion that Russia is an ally, there are several developments that point in the opposite direction.

The first, of course, is the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, where the foul play of the Russian security apparatus, closely tied to Mr. Putin, is the prime suspect. The fact that the murder was committed in London and dismissed out of hand as unimportant by Mr. Putin show both a new boldness and the lack of any pretense of accountability by the Russians.

There is also the arming of Iran and help with the Iranian nuclear program, and the close intelligence ties to Hezbollah.

But there is another, barely noticed development in the United States that should be extremely worrisome. A small sporting goods store in rural Pennsylvania was just busted for selling telescopic rifle scopes, binoculars and optics, which need State Department export authorization, to a Russian company that did not have such a license.

As the my colleauge and co-author Stephen Braun write in the Los Angeles Times, the affidavit for carrying out the search states that the Russian company is "Tactica Ltd., a Moscow firm that was described by investigators as 'a member of the 'Vympel Group,' which is a known identifier for an elite counter-terrorism unit that is controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service [formerly the KGB].'"

So, we have Russian intelligence agents illegally buying restricted items in the United States. But it gets better.

A good chunk of the money for the purchases, according to federal officials, came from (hold on Bout fans) Rockman Ltd, a Bulgarian firm owned by Sergei Bout, who has often run Bout companies involved in weapons transactions. As one U.S official told the Times, "Sergei and Viktor's companies are all under the same umbrella."

The rest of the money came from Haji Ibrahim, a Pakistani man wanted on federal charges of heroin trafficking. Nice bunch!

But the United States, despite the publicly-available affidavit, has said nothing about the case. It was unsealed just as Bush was preparing for his sit-down with Putin on his way to Southeast Asia.

Another factor: The Russian weapons used by Hezbollah in the July fighting with Israel were new and routed through Syria. Intelligence sources say Bout was spotted in Beirut during the fighting, shortly before the sophisticated armor-piercing Fagot and Kornet anti-tank missiles were discovered. Interesting coincidence. When the Israelis presented the Russians with overwhelming evidence of the armament, it was publicly dismissed, but a senior official in the Russian arms export enterprise was reportedly dismissed to placate the outside world.

Finally, there are Bout's actions in the Horn of Africa where, again with official Russian support, his aircraft have been spotted delivering weapons to the Islamic Court militias in Somalia and arming the Islamist allies in Eritrea.

If Putin in our ally we sure don't need any enemies.
Some (Late) Realism on Somalia
Long-Awaited Africa Command Would be Valuable Step
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