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

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

A New Look at the Multi-Headed Hydra of Transnational Organizations
The DEA and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have unveiled a new indictment for drug trafficking that shows just how truly transnational and intertwined with terrorists, aircraft merchants, and little-scrutinized company registries these groups have become.

The case centers on Jesus Eduardo Valencia-Arbelaez, aka "Padre," aka "Pat," who was extradited from Romania to stand trial for drug trafficking and money laundering. I think these two paragraphs sums up the huge challenges faced with these organizations that have now grown tentacles around the world. Plotting this on a map would help give the true dimensions of the enterprise.

Valencia-Arbelaez was a leader of a sophisticated international cocaine trafficking organization (the Organization) based in Colombia and Venezuela that operated worldwide, including in Bolivia, Spain, Holland, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Mauritania, Mali, Cyprus, and the United States.

Beginning in September 2007, members of the Organization sought to purchase a cargo airplane for the purpose of transporting metric tons of cocaine from Venezuela to West Africa. Between September 2007 and March 2009, Manuel Silva-Jaramillo, a member of the Organization arrested earlier this year, conducted meetings in connection with the Organization's efforts to acquire the airplane in, among other places, Madrid, New York and Virginia. Silva-Jaramillo arranged to finance the purchase of the airplane through a corporation based in Cyprus and to register it in Sierra Leone.

It would be incorrect to assume the Organization has an organic structure in each of the countries named. Rather, it has carved out important links to existing criminal organizations there, and have key operatives in the country or region to keep an eye on the operations and collect or pay money, as necessary.

But it does show a remarkable integration across four continents and the ability to manage multiple moving pieces. It also shows how mobile the Organization's key personnel are. Valencia-Arbelaez was arrested in Romania, where he had gone to further discuss the purchase of aircraft for his organization. Unfortunately, Viktor Bout, denied bail yesterday by a Thai judge, was unavailable for business.

This case follows closely on another one where the DEA, using the tried and true uncover tactic of pretending to be buying weapons for the FARC in Colombia, captured a former Syrian military officer in Honduras, purporting to have weapons obtained from Hezbollah to sell on the international market.

Jamal Yousef, aka "Talal Hassan Ghantou," an international arms trafficker, was charged with participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy. What is interesting about the case is that it was to be a transcontinental weapons for cocaine trade. While such trades are reported anecdotally, there has been little first-hand evidence of this type of activity among designated terrorist organizations.

So, we have a Syrian in Honduras offering to sell Hezbollah weapons stashed in Mexico, reportedly stolen from Iraq. Again, the geographic space in the operation is significant and, until fairly recently, an insurmountable obstacle.

The silver lining in this is that the arrests were made. It is a part of the shifting tactics of the DEA and others to target the "shadow facilitators" like Yousef who have access to different criminal and terrorist networks and broker the deals that are profitable to all.

But the scary part is just how far-flung and inter-active these groups have become. Globalization and market forces at their best.
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