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

Blood from Stones

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Georgian Aircraft Delivering North Korean Weapons to Iran (or Africa, or Sri Lanka)
The story of the Georgia-registered aircraft halted in Thailand with 35 tons of North Korean weapons bound for Iran (or perhaps Africa or Sri Lanka) show what a true globalized structure is.

The Thais stopped the aircraft because U.S. intelligence warned them of the North Korean weapons on board, listed in the cargo manifest as oil drilling equipment. North Korea, although under an international ban on exporting weapons, makes an estimated $1 billion a year from the industry, attracting the least savory of the world's characters as clients.

Why the plane landed in Thailand is not entirely clear, nor is the final destination of the weapons. Iran buys North Korean weapons, largely for the Quds Force, Hezbollah and Hamas. These are terrorist organizations. Pakistan likewise has shown a fondness for the illegal purchases in the past, and much of that has gone to terrorist organizations. West Africa could also have been on the route.

The weapons included sophisticated rocket propelled grenade launchers and what experts said were K-100 rockets, known as AWAC killers because of their lethal use against the Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft, used as a flying radar stations.

The five crewmen arrested will, of course, share space in the Thai prison with Viktor Bout, who has also busted in Thailand trying to sell some of the same types of sophisticate weapons to people he believed represented the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). An appeals court decision on Bout's extradition to the United States is expected in February. A lower court ruled he could not be extradited for his alleged crimes.

Another interesting aspect of the case is that the IL-76, although registered in the republic of Georgia, was registered to company, Air West, that has long been affiliated with Bout network in Sudan. If the companies in Georgia and Sudan are related it would be an interesting view of how the Bout empire has morphed since he was arrested in March 2008.

Another interesting facet is that the pilot of the IL-76 used almost the exact same language Bout has used to defend his actions of flying illegal cargo by saying he did not not what was in the boxes (although pictures clearly show the missiles stick out from under a tarp).

“I have no interest in what I carry,” the pilot said. “Like a truck driver: just keep driving.”

But the most interesting thing is that shadow facilitators are still active facilitating the sale of weapons from a rogue state to terrorists. While this flight was caught, it takes little imagination to see how nuclear material or even more sophisticated weapons could fly into the wild blue yonder with no one the wiser.

Why is it so easy? In part because once a state controls the levers of criminality, there is guaranteed impunity. Hence my argument of some time now that criminal states (those like North Korea, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, which all depend on criminal proceeds to stay in power) are a bigger threat - or at least a big a threat as failed states or ungoverned spaces.

A state like North Korea can control the entry and exit points of the national territory, guaranteeing the aircraft can come and go as necessary, and that the illegal merchandise is loaded with no hassle. It can provide fake End User Certificates, false bills of lading and a host of other advantages.

We have had recent cases where Venezuelan ships were carrying illicit cargo for Iran, Hezbollah operatives siphoning drugs from Colombian cartels to Lebanon and Russian organized crime helping to launder FARC cash.

This is the true state of the world we live in. While there is a great deal of discussion of failed states or ungoverned spaces, in truth almost every space is governed by someone, even if it is not the state. Criminal states, not counted among the failing states, are growing and are a clear menace to the rest of the world community. Because there is no consensus on what a criminal state is (and Russia is dangerously close to becoming one), there is no international mechanism for doing anything about them except for the occasional and generally unenforced U.N. sanctions.

The case shows, perhaps (no ruling has yet been made) that the sanctions can have some teeth. But it is a needle in a haystack game, and one cannot always find state-protected needles.
Al Qaeda and the West African Drug Trade
Venezuela Hosts Terrorist Central In Caracas
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