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

Blood from Stones

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Finally, Wheels Up for Viktor Bout
Well, it took a long time and the road was filled with twists and turns, but Viktor Bout, accused of selling weapons around the world and busted trying to close a multi-million dollar deal with people he thought represented a designated terrorist organization, is finally on his way to stand trial in the United States.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 after being taken in by a DEA undercover operation, where the Russian thought he was selling sophisticated weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia FARC), a designated terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, and one of the world's largest cocaine production cartels.

Among the things he offered the undercover operatives in the final meeting in Bangkok, believing them to be FARC commanders, were drones to attack U.S.-build radar stations, surface-to-air missiles, and the usual assortment of assault rifles and ammunition.

His arrest in the hotel, after taking more than an hour to regale the agents with promises of how he could help the FARC kill Americans, looked to be the end of the story. Thailand and the United States have an extradition treaty, the arrest was conducted jointly with Thai police, and the Thai foreign minister certified everything was in order. But legal wrangling, Russian state pressure and overall fear by the Thai government of crossing either the Americans or the Russians, led to a long and convoluted process.

However, the Thai cabinet on Tuesday swallowed hard and bravely approved the extradition, after more than two years of tussle, and Bout was put on a DEA plane, wheels up, and heading to the United States to stand trial in the Southern District of New York.

The arrest is more than symbolic in importance. It targeted one of the master facilitators who, through exploiting the rapidly changing world order, was able to be of use to multiple non-state armed groups, including often arming both sides of the same conflict. Many of these groups (the FARC, Taliban etc.) are terrorists, and almost all were criminal.

His primary defense was the "taxi cab" excuse:A cab driver doesn't check the luggage of the passengers in his vehicle, he simply ferries them from point A to point B, providing a service. Of course, if one can see the AK-47s sticking out of the passengers bags as you pick them up, and overhear they are on their way to kill, rape and maim, the moral equation could change. But it didn't for Bout.

Dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by British parliamentarian Peter Hain, Bout had, as I documented with my co-author Stephen Braun in Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible helped fuel wars around the globe, particularly vicious wars in Western Africa.

As we chronicle, he also flew for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and provided planes to the Taliban, flew for the UN on relief and peacekeeping missions, and for the US military in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

His arrest is a tribute to a small group of men and women who kept the effort to bring Bout to justice alive across three administrations: the second Clinton administration, Bush and Obama. This includes a group in the NSC that got the ball rolling, a bipartisan cast of Congressmen who never relented, a group in the Treasury Department's OFAC wing who traced Bout's assets and aircraft, a hearty band in the CIA, and of course, the dedicated and resourceful DEA folks who pulled off the arrest.

A big tip of the hat to State, who never let the issue fall off the radar screen and made sure the Bout extradition remained a key part of all bilateral discussions with Thailand. All were aided by the stellar work of the United Nations Panels of Experts who did the groundbreaking work on Bout's activities in Africa.

So, on to the trial and the next chapter.
The Further Narco-Terrorist Ties of the Chávez Government
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