The MSM Misses the Bout: Part II

If “fourth generation warfare” is, as I suspect it is, the leading edge of one of the greatest historical trends of our generation, then the mechanisms of that trend should be the subject of serious academic and journalistic study. The trend may be part of a larger trend that encompasses the gradual weakening of the modern state’s attempt to monopolize violence that was heralded by the Treaty of Westphalia and celebrated by Max Weber.

As I mentioned in Part I, small scale conflict is largely a police action if one or both combatants are restricted to small arms. Sophisticated weapons, especially anti-aircraft systems, are crucial for fourth generation actors to rise beyond the street gang level when operating against states that have not yet collapsed internally.

Fourth generation expert Lind often states that no third-generation actors have not successfully repulsed fourth generation challenges. Not true. For example, the Uyghur uprising in China’s Xinjiang Province has made little traction in the absence of major third generation state support (this may change if the Saudis ever decide to intervene). After Kim Philby deprived the Forest Brothers of an Allied weapons supply line, that uprising faded to impotence by the mid-1950s.

If sophisticated weaponry is a pre-requisite for major carnage perpetrated by non-state actors, then one rational response to fourth generation threats is for large third generation states not to attempt to engage on the ground with small arms. Stopping the supply of small arms is a task just as futile as attempting to stop the supply of drugs. The third generation states can, however, interdict and control the supply of aircraft, anti-aircraft, artillery and major explosives to non-state actors.

The most important information for voters looking to elect officials that will provide appropriate security into the future is a look at the international arms trade. The MSM is woefully inadequate for this task. The best example is the minimal coverage of the arrest of one Виктор Анатольевич Бут.

Viktor Bout (pronounced “boot”, with the Russian vowel “oo” being raised and sent backwards in the mouth to the soft palate, not the English “oo”, which is produced at the front of the mouth on the hard palate) was arrested in Thailand on March 6th. Bout was captured in a sting operation led by US DEA agents posing as buyers for the terrorist / guerrilla organization FARC. Bout contracted with the undercover agents to deliver Surface to Air Missiles and helicopters to the guerrillas cum drug smugglers.

So who is Viktor Bout? My blog partner CW can answer that better than I can, since he had a whole series of posts regarding the missing 727 and the networks of Bout on his old blog. In the absence of that archive, or purchasing Braun and Farah’s book The Merchant of Death, the best places to start are here and here. Other treasure troves of information include TheYorkshire Ranter and Ruud Leeuw.

Bout is the Quartermaster to the Barbarians. The most important function in a modern army, no matter what its generation, is logistics, and Bout’s supply network has played a role in almost every major conflict since the end of the Cold War, up to and including the present. When Hezbollah suddenly displayed Fagot and Kornet anti-tank missiles that caused so many casualties in the IDF during their recent confrontation, it was no surprise that Bout was seen in Lebanon around the same time.

The Bozo-filterless Internet is a misleading place to search for facts about someone as shadowy as Bout, however. He was a Lieutenant in the Russian Air Force. No, he was a Major in the KGB. No he was a military interpreter in the Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU). He was born in Dushanbe – no wait, on the Caspian.

What is known is that he was in the Soviet Armed Forces in the late 80-s and early 90s, and at some point and attended military language school. He speaks six languages (he beats me, the bastard). He learned to fly somewhere, possibly the Soviet Air Force, possibly not. After the collapse of the Soviet Union he found some powerful financial backers and bought up significant numbers of Soviet military transport planes.

His recent past is obscured in shadows. He operates under a variety of aliases, including the moniker preferred by his US pursuers, Viktor Butt. Photographs of him were rare to nonexistent until he granted an interview to Peter Landesman. He looks, probably by design, like a portly Russian Joe Stalin.

In the early nineties, he developed a reputation for having a vertically integrated network of weapons smuggling – he could supply weapons, transport, and covering paperwork in a one stop shop of death. He would go anywhere, anytime, with any cargo, including the legitimate cargo that provided cover for his businesses and contraband such as narcotics. The most troubling aspect of Bout’s operations is that his organization was and is one of the few suppliers that can deliver major weapons systems such as the SAMs he is accused of procuring for FARC.

One of Bout’s strengths has been his ability to run shell organizations that evade the scrutiny of Western governments. He inherited the old KGB supply networks and has expanded and adapted them to the post-Cold War world. Despite Bush’s order to freeze his assets and cease dealings with his companies, sub contractors in Iraq have used Bout’s planes to fly supplies and mail into Iraq. Bout’s shell companies such as Irbis have run contracts for the US military. These legitimate contracts help provide cover and financial backing for his gun and drug running. He has also transported UN troops and relief aid into the very combat zones he helped make so dangerous with prior arms shipments, since there are few chartered air services that specialize in flying into hot zones.

As Farah and Austin noted in this article:

American officials tracking Bout tell us that many military officials feel they do not have the resources or the time to check aircraft records when a flight may contain badly needed ammunition or materiel. “They don’t check because they don’t care,” says a civilian official who helped trace Bout’s Iraq contracts with the U.S. military. “On the ground, what they care about is getting what they need. Unfortunately, this short-term mentality means that they may, in fact, be breaking the law.”

But Bout’s flights for the U.S. government–and other legitimate clients like NATO and the United Nations–do more than merely break the letter of international law. They provide Bout with cash that helps fund his gunrunning to conflict zones like the DRC, where the steady supply of weapons helps sustain a conflict that is destabilizing much of Africa. U.S. and European intelligence sources tell us they are also investigating whether Bout’s network is behind the thousands of new weapons surfacing in the hands of brutal militias in the Niger Delta region. Those militias pose a growing threat to stability in an area that provides around 10 percent of U.S. oil.

The Russians have been happy to use Bout and his companies as a force multiplier as their regular military has declined. The KGB has obviously bankrolled him, and Bout is somewhat unique in the world of international arms dealers in that he grabbed market share at a time of transition. Through murder and intimidation he has pushed out competition. This made him a highly wanted man.

Bout has been used repeatedly by the Russians as a convenient contractor with built-in plausible deniability for his Kremlin financiers. A military contractor, perhaps. However, it is by no means clear to what degree Bout is simply a Russian Blackwater. He has supplied many non-state actors that are not directly under Russian influence, although in a broad sense any non-state actor acting against Western interests is an ally of Russia. The evidence is that Bout’s network was only partially under the control of the Russians, although the Russian government often used him as a foreign policy tool. As this article intimates, but curiously does not plainly state, Russian Military officials may suspect Bout of arming the Chechens:

Сам Бут всячески дает понять в уже цитировавшемся интервью: его не трогают потому, что за ним стоят правительства, и не только России, но и стран, которые делают вид, что охотятся на него, а он, в свою очередь, умеет держать язык за зубами. Не исключено. Сегодня есть сведения об участии в нелегальных оружейных поставках Ираку президента Украины Леонида Кучмы, о расхищении приднестровских арсеналов, о продажах белорусского оружия зачастую обеим сторонам одного конфликта. О сомнительных оружейных сделках Казахстана и Киргизии. Вопреки заверениям генерала Фоменко о том, что переносные зенитно-ракетные комплексы находятся под полным контролем российского правительства, чеченские боевики не испытывают недостатка в «Иглах», которыми сбит уже не один вертолет федеральных сил.

Откуда они у чеченцев? В Москве убеждены, что из бывших советских республик. Министр обороны Сергей Иванов уже не раз призывал коллег из ближнего зарубежья провести инвентаризацию имеющихся у них в наличии ПЗРК. Министр намеревался сличить заводские номера на корпусах захваченных в Чечне ракет с номерами тех, что остались за пределами России после распада СССР. Видимо, инвентаризация так и не состоялась. В июне этого года на очередном заседании Совета министров обороны СНГ в Щучинске Казахстан) Сергей Иванов внес предложение ужесточить контроль за экспортом ПЗРК, однако делегации Азербайджана, Грузии, Узбекистана и Украины не поддержали его.

Bout himself clearly stated in the above cited interview that he is not molested [in his Moscow hideout – JJ] because behind him stands not only the government of Russia, but the governments of countries that are pretending to hunt for him; and he in turn knows how to keep silent. But that is not entirely true. Currently there is news of illegal shipments of weapons being sent to Iraq with the involvement of Ukranian President Leonid Kuchma, of the plundering of Pridnestovsk’s arsenals, of the sale of Byelorussian arms to two sides of the same conflict. Of suspected weapons deals in Kazhakhstan and Kirgizia. Despite the assurances of General Fomenko that mobile anti-aircraft batteries are all under the full control of the Russian government, Chechen fighters have experienced no shortage of “Needles”, which have brought down more than one Federal helicopter.

How did the Chechens acquire them? In Moscow they assure us that they are from former Soviet Republics. Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov requested on more than one occasion that his counterparts in the neighboring republics to inventory their stores of rockets. The Minister intended to compare the serial numbers on the rocket casings seized in the Chechen Republic against numbers of that known to have remained outside Russia after the disintegration of the USSR. Evidently that this inventory did not take place. In June of this year at the next session of the CIS Ministerial Council of Defense in Shchuchinsk (Kazakhstan) Sergey Ivanov has proposed tougher controls over the export of mobile rocket launchers. However delegations of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine have not agreed. [translation mine]

Obviously, Putin’s regime has shielded Bout from Interpol, for various reasons. Bout’s wife, who claims he is a poet rather than an arms smuggler, is reputed to be the daughter of a high ranking KGB officer named “Zuiguin”. However, with this arrest and the subsequent refusal of Moscow to “extradite” their national, it seems that Bout’s patronage has weakened somewhat.

It could be that Russians opposed to his activities have finally grabbed the ear of incoming president Medvedev. That is doubtful. The Russians have made great use of Bout’s fleet for plausible deniability in supplying terrorist entities that oppose the West. Bout’s aircraft are just too useful to toss away for running the occasional gun shipment against national interests. In addition, if the above-mentioned rumor is true that his father-in-law is a former high official in the KGB, he has several layers of protection in Russia.

Although his patrons in Russia have been protecting him from arrest, his freedom to travel and earn a “living” has been severely curtailed. It is less than certain what the impact of asset seizures have been on his personal fortune.

Parts of the US government have been pursuing Bout since the early nineties, even as other parts were hiring his companies to run supplies, FedEx mail shipments, and arms into Iraq. Belgium (one of his companies was headquartered in Ostend Airport) pressed Interpol to issue a warrant for his arrest, and the Bush Administration has frozen his known assets.

In a meeting last autumn, one European intelligence official who had worked on a long-running investigation into Bout’s activities in Africa was openly cynical that he would ever be caught. ‘Arrest Bout? Nobody wants to. Even my own government eventually shut us down. There’s been a decision to hassle him with sanctions to keep him in line but everyone needs him at some point, or might [need him]. Plus he’d just be replaced by someone else and they could be worse,’ the official said. ‘As long as he stays quiet and remains useful, he can do this indefinitely.’

The strong suspicion that elements in US and other Western intelligence services supposed to be pursuing Bout were occasionally protecting him – no evidence suggests an official policy to protect Bout – is supported by an American diplomat who had tracked Bout as part of investigations into the trade in Russia’s post-Cold War arms stockpiles.

The diplomat described how efforts to track or harass Bout in the late 1990s and early 2000 by small-arms control experts at the State Department would eventually draw the ire of certain CIA officials, resulting in angry phone calls to the diplomat’s superiors demanding that they back off. But the diplomat was emphatic that he did not believe the agency actively or officially worked alongside Bout, but rather traded information with him, making him a useful, if unappealing, occasional asset.

So how did Viktor get bagged?

There is some speculation that one reason Bout has evaded capture is the complicit help of certain highly placed parties in the US and EU who would be embarrassed by revelations from Bout concerning their dealings with him.

This may be true. It is certainly curious that Bout was not arrested on money laundering, arms smuggling, or tax evasion charges that are outstanding against him, despite the fact that Bout’s company pulled a fast one on its American employers and made off with over 200,000 Kalashnikovs that had been paid for by the US in Bosnia for shipment to Iraqi militias.

In fact, the sting that brought him down was an entirely de novo operation of the DEA:

In the end it was an agency of one of those states suspected of turning a blind eye to Bout’s activities that was the engine behind his capture. According to a source with close ties to the DEA, the operation was so sensitive it was kept secret from other members of the US intelligence community, including high-ranking members of the Justice Department, precisely because of the fear that Bout might be tipped off by elements that the DEA agents feared had protected him in the past. A special unit was set up to run the operation due to ‘war on drugs’ legislation and guidelines, allowed to operate outside the normal protocols that require US government-wide notification.

This is probably the first positive dividend I’ve seen coming out of the War on Drugs.

For those people who supported a unified intelligence command in the wake of 9/11, there is some further food for thought in this sordid tale:

Few people, even in the closed world of US intelligence, knew the DEA was tracking Bout, let alone setting him up for an arrest. ‘[The DEA] was laughing at the CIA in their offices,’ because they had arrested someone that was perceived to be working for the agency, said one witness.

The question remains – why did this sting succeed where so many others failed? Why did Viktor wind up in Thailand? Bout allegedly has a penchant for signing deals face to face, which may have led to his downfall. Only a few countries are safe for the fugitive, and a previous meeting in Bulgaria was scratched due to international pressure. Thailand apparently remained a safe haven.

According to the Mother Jones report, Bout agreed to meet the DEA agents despite the fact that their photographs did not appear in his intelligence report on FARC commanders. This appears to be a bit sloppy on the part of the usually ultra-paranoid Bout, but may indicate that the financial pressure brought on by asset seizure is beginning to strain Bout’s finances.

Despite his the evident conspiracy-mongering in some of the articles of former Polish Intelligence officer Daytsh, I tend to agree with his assessment that Viktor has been betrayed in a power struggle in Moscow, in the FSB in particular, and his arrest would have been accomplished even in the absence of doubts surrounding his loyalty to the Russian state. Medvedev wants to clear the slate of Putin’s cronies, and if he can simultaneously win a few PR points in the West, so much the better.

The major piece of evidence supporting Daytsh’s claims that Bout was betrayed is the back and forth in the press concerning Russia’s intent to extradite. In the first days after his arrest, the Russian Foreign Ministry. intimated that Russia would extradite Bout. As of today, it seems the Russians are not willing to extradite him despite his direct plea for help. This, to me, indicates that the early overtures in that direction were the remnants of Putin’s network acting in a knee-jerk fashion, and that Medvedev’s new cronies are gradually cutting ties to Bout. More evidence in that regard is the recent arrest of Bout crony and Arbat Prestige Mafia Godfather Semyon Mogilevich in Moscow.

Bout may also have traveled to Thailand under the assumption that his patrons in Moscow would help extricate him from any problems he might encounter. In this he appears to have been mistaken. For now. But I highly doubt that the Russians have begun to put the long term interests of civilization ahead of the short term interests of the kleptocracy in Moscow.

I hope that the US manages to extradite and prosecute Bout, but the real question for me is what becomes of his empire? His older brother Sergei is nowhere near the logistics expert that Viktor has shown himself to be. Hopefully Bout’s network will fall into far less competent hands and slowly rust away. However, I can not help but suspect that Medvedev has someone else in mind to take the title of World’s Greatest Merchant of Death. If so, the threat to civilization from fourth generation warfare will continue to grow.

Where to from here? I still have a significant number of questions which I would like to see tackled by the press. Those will be outlined in Part III.

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