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Context of 'Late April 2003-2007: US Military Repeatedly Hires Victor Bout Companies for Iraq Supply Flights, Despite Sanctions and Media Reports'

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In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007] The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 194-202] Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).

Entity Tags: Victor Bout, Taliban, US Department of Defense, Steven Braun, Richard Chichakli, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Northern Alliance, Sanjivan Ruprah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Beginning in late April 2003, when the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad (see Late April 2003), through at least 2007, Victor Bout front companies fly supplies into Iraq for the US military. Bout is the world’s biggest arms dealer, with links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militant and rebel groups around the world. The United Nations has banned all business dealings with his companies since before 9/11. Around October 2003, the CIA apparently learns that Bout’s planes have been flying into Iraq, but this warning does not lead to any action to stop such flights. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 232]
Bout Flights Exposed by Media - Starting in May 2004, various newspapers occasionally report on how Bout front companies are supplying the US military. Some actions are eventually taken against him. For instance, on July 22, 2004, President Bush signs an executive order declaring Bout a “specially designated person,” permanently freezes his assets, and bans all US business with his companies. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225, 237]
Continued Collaboration - But the US military continues to hire Bout’s companies for Iraq supply flights. One Bout front company alone is estimated to make about 1,000 flights into US controlled air bases in Iraq by the end of 2004. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225] A Pentagon spokesman will later confirm that the US military gave at least 500,000 gallons of free airplane fuel to Bout’s pilots. US government contractors pay Bout-controlled companies roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] Journalist Stephen Braun will later claim, “The US military insisted they had no responsibility for Bout’s hiring, because, as [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz said, he was a ‘second-tier contractor’-in other words, hired by, say, [Kellogg, Brown, and Root] or FedEx, not directly by the Army or the Marines. But there were other reports of direct contracts. [The Defense Department] made no effort to put Bout on a no-fly list early on, and made only perfunctory follow-up efforts to find out the backgrounds of the companies flying for them.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007]
Bout Flights Continue - In early 2006, it will be reported, “The New Republic has learned that the Defense Department has largely turned a blind eye to Bout’s activities and has continued to supply him with contracts, in violation of [Bush’s] executive order and despite the fact that other, more legitimate air carriers are available.” [New Republic, 1/12/2006] In 2008, Douglas Farah, who co-wrote a 2007 book with Braun about Bout, will tell ABC News that Bout may have worked on behalf of the US government as recently as 2007. [ABC News, 3/6/2008]
Outrage - Gayle Smith of the National Security Council will comment in 2007: “It’s an obscenity. It’s contrary to a smart war on terror. Even if you needed a cut-out (to transport supplies) why would you go to the one on the bottom of the pile, with the most blood on his hands? Because he worked fastest and cheapest? What’s the trade-off? Where’s the morality there?” National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky, who led a US effort to apprehend Bout before 9/11, will similarly complain, “It befuddles the mind that the Pentagon would continue to work with an organization that both the Clinton and Bush White Houses actively fought to dismantle.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 237]
Theories - Some officials and experts believe the US military is simply being incompetent by repeatedly hiring Bout. Others suggest there was some kind of secret deal. For instance, one senior Belgian Foreign Ministry official involved in efforts to try to arrest Bout comments: “Not only does Bout have the protection of the US government, he now works for them as well. It’s incredible, amazing. It has to be the only reason why he is still around and free.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 224-225] In 2006, Bout’s companies will supply weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon (see July 2006) and an al-Qaeda linked militant group in Somalia (see Late July 2006). Bout will finally be arrested by US agents in Thailand in March 2008 (see March 6, 2008).

Entity Tags: Lee Wolosky, US Military, Victor Bout, Gayle Smith, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254] Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).

Entity Tags: Richard Chichakli, Hezbollah, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. [Source: Public domain / James Dahl]In late July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group, conquers the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Somalia has long been divided by various warlords and factions, but the ICU soon takes over much of the country. Within days of taking Mogadishu, a number of large Russian-made cargo planes begin landing in Mogadishu’s newly reopened airport, bringing in weapons for the ICU. US military officials order an investigation as to who is supplying the ICU, and within weeks US intelligence concludes that the planes are owned by companies linked to Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Soon, intelligence confirms that Bout is working closely not only with Islamist militias in Somalia, but also their allies in nearby Eritrea. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254-255] The ICU will lose control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia in December 2006 after Ethiopia invades the country (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), but the group continues fighting. Bout’s flights will continue into 2007. In July 2007, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the ICU will arrange an arms deal with Alexander Radionov, who runs a front company linked to Bout. Had the reporter paid, Radionov would have parachuted eight tons of ammunition into Somalia. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Bout had previously worked with other al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, including the Taliban (see Summer 2002), but he has also been supplying the US military in Iraq since war began there in 2003 (see Late April 2003).

Entity Tags: Islamic Courts Union, Alexander Radionov, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest.Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest. [Source: Associated Press]Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is arrested in Thailand. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had set up a sting operation to nab Bout. For months, DEA agents posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a militant group linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. DEA agents and Thai police meet Bout at the five-star Sofitel Silom Hotel in Bangkok, supposedly to finalize an arms deal, and immediately arrest him and his bodyguards. According to a Thai police officer, Bout does not resist arrest but merely says, “The game is over.” A relatively new DEA task force is behind Bout’s arrest, even as news reports indicate Bout’s fleet of aircraft has been shipping supplies to the US military in Iraq in recent years. The DEA agents posed as arms dealers working for FARC but went after Bout because of evidence that he had been involved in drug smuggling as well. Bout faces up to 10 years in prison in Thailand for taking part in illegal weapons deals there. US officials are also seeking Bout’s extradition to the US so he can face more charges. Bout is a Russian citizen and has been based in Russia in recent years, but the Russian government has decided against seeking his extradition. Mother Jones comments, “Willing to work for anyone, Bout’s business divorced itself from any political, philosophical, or moral constraint. It delivered military cargo with equal enthusiasm to terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, rebel warlords, embattled dictatorships, legitimate businesses, humanitarian aid groups, and sovereign governments, including the United States” (see Late April 2003-2007). He also worked with the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups (see Summer 2002 and Late July 2006). Experts note that Bout’s network has been unique in providing a full range of smuggling services and it is unlikely it will survive without him. [Mother Jones, 3/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Drug Enforcement Administration, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Victor Bout during his trial.Victor Bout during his trial. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Victor Bout is found guilty on conspiracy charges to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and provide aid to a terrorist organization (see September 1992, 1993-1995, Mid-1996-October 2001, October 1996-Late 2001, 1998, 1998, January 1998-April 2001, 1999, Early 2001-September 11, 2001, January 19, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late February 2002, Summer 2002, Late April 2003, Late April 2003-2007, August 17, 2003, July 2006, Late July 2006, March 6, 2008, and November 16, 2010). In the the trial, which began on October 12, Bout was accused of agreeing to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered weapons, and 10 million rounds of ammunition to rebels in Colombia sometime in 2008. Bout will be sentenced on February 8, 2012. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan will note: “This was a potentially risky case for the US government. Bout was caught in a sting operation by informants working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the so-called Farc rebels were actually former criminals and might have had their evidence discredited.” [BBC, 11/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Laura Trevelyan, Drug Enforcement Administration, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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