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Profile: Gayle Smith
Gayle Smith was a participant or observer in the following events:
Witney Schneidman. [Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars]In 1999, State Department official Witney Schneidman is collecting information on the many civil wars and conflicts raging in Africa. He notices that the name of Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, keeps popping up in many conflicts. Sometimes Bout is even supplying both sides of a civil war. In early summer 1999, an NSA official gives Schneidman a “drop dead” briefing about Bout, based mostly on communications intercepts the NSA has on him. Photos show dozens of airplanes parked in an airport in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, all of them owned by Bout. Schneidman begins mobilizing other officials. By early 2000, he and National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky create a team to apprehend Bout. While Bout remains little known to the general public, for many US officials he becomes the most wanted criminal in the world, aside from Osama bin Laden and his top aides. National Security Council official Gayle Smith will later comment, “You want to talk about transnational threats? We had [al-Qaeda’s bombing in] East Africa, global warming, and Victor Bout.” No other arms dealer has an operation anywhere near the size of Bout’s, and his links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a special concern (see 1998). But Bout is not doing any business in the US and is breaking no US laws, so the team cannot gather enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for him. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke considers targeting Bout for rendition, which is a very rare practice before 9/11. But when the Bush administration takes power in early 2001, Bout is deemed a less important priority, and ultimately no effective action is taken against him prior to 9/11 (see Early 2001-September 11, 2001). [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 1-7]
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).
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