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27 Sep, 2008 11:28

Merchant of Death or the Flying Dutchman of U.S. national security? Part 4

Merchant of Death or the Flying Dutchman of U.S. national security? Part 4

Political spin is very much like a rolling snowball. You just need to get the spin to the right size, so everyone notices it, and the rest will be done by others.

The authors of the book neglected to try finding out if it was even possible in 1999 – or, say, in 2008, to find a stash of arms in Russia that was not under government control? Well, in 1999 Vladimir Putin was already in power and controls over arms exports started tightening. By 2003 it was already impossible for any illegal arms trader to acquire a bolt produced by a Russian Kalashnikov assembly, to say nothing of the whole gun. And a hundred SAMs readily available? No way. Viktor But would have had to be totally insane to promise something like that to a serious buyer. What I have seen of Viktor tells me he is one of the brightest men I know. He wouldn’t have done that…

Back to the past: Farah and Braun mention it on the go, but I saw the root of the whole tree in this fact. They write, in mid-1990s no major intelligence service of the world had reliable assets in the parts of Africa where armed conflicts were the most severe. So everyone, including the UN and the intelligence communities of the Western nations had to rely on NGOs and activists working in the regions.

Well, the above mentioned fact tells us a lot about the bravery and selflessness of all those activists. But with all due respect it says nothing of their professional level as investigators. Where did their investigative expertise come from? How many conspiracy theorists were among them?

The size of But’s operation, even as it was in 1996-99, could never match the figures attributed to him by U.S. law enforcement. And another fact, confirmed by Farah and Braun: the Bout operation in Africa was indeed an operation of air-transporting everything everywhere on time. But’s airplanes carried more humanitarian aid and consumer goods than guns.

No one knows his snowballs better than a Russian. How many times in our lives we watch a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger, bigger and than finally getting huge. From a fist-sized to a large ball you can build snowmen with. When the temperature is right (not too cold and not too warm) you can roll one into a house-size. That just happens all by itself: you just roll, more snow sticks to your snowball all by itself every second, and it gets BIG.

In my humble opinion the story of Viktor But (or Bout), or ‘Victor B’ of the early intelligence reports, is a typical snowball. It was rolled by many people one after another. There were three first ones who rolled it into a size that left no doubts in others that this was a big snowball destined to become bigger. The book names all three of them, the initiators and fathers of what is to me ‘The Victor Bout Legend’. I don’t need to mention them: you can see the names in the book.

A funny fact: minutes after the arrest the DEA agents asked Viktor to sign their copies of ‘Merchant of Death’. They were absolutely sure there was nothing wrong with that. They spent months chasing the legend and they finally arrested the legend. For the U.S. intelligence community Viktor But is a celebrity.  They were totally taken aback by Viktor’s reaction: he flatly refused to sign. Something that goes without saying for the DEA officers in question – the Merchant of Death Lord of War thing – is a totally alien concept for Viktor But himself. I understand that he prefers his real self to the blown-up notoriety stuck on him.

An American friend said to me a few days before my return from Bangkok: “it’s all the Neocons. America’s sick and tired of Bin Laden, so they need another Flying Dutchman to scare everyone into submission and prevent Obama’s victory. Now they have Viktor But.”

Well, I really hope they don’t. But we’ll hear what the judge says at the end.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.
Bangkok – Moscow.

To part 1…