Arms Dealer's Planes Flew U.S.
Missions in Iraq
Viktor Bout Was an International Fugitive at the Time His Planes
Were Used by the U.S.
By Justin Rood and Maddy Sauer
News " -- -- When U.S. officials announce the
arrest of a notorious arms dealer and drug-runner this
afternoon, the fact that his planes flew U.S. supply missions in
Iraq will likely go unmentioned.
In a January 2005 letter to Congress, then-Assistant Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted the Defense Department "did
conduct business with companies that, in turn, subcontracted
work to second-tier providers who leased aircraft owned by
companies associated with Mr. Bout."
At the time, Bout was already a wanted international fugitive.
Intelligence officials had considered Bout one of the greatest
threats to U.S. interests, in the same league as al Qaeda
kingpin Osama bin Laden. Interpol had issued a warrant for his
arrest; the United Nations Security Council had restricted his
But that didn't stop U.S. government contractors from paying
Bout-controlled firms roughly $60 million to fly supplies into
Iraq in support of the U.S. war effort, according to a book
released last year by two reporters who investigated Bout. And
it didn't prevent the U.S. military from giving Bout's pilots
millions of dollars in free airplane fuel while they were flying
U.S. supply flights.
From 2003 through at least 2005, Pentagon contractors used air
cargo companies known to be connected to Bout to fly an
estimated 1,000 supply trips into and out of Iraq, according to
"Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Plans, and the Man Who Makes
War Possible" by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun. A Pentagon
spokesman confirmed to the authors that the military gave
500,000 gallons of fuel to Bout's pilots.
In an interview Thursday, Farah said he understood Bout may have
worked on behalf of the U.S. government as recently as last
Recent intelligence has indicated Bout supplied armor-piercing
missiles to Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and arms to Somalian
warlords which fueled a conflagration that December, Farah said.
In a very rare public appearance, Bout was a guest on state-run
Russian television last year where he vigorously defended
himself against the criminal allegations.
"Even with all power of American administration, CIA, FBI and
all means like satellites and this, they not even able to come
back with a certain proof so that I could answer," he said in
choppy English. "Is very easy to blame somebody without coming
with the proper documents, without coming with a proof of what
they're trying to say or trying to blame."
Bout also admitted he met with Mullah Omar in Afghanistan but
denied that he ever did business with the Taliban.
"I had no any relation with this kind of people. That's
completely untrue," he said. Bout said the meeting with Omar was
in regards to negotiating the release of his plane crew members
that had been kidnapped by Taliban members.
He referred to the allegations that he's involved in U.S. supply
missions in Iraq as "very funny."
While he denied trading arms, he did say that his planes might
have carried weapons without his knowledge.
"Let's then ask Moscow taxi drivers where they ever had
transported criminals or somebody related to the criminal
network," he said. "I'm transporter, what we did, we did."
Bout's work in Iraq first became public in a May 2004 article in
the Financial Times newspaper. CIA officials in Washington
secretly warned colleagues in Baghdad of the ties in fall 2003,
the authors report. "It would appear...that it did not make its
way to the correct folks," the two writers quote an unnamed CIA
official as saying.
Bout didn't just walk away with millions of taxpayer dollars,
Farah and Braun found. The military issued Bout's pilots supply
cards allowing them to gas up their planes for free when landing
in Iraq. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed to the authors
that Bout's fleet were provided nearly 500,000 gallons of fuel
from the Baghdad airport courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
Bout made his fortune in the 1990s selling Soviet-era weaponry
to Third World despots and insurgent groups. Using a "veiled,
complex corporate structure," Bout dispatched fleets of Cold
War-era Soviet cargo planes to some of the most inhospitable
corners of the earth, running guns for dictators, including
Liberia's Charles Taylor and Zaire's Mubuto Sese Seko, as well
as rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and beyond. By 2000,
U.S. government officials considered him one of the leading
threats to the United States, on par with Osama bin Laden and
Bout was the inspiration for the 2005 film, "Lord of War,"
starring Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer who will
sell to all sides of any conflict. Bout reportedly rented his
planes to the movie's producers for use in the film.
Bout's net worth is not known, but it is reportedly "in the tens
of millions of dollars."
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