Tuesday, September 18

Viktor Bout: Equal Opportunity Merchant of Death

If you caught the Daily Show recently, you have heard of Viktor Bout. If you ever need a ton of frozen chicken or RPGs, Viktor is your guy and IRBUS is your company. Bout and his company have been everywhere you don't want to be, including Iraq. Viktor Bout is, well, read this from paragon of reportage, Men's Vogue

Major Christopher Walker landed at Baghdad International Airport in August 2003 to oversee the largest U.S. Army air cargo operation since World War II, as many as 60 civilian planes from around the world were touching down each day to replenish supply lines and rebuild Iraq. At the airport's freight field, Walker, 37, watched as forklifts scuttled in and out of storage bays like motorized beetles, unloading Humvees, disassembled oil rigs, surgery equipment, frozen food, bulletproof vests, and a ceaseless issue of mail and courier packages. With the military's own cargo planes already at capacity and the conditions too dangerous for private American firms, defense contracting officials had turned to air companies based in neighboring Middle Eastern airfields—often hiring Russians, who flew by the seat of their pants and fit right in with the airport's cowboy environment. Their ancient cargo planes were also better suited than newer American models for the pocked runway and perilously steep flight angles into the airfield. "They could take bad runways, crash landings, and keep on flying," says Walker. "Airbuses and Boeings were just not built for that kind of wartime stress." But one morning in late spring 2004, Walker flicked on his laptop and saw an urgent e-mail from his superior. There appeared to be an embarrassing problem. State Department and congressional officials in Washington were up in arms about a British newspaper story claiming that one of the Russian air firms delivering goods to U.S. forces belonged to Viktor Bout, the world's most notorious arms dealer.

in 2006 reported "a Texas charter firm allegedly controlled by Bout was making repeated flights to Iraq—courtesy of a Pentagon contract allowing it to refuel at U.S. military bases. One reason for the flights, sources say, was that the firm was flying on behalf of Kellogg Brown & Root, the division of Halliburton hired to rebuild Iraq's oilfields."

For more, read this from authors Doug Farah and Stephan Braun.

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