By Matt Schroeder
Documents provided to the Federation of American Scientists by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York provide additional details about the case against alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout, but many important questions remain (publicly) unanswered. Below is a brief summary of these documents and their significance.
Viktor Bout and an alleged associate, Andrew Smulian, were arrested in Thailand in March 2008 after an elaborate international sting operation organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Bout and Smulian have been accused of, among other offenses, conspiring to sell thousands of weapons to three “confidential sources” (CS) working with the DEA who were posing as representatives of the FARC, a Colombian terrorist group. Since his arrest, Bout has been the subject of an international legal tug-of-war between Washington, which is seeking his extradition to the US, and Moscow, which is demanding that he be returned to Russia. In August, Thai courts denied US extradition requests. Prosecutors appealed the ruling and are currently awaiting a decision on the appeal.
The documents obtained by the FAS include copies of several pieces of evidence in the case, some of which were reportedly seized from Bout at the time of his arrest. These documents include:
(1) A print-out of an email that Bout allegedly sent to one of the DEA’s confidential sources. This email is mentioned prominently in other court documents made public shortly after Bout was arrested. Oddly, the email was reportedly sent from an address linked to an account set up by a “Victor But.” Use of an alias so close to his own name when setting up an email account intended for negotiating arms transfers seems uncharacteristically careless for Bout.
(2) Excerpts from pamphlets on Soviet-era cargo planes that Bout allegedly recommended for delivering weapons to the FARC. According to investigators, the weapons were to be air-dropped from these planes. The same delivery method was used by the orchestrators of a 1999 plot to divert to the FARC 50,000 Jordanian assault rifles intended for the Peruvian military. The traffickers managed to drop 10,000 of the rifles into FARC-controlled areas of Colombia before the government of Jordan learned of the scheme and canceled the deal. In their book, Merchant of Death, Doug Farah and Stephen Braun suggest that Bout was linked to the diversion. They claim that the plane used to deliver the rifles “…belong[ed] to one of Bout’s front companies…”
(5) Handwritten notes that Bout reportedly took during the meeting in Thailand. The notes include short-hand references to various weapons, including “AA” or anti-aircraft (believed to be a reference to Igla missiles), “AK-47,” “UAV” (unmanned aerial vehicle), 10,000,000 “7,62 x 54” (ammunition used in Russian Dragunov sniper rifles and PKM machine guns), RPG-7 and RPG-22 rocket launchers, and “AG-17” – presumably a reference to the AGS-17 30 mm automatic grenade launcher. Some of the notes are more cryptic, including references to 500 “60 mm”, 200 “82 mm” and 40 “120 mm.” Presumably, these are references to mortars since 60mm, 82mm and 120mm are all common calibers for mortar bombs.
(6) Technical documents on anti-tank missiles that Bout allegedly offered to sell to the FARC. The documents were reportedly taken from a memory stick provided to the DEA during the sting. It appears that missile on offer was the AT-4 Spigot, a wire-guided Russian missile system that has a maximum range of 2000-2500 meters and can penetrate up to 400-460 mm of armor, depending on the type of missile used.
Absent from the documents is a description of the 100 Igla missiles that Andrew Smulian reportedly claimed were immediately available to Bout. Exhibit 6 of the Rebuttal Affidavit Concerning Request for Extradition reportedly contains “…photographs and specifications for anti-aircraft missiles…” but this material was not provided to the FAS. The material on the anti-aircraft missiles would be useful in determining which of the three Russian missiles typically referred to as “Iglas” were allegedly accessible to Bout: the SA-16, SA-18 or SA-24. The first two models date back to the early 1980s and, while dangerous in the wrong hands, appear to be are less capable than the newer SA-24. The SA-24 is also less widely available, meaning that it would presumably be easier to identify the point of diversion and the origin of black market SA-24s than SA-16s or SA-18s, both of which have proliferated widely.
While the documents contain some important details and add texture to the unfolding drama in Bangkok, they shed little additional light on several key questions, including whether Bout and Smulian actually had access to the weapons that they allegedly promised to deliver to the FARC. This question is particularly important in regards to the 100 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, which, as explained in an earlier posting on the Strategic Security Blog, have been the focus of an international control campaign for nearly seven years because of the threat they pose to military and commercial aircraft. Confirmation that Bout had access to the missiles would suggest the need for renewed vigor in the global fight against shoulder-fired missile proliferation. Also unaddressed is the veracity of Smulian’s alleged claims that the weapons were located in Bulgaria, which was also reportedly identified by arms dealer Monzer al Kassar as his source of weapons during a similar sting in 2007. According to Kassar’s indictment, he invited a DEA informant to “travel to Bulgaria and Romania where the weapons [on offer] were being manufactured”. Investigating these claims is important because, if entities in Bulgaria are indeed offering to sell Igla missiles and the other weapons to arms traffickers, immediate action should be taken to identify them and shut down their operations.
Below is a list of some of the documents obtained by the FAS:
(1) Bout Complaint
(2) Bout Indictment
(3) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 1 (email allegedly from Bout)
(4) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 2 (plane Brochures)
(5) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 3 (article on FARC)
(6) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 4 (map of South America)
(7) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 5 (hand-written notes)
(8) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 6 (AT-4 Spigot description)
(9) Bout Affidavit in Support of Extradition 04.28.2008 – EX 1 (indictment)
(10) Bout Affidavit in Support of Extradition 04.28.2008 – EX A (photo of Bout)