As we await the next installment from Edward Snowden’s White Bronco chase around the globe, it’s worth remembering our attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and the Boston Marathon attack (and subsequent whitewashing about how closely Russia is cooperating) are not the only things underlying US-Russian relations.
Russia is still very angry about our assertion of jurisdiction to entrap Viktor Bout for selling arms to FARC.
Indeed, Preet Bharara is among the US officials that Russia sanctioned in retaliation for the Magnitsky list, along with such leading lights of American law as John Yoo and David Addington.
Jeralyn lays out Russian frustrations over our manufactured jurisdiction with two of their citizens here.
Bout’s story (background here)is even worse. He was the victim of a DEAsting in Thailand. The U.S. fought tooth and nail to extradite him and lost. The U.S. appealed (and likely pulled some strings, if the Wikileaks cables are any indication, and lo and behold, The higher court in Thailand approved his extradition. He spent a miserable two years at MCC in New York, was convicted and sentenced to 35 years which he is serving at theUSP in Marion, IL., one of our SuperMax prisons. The U.S. claims he’s a “Lord of War” and seller of arms. He never sold arms here. What’s it our business? Why have a prisoner transfer treaty if you aren’t going to use it? Did anyone ask the American taxpayers if they want to pay $40,000 a year times 30 years to warehouse Bout in a high security prison when Russia’s willing to take him?
You don’t have to like what Bout did (which is not much more destabilizing than what Erik Prince has done) to understand that when the US claims jurisdiction over anyone in the world, even if they do nothing to harm the US directly, is going to piss off other countries.
Eventually, those countries may have an opportunity to express their frustration about it.
In retaliation for the Magnitsky sanctions — in which the US placed sanctions on those deemed to have had a role in retaliating against Sergei Magnitsky’s whistleblowing — Russia just issued a list of 18 Americans who will be prohibited from traveling to Russia.
The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques; David Addington, the chief of staff for former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantánamo Bay detention center: retired Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson.
Also on Russia’s list are 14 Americans whom Russia says violated the rights of Russians abroad. It does not give specifics of the alleged violations, but includes several current or former federal prosecutors in the case of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms merchant sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for selling weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group. One FBI agent and four U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents also are on the list.
In addition, there’s a closed list of Americans who are, according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, personally responsible for legalizing torture and indefinite detention. So maybe Dick Cheney is on that list.
I’m actually more interested Russia sanctioned Bout’s prosecutors than Yoo (it doesn’t take much creativity, after all, to call Yoo a human rights violator). After all, Bout only ever did the same kinds of things Erik Prince does for us, and our claim that we had jurisdiction over his sales stretched traditional jurisdiction beyond belief.
In any case, it sure seemed pretty easy for Russia to accuse us of violating human rights just like it does.
Happy Monday. Insert a picture of that cat here–you know which one. I resemblez it.
• Good gravy, people. When National Geographic Magazine covers drones, it’s way past time for a national dialog about their use domestically. Crop dusting, my backside; there’s nothing except for the subhead in this article to genuinely suggest the designers, manufacturers, and potential buyers of drones are thinking about non-surveillance, non-policing applications for these unmanned aerial devices.
• Of course it hasn’t helped our current condition that not one but at least two generations of military were shaped into the “Generation Kill” mold, about which Foreign Affairs learns from retired General Stanley McCrystal.
“People hear most about the targeting cycle, which we called F3EA — “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze.” You understand who or what is a target, you locate it, you capture or kill it, you take what intelligence you can from people or equipment or documents, you analyze that, and then you go back and do the cycle again, smarter.”
Color me skeptical, but this doesn’t sound like appropriate training future civilians–those now serving in our military–will use for guiding crop dusting or weather monitoring drones.
• “Generation Kill” has a shadow identity, as well; the legitimately uniformed forces have dark counterparts in crime, which is likely shaped by the same attitudes as the military and police who chase them. Thwarted in illegal weapons sales, the supply chain arms traffickers use may be put to use in purveying goods of a different kind of kill. The horsemeat contamination scandal in Europe appears to be built upon the infrastructure of criminal arms dealer Viktor Bout. Where once illegal weapons might have been hidden in dog food, now illegal dog food is hidden in, well, our food.
• Of course, when this all gets too serious and we need to be distracted, somebody offers up a clown since bread and circuses always work to appease the masses. Today’s fool is Gérard Depardieu, savaged for his luxe lifestyle and his exile from his mother country. France’s current “supertax” policy–75 percent assessed against all income above one million euros, intended as a short-term fix to a national budget deficit–ostensibly drove Depardieu into the arms of the ever-execrable Russia. The actor whose work is synonymous with modern French cinema is now reviled as minable, pathetic. What seems incredibly pathetic to me is the strident ignorance of both policy makers and the French; only 3000 countrymen were subject to the tax, and it is too easily escaped. Was the problem really with these 3000 that the budget suffered, or were other structural problems at fault that might not yet be repaired? One can see readily how a similarly simplistic law enacted in the States could have similarly ridiculous and ineffective results. But Depardieu is an easy, large, and slow-moving target, not unlike the French royals who could not outrun the guillotine. Minable, indeed; how readily the populace is distracted by redirection to a clown.
Viewed from one perspective the facts that Blackwater has admitted to amount to running guns–precisely the crime that Fast and Furious attempted to combat. Viewed from another perspective, Blackwater’s actions amount to the same kind of thing Viktor Bout is in prison for: making weapons deals with sanctioned entities.
But Blackwater will suffer no more than a wrist slap for such things: a $7.5 million fine, a third of which can be credited to implementing a compliance system that is substantially already in place, as well as a $42 million Consent Agreement fine it signed two years ago. (It has paid two $6 million installments of the $42 million fine it owes to State Department; even while it continues to get contracts with State)
That doesn’t make the Deferred Prosecution Agreement any less funny.
There are the repeated lists of all the aliases of Blackwater–by my count some 37 companies or subsidiaries. Just in case you needed master list of how many times it has tried to change its identity.
There’s the bragging about Blackwater’s new compliance structure (paid for, presumably, as part of this fine), featuring John Ashcroft (the monitor on one of the most corrupt DPAs ever) and former AIG (AIG?!?!?!) compliance whiz Suzanne Folsom.
There’s the way it says Blackwater can’t charge the government any aspect of its fine (what is left after its credit for compliance infrastructure, that is). Only in DPAs is money not fungible, I guess.
There’s the way they try to guard against Blackwater rebranding again (the DPA is written in the name Academi and invokes Xe) by selling itself to someone else. (There’s apparently an Erik Prince declaration I’m going to have to chase down tomorrow.)
And there’s the way that of those who signed this DPA for Blackwater, only the name of the attorney is included in the text.
Now maybe I shouldn’t be laughing so hard. The DPA implies that the US Attorney in North Carolina’s Eastern District, Thomas Walker, is still investigating. Maybe Erik Prince will go to jail? Ha!
But this DPA is more a case study in the myriad ways corporate entities escape all justice in this day and age than any real accountability for the same kind of actions we impose stiff sentences on others for.
As always, the lesson is if you’re going to commit crimes, do it as a corporation.
Jeralyn Merritt has been focusing closely on the DEA’s use of informants of late. And as part of a discussion of how much the DEA informant in the Viktor Bout case, Carlos Sagastume, has made off his lucrative informant career ($8 million and counting, with much of that coming in the Monzer al Kassar case), she wondered whether Sagastume might be Narc, the informant in the Scary Iran Plot. [Update: Jeralyn now thinks Narc can't be Sagastume.]
A prior “catch” of informant Sagastume was Monzer al Kassar, (Indictment here.)who was convicted and sentenced to 30 years following a sting very much like the one used on Bout. Al-Kassar’s conviction was upheld last month, and the Second Circuit ruled lies by the DEA to to those it is trying to trap in order to get jurisdiction in the U.S. are okay. The opinion is here. An interesting sidenote: one of the three judges affirming al-Kassar’s conviction was District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, sitting by designation. She is the trial judge in Viktor Bout’s case.
As for why Sagastume has received $8 plus million for his informant work, I suspect it’s likely that he’s getting a percentage of property ordered forfeited. In cases of criminal forfeiture, like al-Kassar and Viktor Bout, the Government must get a conviction on the criminal charge in order to succeed on the forfeiture. So if Bout were to be acquitted, there would be no forfeiture. That gives the informant a personal stake in seeing Bout convicted.
One last note on Sagastume and Al Kassar. Al-Kassar sold weapons in a lot of countries over his 30 year career, including Iran. Was Sagastume involved in the recent sting involving the alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador? While Sagastume is not the only informant the DEA used in al-Kassar, Bout and similar arms cases, he speaks Spanish, is experienced in the world of Mexican drug smuggling and could play the role of a Zeta as easily as a FARC operative, and could probably convincingly claim to have Iranian connections. It seems likely to me there must be a limited number of DEA informants with the savvy to bridge such disparate groups as the Zetas and Iranian secret forces. It’s not like the DEA just calls Central Casting.
Mind you, Jeralyn is just speculating, but I find it interesting speculation for several reasons.
First, because Jeralyn points to the Circuit decision in the al Kasser case. It held that the US government could charge non-Americans in stings conducted entirely outside of the United States so long as the government had demonstrated a clear intent to hurt the US.
In an opinion on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York affirmed the increasingly prevalent government tactic of using sting operations to trap arms and drug traffickers worldwide.
Kassar’s attorneys argued on appeal that U.S. prosecutors were not allowed to charge non-U.S. citizens caught in a sting operation abroad. The appeals court conceded that Kassar “never came close to harming any U.S. person or property,” but concluded that was “irrelevant for conspiracy offenses, which often result in no palpable harm.” Instead, the court said the government had clearly established Kassar’s intent to harm the U.S.
The circuit also found the government had not “manufactured” jurisdiction by creating the chance for Kassar to break the law.
“While it is true the DEA agents lied to the defendants, this does not make the nexus (to the U.S.) artificial or invalid.”
Now, this decision is unnecessary to ensure the government could convict Manssor Arbabsiar. He’s an American citizen (though the only overt act he committed in the US was a money transfer). But they’re on shakier ground with Gholam Shakuri. At least given what the government has presented in the complaint, there’s zero evidence that the Quds Force set out to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir in the US. I’ve noted that Narc invented all the most spectacular elements of the plot–including the civilian casualties, the dead Senators, and apparently the WMD. And while you might assume soliciting a North American cartel to carry out the kidnapping (or assassination) of a US-based Ambassador would imply an attack in the US, there is no evidence in the complaint that Arbabsiar’s handlers specifically asked for that. None. But by charging this in NY, you can rely on the al Kasser decision, point to the fictional dead Senators, and worry less about including Shakuri in the sting.
None of that has to do with the possibility that Sagastume was the Narc in this case. But Jeralyn’s comments about Sagastume’s effectively working on spec does. As I noted, there was almost nothing new in the indictment presented on Thursday.
Except a forfeiture provision, calling for Arbabsiar and Shakuri to forfeit any property tied to a terrorist attack on the US.
That’s still not a tie to Sagastume, necessarily. And given the money already transferred–just $100,000, as far as we know–that’s chump change for someone like Sagastume, who has already made millions for his narc work. But who knows? Maybe there are big proceeds from the opium deal the government doesn’t want to tell us about.
That still doesn’t say anything interesting about Sagastume.
But the timing might.
I’ve been trying to figure out why the government decided to spring this sting on October 11. After all, it has had the most critical pieces of evidence since August 9. Narc first raised the possibility that Arbabsiar would have to fly to Mexico to guarantee payment on August 28. And yet the sting waddled along, as Shakuri’s urgency increased, but with no resolution. And what dictated the timing after Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29? Why wait until October 11, four days after the last (mentioned) unsuccessful attempt to get Shakuri to send more money, before you announce the charges? And given that the government had had all this evidence for months, why had, according to Preet Bharara, “None of the people that have been mentioned by me and others [who investigated the case]  gotten much sleep lately”?
If Sagastume were Narc, it might explain the government’s (though not Shakuri’s) urgency. The government announced the charges on October 11. On October 12, Viktor Bout’s trial started. I can see how the Bout trial date would serve as an artificial endpoint to the Scary Iran Plot investigation. And if I’m reading the reports from the trial correctly, Sagastume testified on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Then the trial broke for the week, as opposed to on Thursday, which might be more normal. On Thursday, the fairly simple Indictment (one that might take just a few hours to present) came out. And yesterday and today, Sagastume’s back on the witness stand in Bout’s case. In other words, the Scary Iran Plot and the Bout trial coincide in ways that would make it very easy to manage the star Narc’s testimony across both cases, in one tidy trip to the US before he goes off to whatever swank retirement the government has arranged for him.
Again, both Jeralyn and I are speculating, nothing more (though her comments about informants are worthwhile reading and applicable more generally). But it all would fit rather nicely. And if Sagastume stands to make millions–as he has from prior stings–it might add another layer of intrigue to the Scary Iran Plot.
Coincidentally, I actually found Douglas Farah’s book on Bout, Merchant of Death, half-read a few weeks ago, as I was packing up the house. So in the days before the Thai court agreed with the US extradition request, I picked up reading of Bout’s exploits during the Afghan and Iraqi wars. And reading the story at this distance, particularly given Russian efforts to prevent Bout’s extradition, I couldn’t help but think the US underplayed Russian involvement in Bout’s exploits.
Which one of the men who investigated Bout for years, Robert Eringer, seems to support.
Former FBI counterintelligence Robert Eringer, who until recently headed the Monaco Intelligence Service, doesn’t think so. In 2002, Eringer investigated Bout’s money-laundering activities, which were allegedly facilitated through Monaco by US-registered company Pastor International. Eringer claims that Russian weapons merchants, including Bout, used the company to launder nearly one billion dollars in sales profits between 1996 and 2001. But Eringer claims to have made another discovery during his investigation: namely that Bout had been “co-opted by the Russian external intelligence service (SVR)” and had been offered shelter by the Russian Federal Security Service in Moscow, despite being named in an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol.
I guess we’ll see whether there have been more formal ties between Bout and Russia (as well as what role Russian organized crime plays in the relationship) as his trial develops here in the states.
But the question is worth asking for what it might say about how countries enact foreign policy as globalization continues to erode the nation-state. In that model, ostensibly private arms dealers repeat the role our government (and Russia’s) did during the Cold War, destabilizing countries in a fight over spheres of influence. Of course, as weapons proliferate, the danger of it all increases.
Here’s what Farah had to say to NYT about the US’ long pursuit of Bout.
Mr. Farah said the United States began pursuing Mr. Bout in the 1990s after officials became alarmed that he was making conflicts more deadly by showering warring parties with weapons on an unprecedented scale, including weapons as sophisticated as attack helicopters.
“They became aware in the mid-1990s that he had fundamentally altered the way wars were being waged,” Mr. Farah said. “He was flying in planeloads of this stuff. There was a lot of alarm that we were facing something new. It was the privatization of warfare.”
I’ve been wondering, ever since Viktor Bout got arrested, what he meant by his sole public statement at the time: "The game is over." Who knows in what language he uttered the statement or how well it was translated, but the statement seemed to convey the closure of a particularly finite project rather than a long life of eluding death and the law. Getting rich, after all, is not a game, it’s a presumably boundless process. Whereas a game–that implies a beginning and an end, winners and losers.
Suffice it to say that I’m wondering even more now, as I hear news of the wrangling between Russia, the US, and Thailand. First, there’s the story (admittedly told by Bout’s lawyer and brother, not independent observers) that the Thais tried to ship him off the US immediately upon his arrest.
Thai authorities tried to force Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to get on a plane to the United States hours after his arrest in Bangkok earlier this month, the legal counsel for the alleged "Lord of War" claimed on Monday.
Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by his detractors, was arrested in Bangkok on March 6 in a US-led sting operation that allegedly caught him making a deal with Colombian rebels.
On March 7, Thai police said Bout, 41, would remain in the kingdom to face possible charges of committing illegal activities in the country. If Thai courts turn down the case, Bout faces extradition to the US.
But Bout’s Russian lawyer Dasgupta Yan on Monday told a press conference in Bangkok that Thai authorities had tried to force his client to board a plane to the US immediately after his arrest. He said US officials were also present at the time.
"Some government officials at the moment of his detention tried to send him to the United States without proper extradition procedures," said Yan, of the Gridnav & Partners law firm.
"They told my client you need to take an aircraft to the United States, they want to talk to you there. But my client was saying I’m not ready to go, because I don’t understand why I’m arrested and secondly I didn’t have any plans to go to the United States," said Yan. [my emphasis]
Curious. The Thais just arrested the noted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.
For years, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has made millions of dollars allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to warlords and militants. Officials believe many of his activities may be illegal, and on Thursday, Thai police announced his arrest.
Bout, 41, has made his deliveries to Africa, Asia and the Mideast, using obsolete or surplus Soviet-era cargo planes.
According to U.S. officials, Bout — a former Soviet air force officer who speaks multiple languages — has what is reputed to be the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world.
Bout acquired the planes shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Treasury said in 2005.
At that time, the U.S. Treasury announced it was freezing the assets of Bout and his associates who are all tied to former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor is currently on trial at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.
Intelligence officials said he shipped large quantities of small arms to civil wars across Africa and Asia, often taking diamonds in payment from West African fighters.
I say, "curious," because I doubt this could have happened without US approval–as the promise of an "announcement" in NY later today suggests.
A formal announcement on his arrest is expected later in the day in New York.
And it appears that actual warrant came from our DEA–in connection with Columbia’s FARC.
Bout, the target of an international arrest warrant and U.S. sanctions, was picked up at a Bangkok hotel after he entered Thailand on February 29. Police were searching for an associate.
Bout was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia’s FARC rebels", the Thai police said in an arrest report.