“It was the privatization of warfare.”

I owe ROTL a hubcap, apparently, because while I’ve been distracted with the joy of moving in a historically bad housing market, the US won its long extradition battle over Viktor Bout.

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.”

Consider the irony, then, that a lawyer seeking a deposition from Erik Prince on a fraud suit had to go to Abu Dhabi yesterday–Bout’s old stomping grounds–to get it.

Blackwater private security firm founder Erik Prince was questioned on Monday in Abu Dhabi in connection with a fraud lawsuit filed by former employees that seeks millions of dollars in damages.”Mr Prince did appear for his deposition” or questioning under oath, Susan Burke, the lawyer who questioned him, told AFP.


Burke said it was too early to say exactly how much money the lawsuit is seeking. “My analysis is that by the time we reach the jury, we will be seeking hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Most would go to the US government, she said, adding that former Blackwater employees Brad and Melan Davis, who filed the suit in December 2008, would also receive a percentage.

Citing the Davis’ experiences, the suit alleges that Prince and companies he controlled defrauded the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security via “false records, statements, claims, and omissions,” according to court documents.

This, just days after Blackwater got a light slap on the wrist for the same kind of weapons trafficking for which we’re about to try Viktor Bout.

The private security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide, long plagued by accusations of impropriety, has reached an agreement with the State Department for the company to pay $42 million in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations.

The violations included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, according to company and government officials familiar with the deal.

A key part of the settlement, of course, is that the company can continue to receive US contracts.

The settlement with the State Department does not resolve other legal troubles still facing Blackwater and its former executives and other personnel. Those include the indictments of five former executives, including Blackwater’s former president, on weapons and obstruction charges; a federal investigation into evidence that Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials; and the arrest of two former Blackwater guards on federal murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans last year.

But by paying fines rather than facing criminal charges on the export violations, Blackwater will be able to continue to obtain government contracts.

We’re about to try Russia’s version of Erik Prince for the same kinds of things we know Prince was doing. Meanwhile, Prince is hiding out where Bout once took refuge.

I suggest these twin legal proceedings ought to be viewed in tandem.

  1. TheOrA says:

    Nothing to back it up, however, I’ve wondered a few times if Bout was taken out of the picture so that Blackwater could take over some of the services that Bout was providing.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right–something like that.

      Mind you, there are so many arms dealers out there, Bout was unique only for his scale.

      But the transport of troops and whatnot?

      I guess that’s one of the vulnerabilities of this model–that the guys running these “services” the governments come to rely on are always sitting at the edge of the law.

  2. Mary says:

    “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.”

    So, why aren’t we trying Bout in a military commission? ;)

    New kind of war = mca, right? Mr. Obama – any thoughts? That’s ok – we can wait for Brennan to come move you lips for you.

    The “billion” dollars laundered is a nice, sexy number, but haven’t we managed to lose 9 billion, twice, in Iraq?

    • emptywheel says:

      Uh, cause the only involvement Bout had in the WOT was flying stuff in for US? Reading the most recent indictment now–it seems to gloss over the whole transport of US troops and supplies in Afghanistan and Iraq part.

      • Mary says:

        The flying stuff for the US in Iraq has been pretty glossed over in the reporting too, and you know, during the Soviet years in Afghanistan he was helping out against jihadi mujahedeen ;)

        But his involvement with the African *forces* he’s supplied does link him as much to “al-Qaeda types” (to quote Bush) as, well, as much as say a London chef making souffles.

        He is the GWOT, though, the ultimate non-uniformed material supporter of terrorist orgs – if you look at the State Dept lists of terrorists orgs, he’s probably had more direct contact with more of them than Bin Laden ever has.

        He’s also a good push-point on the military commissions concept. It won’t happen, but Gibbs should be being asked why he is not being tried before a military commission (of course, it would have been hard for Thailand to extradite him to non-law commissions and hard for other countries to extradite as well, later, if there’s a history of hand offs to MCAs, but someone needs to push on the squirmy spots and get that aspect out there imo. It won’t happen, but he’s the perfect opportunity for it.

        The other questions you have framed won’t get the attention they should either – he and Prince are the PERFECT yin-yang for Gibbs/Holder/Obamaco to be asked why it is that when Blackwater does the same things, Prince pays a fine and gets US contracts and a house in Abu Dhabi, but Bout gets prison. Too bad the UAE isn’t likely to hand Prince over and Iraq isn’t asking for him.

        I’m all for getting the arms dealers off the streets, so more power to them on that front – but to get them off the street just so Obamaco and the CIA and Pentagon assassination forces have a clearer field to handle all the covert and even out in the open but immoral (like our cluster bomb sales) arming of the world doesn’t make me reach for pom poms.

        BTW – here’s another recent (8-20) piece by Farah on Bout for FP


        I don’t see it ever being in Bout’s interest to give up a bunch of Soviet intel (although maybe Mukasey and Dershowitz can sign off on some made up torture warrants for him??) but even if he were so inclined, once he’s transferred to the US, the politics will be such that they can’t really let him walk in exchange for intel. It will be interesting to see how chatty he decides to be – but a guy like that knows a lot to be chatty about, and a lot that doesn’t necessarily jeopardize his Russian connections.

        He could make wikileaks seem tame – so of course, he’ll be a great case for Obamaco to further expand Presidential powers in the courts to block information.

        • emptywheel says:

          Ah, thanks for that link, Mary. This stuff is directly on point:

          And as Vladimir Putin consolidated the badly fractured intelligence services again over the past several years, Bout was less a rogue agent and more a part of the rapidly expanding Russian arms network. No longer free to operate on his own, he was spotted by European intelligence services in Iran in 2005 and Lebanon in 2006, allegedly delivering Russian weapons used by Hezbollah in the war with Israel that summer.

          If the extradition goes through (and under Thai law there are no further appeals allowed), what could Bout offer if he opted for a plea bargain? He could likely tell a great deal about the Russian-led networks that continue to arm jihadi movements in Somalia and Yemen. He also likely knows how the Russian military intelligence and arms structure works, including its interests from Iran to Venezuela and elsewhere. His knowledge base, although he is only 43 years old, goes back more than two decades and possibly extends to the heart of the Russian campaigns around the globe.

    • freepatriot says:

      but haven’t we managed to lose 9 billion, twice, in Iraq?

      yeah, but that was in cash

      who hasn’t lost a few billion in cash

      the stuff jes falls outta your pockets

  3. freepatriot says:

    I don’t think warfare has changed all that much

    king George used to rent Hessians

    it’s kinda the same thing

    war has always been about making a buck

    Julius Caesar, Alexander, them Pharaoh dudes

    they was all tryin to make a buck

  4. bell says:

    the parallels with bout and prince are very pronounced… the usa must try to maintain it’s hypocritical position in all of this.. bout must be thrown in jail – the perfect symbol for the non free usa circa 2010 – while prince gets a stay out of jail card for doing the same… either way jail, enforced silence and covert operations are the hallmarks of a dilapidated democracy in the throws of complete erosion of what it once stood for… go wikileaks!

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Well, there’s always the good Kurds and the bad Kurds. The former are U.S. allies in Iraq. The latter are terrorists in Turkey. Get it? Shouldn’t be hard to unnerstan.

      Hope you get the analogy with the diff between truly evil Bout and truly wunnerful Prince.

      • demi says:

        There should only be one Prince. That androgynous musician. Purple Rain, anyone? Purple is good, good, good vibrations. What the world needs, as opposed to….I thought we were gonna defund Blackwater. My bad.

          • demi says:

            I just remember hearing that a while ago. After there were some court issues about them doing bad things. Killing civilians, etc. I’m sure they’re still working. Do you have any links to what exactly they’re doing now?

          • eCAHNomics says:

            Raising an age old Q about whether it’s moral to take a job with an immoral corp so your kids don’t starve, or whether you should put the immoral corp out of biz.

            Or whether there’s another option.

            What an embarrassing issue to bring up: another option than the ones our masters present us with. Where we can retain our moral values AND feed our kids.

  5. bobschacht says:

    Thanks, EW.
    I’m having trouble understanding the following sentence:

    Which one of the men who investigated Bout for years, Robert Eringer, seems to support.

    Despite the blank line separating it from the previous paragraph, should it be considered as continuing the thought of the last sentence in the previous paragraph? IOW, Eringer seems to support that “the US underplayed Russian involvement in Bout’s exploits”?

    Bob in AZ

  6. eCAHNomics says:

    Oh goody. I just lurve me some Victor Bout. I know very little about him except that he’s really really really a bad guy. It’s always fun when these unredeemed evildoers get headlines.

  7. eCAHNomics says:

    Besides, I think Xe is prolly hiring only poor folks of color cuz they are so cheap. Waitin’ for the blowback from them.

  8. fatster says:


    Self-described CIA assassin dies in gun accident

    “Roland W. Haas, a senior intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Reserve who claimed in a 2007 memoir that he was a CIA assassin, died over the weekend when he accidentally shot himself, police in Georgia said.”


  9. MadDog says:

    More OT – “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” – The latest Greg Miller piece in the WaPo:

    CIA sees increased threat from al-Qaeda in Yemen

    For the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, CIA analysts see one of al-Qaeda’s off-shoots – rather than the core group now based in Pakistan – as the most urgent threat to U.S. security, officials said.

    The sober new assessment of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has helped prompt senior Obama administration officials to call for an escalation of U.S. operations there – including a proposal to add armed CIA drones to a clandestine campaign of U.S. military strikes, the officials said…


    …Proponents of expanding the CIA’s role argue that years of flying armed drones over Pakistan have given the agency expertise in identifying targets and delivering pinpoint strikes. The agency’s attacks also leave fewer tell-tale signs.

    “You’re not going to find bomb parts with USA markings on them,” the senior U.S. official said. Even so, the official said, the administration is considering sending CIA drones to the Arabian Peninsula “not because they require the deniability but because they desire the capability…”

    • bobschacht says:

      More OT – “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” – The latest Greg Miller piece in the WaPo:

      CIA sees increased threat from al-Qaeda in Yemen

      Um, take another look at that globe: Last I knew, Yemen was in WEST Asia. East Asia is China and Japan and stuff.

      Bob in AZ

      • skdadl says:

        It’s definitely west of Asia. Hard to know how to classify the Arabian peninsula — it isn’t Africa, but it feels more like North Africa to me than it does Asia. I think it has its own plate, and continents are a construct anyway. (I was recently in an argument with someone about what Turkey is — did that happen here?)

        • bobschacht says:

          Turkey used to be called “Asia Minor.” The Arabian Peninsula is usually considered part of Asia, because if you didn’t, where would the western border of Asia be placed? Continental boundaries are usually defined by bodies of water or, failing that, mountain ranges (e.g., the Urals form the border between Europe and Asia).

          Bob in AZ

  10. fatster says:

    Great post, EW. So glad to see you highlighted the Prince deposition and the Blackwater slap on the wrist, as I was concerned those links got lost in the “Comments” in the previous thread. Loved the irony you pinpointed so precisely in the Bout and Prince matters. Mirror images, it seems.

  11. PJEvans says:

    years of flying armed drones over Pakistan have given the agency expertise in identifying targets and delivering pinpoint strikes

    Do they mean all those strikes that keep killing civilians, for which we have to apologize (probably insincerely, since no one seems to be learning anything on this end of it)?

  12. Stephen says:

    I’m pretty sure Prince and Company just plain know to much. Blackwater and the offshoot know where a lot of the bodies are buried and who ordered what, where, and when. The moment The U.S. Government started dealing with these devils they all became blood brothers, therefore the continued contracts no matter what. The 42 million in fines is to appease the half wits. Again I wonder if the fines are tax deductible. Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Blackwater fill the void Bout has left.

  13. MadDog says:

    OT – Something to watch for today. Per CNN:

    …WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website that infuriated the Pentagon when it published thousands of classified military reports, said on Tuesday it will release another document soon.

    The group posted on its Twitter page: “WikiLeaks to release CIA paper tomorrow…”

    …It was not immediately clear whether the Twitter post on Tuesday is related to the batch of documents that WikiLeaks has called the “Afghan War Diary…”

  14. mafr says:

    all for nothing. there is nothing to be gained by any of this except misery.

    just like the gulf of mexico.

    brutal violent insane games played by depraved, ill men, for money power prestige, no gains for humanity whatsoever.

    the farrah book is very interesting.

    but I don’t think bout was the biggest private arms dealer.

  15. klynn says:

    It has been quite a long time but I remember reading something about Victor Bout and Jack Abramoff having ties in Gambia?

    I cannot find where I read it. I thought it was in Washington Monthly.

    Has Larissa written about their ties?

    Does not Gambia have GOP ties too?

    • klynn says:

      That sounds like two threats, instead of confidence.

      And your comment at 40 is quite interesting in light of your comment at 24.

      Victor is coming and look spook deaths. Hmm…

  16. passepartout says:

    I didn’t expect to see Robert Eringer’s name on these pages. Unusual character, to say the least, but I’m not sure I’d cite him as a reliable source. Jeff Stein had an interesting story to tell about him in his excellent The Greatest Vendetta on Earth.