Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Perspective: When the bad guys are allies

Above: An Ilyushin 76 reputed to be part of the fleet of aircraft operated by Viktor Bout using a variety of corporate names. Left: Copy of one of Viktor Bout's passports. According to Belgian intelligence documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Viktor Bout earned $50 million in profit for selling weapons to the Taliban in the late 1990s, as just part of his arms-dealing empire.

THE UNITED STATES seems to be missing some guns in Iraq. Somehow, the U.S. military has lost track of 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 pistols that were supposedly delivered from our caches to Iraqi security forces.

It was classic bureaucratic bungling, the Government Accountability Office concluded last month in a report criticizing the Pentagon's failure to keep proper records and track weapons flows. But there may have been another factor -- the government's dangerous and bumbling use of bad guys.

Consider the case of one particular bad guy, Viktor Bout -- a stout, canny Russian air transporter who also happens to be the world's most notorious arms dealer.

When the U.S. government needed to fly four planeloads of seized weapons from an American base in Bosnia to Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in August 2004, they used a Moldovan air cargo firm tied to Bout's aviation empire. The problem is that the planes apparently never arrived.

Read the rest at the LA Times