Bout's work in Iraq first became public in a May 2004 article in the Financial Times newspaper. CIA officials in Washington secretly warned colleagues in Baghdad of the ties in fall 2003, the authors report. "It would appear...that it did not make its way to the correct folks," the two writers quote an unnamed CIA official as saying.
Bout didn't just walk away with millions of taxpayer dollars, Farah and Braun found. The military issued Bout's pilots supply cards allowing them to gas up their planes for free when landing in Iraq. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed to the authors that Bout's fleet were provided nearly 500,000 gallons of fuel from the Baghdad airport courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
Bout made his fortune in the 1990s selling Soviet-era weaponry to Third World despots and insurgent groups. Using a "veiled, complex corporate structure," Bout dispatched fleets of Cold War-era Soviet cargo planes to some of the most inhospitable corners of the earth, running guns for dictators, including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Zaire's Mubuto Sese Seko, as well as rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and beyond. By 2000, U.S. government officials considered him one of the leading threats to the United States, on par with Osama bin Laden and global warming.
Bout was the inspiration for the 2005 film, "Lord of War," starring Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer who will sell to all sides of any conflict. Bout reportedly rented his planes to the movie's producers for use in the film.
Bout's net worth is not known, but it is reportedly "in the tens of millions of dollars."