Arrested Arms Dealer's Planes Flew U.S. Missions in Iraq
Bout was an international fugitive when his planes were used by the U.S.
March 6, 2008— -- When U.S. officials announce the arrest of a notorious arms dealer and drug-runner this afternoon, the fact that his planes flew U.S. supply missions in Iraq will likely go unmentioned.
In a January 2005 letter to Congress, then-Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted the Defense Department "did conduct business with companies that, in turn, subcontracted work to second-tier providers who leased aircraft owned by companies associated with Mr. Bout."
At the time, Bout was already a wanted international fugitive. Intelligence officials had considered Bout one of the greatest threats to U.S. interests, in the same league as al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. Interpol had issued a warrant for his arrest; the United Nations Security Council had restricted his travel.
But that didn't stop U.S. government contractors from paying Bout-controlled firms roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq in support of the U.S. war effort, according to a book released last year by two reporters who investigated Bout. And it didn't prevent the U.S. military from giving Bout's pilots millions of dollars in free airplane fuel while they were flying U.S. supply flights.
From 2003 through at least 2005, Pentagon contractors used air cargo companies known to be connected to Bout to fly an estimated 1,000 supply trips into and out of Iraq, according to "Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Plans, and the Man Who Makes War Possible" by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed to the authors that the military gave 500,000 gallons of fuel to Bout's pilots.
In an interview Thursday, Farah said he understood Bout may have worked on behalf of the U.S. government as recently as last year.
Recent intelligence has indicated Bout supplied armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and arms to Somalian warlords which fueled a conflagration that December, Farah said.
In a very rare public appearance, Bout was a guest on state-run Russian television last year where he vigorously defended himself against the criminal allegations.