The Merchant of Death
Journalist Paul Ndiho talks to stephen Braun a national correspondent based in Washington for the Los Angeles Times., co-author of a new book “The Merchant of Death, tells how the Tajik-born arms dealer forged a lucrative career skirting U.N. embargoes to sell weapons and air transport services to warlords in Africa and despots—not to mention the U.S. military and its contractors in Iraq. Stephen Braun : Viktor Bout was a unique creature born of the end of Communism and the rise of unbridled capitalism when the Wall came down in the early 1990s. He was a Soviet officer, most likely a lieutenant, who simply saw the opportunities presented by three factors that came with the collapse of the USSR and the state sponsorship that entailed: abandoned aircraft on the runways from Moscow to Kiev, no longer able to fly because of lack of money for fuel or maintenance; huge stores of surplus weapons that were guarded by guards suddenly receiving little or no salary; and the booming demand for those weapons from traditional Soviet clients and newly emerging armed groups from Africa to the Philippines. He simply wedded the three things, taking aircraft for almost nothing, filling them with cheaply purchased weapons from the arsenals, and flying them to clients who could pay. His background is difficult to ascertain. He is said by U.S. intelligence officials to be the product of an “immaculate conception.” He was not, and then he was. He has provided no stories of his youth, very few personal details. He was, according to his multiple passports, born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the son of a bookkeeper and an auto mechanic. He graduated from the Military Institute on Foreign Languages, a well-known feeder school for Russian military intelligence, and is known to have a true gift for languages.