Speaking of havens… a few recent items have popped up on transnational smuggling and trafficking. The first is short and crisp, and maybe a little light, despite it’s heavy subject. The second is outstanding, and worth careful attention for all sorts of reasons. The third piece has depth and texture, at times hopeful but ultimately sad.
This, in the April issue of the Atlantic Monthly, on uranium smuggling:
What we know we don’t know about the state of Russian nuclear material is frightening enough. But what if these three would-be traffickers had been not bumblers but professionals—interested not in money but in ideology, focused on accumulating enough bomb-grade material to assemble a nuclear weapon that could kill millions of people? What if they had avoided border posts altogether and detoured through unmonitored mountain passes, or had chosen to cross the thousands of miles of porous, underpoliced borders Russia shares with countries like Kazakhstan?
Unfortunately, if the stories of Oleg Khintsagov, Garik Dadayan, and Tamaz Dimitradze suggest anything, it is that the answers to such questions may soon no longer be hypothetical.
This, in the 18 April 2008 Jane’s Intelligence Review, on arms trafficking pipelines in Latin America and South Asia:
The arrest of alleged veteran Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in Thailand on 6 March marked a major success for ongoing efforts to disrupt global arms trafficking routes.
Bout, who has been nicknamed the Merchant of Death for the number and size of his suspected arms deals, was allegedly planning to sell 100 Russian Igla surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to self-avowed Marxist-Leninist Colombian insurgent group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia: FARC).
SAMs are the most sought-after type of weapon for FARC insurgents, who want them to shield their drugs operations from United States and Colombian aerial assets. The missiles were allegedly to have been shipped from Bulgaria to Nicaragua, and then parachuted over Colombian rebel-held jungle territory from an aircraft bound for Guyana. However, the presumed FARC buyers who attended the string of meetings held in Curaçao, Copenhagen and Bucharest by Bout’s alleged associate, Andrew Smulian, to arrange the deal were actually undercover agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Following these meetings and an alleged exchange of emails discussing the proposed deal, Bout was arrested in Bangkok by Thai police. He now faces an extradition request from the US where he faces charges of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. Smulian was arrested in New York on 12 March and charged with assisting terrorism. They both deny the charges against them.
Bout’s detention in Thailand is the second arrest in nine months of an alleged high-profile arms dealer attempting to supply SAMs to the FARC. Monzer Al-Kassar, a Syrian known as the Prince of Marbella, was arrested in June 2007 at Madrid airport. The DEA alleges that Al-Kassar offered to supply the FARC with 15 Strela II SAMs – an earlier version of the Igla – as well as 7,700 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The weapons were allegedly to be shipped from Bulgaria and Romania aboard a vessel from Greece, and the deal sealed with a false Nicaraguan end-user certificate. Al-Kassar has also been charged with conspiring to supply arms to a terrorist group, and the US is seeking his extradition from Spain.
The Al-Kassar and Bout cases highlight the continuing flow of illegal weapons in the world, and the trends in supply and demand in South America and Asia. The following article details these regional shifts.
This, in the 5 May issue of the New Yorker, on human trafficking:
…Transnistria is a lawless backwater, and very few international aid groups have a presence there. Viktor Bout, the reputed arms trafficker, who is in jail in Thailand, operated from Transnistria, and mobsters from Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova go there to hide.
There’s more. Go read them.
Finnegan, William. "The Countertraffickers: Rescuing the Victims of the Global Sex Trade." New Yorker (5 May 2008).
Sheets, Lawrence Scott. "A Smuggler’s Story." The Atlantic Monthly (April 2008).
Webb-Vidal, Andy, and Davis, Anthony. "Lords of War: Running the Arms Trafficking Industry." Jane’s Intelligence Review (18 April 2008).