Bout’s Clout

Journalist and author Douglas Farah writes about what intel Viktor Bout could (but would be unlikely to) share with U.S. authorities

If the extradition goes through (and under Thai law there are no further appeals allowed), what could Bout offer if he opted for a plea bargain? He could likely tell a great deal about the Russian-led networks that continue to arm jihadi movements in Somalia and Yemen. He also likely knows how the Russian military intelligence and arms structure works, including its interests from Iran to Venezuela and elsewhere. His knowledge base, although he is only 43 years old, goes back more than two decades and possibly extends to the heart of the Russian campaigns around the globe.

Nomatter what happens with Bout, those quasi-state arms networks will notdisappear. But without his unique capabilities, acquiring large amountsof weapons and ammunition has become more difficult and more costly forsome of the worst groups in the world. The full-service enterprise hasbecome a series of boutiques, making shopping more time consuming,expensive, and vulnerable to law enforcement and intelligence.

Itis unlikely he will turn on his Russian handlers. They have his wifeand children, and despite his amoral sales record, he is widely known tobe a family man. He endured more than two years in a Thai prison,losing more than 70 pounds and never showing any signs of doubting hewould ultimately walk away. He has been, so far, a soldier’s soldier.But if he turned, the stories he could tell would make the Kremlin wishit had kept an even closer eye on him.