October 11th, 2011
12:00 PM ET

Finally, face to face with alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout

Editor’s Note:  Kathi Lynn Austin, a former Arms Trafficking Expert for the United Nations, is the Executive Director of the Conflict Awareness Project  (CAP). Her forthcoming memoir, The Unofficial Spy, is due out in 2012. For more from Kathi Austin, follow her on Twitter.

By Kathi Austin - Special to CNN

Fifteen long years. That’s roughly the amount of time I’ve spent as an arms trafficking investigator for non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, tracking a man who now stands on trial for widespread weapons smuggling - a former Soviet military officer named Viktor Bout. This is the man who, over the years, has been dubbed the “Lord of War” and “Merchant of Death.”

As incongruous as our mutual career paths have been, Bout and I both came of professional age at the same time in the same place - the end of the Cold War in Africa. Since then, I’ve moved in Bout’s shadow from one genocide and war-riddled country to the next - Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Colombia and Afghanistan.

While collecting evidence on his operations, I’ve survived plane crashes traveling with his European pilots, sprung U.N. snap inspections of his Russian aircraft at remote jungle airports with the backing of armed U.N. peacekeepers, cajoled his business associates into handing over incriminating documents and swum in treacherous waters to obtain the hidden paper trail that put some of Bout’s “front companies” on a U.N. sanctions travel ban and assets freeze list.

Still, in all this time, I have never once come face to face with Bout. He has always managed to stay one step ahead of other determined colleagues and me.

Today, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, on the opening day of United States v. Viktor Bout,that will finally change.  After having been lured from Russia, arrested in Thailand and extradited to the U.S, Bout will stand trial in a Manhattan courtroom on charges of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

I will, at last, face Bout.

During the course of Bout's trial, I’ll guest blog on CNN.com/GPS about the larger policy concerns surrounding the case. The posts will be part historical, part personal narrative and part analysis. Follow me on Twitter and bookmark this space.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Kathi Austin.

Post by:
Topics: Arms Trafficking

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Dawn

    I hope Viktor Bout will be brought to justice for his crimes against humanity. Thankful for your hard work, Aunt Kathi!

    October 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Bout is not the only vet who turned arms dealer. The end of a war makes many soldiers redundant. Having difficulty to re-integrate into the society, some make use of their military knowledge to make a new living. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, West Europe saw a surge in organised crime. Some spectacular holdups and brazen theft were committed by vets from Eastern European countries.

      October 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Jason

      Crimes against humanity?

      Why don't we charge the United States or Canada (and probably a lot of other western countries) for selling arms around the world?

      We create laws that say some things are OK for our governments to do, but if other individuals or governments do the same thing, it's illegal. We are all such a bunch of hypocrites.

      October 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply
      • Rudness

        I agree. Who is selling arms to druglords throughout Latin America. I'm not saying this hombre is worth a million not even a penny, but double standards need to be criticized.

        October 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  2. ms

    What's the difference between this man selling arms and arms companies selling them. All wars have victims and pointless death tolls. Does the government really think this man is in the wrong or are they just upset it wasn't them making the money.

    October 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • RobIII

      Its the money

      October 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  3. Johnny wazhere

    "Why the U.S. really wants Viktor Bout in prison for life " where is the truth? did everything turn into "Smoke and mirrors".
    I guess it is not easy to get to the bottom of anything these days.I guess it is not really easy to understand a simple thing like arresting a gun runner. Oh well !!!!

    October 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  4. Josh

    WIsh we could as much focus on the 99%, as we do on other country's problems.

    October 11, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • Kerry Berger

      I agree with you entirely. Too bad the Media doesn't think the 99% is entertaining enough to consider.

      October 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  5. Tom

    Kathi, you write, "The posts will be part historical, part personal narrative and part analysis."

    Actually, I was hoping for professional journalism.

    October 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Dawn

      Well then feel free to read from a professional journalist. She never claimed to be one.

      October 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Reply
    • Hum Hum

      It's obvious she's after self-aggrandizement. Unfortunately it's how most nondescript Schools have been spewing out "the 3-year wonder" reporters for the past 20 years – all personal, obnoxious and emotional; gone are the days of Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Mike Wallace, John Chancellor, etc.

      October 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • Lou

      That's not why CNN got her here in the first place. Read the introduction.

      October 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  6. ikechukwu David

    victor is a heartless man,and the manufactuers will burn in Hell

    October 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  7. Sammy

    He is the arms traficker so he is a villain, but who is producing these arms and selling them in the first place.....

    October 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  8. Gary B. Sanford

    The US has put a premium on Bout because he likely brokered illegal arms deals for the US and other governments and knows too much. US elections loom. Adnan Khashoggi is Bout's forerunner. Khashoggi was eventually arrested by the Swiss, extradited to the US–and acquitted. Let's see if Bout gets the same deal.

    October 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  9. Hum Hum

    What kind of reporting is this? Are you on a personal vendetta? Since when do reporters infuse their personal opinions and feelings? Guess what, you were PAID to do a job, so don't expect further accolades. Just report the bloody facts and allow the Court to do its job, assuming of course that you believe in the concept that all charged have the right to a fair trial. No one's interested in your job description – be happy that you were paid a salary.

    October 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Reply
    • Lou

      She is not a reporter... read the introduction.... It says it right there that she is a guest writer

      October 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  10. Sammy

    Seriously – difference between this guy and so called "LEGAL" companies ? unclear. THis guy didn't bomb Lybia for 4 months to help radicals who already established Sharia law state instead of civil one.

    October 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      Sammy, I am here in Libya and I have not seen the "radicals who already established Sharia law state instead of civil one" You should not talk about things you don't know about.

      No one is setting up anyting like that here, you really do have NO idea what you are talking about here.


      October 12, 2011 at 4:12 am | Reply
  11. octect

    It is going to be hard to follow this in twitter when even the link is wrong. Here is her twitter place for those who care : @kathilynnaustin About the difference between this man and those who sell arms legally : well, he is probably taking money from them, so they have to prosecute him.

    October 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  12. dragon

    What about the main Merchant of Death, the US gvt that is No 1 weapons exporter in the world.

    October 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      Followed by France, UK, Russia and China..the permanent members ogf the UN "Security" Council.

      This trial is a show trial.

      October 12, 2011 at 4:15 am | Reply
  13. Luke Weyland

    World's biggest merchant of death/arms trafficer – Administration of the United States of America

    October 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      Oh no you don't, you can't lay this at the feet of the US only. The last time I checked, the majority of weapons in the hands of folks in every combat area I have been in in the past twenty years has been Soviet/Commie/East Bloc-Warsaw Pact made.

      The US may be the largest in sales, but the items are not the ones making all the chaos like small arms and landmines.

      I know everyone wants, and loves, to hate America, but the fact is China, North Korea, Serbia, Ukraine, South Africa and Russia (more China than anyone else) sells guns to anyone with cash.

      So let's call an ace and ace here. America sells billion dollar jets and complex systems to lots of people 9hence the crown of largest sit upon their head), but the real suffereing comes from the commie AKs exported by the millions to conflict areas for as little as $100 each delivered, not C130 Transport planes and Patriot Missile Systems.

      October 12, 2011 at 4:22 am | Reply
  14. CJ

    He seemed like a alright guy in Lord of War..

    October 11, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  15. Scott

    What's so bad about being an arms dealer? Countries have the right to settle their disputes however they see fit. That a group of bureaucrats from other nations which have no personal stake in the dispute don't believe that a country has this right is the reason that people like Bout exist in the first place. The UN was designed to prevent travesties from happening, but in practice, it only hastens them. No country except those on the Security Council have any meaningful clout there.

    October 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      You got it 100% right here. Great post.

      October 12, 2011 at 4:27 am | Reply
  16. Alex

    Do I understand right? Weapons should not be sold by anyone to anyone but hand out free by some kind of charity organisation? And a large number of people overhere reject the existence and use and posession of weapons in any situation? Weapons are not the problem, the mentallity of people as Bout are the problem. You do not have to be Russian to have such mentallity, yes, Americans do have this too, in fact you can meet this mentallity everywhere in the world.
    Cold hearted, selfish, materiial minded people dealing with weapons, that is the problem. You will find them everywhere in any situation.

    October 12, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply
  17. Sal

    The problem is that the govt. didn't receive a share of his arm deals otherwise he would be wearing a suit and sitting in a comfy office on capital hill.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:14 am | Reply
  18. BooI'mRussan

    American/Hollywood form of justice – guilty until proven innocent, and if we can make a boogeyman out of you, we'll lynch you in every news outlet and screen it for everyone to see and enjoy.

    Kathi, you're disgusting.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:29 am | Reply
    • Quezz

      I think your comments are pointedly ethnocentric, though I appreciate the hypocrisy you see. Exonerating him because he's Russian is not right either. Bout also sold arms to countries that other legitimate arms dealers would not, and you've got to face that fact. That being said, the U.S. is amongst the most prolific arms manufacturers in the world. It is hardly clean. I agree with that part.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:03 am | Reply
  19. Henry

    Maybe we should add to his basket the sale of Antrax to Iraq and other chemicals used to gaz innocent people by Sadam ... it is time to treat all war criminals equally, also in our camp!

    October 12, 2011 at 3:57 am | Reply
  20. HERVE

    Dear Sir,

    It would be nice to complete your articles about Viktor Bout with a few lines about what he did at Ostende airport (Belgium).

    There were other arms dealers in this area : Jacques Monsieur and Ronald Rossignol.

    I am sure they can at least partly explain terrorist activities in Europe in the 1980s – 1990s...

    October 12, 2011 at 7:58 am | Reply
  21. George Potor

    I've been following news on this guy for years; I look forward to reading your take on the trial. Hopefully the result will be a conviction

    Perhaps this song written about Viktor Bout might be among material the judge hopes to have jurors avoid?

    “We Deliver” by DePotorLand on YouTube:

    “We Deliver by DePotorLand on Soundclick:

    October 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  22. Stephen

    Hopefully justice will prevail this time. Stopping the flow of weapons into the hands of kids.

    October 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  23. rightospeak

    What hipocracy. No , we never sold arms to anyone ? Well, they found themselves a scapegoat. He must have been cutting in on arms deals of the US and Israel ( the biggest arm dealers in the world). Weapons do not kill people -PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. The UN sanctions on various countries killed millions of children – what are you people talking about ? Kissinger -responsible for genocide in East Timor -yes we supplied the Indonesian Army with arms, yet, he was never charged in any court of law (The International Court in Hague is just for small potatoes we disagree with ). The war crimes of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Powell and even Clinton in Yugoslavia where civilians were killed on purpose such as TV crews and reporters dwarf what this men have done. Now we have a scapegoat and we are going to have a circus.

    October 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  24. Keila

    Watching this blog, the related tweets and all other news information on this incredibly important trial

    October 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  25. Cantmakethisup

    We sell the arms to the right people, you can't just sell to the wrong people and get away with it.

    Did I get it right!?!?

    October 29, 2011 at 12:54 am | Reply

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