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.