Viktor Bout and arms-smuggling airplanes
Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout arrives at a Bangkok court last year.
October 31st, 2011
12:52 PM ET

Viktor Bout and arms-smuggling airplanes

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 

There were three chilling moments for me during the third week of Viktor Bout’s trial—and they all had something to do with airplanes.

Last Friday as I sat in the stately Manhattan courtroom and listened to the testimony of James Roberts, a pilot who worked for Viktor Bout in the late 1990’s, goose bumps suddenly crept up my arms. Roberts cavalierly explained how he and other aviators had ferried weapons and/or military personnel for their boss Bout throughout Central Africa.

Next Charles Mokoto, the owner of an African aircraft company, spoke with ease about flying high-level African military personnel into battle action during the same period.  When he left the witness stand, I shuddered and pulled my dark brown sweater tight across my chest to ward off the eerie chill as dark memories kicked in. FULL POST

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Topics: Arms Trafficking
Cold War Redux: The trial of the alleged "Merchant of Death"
Viktor Bout. (Getty Images)
October 23rd, 2011
04:08 PM ET

Cold War Redux: The trial of the alleged "Merchant of Death"

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 

Who is the real Viktor Bout?

A former KGB official residing in Moscow who says he has “friends” in high places in Russia?

The ultimate capitalist, who once had the world’s largest arms transport fleet and was contracted by the U.S. Pentagon during the Iraq War?

Or a puppet on the international stage in a show trial reenacting the Cold War?

There is no denying the tug of war between the Russia and the U.S. during the extradition battle in the Thai courts. The process was prolonged as both countries flexed their muscle and weighed in heavily. Hence, Bout was not extradited to the U.S. until November 2010, despite his arrest in a Thai hotel in March 2008.

But the back story is far more complicated. FULL POST

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Topics: Arms Trafficking • Russia • United States
The trial of the alleged "Merchant of Death"
Viktor Bout. (Getty Images)
October 14th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

The trial of the alleged "Merchant of Death"

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

On the opening day of the Viktor Bout trial, Judge Shira Scheinlin invited the unusually large, eighty person jury pool to be seated in the courtroom gallery. That meant that I and other members of the press and public were directed by a stern U.S. marshal to sit in the jury box. Because I had been first in line waiting for the trial to begin, I found myself seated as juror number one.

I directly faced dark-suited, mustached Viktor Bout, sitting to the left of his two trial lawyers, a study in contrasts—the elder, restrained Kenneth Kaplan beside the dapper lead attorney, Albert Dayan. It was a surreal moment, with both Viktor Bout and myself behind our composed courtroom masks.  From my long experience tracking Bout’s activities, I can say we were both out of character.  We both are more accustomed to a different kind of front line, under a different kind of glare—the equatorial sun of jungle war zones. FULL POST

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Topics: Arms Trafficking • Law
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. FULL POST

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Topics: Arms Trafficking