Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Update - Bout Story Goes Critical

What happens when something reaches critical mass? I'll tell you - a huge ball of really hot radioactive stuff spreads out in all directions in instants. That's roughly what's happened since earlier this morning with The Story. The LA Times has an impressive story giving quite a lot of detail on the whole thing. Apparently, although the contracts via Falcon Express were spiked in August, an Ilyushin 18 belonging to Irbis Air Co. turned up in Balad as recently as the 22nd of October. Igor Zhuravylov, BGIA's flight ops director, was interviewed and gave the following insight into the stringent background checks applied to the Defence Energy Support Centre's fuel accounts:
"In December 2003, he said, he struck up a conversation with a U.S. military fuel truck operator at the Balad airfield. Zhuravylov said the soldier gave him a blank government form, urging him to fill it out and mail it to military officials.

In April, "to my big surprise, I received a plastic card for each of our planes which allowed us to get military fuel," Zhuravylov said. British Gulf's business boomed.

"It was really so good," Zhuravylov said. "All by the mail. No inspectors, nothing like that. Write a letter, fill a form, get a card."
Well, I laughed my arse off at that one. It's also interesting that although Viktor Bout himself was blacklisted on the 22nd of July, none of his businesses or aircraft were. Did they think he accompanied every flight in person?

One explanation for this remarkable incompetence, of course, would be that somehow their hearts weren't in it. Nick Confessore appears to have picked up a crucial point in this direction, pointing out just how the case came to light in the first place. Remember, it was the fact that suddenly the US and British governments didn't want Bout's name on a UN asset freeze list (when it had been their policy for years to close him down) that initiated the whole story. Now, the initial reaction seems to be that it was all a terrible mistake. Somehow they just slipped through the net. But if that was so, and the officers, officials, and contractor executives involved just didn't know what was going on, how could both the State Department and the British Foreign Office have changed their policy? Confessore also picks up another key point, which I covered in this post back in May. This is that the contracts are dated to the same period as the first Sadr uprising, when the US rapidly lost control of the roads and faced a serious quartermaster crisis. Even the Green Zone was on half rations for a while. You could see why large heavy-lift aircraft suitable for near-tactical flying (basically, the equivalents of the USAF's C-130s and C-17s) were at a premium.

That doesn't explain, though, the fact that BGIA apparently became aware of the fuel credit system in December, 2003, nor that photos place 9L-LEC in Baghdad in January 2004, nor that S9-DAE was photographed in Mosul, December 2003, nor that according to the LA Times the CIA were "concerned" about possible dealings with Bout in October, 2003.

Another thing it doesn't explain is the fact that apparently it was the British Government who chartered Jetline (or perhaps Jet Line) twice.

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