Friday, March 07, 2008

Smulian In the Bag With Viktor Bout

Much more is filtering out about the Bangkok Bout Bust; it seems fairly certain that his arrest was the result of a sting operation in which the DEA posed as buyers from the FARC. Bout booked a meeting room in the Bangkok Sofitel; he, and several others, were waiting for their guests to arrive when the Thai police arrived instead. Initial reports said that he had only arrived in Thailand four hours earlier, on an Aeroflot flight (presumably from Russia); this has now given place to the suggestion that he had been staying in the hotel since January. It's most likely that both are in fact true, and that Bout has been in Thailand for some time but had recently travelled to Russia.

The fake buyers ordered surface-to-air missiles and anti-armour weapons, precisely what you'd expect a modern guerrilla army to import. A figure of 100 missiles was given. According to the complaint against him, he went as far as offering them helicopters for sale, and suggested that the missiles could be delivered by airdrop into Colombia. Given the length of the route from the ex-USSR or Middle East pickup point to the destination, this argues that an Ilyushin 76 would have been the means of delivery.

According to the FT, the DEA narcs had been on the case for some time, and there had been past meetings in the Netherlands Antilles and Denmark. Further, the FT claims they got access to e-mail from Viktor's Gmail account.

Viktor Bout has a Gmail account?!!!

In a further report, the FT mentions some of the people who were arrested with Bout. Chief among them is one "Andrew" Smulian, who has apparently already been ghosted from Thailand to the US. This name is interesting; someone of that surname has been associated with Bout since at least 1998, and he appears in the accounts of Air Pass for that year as a major recipient of cash from the company. This would appear to be corroboration of those documents.

It was inevitable that something weird would happen, though:
Mr Surapol said Mr Bout was arrested with five other people – four Russians and one British citizen – all of whom had been released due to lack of evidence of against them, and lack of local arrest warrants for them.

OK, so Bout is in Thai custody awaiting an extradition hearing. Bout and Smulian are the men named in the DEA's writ. Smulian's already been handed over - what's that about? - but some five others have been released including one Briton.

I'm aware of at least two British associates, but one of them is in jail and the other hasn't been reported as being involved in anything evil for years, and was anyway a marginal figure. The FT reckons the released men were the sting merchants.

Further, Doug Farah reports that the Russians have been making noises about issuing an extradition request; I remember overhearing a group of teenagers on a bus in Feltham, passing an ANPR mobile camera installation on the A30. One of them mentioned that it was a police camera that read number plates; the rest exclaimed "Sneaky Russians!" Indeed.

Meanwhile, the affair set the TYR infrastructure sweating, roaring and creaking like an old Antonov 12; just listen to those Kuznetsov turboprops. It was the biggest day in the history of the old blog with 1,576 uniques, plus a hundred or so more on the new blog; anything with a plane photo has been in heavy demand. My favourite google search ever: is max boot related to viktor bout? (the top result is this.)

But more interestingly, look at this: someone queried Russian Google for "Tenir Bout", from theUAE. We also had someone in Moscow googling british gulf, as in British Gulf International Airlines/British Gulf International Company.

Here's what our highly sophisticated surveillance network reported:
[u'06-Mar 23:45', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Estimated : 23:45 ']
[u'07-Mar 00:02', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Arrived at 00:02 ']
[u'07-Mar 03:00', None, 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u' ']
We've also seen them in the past doing routes like Sharjah-Baghdad-Kabul; a true war-on-terror trifecta, and in the last few weeks running into northern Somalia. Just look where the planes came from.

Wired Danger Room, meanwhile, theorises that the Bout network has been involved with the emerging Andes-West Africa-Europe cocaine route, and was trading weapons for drugs with the FARC. It's plausible; even as early as the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, some of the militias were noted to have transatlantic trading connections.

Just for laughs, meanwhile, someone on an Armenian IP is googling for Viktor Bout and Pierre Falcone.

Update: More detail from the horse's mouth. Looks like the DEA agents got Smulian to call Bout on a mobile phone they handed him so they knew which line to listen on. Huge security fart on Smulian's part.


Douglas Farah said...

Ranter, your work on the Bout issue has been invaluable. Many thanks and a tip of the hat to you.

Douglas Farah

Anonymous said...

They get Bout but have failed to capture Bin Laden for ten years :-)

Anyhow, who's next? Egli is half-dead. Minin?

Anonymous said...

Smulian's already been handed over - what's that about?

Smulian's working for the DEA. Hence him using their mobile phone to call Bout - he did it willingly on their instructions so they could trace and trap Bout.

I expect he'll turn state's evidence and get immunity from prosecution or a reduced sentence.

Alex said...

Makes sense to me.

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