The indictment and charging papers, now all an open book since Viktor Bout’s arrest and subsequent conviction, read like a script for an upcoming “Narcos” Netflix season. The cast included Colombian FARC militants, unassuming DEA agents and their informants, and not the least to mention Bout himself, the Russian profiteering handily selling arms off the fall of the Soviet military. And all of it, after more than a decade, crescendoed with luring Viktor Bout to a far flung locale for his surprise arrest in Thailand.
Of all the ops teams and agencies in all the world that could have come into play, it was the DEA that made the case. They leveraged federal laws that enabled a reach beyond national boundaries — the malfeasances of which boiled down to Viktor Bout conspiring to arm narco-terrorists with Soviet-era rocket launchers and machine guns, to shoot down planes and kill Americans.
I don’t quite know how to impress upon you, the casual reader, how hard it was for them to capture a Viktor Bout in the first place. If you aren’t squarely aware, he stood among the world’s supervillains, himself known to arm militias across Africa, and terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere.
His capture and conviction put him among the gallery of targets the DEA built cases on and put away — among them, Syrian arms trafficker Monzer al-Kazzar who once luxuriated in Marbella, Spain; and Polish / Italian heroin trafficker and money launderer Ricardo Fanchini, rumored to have been the real life inspiration for Keyser Sose, the movie villain in “The Usual Suspects.” And Bout was among them, this legion of monied and well-heeled, international doom-doers.
Overseas in Thailand, the mechanics of a sting wound layered in multi-national, inter-agency cooperation enough to make heads spin and bureaucrats blush. But they did it. DEA agents did it. They built the case. They caught the man. And eventually brought him back to their own turf. And afterward, federal prosecutors in New York made the charges stick for good.
So letting go of Viktor Bout, after so carefully and fully snaring this rarified kind of malefactor, leans and falls beyond the pale of wrong. Worse than that childhood feeling after peeing your pants. Worse than that gross embarrassment, and all its inappropriateness.
Letting go of Viktor Bout — for anyone, never mind a WNBA player caught up in whatever arrest Russia could trump up, however sympathetic, however much the media cooed and begged and pleaded — should be chiseled in stone in memoriam as among the worst of moves ever, ever made. This poison spider, caught and held captive under a glass, now again scurries to the camouflage of darkness. We’ve lost track. Now, again, gone to under the bed or couch.
Except, in real life, it’s not simply a spider to watch for that may sneak up and bite. This is Viktor Bout, a real-life international supervillain. Maybe his work resumes in Belarus or Ukraine. Maybe to shoot down planes and buttress Russian forces. Maybe too to arm Hamas or Hezbollah. Maybe again to add to rancor in the Middle East. For what, you ask? Who? Ask. As reminder. Viktor Bout is gone again, and he's now escaped far from our reach. How's the world now, again? Suddenly, a place that’s far more dangerous.
Jason James Barry is an award-winning essayist and journalist. He previously served as a Special Agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Follow his work on prattlon.com and at GreatPacificReview.com.
Read the Jason James Barry writing collection, “A Season in Madness: Essays on the Year of Isolation, Introspection, and Closed Schools” , now available on Amazon.