Former US Drug Enforcement Administration officials who were involved in the effort to bring “merchant of death” Viktor Bout to justice have characterized their exchange to Russia for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner as an “embarrassment” and a “serious threat” to US national security.
Griner, who has been jailed in Russia since February, was released Thursday to applause from Biden administration officials. But former DEA officials had previously spoken out against trading Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer, in exchange for his release, and at least one former DEA special agent in charge, Derek Maltz, condemned the news as a “blow to the rule of law”.
“Americans need to be very careful when traveling the world. This decision has put Americans at great risk,” Maltz tweeted Thursday, calling Bout’s arrest a “total disgrace.” He had supervised the agents who secured Bout’s arrest in Thailand in 2008. Prior to his release, Bout was serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison for his 2011 conviction on charges of conspiring to kill Americans related to supporting a Colombian terrorist organization.
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After reports in May indicated that a Bout trade was a possibility, a former official said the trade would be “a slap in the face” to those who worked tirelessly to put him behind bars.
Michael Braun, former chief of operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine in August that Bout was “dangerous.” A 35-year veteran of federal law enforcement, Braun was tasked with “final supervision” of the operation that led to Bout’s arrest and imprisonment.
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“Trading Bout would not just be a slap in the face to the law enforcement officers and agents who worked to bring Bout down, many of whom risked their lives in the process. It would also pose a serious threat to the national security of the United States. and their allies,” Braun wrote.
He explained that Bout was a former Russian intelligence officer who got into the arms trade in the 1990s. “By 2003, he had become the world’s leading arms dealer, flooding US-designated terrorist organizations with weapons.” , insurgent groups, narcotics cartels and rogue regimes around the world,” Braun wrote.
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“Bout’s vast international enterprise could ‘transport tanks, helicopters and weapons by the ton to virtually any point in the world,’ according to the US government,” he continued. “He did particular damage in Africa, where insurgent and terrorist groups massacred hundreds of thousands of innocents with his weapons, depicted in the Nicolas Cage film. Warlord. The weapons that Bout sold to the Taliban were used against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
The US government targeted Bout with sanctions in 2004 and in 2006 directed the DEA to seek his arrest under anti-narcoterrorism laws. Two years later, the DEA ran a sting operation in partnership with Thai police that saw Bout arrested in Bangkok. He was convicted based on explicit statements that he had made conspiring to sell weapons, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles, for use against US personnel at Columbia, stating that he had been “fighting the United States … for 10 to 15 years”. .”
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Braun predicted that if released, Bout could become a Russian asset, “planning and executing clandestine supply missions in support of Russian proxies such as the Wagner Group in Africa, Venezuela, and other hotspots.”
“Trading Bout would also encourage Moscow and other rogue regimes to take Americans hostage, exacerbating the precedent set by Biden’s swap of Russian-controlled American Trevor Reed for another Russian criminal imprisoned in the United States earlier in this year,” Braun warned. “We can expect Moscow to double down on taking American hostages to exchange them for Russian cybercriminals, often also working for Russian intelligence, extradited to the United States by allied countries.”
Fox News reached out to Maltz and Braun for additional comment.