Inside the Murky World of Arms Smuggling


Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell.” But to those who profit off the sale of weapons, war is big business that brings in huge profits. That explains why, even in these tough economic times, global weapons sales are booming, with U.S. corporations being some of the biggest arms peddlers.

The global arms market can be split into three sectors: First are the legal sales whereupon governments buy arms from corporations. Second are sales on the black market. And third is a legally gray area where governments, militaries and intelligence agencies rub shoulders with shady and corrupt dealers in order to carry out covert agendas such as regime changes and assassinations.

On March 2, Richard Norton-Taylor, reporting for The Guardian, wrote: “Sales of weapons and military services exceeded $400B in 2010 . . . [and] the top 10 arms producing companies account for 56% of total arms sales.”

To Americans, what should be most troublesome is the role the United States plays in bombarding the world with deadly weaponry in this half-trillion dollar market.

In a recent article entitled “America: Arms Dealer to the World,” reporter William Astore wrote, “From 2006 to 2010, the U.S. accounted for nearly 1/3 of the world’s arms exports.” However, in 2010, Astore claimed that, in spite of a recessionary downswing, “The U.S. increased its market share to a whopping 53%.” As the undisputed masters of war, America shipped weapons to 62 different countries.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, of the top 20 global weapons dealers, 16 are U.S. corporations. These include: (1) Lockheed Martin, (2) Boeing, (3) Northrop Grumman, (4) General Dynamics and (5) Raytheon.

Rounding out, the biggest arms selling nations in the world include Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China. Taken together with the U.S., these countries supply more than 80% of total weaponry.

If arms are being manufactured and sold, obviously somebody has to be buying them. On March 19, Agence France-Presse provided an analysis of these purchasers. India was far and away the No. 1 importer of weaponry, followed by South Korea, Pakistan, China (which is also a big exporter) and Singapore. Overall, these five countries accounted for 30% of all international arms imports.

But leaders who stock up on weapons can find themselves in serious trouble.

After Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi surrendered his weapons of mass destruction in 2003, Britain, France and the U.S. began selling him billions of dollars worth of arms. Oddly, at the same time, anti-Qaddafi rebels were tapping the black market for high-tech weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. As everyone now knows, in 2011, a NATO-led army of the same countries that previously sold weapons to Qaddafi led an attack on Libya, which ultimately resulted in the death of Qadaffi and about 20,000 others.

Arms dealing is “the single most lucrative business there is,” said Houston-based international defense attorney Frank A. Rubino. “It’s unbelievably profitable,” he added.

Rubino should know. As the lead trial counsel for Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega as well as arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme  Court, Rubino was also involved in the Pan Am 103 bombing trial at The Hague. Such a background allows Rubino to frequently defend individuals involved in the illegal arms business.

During an April 26 interview with this writer, Rubino said: “Black-market arms deals occur in the dark shadows. But the amount of money generated is incredible. We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, and the profits are extremely high.”

When asked where the hottest spot on the globe is for this type of nefarious activity, Rubino replied: “Africa, because of all the warlords and private armies in countries such as Somalia who are always looking to acquire arms.”

Middle Eastern countries are the world’s No. 2 hot spot for illegal arms sales, he explained.

He broached the subject of last year’s Libyan invasion. “The forces opposing Qaddafi clearly bought their weapons on the black market from individual profiteers,” he said. “They probably originated or were manufactured in Russia or China.”

AMERICAN FREE PRESS inquired as to how much of this Libyan firepower found its way there from America. “I’m not sure how many guns came from the United States,” said Rubino. “That’s a question for the Central Intelligence Agency, not me.”

Rubino pointed out that, “the CIA also puts a lot of weapons on the streets. They give weapons to one side, then the other side so it’s balanced. These countries always get more than they need, so plenty of guns go out the back door”.

Another ATF Fast and Furious?

July 15, 2011

Several lawmakers are questioning the Obama administration about whether the controversial “Fast and Furious” gunrunning probe may have had a cousin in Florida that resulted in guns being trafficked to Central America.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., penned a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson inquiring about a program known as “Operation Castaway.” Other top lawmakers are also starting to look into it, though ATF claims the program was above board and not similar to Operation Fast and Furious at all.

The Justice Department says Castaway was an anti-gun trafficking operation handled by an ATF division in Florida. It resulted last year in a slew of convictions for defendants the department claimed provided firearms linked to violent crimes around the world. But in light of questions surrounding the Fast and Furious probe out of ATF’s Phoenix division, Bilirakis questioned whether Castaway bore the same suspicious hallmarks.

Fast and Furious came under fire for allegedly allowing guns to “walk” across the Mexico border in an attempt to track their migration into cartel hands. Weapons tied to the program were found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder last year.

Bilirakis expressed concern about reports that the strategy “may not have been limited to weapons trafficking to Mexico.”

He asked Holder and Melson whether “similar programs included the possible trafficking of arms to dangerous criminal gangs in Honduras with the knowledge of the ATF’s Tampa Field Division” and a Justice Department office, via Castaway.

Bilirakis’ letter specifically asked whether the Tampa division participated in a “gun walking” scheme allowing guns to go to Honduras. He also asked whether ATF or DOJ know if any of the firearms ended up in the hands of the “notorious” MS-13 gang — a violent gang spread across Central America, Mexico and the United States.

Court documents from the Operation Castaway takedown claim that at least five firearms from the illegal sales of the main suspect ended up later being connected to crimes, several in Puerto Rico. One pistol was recovered in Colombia after being used in a homicide.

But an ATF official told that the investigation, which targeted Florida gun dealer Hugh Crumpler III, did not appear to be designed like Fast and Furious. Though Justice and ATF have not yet formally responded to Bilirakis, the official explained that ATF got involved in the Crumpler case after the fact, and was not using the investigation to track firearms sales across international lines.

“We became involved with Crumpler at the first opportunity of realizing that criminal activity was afoot,” the official said. “Once we were able to put our case together, establish probable cause … then at that point, we did so at the soonest opportunity to stop the illegal activity.”

The official noted that the case is “complete,” though two fugitives are still at large.

The 2010 plea agreement suggests ATF agents monitored him for just a few months before taking him in — it does not describe any long-term effort to track firearms outside U.S. borders.

The lengthy court document states that the ATF noticed Crumpler’s numerous purchases in a national firearms database — it turned out he was later selling them at gun shows. According to the plea agreement, the ATF had an undercover agent buy from Crumpler and later observed the suspect at several gun shows in late 2009, selling to numerous buyers without a license. At one point, he told an undercover agent that he knew the firearms were making their way to Honduras.

By early 2010, ATF agents were seizing guns sold by Crumpler and within weeks confronted him, putting a stop to the operation.

Despite ATF’s claims, the issue is starting to pop up on the radar screen of other lawmakers, including those leading the charge to find out more about Fast and Furious — Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

“Senator Grassley is looking into the allegations and trying to get some firsthand information from people involved,” Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine told

Bilirakis apparently was alerted to Castaway by news reports, as well as calls received by his office.

An article on initially claimed the Tampa division was “walking guns” to Honduras in a way similar to Fast and Furious.

Bilirakis spokesman Creighton Welch said his boss saw the report, but also received “several calls from folks who I guess you could say were familiar with the situation in Tampa.”

He declined to go into further detail about where the tips were coming from.

“We’re placing a lot of firearms in potentially the wrong hands,” Welch said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions for a potentially very dangerous situation.”

Bilirakis was joined by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., in writing a separate letter seeking similar answers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

“We find it extremely troubling that the United States government would willfully allow weapons to be acquired by dangerous criminal and drug trafficking organizations, in direct contravention of our strategic and national interests,” they wrote.

However, Crumpler’s attorney told The Tampa Tribune that ATF agents “closely monitored” his client’s activity, and he didn’t think the guns made their way to Latin American criminals during the course of the probe.

Documents reveal China’s role in shipments of nukes to Iran

WikiLeaks releases State Department reports.

Washington Times

More than 250,000 classified State Department reports made public on Sunday reveal that China was urged to stop shipments through Beijing of missiles from North Korea to Iran, and that Saudi Arabia‘s monarch urged the United States to attack Iran‘s nuclear facilities.

The Obama administration sought to minimize the diplomatic fallout from the disclosures on the Internet site WikiLeaks that provide a vivid inside look at U.S. diplomatic and intelligence reports, some as recent as February.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs condemned the release of the documents. “By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information,” he said. “It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions.”

The cables “could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world,” he said in a statement.

Diplomatic cables are long-standing reflections of the day-to-day activities of State Department officials abroad who are required to report back regularly to headquarters on various issues as part of their duties. Similar reports have been leaked in the past, but the scale of the current disclosures is unprecedented.

On the North Korea-Iran missile trade, a 2007 report labeled “secret” said the Bush administration demanded that China block shipments of missile parts to Iran from North Korea, in violation of U.N. sanctions.

“We have identified a large number of shipments beginning late last year [2006] of what are probably ballistic-missile-related items that have transited Beijing, and we would like to share further information on these shipments,” the cable said.

The November 2007 cable from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instructs the U.S. ambassador in Beijing to “raise at the highest level possible” U.S. concern about continued shipments of ballistic missile parts from Pyongyang to Tehran that transit China.

“We now have information that the goods will be shipped on November 4 and insist on a substantive response from China to this information,” the cable said, citing intelligence reports that “10 air shipments of jet vanes have transited Beijing thus far” and calling for action to “make the Beijing airport a less hospitable transfer point.”

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said earlier this month that China has abided by sanctions on North Korea.

Regarding Saudi Arabia‘s King Abudullah‘s urging military action against Iran, an April 2008 cable stated that Saudi Arabia‘s U.S. ambassador “recalled the King‘s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program. ‘He told you to cut off the head of the snake.’ “

Among the disclosures the mass of cables are:

c Iran purchased a cache of 19 BM-25 missiles from North Korea, according to a Feb. 24, 2010, cable, according to the New York Times. The missiles will give Iran the capability to strike capitals throughout Europe.

c China‘s Communist Party Politburo was behind the cyber-attack on Google uncovered last year, according to the New York Times. The cable from Beijing in January reported on a Chinese informant who told the U.S. Embassy of Chinese intelligence’s role in the much-publicized attack. The informant said the attack, which analysts say pilfered valuable trade secrets from Google and other U.S. high-tech companies, was executed by a team of government agents, private security personnel and hackers recruited by the government.

c The U.S. Embassy in Berlin had a network of informants inside the German government that provided details on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to form a government, Der Spiegel reported.

c A cable to U.S. diplomats at the United Nations asked diplomats to continue gathering intelligence, something diplomats frequently do for State’s intelligence branch. It asks them to “include as much of the following information as possible” before reeling off a laundry list that requests “work schedules,” “credit card account numbers” and “frequent flyer account numbers.”

c A cable informing U.S. diplomatic outposts how to handle “walk-in” defectors who offer to spy for the United States.

c A report stated that Yemen’s president covered up U.S. strikes on al Qaeda. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is quoted as saying in a meeting in January of this year with Central Command commander David H. Petraeus, according to a cable sent by the U.S. ambassador, which said the country’s deputy prime minister “joke* that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemeni forces were behind the strikes on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

c Arab leaders are quoted in cables calling Iranian leaders “liars” and expressing grave fears of the Iranian nuclear program as well as the country’s penetration throughout the region.

“The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates,” stated a cable from Amman, while another report from Cairo said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak “has a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic” and “did not oppose our talking with the Iranians, as long as ‘you don’t believe a word they say.’

The prime minister of the Gulf state of Qatar characterizes his country’s relationship with Iran as one in which “they lie to us, and we lie to them.”

A cable from June of the last year, meanwhile, said that in a meeting with a congressional delegation, [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak “estimated a window between 6 and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable. After that, he said, any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

The document release follows similar large-scale disclosures on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Posted were 243,270 cables from U.S. embassies to the State Department, offering details of secret meetings and often unflattering assessments of host country leaders, as well as 8,017 directives sent by the State Department to its emissaries around the globe. They are as recent as February of this year, and about 90 percent of them are dated 2004 or after.

The State Department cables were provided weeks in advance to the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, and Spain’s El Pais. One-hundred-eighty journalists and researchers from the five newspapers, according to Le Monde, collaborated in their reviewing of the material, and all five released highlights Sunday with promises of more to come.

An Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, is facing charges for disclosing classified information related to the Iraq and Afghanistan reports. He is considered a likely source for the current State Department cables after he reportedly was quoted in an online chat as stating that he had downloaded “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world,” among other classified documents, from a military computer network.

On Sunday afternoon, the WikiLeaks site was operating intermittently.

Obama Administration ‘Hides’ Massive Saudi Arms Deal


The Obama administration has quietly forged ahead with its proposal to sell $60 billion worth of fighter jets and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia unhampered by Congress, despite questions raised in legislative inquiries and in an internal congressional report about the wisdom of the deal.

The massive arms deal would be the single largest sale of weapons to a foreign nation in the history of the U.S., outfitting Saudi Arabia with a fully modernized, potent new air force.

“Our six-decade-long security relationship with Saudi Arabia is a primary security pillar in the region,” Defense Sec. Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to congress. “This package continues that tradition.”

But some critics are questioning the deal, and the stealthy effort by the Obama administration to avoid a more probing congressional review by notifying Congress last month, just as members were headed home for the November elections. Congress had 30 days to raise objections — a review period that concludes Saturday. With most members leaving Washington today, any significant effort to block the deal appears dead for now, officials said.

“I do not think there will be any action” to hold up the sale, Rep. Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Bloomberg News Thursday.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, submitted a resolution this week to try and block the deal, and was among those who objected to the way the administration approached the required congressional review.

“Hiding this in a recess announcement is a sign of how unpopular it is,” he said. “It’s bad policy that now is further tainted by shameful process.”

Clinton: Saudis Helped Thwart Cargo Bomb Plot

The Obama administration has touted the deal as a boon for American jobs, and as a move to solidify the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at a time when American intelligence is dependent on the Islamic nation for help in the war on terror. Earlier this month, it was a tip from Saudi intelligence that helped foil an al Qaeda plot to hide a bomb in a desktop printer aboard a UPS cargo plane.

The arrangement would ship 84 F-15 fighter jets and more than 175 attack helicopters to the Saudis over the next 15 years. The choppers, in particular, would “bolster Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism capabilities,” Gates and Clinton wrote in their letter this week to congressional leaders.

Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican who will soon retire as his party’s ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, supports the arms sale, and told ABC News that the Saudis offered ample evidence of the value of the alliance when they provided tracking numbers for the parcels that contained the concealed bombs.

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