HOW THEY CAUGHT VIKTOR BOUT:
FOR THE FIRST TIME, DEA AGENTS TALK ABOUT LURING
AND ARRESTING THE MAN THEY CALL "ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH" � "60 MINUTES"
The Drug Enforcement Administration agents who caught the alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout explain how they lured and then captured the suspect one of them calls "one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth." DEA Agents Michael Braun and Louis Milione tell their story for the first time to Armen Keteyian for a 60 MINUTES story to be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Bout, a former Russian military officer, was extradited from Thailand Tuesday (16) to the U.S. to face weapons trafficking charges. Known as "The Merchant of Death," his life was the inspiration for "The Lord of War," a 2005 Nicholas Cage film.
Braun, the former chief of operations for the DEA says Bout was a threat to the U.S. "He's arming not only designated terrorist groups, insurgent groups, but he's also arming very powerful drug trafficking cartels around the world," he tells Keteyian. He also put weapons in the hands of child soldiers in Africa by supplying arms to civil wars. "Viktor Bout, in my eyes, is one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth," says Braun.
The DEA got involved because drug money is often used to purchase weapons. Milione and Braun set their trap by hiring two undercover operatives to pose as members of the Columbian revolutionary group known as the FARC, which collects money from cocaine sales. "Eduardo" and "The Comandante" met one of Bout's trusted associates, Andrew Smulian, in Curacao, under the guise of seeking to buy $12 million worth of weapons for their fight against the Columbian Army. "If Smulian doesn't believe it, we're done," says Milione. They fooled Smulian. "He bites off on it, in fact, he eats the whole thing."
At the next meeting, held in Copenhagen, Smulian was so drawn in that he used the real name of his arms dealer, boasting that the weapons would be coming from Bout � which he spelled out, says Milione, even calling him by his nickname, "The Merchant of Death." "We marveled that Smulian would do that, but it was just great evidence," says Milione. And it was also their great fortune he was so unsuspecting, because the next request from "The Comandante" and "Eduardo" was a big one. They had to get Bout to leave Moscow.
"Comandante is not going to release these millions of dollars�until he at least shakes hands, talks, looks Bout in the eye and then we can move on," says Milione. "And Bout went for it." They got word to Bout that they would be in Thailand soon and could they meet there.
Bout came to the meeting and engaged in conversation that the government says will make for compelling evidence. The undercover DEA operatives told Bout that they are fighting against the U.S., whose pilots support the Columbian Army. "Bout responds and says, 'Look, [the U.S.] is after me, too�They are my enemy, too,'" Recalls Milione. The fake FARC men then say they want sniper rifle scopes so they can "Start blowing the heads off of American pilots." Says Milione, Bout's response immediately is, 'yes.'"
The meeting in Thailand lasted two hours, the weapons discussed included "Five thousand AK47s, anti-personnel mines, fragmentation grenades, armor-piercing rockets," says Milione, "and all within the context of speaking about a shared ideology of communism and fighting against the Americans." They had enough. The signal was given and the Thai police and DEA agents entered the room. A reluctant Bout finally put his hands up on the second command; Milione recalls Bout muttered something like "'The game is over."
Bout denies he sells arms and contends he went to Thailand as a tourist.