Archive for the ‘Viktor’ Category

out!

Fedorcio out they cry! See also this New Yorker piece on Viktor Bout.

On April 26, 2005, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in the Treasury Department, unveiled sanctions aimed at Bout, thirty companies associated with him, and Chichakli. That morning, F.B.I. agents went to Chichakli’s home, in Texas, to search his office. They confiscated his computer, bank records, flight journals, a copy of Bout’s passport, and more than two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds. No criminal charges were filed, however, and a week later Chichakli flew to Russia, where he has been living ever since. Soon after the raid, Department of Defense officials entered the names of the companies under sanctions into their databases. They made a surprising discovery: some of Bout’s companies were now delivering tents and frozen food to troops in Iraq.

Not that surprising by April ’05. But worth reading.

belated blogging

So Viktor Bout is guilty. Some discussion is here, including the suggestion that the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) is losing out politically. Dunno about that, but it’s striking that the best politician they could find to speak out for him was someone from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s outfit, and not even Anna Chapman or Andrei Lugovoi at that.

It took me a while to get around to this, but there you go. Apparently his defence was that he was really trying to sell the fake FARC a pair of Ilyushin-76 aircraft and just stringing them along with all the talk about surface-to-air missiles and millions of rounds of ammunition, but then I think if I went out to buy missiles and came back with two Ilyushins and a magic bean I’d think I’d been had.

Other recent things I cared about less than I expected – the Stone Roses reunion. Yes, I had the Facebook tickets app open and my finger on the button, but then it was the end of the month and I could do without spending the money. Was that being responsible or just excessively risk averse?

…like it’s 2008!

Having fixed the Viktorfeed, I notice with some pleasure that the activity levels continue to decline. It looks like the last gang in town is “Reliable Unique Services”, ICAO:RLB, an alias for Rus Aviation, operating five Il-76, a couple of which served with various version of Click Airways.

It has just come to my attention that both Dubai and Sharjah airports have redesigned their websites. Also, I’ve added 395 more meetings to the scraper this weekend, but for some weird reason the DFID disclosure isn’t actually being treated as a csv file by the csv module. Scraping, scraping, scraping, always bloody well scraping. I even had to write a scraping script for work last week.

Also, does anyone else find the OpenTech schedule a bit thin?

Meanwhile, I think I may be about to buy a laptop. Does anyone have experience of the new, cheap-end Lenovo ThinkPads or indeed their top-end netbook-cum-tablet?

rewind to 2006

The log says AFRICOM wants to know what’s up with B.727 msn 22045, ex of Irbis Air and now with “Mega” of Kazakhstan. Last heard of in Shymkent in January 2010, before that in Djibouti in 2008. I’ve no new information to add.

One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.

It’s fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa – Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout’s companies, but Gaddafi’s government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.

I’ve put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on Aerotransport.org, for subscribers, and on JetPhotos.net, in the two right hand columns.

https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?hl=en_GB&hl=en_GB&key=0AjP2Zn6KkPUwdGttaDJXVWplajVTNlpRSkpDOWJ5TFE&output=html&widget=true

There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It’s probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi’s war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.

The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi’s efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)

On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.

For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government’s Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus – mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don’t appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)

a quick HOWTO

Because someone wanted this: a list of aircraft investigation resources.

First thing: you always need to be able to map registrations to aircraft serial numbers (MSNs) and vice versa, as well as linking registrations to operators and vice versa. So you need to subscribe to one of several commercial databases that provide this information. Otherwise you’d have to follow up each registration individually with the state of registry, which isn’t so bad if it’s the US (you can query the registry at faa.gov) or the UK CAA’s G-INFO. If it’s Equatorial Guinea or Kyrgyzstan, though, it won’t be available online or really at all, and that’s just how the registrants want it.

I use ATDB, but there are others – the biggest one is Airclaims, which is marketed at insurers and debt chasers, but it’s seriously pricey.

You’ll also often want to find out where an aircraft was at a particular date, and if the registration and operator on fBecause someone wanted this: a list of aircraft investigation resources.

First thing: you always need to be able to map registrations to aircraft serial numbers (MSNs) and vice versa, as well as linking registrations to operators and vice versa. So you need to subscribe to one of several commercial databases that provide this information. Otherwise you’d have to follow up each registration individually with the state of registry, which isn’t so bad if it’s the US (you can query the registry at faa.gov) or the UK CAA’s G-INFO. If it’s Equatorial Guinea or Kyrgyzstan, though, it won’t be available online or really at all, and that’s just how the registrants want it.

I use ATDB, but there are others – the biggest one is Airclaims, which is marketed at insurers and debt chasers, but it’s seriously pricey.

You’ll also often want to find out where an aircraft was at a particular date, and if the registration and operator on file matched with the reality. Fortunately the world is full of volunteer spies, plane spotters, who take enormous numbers of photos of anything that might fly and post them on web sites. This is how German Amnesty managed to characterise the CIA rendition planes. Airliners.net is the biggest and has a full-featured search engine, but JetPhotos and a few others are worth trying if you turn up a blank. ATDB will try to pull photos from various servers matching your current query. Try querying by registration as well as MSN, and note that if you know the exact type (all six digits of a Boeing designation rather than just 737) you can often do a type-at-location search.

A lot of airports publish their movements on the web – this is why I did the Viktorfeed, to automate watching Dubai and Sharjah airports. This is useful if you want to know who is going where, or who’s recently been where, and you may be able to find out more by cross-referencing. For example, if Airline X’s flight from Dubai to Baghdad is listed as a passenger flight with a 727 and they only have one 727 with a pax, combi, or quick change configuration, you’ve got the registration and possibly the MSN.

Also, for some parts of the world, you can monitor Air Traffic Control data through sites like FlightTracker or FlightAware and LiveATC. A lot of these are aggregators for people who operate “virtual radar” devices, which receive the SSR transponder data practically all aircraft squawk when they hear a surveillance radar. Here’s an example. The problem is, of course, this depends on owning fancy radio equipment being tolerated in the places you’re interested in. If your BlackBerry is considered subversive, or there’s just no electricity, you’re unlikely to find a virtual radar server – and they won’t work if there’s no radar coverage. (However, if your staff go somewhere weird, why not…)

The Aviation Safety Network website provides a database of accident reports, which can be useful. AirNav has a huge database of airports, although most of them are on Wikipedia. There’s a lookup site for ICAO and IATA codes here. The Great Circle Mapper is a useful calculator for ranges and routes and makes pretty maps. Obviously Google Maps and Earth are useful if you’re planning more complex visualisation.

Things to look out for: networks of companies that repeatedly trade the same aircraft, especially if they’re based in the same location and their corporate registration is somewhere else and bizarre. Inconsistency. Unlikely details (the office that is in Kiev and is a cinema, the manager who is a Soviet ice hockey player and is dead). Things you can’t easily find: details of the cargo or whoever eventually controls the company.

Also, do be sceptical and don’t turn yourself into Evan Kohlmann (via Patrick Lang – check out Adam Silverman’s thoughts in the comments).

I can remember when the Emerson & Kohlmann show sounded fresh and new in late 2001. I can also remember when the Counterterrorism Blog launched and turned out to be really just a lot of drum-banging rightwing propaganda and some really quite horrible guilt-by-association games. Worry about the false positives.

If Bout agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in a plea agreement sparing him life in prison, “we’ll certainly want to know more from him about the circumstances of those Iraq contracts,” said a law-enforcement official with detailed knowledge of the criminal case against Bout. The official was referring to large U.S. military contracts in 2003 and 2004 in which Bout’s cargo companies were used as subcontractors to deliver military supplies to U.S. forces in Iraq. “We’d want to understand if our officials knew exactly who they were dealing with. If U.S. officials knew they were dealing with Bout, that’s uncomfortable news.” Could U.S. officials face prosecution? “The conspiracy laws are broad,” the official said without elaboration.

Well, that would be fun. I’m also interested by the suggestion of a plea bargain. From here. This is something I don’t think Irina from RFE/RL quite grasped.

There are some interesting Viktor Bout-related cables in the Wikileaks dump – this one suggests that part of his defence against extradition was to suggest he was in Thailand as part of a “government to government submarine deal”. This one details a visit by US diplomats to Ras al-Khaimah airport, where they viewed some rotting Il-76s and made enquiries about what may have been Viktor’s maintenance base. This was in any case around about the same time that the UAE gave the Antonov 12 operators the boot.

I’m surprised there aren’t more, although there may be more releases yet. The relevant tags would be AE for the UAE and perhaps some others – NEA for the Near East desk is one.

Update: Moar!

So Viktor Bout got extradited at last. As a result, I was interviewed by Radio Free Europe’s Irina Lagunina. They wanted to hear about how the whole Viktor-blogging project got started – I told them about the Defence Energy Support Center files and the T-DODAACs and the like, and the plane spotter websites, and the fact I basically borrowed the idea from the people who were trying to monitor CIA rendition flights.

They wanted to hear about bloggers, and I thanked everyone who took part in Operation Firedump and made the point that all sorts of people across the ideological spectrum had taken part. They asked about my feelings about the extradition, and I said that I’d done the rejoicing when he was arrested and had since been mostly interested in seeing if there was any noticeable change in air movements through the UAE. What really cheered me was when the UAE government kicked out the An-12 operators.

They also wanted to know about the Russian government using VB’s companies to move humanitarian aid. Specifically, they referred to something in Doug Farah’s book that apparently quotes me on this. Unfortunately, my review copy never turned up so I’m completely in the dark as to what this might be. I said that given the numbers of heavy, ex-Soviet tactical airlifters that he controlled at the peak of his career, it was unlikely that many humanitarian agencies had been able to avoid occasionally dealing with him, and that they were probably right on balance to do the job rather than worry too much. If you need to move 40 tons of drinking water or flour labelled “Gift of the European Union” or whatever before people starve or get cholera, I’m not going to whine about it.

hoisted from comments

From comments on this post, Against Viktorfeed:

*sigh* When is it going to get recognised that you can’t spot an arms flight just by who used to own the aircraft. Jubba Airways isn’t some unknown cargo entity – it’s one of the main commercial passenger carriers into Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. Are they a bit dodgy? Probably. Do they have dodgy planes? Yes. Does the fact that their dodgy planes may have been formerly owned by arms traffickers mean they’re arms traffickers themselves? No.

To illustrate this whole *you can’t spot an arms flight through the ownership of the plane* thing: Amnesty recently reported that arms were being flown from Bulgaria into Kigali in late 2008, just as Kigali was ramping up support for the CNDP in eastern DRC, on a *standard Air France passenger flight*. Which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have shown up on the ‘Viktorfeed’.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ACT30/015/2010/en

The key question is always who owns the cargo, and (for charter flight), who is *chartering* the plane. Not who owns or even operates the plane.

I’ve never been entirely confident on this point. Thoughts?





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