07.12.2013 Author: Henry Kamens

Uncle Sam, the Hardcore Weapons Trafficker

kGKGopumVUDiMaR-556x313-noPadA Georgian film studio house is now producing an independent documentary film which will explore the role of the United States in the Caucasus region, the plot being based on documents which are now part of criminal investigations. It will also investigate serious allegations of weapons trafficking which are supported both by documentation and a leak which originated from the US Department of Homeland Security.

These arms deals have been taking place in Georgia for a long time, some dating back as many as 20 years. The stakeholders in them are substantial, and the sheer extent and complexity of these “deals” raises many questions as to how they can have been made, and continue to be made, when arms trafficking watchdogs and other organisations have made it their mission to track and document such violations. One would think that governments would be interested in curbing, rather than fueling, this trade – but the performance of these watchdogs, ultimately answerable to these governments, suggests this is not the case.

Georgia has long been recognized as a transit point for illegal trade, not only in arms but in drugs and other contraband, a transit hub for criminals who wish to move goods between Asia and Europe, and more recently the rest of the world. Investigating the people involved can provide us with deeply important information regarding the links between certain “interest groups”, including terrorist networks, Chechens and Al-Qaeda fighting in Syria, and the Georgian special services – for example, the head of Al-Qaeda in Syria happens to come from Georgia, and was recruited and trained there, with the help of Georgian and American special services.

Now Georgia has changed its government by election for the first time since independence it is out with the old, in with the new. But it is yet to be seen whether the new is any better than the old when it comes to the criminality which has fueled the Georgian political system, economy and foreign policy for so long. One need only reflect on the layers of intrigue and number of actors involved, to despair of any concerted effort being made to change things, as too many vested interests have used and abused this small Caucasus republic, which most of them can’t even place on a map, for too long.

Take one simple example. When the US economy goes down, and people don’t have jobs, the voters of the most powerful country on earth blame the government, just as they credit the government for a strong economy and full employment. To cover failures in domestic policy, you must create a foreign enemy so that the hardships are seen as a sacrifice for a higher cause. It is no coincidence that the Second World War immediately followed the Great Depression. The USA has such a global reach that it has all kinds of levers for ensuring that other countries do what it wants. So a new war, not a Cold War but an active one, against terrorism or whatever, inevitably follows: and when it does, everyone understands the exigencies of the situation, and turns a blind eye to how the weapons get to where they do, how those intricate supply lines were put in place during peacetime, and by whom.

Much of the information cited here was shared with Georgian investigative bodies approximately 6 months ago. It includes a two-hour long film which shows a US weapons manufacturer, Dillon Aero, negotiating to illegally ship a cache of weapons from Arizona to Turkmenistan via Georgia and Azerbaijan by means of various ruses and fake documents. A teaser clip of this film was posted on Youtube soon after it was discovered, and denounced by official sources as phony. However, the extent of such allegedly non-existent weapons trafficking to Georgia has been so large as to warrant a Federal Investigation by those same official bodies who deny its existence.

Legal counsel Mark Barnes and Associates wrote last year, November 27, 2012,

“We realize that you are interested in an evidently sensationalist Youtube video, and a threatened reprint of defamatory material, regarding our client [Dillon Aero], Inc. We have justification [sic] over you in United States Courts. If necessary, we will seek to enforce such jurisdiction over you to the full extend [sic] of the law. Be aware that your allegations are false, and our client has not engaged in any unlawful conduct. In light of the fact that a Federal Investigation is still ongoing, that is Dillon’s only comment on the matter.”

Strangely, the attorney failed to note in this threatening letter his own involvement in arms imports. Whilst retained by a company called Century International Arms, Inc. he derived significant income from lobbying activities he and others made on its behalf. These concerned the importation of “historic firearms”, a perfectly legal practice which would not apparently require such expensive lobbyists. This is documented in a lobbying report to the US Senate.

2008 Georgia-Russia War

The 2008 Georgia-Russia war may never be fully understood by politicians, but some have come to realize that it had many and varied causes, among which were a desire to help Senator John McCain’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the White House and a need to test what Russia would be likely to do if anything was tried against Iran. Georgia and its supporters had planned this conflict far ahead of time, and had even procured 10,000 body bags. A succession of drunken American servicemen in different Tbilisi bars can’t all tell coordinated lies at the same time, even if they do when sober. However, what has escaped the attention of all the inquisitions is that the war was a convenient cover for the massive shipments of military equipment and small arms allegedly destined for Georgia which actually ended up in other countries, often without even entering Georgia. Of course little Georgia was going to lose to mighty Russia, so no one bothered to ask why the Georgian troops did not have the weapons allegedly procured for them, it being assumed they would be of little use anyway.

Maybe Dillon Aero’s lawyers would like to explain the coincidence that both the company and Senator John McCain come from Arizona. Look up the contributions made to his campaign for yourself, and you will find that a few more coincidences emerge. The “hawk politicians” who like to rattle sabres to rouse the public only ever seem to do so, again coincidentally, when it suits their bottom line and provides them with a retirement nest egg when time or deeds catch up with them.

End user certificates

georgia_policeThe provision of arms to Georgia when they cannot legally be sold to the real end users is nothing new, and the sources of these shipments are varied. With the help of Italian Interpol, some Dillon Aero arms were tracked entering Georgia from Jordan via an intermediary company, alongside otherwise legal imports. UKRS, the Ukrainian State Arms Exporter, also sent arms to Georgia which its military never saw. Some weapons allegedly destined for use in Georgia even ended up in Kosovo back in the early 90s. Why Georgia? Partly because it is close to a number of world trouble spots, but mostly because it had a compliant government. In order to sell arms legally you need an end user certificate specifying where they are going. The previous Government of Georgia, like its predecessor, was only too willing to provide such certificates, knowing full well where the weapons were actually going, in exchange for cash and drugs to fund the ruling party. Evidence?

Former Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, a well-known junkie now in custody in France, is on the Interpol red list. He was in charge of weapons procurement. According to official documents presented to Georgian prosecutors, he ordered specific items of weaponry, including very visible ones like 82 tanks, and these arrived in Georgia in traced deliveries on named ships but were either never seen again or of such low standard that they were unusable – items which no commercial buyer would be allowed to procure and still keep his job. If Kezerashvili doesn’t end up being convicted it will only be because the jury members have all died before the clerk of the court could finish reading the long list of charges against him. Some suspect that he will himself conveniently die in protective custody, despite being in his early thirties, which would be a blessing for many of those involved.

Some of these deals are also thought to be linked with alleged Viktor Bout networks in Georgia and the former Soviet Union. Georgian TV, even though it was generally pro-government, broadcast a program about this in 2010, highlighting the connections of known international arms dealers to the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili and US Department of Defense contractors, and how international conventions were circumvented by these American companies and others. Bout is the world’s most influential and notorious arms dealer, a Hollywood film having been made about him, and therefore the most convenient person to blame in any alleged deal. If things go wrong, the scandal touches Bout, who based on legend is bound to been involved in such things, not the governments who have employed him or those who have set him up as a fall guy. It is known that Bout is now dying in a US prison, again a coincidence, startlingly similar to that of Lee Harvey Oswald being assassinated on TV minutes prior to JFK’s equally televised funeral.

For companies involved in import and export, particularly of firearms and explosives, doing business with entities in the United States means complying with a complex web of federal, state and local laws which regulate their activities. High level lobbyists, including Mark Barnes & Associates, have helped Georgian middlemen do this, whilst also lobbying for or against proposed legislation and performing a range of similar legal services. Anyone interested in this material should contact the US State Department or the US Embassy, who can put them in touch with the source, and share it based on the privacy release the source signed.

As the source wrote to the Embassy and FBI at the time, “I want to collaborate with the USG and Georgian government and other interested parties in this matter; this is a matter of public concern and protected speech – and it is a matter of National Security and treaty law which overrides US law. Apparently, based on the document and transcripts, Dillon Aero should not be trying to peddle its goods in such a manner, and should not be making campaign contributions to politicians that are involved in selling weapons that could fall into the hands of enemies of the United States and its strategic allies. Dillon Aero should also check out who is transporting goods, as that is also a can of worms that should be opened in the not too distant future.”

So where exactly do the weapons passing through Georgia go? Much of what has transpired in Georgia, including the relocation of its parliament to an international weapons trafficking hub, is related to providing material support for fighters in Syria. Men and materials are being provided via established logistics links in Georgia and other countries in the region, including Turkey. The Georgian connection with US arms shipments and the links with Georgian-based companies, shell companies and Russian and Slovak arms dealers (Ruslan Gilchenko and Victor Dobregaiev) who are now in a US federal prison are all part of being investigated at federal level in the US. However not everyone is happy with the fact that this investigation is taking place. Last year, a Federal Judge, Frederick J, Martone, attempted to stop it by issuing a protective order, dated July 18, 2012. However, he failed to follow Federal Rules regarding Service of Process and legal grounds, and his efforts to protect American gun dealers were thus unsuccessful for the time being.

It is not simply guns either. Many of the Illyushin-76s used for transport are registered in Georgia, and the same is true of many of the planes contracted to the UN in Africa. When they are not flying UN peacekeeping missions, carrying food, aid workers, etc, they are engaged in the illicit transport of weapons and other restricted goods. These aircraft are operated by the Batumi-based company Air West, and use documents from New Zealand and Hong Kong to supply arms to various countries. The same planes are linked to American front companies in California and Armenia, and connect back to a private company which was registered in Swaziland, though ownership has since been transferred to Air West. Not so many years ago a plane crashed in Congo, killing several Georgian citizens, and a number of Georgian sailors were arrested for serving on a ship carrying contraband cargo. These individuals, and the aircraft and vessel they were in, were all part of the same transit mechanism set up by the intelligence services of the United States and its NATO partners. In another instance, on August 17, 2009 a ship flying under the Panamanian flag was seized and 13 Georgian sailors arrested. They were all accused of weapons smuggling, but only the captain of the ship, an American, has accepted responsibility.

Where it all began

So how did we get to this point? Back in the late 90s the United States and Georgia intentionally made the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia into a no-go area, a base for Chechens to conduct raids on Russia and a terrorist training camp. It also served as a base camp for imported Arab and Afghan Northern Alliance fighters, but little of what was going on there was ever reported in the mainstream media. Access was denied to foreign reporters, and therefore the international media, including the Washington Post and others, had little choice but to swallow the official story – hook, line and sinker.

Substantial PR effort was made to present Pankisi Gorge as a lawless place, a “no-go zone”, and claim that Georgia therefore needed help. The US State Department was engaged. This concocted fear of Chechen terrorists in Georgia, and the subsequent claims by Russia that Georgia was the site of a terrorist camp, were used as justification for the United States gaining a large toehold in the region and providing direct military support to the GoG through the 64 million dollar Train and Equip Program, which explained why all these weapons were entering the country in the first place.

In retrospect it is clear that this deadly scam was part of an effort by the US to engage Georgia in NATO operations (which it has contributed more troops to, per capita, than any other nation) and make Georgia an obvious jumping off point and transit hub for future conflicts in the region, a forward operating base for wars or potential wars with Syria and Iran.

Much of the actionable intelligence which provides background for these deals was provided, at the time, by an Italian and a British Journalist. They can’t now confirm these details because they are dead. Neither had medical problems at the time of their deaths, at least as we were never aware of any such medical problems! The origin of the weapons involved in their murders, and the end user certificates they entered Georgia on, have never been established.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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