Getting to Bout

Article excerpt

Byline: John Barry

When celebrated Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout landed last Tuesday night at Stewart International Airport in upstate New York--before being whisked to Manhattan to appear the next day in front of a -district-court judge--it marked the end of a saga known to the Drug Enforcement Administration as Operation Relentless. The man who ran it tells NEWSWEEK the affair began with a challenge from the White House.

After 9/11, law-enforcement agencies had expanded jurisdiction to arrest foreign nationals living outside the U.S. but accused of crimes against Americans. Michael Braun, the DEA's head of operations from 2004 until 2008, had overseen a string of high-profile global arrests, including that of Monzer Al Kassar, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Front and, in his day, the world's second-biggest arms dealer. Braun says that a colleague on the National Security Council, congratulating the DEA team on Kassar's 2007 arrest (he's serving a 30-year sentence), suggested it go after public enemy No. 1: Bout. According to Braun, the NSC official, whom Braun wouldn't name, said, "Every other three-letter agency in town had been tracking him." Could the DEA succeed where they had failed? "We said, 'OK, yeah, let's see what we can do here,'?" says Braun, who now runs a firm supporting State and Pentagon efforts to train law-enforcement personnel worldwide. …