According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s press release, international arms-trafficker extraordinaire Victor Bout was arrested for plotting to sell weapons to the FARC – not knowing that the reputed FARC representatives were in fact working for the DEA. Only nine months ago another notorious international arms dealer, Monzer al-Kasser was arrested for conspiring to sell weapons (and trainers) to the FARC, when in fact the FARC buyers were in fact DEA operatives. For al-Kasser, who has been linked to the Palestine Liberation Front (the group responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking) as well as leading Baathist figures from Syria and Iraq, it was more than just business. He offered to raise an army to assist the FARC. Al-Kasser seems to have had a passion for his work.
Illicit items with large supply and large demand, such as drugs, are Sisyphean challenges for law enforcement. But goods with more limited supply and demand that require more care in their transport – such as heavy weapons – may be an important counter-terror opportunity. Reversing the play that nabbed Bout and al-Kasser, by having law enforcement agents offer to sell weapons to terrorists can also be effective. The Tamil Tiger’s arms purchasing network has been caught in a few of these operations.
It is also interesting that in the potential FARC uranium deal, the FARC was entering this world of complicated illicit goods – as opposed to their usual easy-to-move product line. Although exactly what the uranium scheme was is unclear. They were hoping to sell a kilo of uranium for $2.5 million. The going rate for unprocessed uranium is about $100 per kilo. While the FARC has some formidable capabilities, uranium enrichment – the problem stymieing Iran - is probably not among them.
Rich on the drug trade and always hungry for arms, the FARC was a perfect ploy for ensnaring arms traffickers. But, having landed two big fish, the FARC gambit may have been played out. Hopefully law enforcement can identify other clients for future schemes against terrorists and arms traffickers. It is a just policy, and perhaps it will also prove to be an effective one as well.