Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Sympathy for the Devil?

by Hannah K OLuthon Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 06:14:38 AM EST

A major consolation for the compulsive blogger lies in the knowledge that it doesn't matter if no one pays any attention to the blogging as long as the blogger has nothing of substance to say. This state of affairs undoubtedly encompasses a large majority of bloggerdom, including the present writer. However, web maundering does occasionally set off a real-world reaction whose consequences are quite at odds with the expectations of the bloggers. An interesting, perhaps important case in point is that of Richard Chichakli. Chichakli's name seems to have entered the public domain largely as a result of his role in arranging for a NY Times Magazine (17 August 2003) interview with the notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout. At the interview, Chichakli was quoted by Times correspondent Peter Landesman as refering to himself not only as a "former business associate" of Bout, but also as his ``friend and brother".

Since the NYTimes interview, a number of bloggers (especially The Yorkshire Ranter, Doug Farah, and Ruud Leeuw) have continued the investigation of the "visible portion" of what seems to be Viktor Bout's empire. Of these, Leeuw has the perhaps the most informative Web Site (scroll down to the Viktor Bout link), The Yorkshire Ranter is the most persistent digger, and Farah (who is also a Washington Post reporter) is the best connected to purportedly "reliable sources in the intelligence community".

Chichakli, perhaps for his very openness and attractiveness as a conjectural link to other actors, became one of the chief targets of their investigation. He was easily "Google-able": one could learn of his $300 contribution to the Texas Republican party, his CPA firm, and (a bit) about his military career and his family connections to ex-CIA mandarin Miles Copeland. A look at his qualifications shows what would appear to be something more than passing acquaintance with skills useful for keeping a close rein on covert funds and projects. Except for an unsubstantiated (to my knowledge, but quite probably true) assertion that he worked for 18 years in cooperation with U.S. intelligence all of this seems to be quite well documented.

Over the intervening two years, information, conjecture, and questions from the blogosphere gradually seeped into the traditional news media, with for example, the Los Angeles Times , the Financial Times, and Farah's employer, the Washington Post all publishing accounts based on a mixture of independent reporting and the pillaging of what bloggers had already put into the public domain. In particular, some very murky dealings between the U.S. Defense Department and "dubious" airlines flying out of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates emerged and became an embarassment. The Defense Department was contracting logistics flights from the Gulf to Baghdad to blacklisted Bout airlines. (Sharjah had been, and very probably still is, the hub of Bout's air transport empire, or at least of a large group of shadowy airlines that have been linked to Bout: Irbis, Air Bass, Air Ces, British Gulf International Airways(yes!), etc. ). The airlines are constantly changing names, and the planes are frequently re-registered and re-painted, but there seems to be a clear nexus between whoever is behind the various Bout-linked Sharjah fleets and earlier (and probably continuing) illicit contraband of arms in Africa. In particular, Bout was linked to the sanguinary ex-dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor. The official line seems to be that such dealings involved "blood diamonds" which were a secret source of funding for Al Qaeda. This obviously makes dealing with Bout, or worse yet protecting or even coddling his operations, utterly indefensible in the context of a serious war on terrorism. Yet, some of the monies that Bout received through his "Liberian connection" where channeled through the LISC, the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, an entity whose corporate headquarters (Vienna, Virginia, just down the road a piece from CIA headquarters) and staffing would seem to point to anything but ignorance on the part of Western intelligence agencies.

Be that as it may, Chichakli emerged from the cloud of mystery surrounding the alleged Bout contraband operations, and proved to be an attractive target for internet investigation and conjecture. Chichakli, however,disputes that he has had a long-term business relationship with Viktor Bout, and points out that after fulfilling a 1-year contract to create Sharjah Airport International Free Trade and Industrial Zone in 1996 he returned to the U.S. where he was fully occupied as a student (transcripts available on his site) and CPA.

In the Spring of 2005 shortly after the Yorkshire Ranter and Farah reported that Irbis Air was flying from Sharjah to Bagram Airbase near Kabul, raising obvious questions about just what was being transported on those flights and who had authorized that a U.S. blacklisted airline be given landing rights at a U.S. Air Force base, the U.S. Treasury department acted to confiscate the assets of Bout and Chichakli. The full details are available on Chichakli's site, together with his rejoinder. Chichakli maintains both that the charges are based on unsubtantiated internet fabrications created by bloggers hoping to make a fortune by selling the movie rights for the story to Hollywood, and that the entire governmental action is marred by a flagrant lack of due process. He offers documentation and explanation for his side of the story, and it is not without weight. According to his web-site, he is no longer living in the U.S., but that has not prevented him from adding some extremely interesting documentation to the web-site since his exile. In brief, Chichakli asserts that he is being subjected to guilt by association, and moreover by association with malefactors whose misdeeds have been falsely chronicled.

What is perhaps more interesting is that Chichakli is hopping mad and is breaking silence. For example, Chichakli asks "What is the cause the made the US Government orchestrate an action of such magnitude against an old accountant? Rumors related to the government being angrily responding to Chichakli's refusal to play certain role in a U.S. sponsored, unconstitutional plot to form 'Syrian Government in-exile' similar to the scenario used prior to the invasion of Iraq, as being the true reason. The U.S. Treasury acknowledgement that their action was based on the recommendation of the U.S. Dept. of State." As another example consider the photos linked from this page. One can only wonder who provided the photos, and what is omitted from the discussion. He also accuses the FBI detail charged with executing the OFAC order of having pocketed about $500,000 of the assets confiscated under that order. The documentation provided renders this charge not implausible.

In brief, Richard Chichakli has "escaped from the reservation". The erstwhile Texas Republican CPA has become something of a loose cannon, and seems ready to blast away at his tormentors. Whether or not one takes what he says at face value, a visit to his site is certainly worthwhile, and provokes at least as many questions as answers. He certainly deserves due process, a fair hearing for his side of the story, and thanks (perhaps begrudging) for permitting some light to be thrown on the murky area of governmental involvement in arms and drug contraband. The internet is not the proper forum for adjudicating his case, but since its bloggers have in large measure brought about his present difficulties, it seems only fair that he be given equal access to public debate and a fair hearing. The line between raising proper questions about personal probity and participation in a lynch mob should not be difficult to perceive. If Chichakli is, as I believe, a "small fish" who is being thrown to the sharks, it is clear that he is trying to make the biggest and noisiest splash possible, and for that this "devil" has my sympathy.

Cool, a HKOL diary: we've been missing you.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 06:52:32 AM EST
2nd that emotion...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 06:58:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your kind remarks.  Unfortunately I will
be constrained by "real work" for the next few months,
so my postings will be sporadic.  It may be better that way, since I note that there are no several people commenting on the Italian scene with greaty perspicacity and experience than I can bring.  It's always fun to
"drop in for a visit".

Hannah K. O'Luthon
by Hannah K OLuthon on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 07:00:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great in-depth article, Hannah, truly. Very interesting to hear of the involvement of blogs/bloggers in this whole affair. Both of his use of blogs, and the involvement of investigative journalist-bloggers. I also agree that while it is one thing to publicly investigate and discuss possible findings of such, the danger lies in not convicting a person in the court of public opinion, before they get their true chance in court. Blog ethics. Perhaps a topic for further discussion...soon.
Thanks...very informative and thought provoking.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 06:57:23 AM EST
Ha ha (a tangent)
by das monde on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 08:22:55 PM EST
Thanks, das monde!  I'd missed that and got a good laugh.  That damned song's been stuck in my head a lot this year.  

Last election it was Bowie's Five Years and in 2003 I couldn't get XTC's Majors and Generals out of my head -- maaajors and generals always feel so unhappy 'less they got a war!

And great diary, Hannah -- sorry I didn't say so earlier.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 16th, 2005 at 11:42:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]