Veteran DEA agent who worked Bout case: Avoid Bout-Griner swap

A veteran former Drug Enforcement Administration who played a major role in the sting operation that nabbed Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout urges the Biden administration in a toughly-worded newspaper editorial to spurn a deal that would trade Bout for detained WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner.

Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, one of the key Drug Enforcement Administration agents behind the operation that led to Bout’s 2008 arrest in Thailand and later his 2011 conviction in a federal trial in New York, said in a July 17 op-ed in USA Today that “negotiating for Bout’s release is a feckless and shortsighted foreign policy.” Zachariasiewicz added that such a prisoner trade would “encourage our adversaries to engage in the kidnapping, illegal detention and ransoming of American citizens throughout the world.”

In his op-ed, Zachariasiewicz acknowledges a growing chorus of voices that have urged Biden to seek a trade that would bring Griner, who has pleaded guilty to narcotics possession in a Moscow courtroom, back to the U.S. in exchange for Bout, who was convicted in 2011 for conspiracy and other counts and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bout had already spent 10 years in a federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill.

Among the voices urging a Bout-Griner trade in recent days is “Merchant of Death” co-author Douglas Farah, who wrote last week in Politico that Bout was a “spent force” and concluded that the Biden administration should “take the deal.”

Zachariasiewicz disagreed in his own op-ed, saying that “a tremendous amount of resources and political capital were spent on the critical national security investigation into Bout’s actions. Lives were placed at risk, and tireless efforts were made. Now many voices are not being adequately considered in these deliberations over whether to free Bout in exchange for an American. Those voices include an entire generation of maimed and orphaned inhabitants of war-torn countries throughout the world, especially in Africa.”

Any negotiation that would lead to Bout’s release “would erode the rule of law,”
Zachariasiewicz says, adding: “The case on Bout was made solely on the basis of his criminal actions. If we cave to political deal-making, we reduce the righteousness of our legal system and, in effect, belittle our rule of law to the political stunts of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his kangaroo courts.”

The former DEA agent, who was on hand in New York for Bout’s 2011 trial, concludes by saying that the U.S. “should not abandon our citizens in their time of need and should make tireless efforts to get them safely home to their loved ones – but these efforts should not be centered around an ill-advised trade.”