Viktor Bout was sentenced on Thursday afternoon April 5th, 2012 to 25 years for terrorism related charges by a DEA sting operation dubbed Operation ‘Relentless’. I was present that day in the court room as well as during the entire three week trial. In fact, I first met and began covering Bout’s trial several years prior in Thailand. Today just moments ago accused CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of espionage. However, Sterling’s trial was much shorter than Viktor Bout’s trial.
I was also the first person to speak with and share the jury’s verdict to Viktors’ wife, Alla. It was not a pleasant experience but one that I will surely never forget. I wrote about that day extensively in my article titled, Viktor Bout is Fair Game: In the Midst of the Shadow Wars.
On occasion I have sent Viktor post cards, calendars and several books in prison. We also exchange emails via the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s [BOP] system named CorrLinks. CorrLinks even has an app which is very easy to use for family, friends, journalists’ and attorney’s to help keep in touch with inmates. Just to be clear, Viktor Bout does not have access to email or internet, just the prison email system which requires an invite and approval and is obviously monitored. Viktor is actually in Marion, IL in a very tightly restricted unit called CMU. CMU stands for Communication Monitored Unit. For read my interview with Viktor titled, World Exclusive: First Marion, IL. Prison Interview with Viktor Bout. Let me jump ahead of myself and discuss briefly the hit show ‘The Americans’ and bit of background before I explain how that relates to Viktor Bout.
Recently there has been a plethora of articles about ‘The Americans’, their creators and of course their actors in the press. This is not unusual given the huge success of the series and especially the fact that long-awaited 3rd season premiere is this coming Wednesday. Also some of the main stars of the series which include Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, and last but not least the sexy, sultry and talented Annet Mahendru.
An article that I read last year in The Telegraph titled, Matthew Rhys interview for The Americans: ‘Our scripts go to the CIA for approval’ has been rehashed by several publications in recent weeks. In the article Rhys says:
“But all the scripts for our show go to the CIA,” Rhys adds. “They have to, for approval.” This seems to be part of Weisberg’s deal with his former employers. He tells me that he avoided “writing a word about intelligence for about a decade after I left the Agency..” When he eventually wrote The Americans, that was only the beginning of the hard work.
Now the fact that the show deals with intelligence, national security and espionage issues between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union is not why each episode needs to be vetted by the ‘Agency’. The reason is that the shows creator, Joe Weisberg, worked for the CIA or as insiders like to call it, ‘The Company’.
Another excerpt from the above mentioned Telegraph article:
Weisberg likes to tell the story of being vetted for the CIA, a process that is, says Rhys, about two years long. “Joe got to the final polygraph test. And one of the last questions from the profiler is: are you interested in joining the CIA in order to gain information to write about it fictionally or otherwise afterwards?”
Weisberg was already an amateur writer, but genuinely hadn’t thought of that. “And in that moment,” continues Rhys, “he went, ‘oh, brilliant idea!’
Then he went, ‘argh!’ His heart started going and he started panicking and he thought he might fail the polygraph because he now had that thought. But he passed it, and he got in, then served his time.
Another article that appeared just under a year ago was titled, ‘The Americans’ – FX Network Hit, CIA PR Tool. In the artcile, Weisberg discusses the close relationship and cooperation that he has with the ‘Agency':
The CIA has bent over backwards to cooperate with FX. Weisberg said the agency usually requires a month to review material, but expedites that process for him because of tight deadlines for the weekly program.
The article then goes on to mention that:
The Americans begins its second season on Feb. 26 .
The CIA will be watching and I will, too.
Weisberg has been in the press a lot as of late. He has been mentioned, interviewed or referenced to quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. In fact, Weisberg was written about today in The Washington Post in an articled titled, How did the ex-CIA officer who created ‘The Americans’ get his start?
The following excerpt is taken from The Washington Post article mention above:
The place in Brooklyn looks like a CIA safehouse. Red brick office building with peeling metal awning. No sign. Inside, writers are plotting out the popular Cold War espionage show The Americans – one of an assortment of Hollywood spy or national security dramas being driven by ex-spies.
The show’s creator and co-head writer Joe Weisberg is a former CIA officer who never fathomed he would one day sit in an office with Soviet propaganda posters and a cut-out figure of President Ronald Reagan, concocting television fiction.
Viktor Bout Denied Access To The Americans DVD By The Federal Bureau of Prisons
I mentioned previously about Viktor Bout being in the Communication Monitored Unit. Therefore, all his communications are tightly monitored. Often when we exchange messages we will write the date and time that we completed the message to help us keep track of the time delays. The time lag varies to anywhere from 1-3 days on each end. By contrast when I write Bout’s alleged partner Richard Chichakli and I exchange messages, we often can communicate with each other the same day, thus a very small time-delay.
As far as I understand, all persons requesting to visit Viktor Bout in Marion, IL [including his wife and myself] with the exception of lawyers have all been denied permission to visit him. When he was in MDC in Brooklyn, NY I had several contact visits with him. Also, I have had several CorrLink messages bounced back and rejected due to security, at least that is what the BOP replied.
I remember Viktor telling me about watching the documentary used with his own personal home video footage. The documentary was about Viktor and is titled, The Notorious Mr Bout. Viktor expressed his displeasure with the end result in a message to me. Besides receiving reading material what Viktor enjoys most are the jokes that I send him. Around the same time that Viktor told me that he had finally seen his documentary about him, I was ordering a DVD of The Americans Season 1 for a neighbor as a gift. It never occurred to me before to send him DVD’s. I didn’t realize that he could he could receive them. My Russian wife and I enjoy the series very much as do many of my friends. Therefore I thought that it would be very entertaining to him given his background in the Russian military, his career as a global aviation transporter as well as being a Russian citizen. There have been a couple of titles that the BOP never gave him and that were never returned. I believe one of the titles was Jesse Ventura’s, 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read. I hope that the BOP at least put them in their library or gave them to other less restricted prisoners to read.
As Viktor states is his message to me he is actually able to view The American’s on tv but apparently not on DVD. Knowing that the CIA vetted the series and thus denied the DVD to Viktor surprised me. One can only speculate whether or not it was simply to deny him a few hours of entertainment or rejected on the basis of national security. Not to mention the fact that he is able to watch The American’s on tv but not the DVD. At least the BOP kicked back The Americans DVD and I received a full refund from Amazon.
The biggest compliment someone can get as well a tribute to success is imitation. The hugely successful series The American’s is hours away from the 3rd Season premier. Just eight days later a new series titled, Allegiance, will premiere on NBC. The series is described as:
This high-octane thriller revolves around the O’Connor family and their son, Alex (Gavin Stenhouse), a young idealistic CIA analyst specializing in Russian affairs. Unbeknownst to him, both of his parents and his sister are part of a dormant Russian sleeper cell that has just been reactivated.
Years ago, Russian-born Katya (Hope Davis) was tasked by the KGB to recruit American businessman Mark O’Connor (Scott Cohen) as a spy, and the two fell in love. A deal was struck: as long as Katya remained an asset for Russia, she would be allowed to marry Mark and move to America. After years in America building a happy life and without word from Moscow, they thought they had escaped.
It sounds a lot like The American’s to me.
Ironically today according to The Washington Times, the FBI nabs member of Russian spy ring in New York City. It is ironic because the show The American’s is based on the capture of Anna Chapman and 9 other Russian spies arrested in the U.S. by the FBI that were released via a prison swap during the Illegals Program. The American’s was based on the Illegals Program but set in the 70’s and 80’s. Perhaps it is during that era that is most familiar to the creator Joe Weisberg?
The jury is still out on whether or not I will be watching Allegiance? However, when Season 3 of The American’s premieres this Wednesday, I’ll be watching along with perhaps Joe Weisberg, the CIA and maybe Viktor Bout will be watching on tv in prison?