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A DEA Agent, an Undercover Sting and the Capture of ‘The Merchant of Death’

Arms Dealer Viktor Bout/ dea photo

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer

WASHINGTON –– The DEA agents sat day after day in their smoke-filled command post in a Bucharest police station, checking their phones and e-mails for confirmation that one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers was coming.

Their sting was an elaborate one, a ruse involving a multimillion-dollar weapons deal between their informants posing as rebels in Colombia and Viktor Bout, a legendary arms trafficker known as “The Merchant of Death.”

But when Bout failed to show in Romania after two agonizing weeks of waiting, the agents decided to bow out for the moment, fearful of looking over-eager. They let Bout know they still wanted to meet him someplace else, and soon — although there was a risk he would slip away.

“If we were real, we would say we have other stuff to do,” said Lou Milione, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent who oversaw the high-stakes sting. “We just wouldn’t continue to wait. We were confident he would stay interested, but there is always that risk something would happen and he wouldn’t keep his interest.”

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