Prosecution of arms dealer could lead to disclosure of covert US-run trafficking networks among Arab states

You may remember news stories from 2011 about how a simple billing lawsuit between aviation companies resulted in the disclosure of numerous details about the CIA’s rendition and torture program. A similar consequence may result from the US federal government’s prosecution of an arms dealer who is accused of attempting to sell weapons to Libya’s anti-Gaddafi forces without a license.

The case revolves around the arms trafficking business of Marc Turi. The investigation appears to have been first reported in December 2012 in the New York Times. Turi was described as having homes in both Arizona and Abu Dhabi. His business apparently sold “small arms to buyers in the Middle East and Africa, relying primarily on suppliers of Russian-designed weapons in Eastern Europe.”

According the US government’s indictment, Turi stands accused of violating the Arms Export Control Act by lying on his application for an arms trading license by declaring Qatar’s government the “end user” for the weapons in question when he intended for them to end up in Libya.

Turi and his defense team asserted a public authority defense by claiming that he and his company were working in collaboration with a covert US operation to arm Libya’s anti-Gaddafi rebels. As one of his lawyers put it at a pretrial conference (p. 22):

Very simply, Your Honor, the notice discloses kind of our intent to pursue a defense along the lines which Mr. Mackie alluded to, that Mr. Turi acted on behalf of agencies of the United States government. He acted with public authority. And in proving that, we are entitled to discover relevant information; things that make it more probable that he did that. And, if, for example, Mr. Turi did things the way they are simply done in the business of clandestine arms traffic- — clandestine arms procurement, a business that he’s licensed to conduct, a business he has conducted on behalf of the United States government before, then the way in which it is done is relevant.

Obviously proving this may be challenging because of the very nature of covert operations being top secret and generally undocumented. The defendants have submitted a laundry list of documents it requests for discovery to the court (adding to the mystery, an exhibit on page 67 reveals an email from now deceased US Ambassador in Libya Christopher Stevens to Turi).

In a court ruling issued 22 October, US Judge David Campbell for the US District of Arizona rejected the majority of these requests as overly broad. However, he did accept the need for partial disclosure when he stated the following: “the Court will require the government to produce a narrower category of information: documents which relate to efforts by the United States to arrange for arms brokers to arrange covert transfers of weapons to the NTC [Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces] in Libya between the beginning of 2010 and the end of 2011.”

In the New York Times article mentioned earlier, the following is asserted:

Mr. Turi said he believed that United States officials had shut down his proposed arms pipeline because he was getting in the way of the Obama administration’s dealings with Qatar. The Qataris, he complained, imposed no controls on who got the weapons. “They just handed them out like candy,” he said.

There is so far no indication pointing to the above for this prosecution in any of the court documents I have reviewed and not even the defense team appears to find it worth mentioning. But this case is by no means over, and that means that new disclosures could be coming out any day now.

More documents from this case can be viewed here.

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