As I sat on the floor of the unfurnished apartment I had recently moved into, deliberately leaving all of the boxes containing my possessions unopened out of morbid laziness, I came across the March 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The musty, humid air inside the apartment lead me to take the back-issued magazine outside to my balcony for a little respite from the move. Wandering casually through each page per usual, I found nothing that particularly caught my eye. That is until I came across the title, “The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders”. With a headline like that, I had to read this article.
From the moment I started reading the lead, I was hanging on every word Gus Lawson had typed.
The e-mail confirmed it: everything was finally back on schedule after weeks of maddening, inexplicable delay. A 747 cargo plane had just lifted off from an airport in Hungary and was banking over the Black Sea toward Kyrgyzstan, some 3,000 miles to the east. After stopping to refuel there, the flight would carry on to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Aboard the plane were 80 pallets loaded with nearly 5 million rounds of ammunition for AK-47s, the Soviet-era assault rifle favored by the Afghan National Army.
The nut-graf was even more riveting, as Lawson delved into the details on a $300 million arms deal that these two “stoners” made with the Pentagon. It was the middle of 2007 and Bush was steadily losing support on the war in the Middle East amidst the pressure of an ensuing presidential election.
After six years of fighting, Al Qaeda remained a menace, the Taliban were resurgent, and NATO casualties were rising sharply. For the Bush administration, the ammunition was part of a desperate, last-ditch push to turn the war around before the U.S. presidential election the following year.
He continues the narrative beautifully by rounding out the situation of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz all the while keeping the perspective that these two 20-somethings had, amazingly enough, forged a deal with the largest military in the world. Describing the scenes in such detail that I felt as though I were there, Lawson doesn’t shy away from puting perspective on the situation at hand.
Dinner was at Sushi Samba, a hipster Asian-Latino fusion joint. Packouz was in excellent spirits. He couldn’t believe that he and Diveroli were actually pulling it off: Planes from all over Eastern Europe were now flying into Kabul, laden with millions of dollars worth of grenades and mortars and surface-to-air missiles. But as Packouz’s miso-marinated Chilean sea bass arrived, his cellphone rang. It was the freight forwarder he had employed to make sure the ammunition made it from Hungary to Kabul. The man sounded panicked.
Throughout the article, the point is made that these two gun-runners were, at their core, stoners who were able to find a way to make ungodly amounts of money through persistence, luck and a dash of crazy. Quotes from the them make the story so surreal that I couldn’t put it down.
Packouz was baffled, stoned and way out of his league. “It was surreal,” he recalls. “Here I was dealing with matters of international security, and I was half-baked. I didn’t know anything about the situation in that part of the world. But I was a central player in the Afghan war…
The candid quotes throughout give an incredible insight into the minds and attitudes of these two young men. Lawson pursues the narrative in such a way that I never lost perspective of the magnitude of what these two were doing yet still forced me into awe when thinking about what these two were doing. In his ever-flowing genius throughout this article, Lawson plagiarizes himself from the middle of the article and concludes the story with a quote despite it taking a completely different meaning between the different contexts.
“Once a gun runner,” he boasted, “always gun runner.”
Original Article: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-stoner-arms-dealers-20110316