Should U.S. swap ‘Merchant of Death’ for Griner?


(NewsNation) — In an effort to free U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, the United States government has reportedly offered to swap her for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Bout is best known as “the Merchant of Death,” and he’s currently locked up in Illinois.

Negotiations are in the early stages, according to a non-government source in a position to know, Forbes reported. Russian customs officials accused Griner of carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. The U.S. State Department says she has been “wrongfully detained.”

“National security is a team sport always, but especially in this sort of situation,” national security and global affairs expert Laura Ballman said during an appearance Monday night on NewsNation’s “Banfield.”

FILE – Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner (42) shoots against Chicago Sky’s Azura Stevens (30) during the first half of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago. Brittney Griner has been able to receive emails and letters from WNBA players to an account Griner’s agent set up to allow them to communicate with her. The emails are printed out and delivered sporadically in bunches to Griner by her lawyers after being vetted by Russian officials. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)

Griner’s legions of supporters want her back at any cost.

However, the decision comes with some controversy.

U.S. authorities say Victor has been trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and terrorist groups all over the world.

In 2008, he was arrested in Thailand for trying to sell hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, and thousands of assault rifles, that were destined to shoot down U.S. pilots.

WHITE PLAINS, NY – NOVEMBER 16: In this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout (C) deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport November 16, 2010 in White Plains, New York. Bout was extradited from Thailand to the U.S. to face terrorism charges after a final effort by Russian diplomats to have him released failed. (Photo by U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images)

Bout was extradited to the U.S. where he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years, and he’s been behind bars ever since.

“What we have to understand is that Victor Bout was active reserve. That means he was operating, with the permission at least, of Russian intelligence,” former CIA officer Bob Baer said on “Banfield.”

Baer, a frequent law enforcement analyst and the author of the “The Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin’s Russia, said that if we don’t trade (Bout) for Griner now, she will spend many years in jail.

Ballman added that this situation in particular is clearly a heightened situation.

“Swaps happen all the time. They don’t always happen in times of war,” Ballman said. “If the team of national security experts decides that now is the time to swap him, then they’ve assessed that he has been debriefed. Put him back out on the street, but is he really going to be that useful? Now that we know his entire network?”

“All I can say, is there is a trade, and something else happens. As an American, you are at risk getting thrown in a Russian jail for no reason at all. Basically, stay away from Moscow,” Baer added.

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