Corrections to the First Edition

Unfortunately, as is the case with almost every book, a number of errors crept into the first edition of The Shadow World. Here are the corrections that will be made to the e-book and subsequent print editions. My apologies for these errors.

1) The Ardebili case:

With respect to the case of the Iranian arms procurer, Amir Ardebili, which was brilliantly reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s John Shiffman, and which I recount on pp. 359-362, I inadvertently inserted a very early draft of the section into the book. This draft, while credited to Shiffman, contained some sections taken almost verbatim from the Inquirer report. I sincerely apologise to John Shiffman and thank him not only for his excellent reportage but also for the magnanimous manner in which he addressed this error with me.

The section that should have been inserted in the original edition and will now replace the text from the top of p. 359 to the end of the first paragraph on p. 362 is as follows:

“Sting operations by US law enforcement agencies have been used in the cases of Monzer Al-Kassar, Viktor Bout and Amir Ardebili, an Iranian arms procurer.[i]

The sting against Ardebili was planned and undertaken over four years by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of DHS, which set up a number of mock arms businesses to entrap the Iranian arms purchasing network.[ii]

John Shiffman, the journalist who revealed the operation in the Philadelphia Inquirer, describes the Iranian in question as a freelance arms broker who used the internet to buy embargoed matériel from US contractors for his only client, the Iranian government.

Ardebili was an ordinary man in his late twenties, living with his parents in the city of Shiraz. His first taste of the arms trade had come via his low-paid job with a state-run company. There he placed orders for embargoed weapons with Iranian brokers who would source it from international companies, especially in America and Europe.

Shiffman outlines the complex logistics used to move this contraband. As is common in the shadow world, the goods were shipped from the US to a safe destination, usually somewhere in Europe or the Middle East – Amsterdam, Dubai and Beirut are often used. At this second port the goods would be re-labelled, sometimes even re-packaged, and shipped as a new order to the contact in Iran, who would pass them on to the state company, which in turn made them available to the Iranian armed forces.

Despite being very good at what he did, Ardebili earned a paltry $650 a week. Motivated by a desire to make more money, in early 2004 he went into business for himself. His previous employers and other state-run entities were happy to use his services as a middleman. He created an online identity: known as ‘Alex Dave’ he gave a forwarding address in Dubai. Interestingly, as Shiffman points out, the young Iranian kept his location secret and his American suppliers seldom bothered to enquire. Over time, he established a growing network on his own account, and before long he had a burgeoning business.

The ICE agent who drove the operation against Iran was Patrick Lechleitner. On the basis of a varied law enforcement career he was well placed to lead the complex, expensive and risky operation.

Lechleitner set himself up as a weapons broker with an online presence. He searched the internet for suspicious queries and developed a network among US defence contractors who interacted with foreign traders.

And so the scene was set.

Shiffman describes how, in April 2004, Lechleitner was approached by a local factory owner who was suspicious of an enquiry he received from Dubai for parts for a fighter jet. ‘He seemed almost offended by the bluntness of the email,’ Lechleitner told Shiffman. The agent and contractor were both suspicious of the request, suspecting it was not from Dubai but from Iran.

With a collapsing military infrastructure that is predominantly American due to massive US sales to the Shah, Iran, whose military and nuclear ambitions are currently the cause of great concern in the West, is constantly in need of US hardware, and not just spare parts but also all the equipment, weapons and technology required for modern warfare. In addition, the US claims that the theocracy of Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not only a threat to Israel but also provides matériel to a number of America’s enemies, including the Taliban, Hezbollah and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With this request, Lechleitner smelled a promising lead. He encouraged the US contractor to persuade the Iranian to make contact with the mock ICE company. Such circuitous referrals are common practice in the world of illicit arms dealing and would not have raised suspicion.

Over a period of time the agent noticed that the Iranian was submitting increasing requests for equipment. According to Shiffman, Alex Dave’s frenetic activity led to a US agent remarking: ‘The guy’s got so many quotes, he’s like Shakespeare.’ Thereafter Ardebili was known as Shakespeare and the case referred to as Operation Shakespeare.

As the bard’s activity intensified, ICE decided to make its move. They involved another undercover agent, ‘Darius’, who had established a fake US arms company in a Baltic country. This was one of eleven such overseas ‘storefronts’ created by the CIA at a cost of $100m, and was to be the only one that would produce results.

ICE arranged for a British broker to recommend Darius to the Iranian. Contact between the two was established, and a chain of events that was to lead to Ardebili’s eventual arrest was set in motion.

When Alex Dave requested night-vision equipment during phone calls with Darius, the latter feigned concern about US embargoes and the illegality of the transaction. Ardebili immediately tried to put him at ease, describing the trans-shipment process he had perfected to keep his Iranian origin hidden. He assured his new supplier that he had undertaken similar transactions many times with no problems.

After months of communication they finally arranged to meet in Tbilisi, Georgia.

US agents arrived in the Eurasian country with microchip radar units and gyroscopes, which the Iranians had requested. They filmed Ardebili acknowledging the extensive business he had done and hoped to do in the future, before arranging his arrest by Georgian police and the seizure of his laptop.

After a few tense months characterized by complicated negotiations, Ardebili was extradited from Georgia and flown to the US to face trial.

In the meantime, US agents gleaned an astonishing amount of information from Ardebili’s laptop. Shiffman has reported that the laptop enabled the DHS to identify seventy American contractors illegally trading arms with Iran, sixteen of whom did significant business with the Pentagon. They discovered thirty-three bank transfers routed from Tehran via Europe to American defence companies and were able to identify over twenty Iranian purchasing agents and around fifty Iranian government entities procuring matériel for the country’s military.

While Shakespeare was secretly detained in a Philadelphia prison, DHS agents posed online as the arms broker from Iran, resuming negotiations as Alex Dave with 150 US companies. This secret operation was now one of DHS’s largest investigations. They netted around twenty companies from across the US, Dubai and Europe who were illegally selling military or restricted technology.

After almost two harrowing years in solitary confinement, at his eventual trial in 2009 Ardebili was sentenced to five years in prison. He claimed, as quoted by Shiffman: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. I didn’t harm my people or my government. I just tried to help myself . . . They label me as an international arms dealer, which is really a big lie. I’m nobody.’ The judge felt Ardebili showed genuine remorse and that he was unlikely ever to return to Iran: ‘You are effectively a man without a country.’

Ardebili’s computer ultimately revealed almost one hundred suspect US companies, many with Pentagon contracts. As Shiffman concludes, on the back of their success with Ardebili the DHS and other agencies have launched over one hundred investigations which have led to four indictments already, with others to follow. But only one small case has been made public so far. The rest are being kept secret for operational reasons.

And what of those US companies who avoided charges because there was insufficient proof that they knew that their products were destined for Iran at the end of the day? They were paid surreptitious visits by federal agents, who probably suggested an end to their trading with Iran and requested that they pass information to the authorities in the future.

The investigations stemming from Ardebili’s arrest continue to unfold, with some of those accused turning informant, creating new leads and hopefully leading ICE closer to the bigger players in this shadow world.”

[i] For a detailed account of the sting on Ardebili see the eight-part report starting with John Shiffman, ‘Shadow war: hunting Iranian arms brokers’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 September 2010

[ii] This account is summarized from ibid., from which the quotations are taken.

[These endnotes, which remain the same, are also still numbers 111 and 112 of chapter 16]

2) SA Arms Deal figure:

On page 176 the total cost of the South African arms deal is given as $6bn. This should read £6bn as is stated earlier in the book.
3) Credit for author photograph:

In the American and Dutch first editions, the author photograph is erroneously credited to Asa Westerlund. This credit is due to Simone Sultana … with apologies and thanks.