A tale told about idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying plenty

Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History, by Guy Lawson. Simon & Schuster. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

Yes, out of Miami Beach three barely-employable young men in their early twenties found a way to satisfy U. S. government emergency requirements for masses of military weapons to support the war in Afghanistan. Guy Lawson has done a miraculous job of digging up all the details; profiling the personalities; and finding both the horror and absurd comedy of their strange adventure. I’m already waiting for the movie and trying to cast my own version. The Warner Brothers version will star Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. Director? Todd Phillips of “The Hangover” films. ArmsandtheDudes

How do you win a $300 million Defense Department contract for arms and ammunition? Well, you’d better have made a darn low bid, especially since no one in the procurement chain has ever heard of you. With the bravado of ignorance and the lift of marijuana, Efraim Diveroli was able to learn, in a frenetic race, just how to fill out the proposal, how to find the goods, and how to get them delivered. Each step was a nightmare of complications, wrong turns, and unbelievable recoveries.

And Albania was munitions central. This corruption-riddled nation, awaiting NATO membership, was the place where the desired goods, primarily decades old Communist bloc surplus ammunition for the AK-47 rifle – ubiquitous throughout former Soviet client states – could be found. So could the layers of middlemen. The wheeling and dealing between the dudes and the private and governmental agents in Albania provide many of the high points of this suspenseful and blazingly colorful narration.

However, Diveroli and his two cohorts at AEY (the company Diveroli headed) had to somehow get around the problem that during these years there was a ban on the purchase of Chinese-made arms. Repackaging the munitions and removing traces of Chinese manufacture – plus the fact that the American military was winking at the ban anyway – made it possible for AEY to meet – or almost meet – its astounding contract.

Lawson photo by Franco Vogt

Lawson photo by Franco Vogt

Repackaging was also a means of lowering the weight to be flown to Kabul and thus lower AEY’s costs as is intermediaries, both legitimate and not, kept finding ways of taking larger slices of the potential profits.

For the sake of propping up the client armies of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military establishment ran a covert gunrunning operation that made deals with a wide range of illegal and ill-prepared private dealers. It is only slightly ironic that bills encouraging small business bidding on government contracts opened the door for schemers like the totally inexperienced Diveroli to get a foot in. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the August 12, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 13 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Lawson

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