OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
WNBA star Brittney Griner is still sitting in a Russian prison, and one potential deal that could get her home is being knocked by a former DEA agent.
The former agent, Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, penned an op-ed for USA Today in which he warned against making a trade of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a dangerous man who he helped capture, for Griner and/or Paul Whelan, two non-dangerous, wrongfully detained people.
“Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent said.
“A tremendous amount of resources and political capital were spent on the critical national security investigation into Bout’s actions. Lives were placed at risk, and tireless efforts were made. Now many voices are not being adequately considered in these deliberations over whether to free Bout in exchange for an American. Those voices include an entire generation of maimed and orphaned inhabitants of war-torn countries throughout the world, especially in Africa,” he said.
He said that President Joe Biden and others believe such a trade is “appropriate” and are considering it but, he said, supporters of the deal are not considering how dangerous of a deal it is.
He argued that has served less than 15 years of his 25-year sentence, which is less than 60 percent, and that the evidence against him was “extensive and damning.”
“In a recorded undercover meeting, he declared to persons he believed to be terrorist facilitators that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military,” the former agent said.
“Bout’s potential reengagement in the arms trade is not the primary national security implication to be considered. Rather, it is the negative and resounding message that such a capitulation would send.
“Negotiating for Bout’s release is a feckless and shortsighted foreign policy. Such actions merely encourage our adversaries to engage in the kidnapping, illegal detention, and ransoming of American citizens throughout the world. Organizations such as Hezbollah, drug cartels, and the Russian Federal Security Service are emboldened when their criminal actions are rewarded. We must make abundantly clear that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in these criminal actions,” he said
He argued that it would be a betrayal of the people, domestically and internationally, who risked their lives to arrest Bout, if he were to be used as a trade chip to get back non-dangerous prisoners.
He also placed blame on Griner, Whelan, and others who made bad choices to get themselves into the situation they are in.
“We also must find ways to discourage our citizens from needlessly placing themselves in harm’s way – whether missionaries looking to spread goodwill, adventure seekers chasing a unique experience or the vulnerable succumbing to criminal scams. I speak from experience, as I dedicated nearly three years to seeking the successful release of an innocent American citizen jailed overseas,” the former agent said.
“Griner, Whelan, and Trevor Reed each decided to travel to Russia for profit and/or personal pleasure. Russia has been a hostile state since long before the invasion of Ukraine. That said, I have nothing but prayers and well wishes for each of them and their families. We should not abandon our citizens in their time of need and should make tireless efforts to get them safely home to their loved ones – but these efforts should not be centered around an ill-advised trade,” he said.
Griner’s innocence is a subject for debate as she did break Russian law.
“The deliberations at hand appear aimed at garnering votes and rehabilitating a badly failing agenda,” he said.