Andrew Feinstein's new book "The Shadow World" uncovers the inner workings of the global arms trade. Written with an insider's tone, the book describes backroom weapons deals, including an arms deal between the British and Saudi governments and the guns-for-diamonds deals in Africa. Feinstein was a member of the African National Congress from 1997 to 2001, resigning when the ANC declined to investigate corruption claims regarding a major South African arms deal. Feinstein is an Open Society fellow and the founder of Corruption Watch in London.
Feinstein e-mailed with CNN.com about how the arms trade has mushroomed since World War II, its role in the Arab Spring uprisings, and what he thinks can be done about all those unchecked weapons in Libya.
CNN.com: What is the global arms trade?
Feinstein: It is the trade in conventional arms, so not (weapons of mass destruction), but everything from small and light weapons to aircraft carriers and jet fighters. It accounts for sales of about $60 billion a year on average, and is responsible for around 40 percent of all corruption in all world trade.
CNN.com: Why is it important to understand the distinction you make in your book between government to government trading and illicit weapons dealing? What is the "grey market?"
Feinstein: Governments and defense contractors argue that the government-to-government trade is "clean," whereas in fact it is riven with corruption, and also supports the illegal or black market trade. The grey market is where governments attempt to influence foreign policy covertly through the use of illegal dealers to undertake arms transactions on their behalf. A well-known example would be the Iran-Contra deal, perhaps the most cynical arms deal of all time.
CNN.com: Your book isn't an academic history, though you do explain how and why the military industrial complex grew after World War II. Your book is mostly packed with thriller-type stories about arms dealers and corrupt government officials, backroom wheeling and dealing. Much of that is based on top secret information you obtained. How did you manage to get that information?
Feinstein: The book is intended as an accessible, narrative account of the trade that is hopefully entertaining to read. But it is also backed by extensive research – there are between 2,500 and 3,000 endnotes in the book for anyone who wants to check where any piece of information was sourced. This information came from a wide variety of sources: interviews with arms dealers who have never been reported on or interviewed before, massive investigation archives that have not been in the public domain, whistle-blowers and publicly available sources.
CNN.com: You joined the African National Congress during Nelson Mandela's administration when you were a student and you resigned in 2001 when the ANC wouldn't investigate a major arms dealer. Was this your first up-close introduction to the world of arms dealing? What was that experience like?
Feinstein: That's correct. I was committed to the ANC from the mid-1980s when it was still a banned organization in South Africa. After working as a facilitator in the negotiations that led to our first democratic elections in 1994, I became a Member of Parliament for the party in those elections. It was an extraordinary experience to serve under Mandela but it was disappointing how quickly his successor adopted the tawdry norms of global politics. The point at which the ANC lost its moral compass was when they decided to spend $10 billion on weapons the country didn't need, and barely use today, with $300 million in bribes being paid to senior politicians, officials and the ANC itself. My financial oversight committee was stopped by President Thabo Mbeki from investigating this corruption, which led to my resignation, and the writing of a book on the deal and its devastating impact on South Africa's young democracy. It was a sad time for me personally and politically, as I saw at first hand how an extraordinary liberation movement was prepared to undermine the democracy it had created to protect its leaders from the consequences of their corrupt behavior. It was also the first of myriad grand corruption scandals in the country and the demise of the early years of hope.
Before suspected WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning was arrested in May 2010, numerous military personnel considered the young soldier to be mentally unstable, immature and potentially dangerous to himself and others, a new court filing by his defense team says. Read the entire document
The 23-year-old Army intelligence specialist exhibited behavior that should have prompted his superiors to take his weapon and block his access to classified material, according to a 20-page witness list filed last week in the case and published on a blog written by Manning's attorney, David Coombs.
Warnings and concerns about Manning's mental health were either ignored or were not passed up through the chain of command, the document says.
The Army private is due at Fort Meade, Maryland, on December 16 for an Article 32 hearing, a military version of a civilian arraignment. But unlike a civilian hearing, it often includes a considerable amount of testimony and presentation of evidence. The military has said the hearing is expected to last five days. A military officer will decide if Manning will face a court-martial.
Manning faces violations of military law, including aiding the enemy, stealing records, transmitting defense information and fraud. If convicted, he could go to prison for life. He has been held for more than 18 months in military custody and is currently behind bars at Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.
By CNN's Ashley Fantz
This week the U.S. Justice Department accused an Iranian-American, who allegedly has ties to Iran's elite Quds Force, of attempting to hire a man he thought was a Mexican cartel hitman to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Some question the plausibility of the circumstances that prosecutors have described involving Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old used-car salesman from Texas.
The alleged plot, if proven, would be but one of several terror schemes hatched by American citizens that were intended to occur on U.S. soil but were not carried out.
Iran's secretive Quds Force is the elite special operations unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The most militant wing of the Guard, Quds has reportedly carried out covert operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.
The United States has accused it of aiding insurgent groups behind attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jane's global security site reports.
On Tuesday, the FBI and the DEA announced that they had disrupted a plot to commit terrorism inside the U.S., specifically that elements of the Iranian government were involved in a plan to kill Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel Al-Jubeir.
CNN's Barbara Starr explained the connection between Saudi Arabia and Iran, noting that there has been bad blood between the countries for some time.
Al-Jubeir is close with Saudi King Abdullah and works at the behest of the royal family. He is a visible, highly respected diplomat.
Saudi Arabia has publicly criticized the violence in Syria, Starr explained.
"The Quds Force is essentially looking at Syria as one of its satellite states for the last many years," she said, using the country "as a place from which to launch attacks, to support terrorism ... to run weapons all over the world."
By CNN's Ashley Fantz
A week ago, 10-year-old Braydon Nichols started to think about his dad and how much he missed him.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Nichols, a helicopter pilot, had been deployed for two months in Afghanistan.
The little boy, in the car with his mother running errands, brushed back his dirty-blond hair and ran his hand over his cheek.
Jessica Nichols looked over when she heard sniffles. Her son was crying.
"When is Dad coming back so we go camping?" he asked her.
Soon, she assured him. "Your dad is off fighting for this country."
The boy replied, "As soon as he gets home, we're going to go on a camping trip, just me and him."
Jessica Nichols cannot stop replaying that scene in her mind. That's because only a few days later, on Saturday night, she was cradling her boy who was crying once again. Except this time she could not tell him that his father was coming home. She had just received a call informing her that Bryan Nichols was one of the 30 Americans who died that afternoon when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Wardak province in east-central Afghanistan.