“Arms and the Dudes” exposes the sordid underbelly of the military’s weapons trade.
Mother Jobes, By Bryan Schatz, June 8
In early 2007, three stoner twentysomethings won a Defense Department contract to supply the Afghan military with $300 million worth of ammunition. “The dudes,” as they came to be known—a ninth-grade dropout, a masseur, and a low-level pot dealer, all with little or no experience but plenty of nerve—had begun bidding on Pentagon arms contracts and winning out over massive international conglomerates. The Afghan contract wasn’t their first, but it was by far their largest. They would have to source thousands of tons of mortar rounds, grenades, rockets, and 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and deliver all of it to Kabul at a particularly fraught time for the Afghan war effort.
Arms and the Dudes publishes June 9.
To fill the order, though, the dudes secretly repackaged millions of rounds of decades-old, surplus Chinese ammo—illegal under the contract terms—before shipping them to Afghanistan. It was all going fine until they got caught by Pentagon investigators and wound up with their mugshots spread across the front page of the New York Times.
Their story is detailed in Guy Lawson’s new book, Arms and the Dudes, a wildly entertaining saga with dual narratives. The first involves blackmail, criminals, hustlers, corrupt government officials, and three kids in way over their heads. The other, and for Lawson more important, side of the story, concerns how the Pentagon came to use private contractors like the dudes as proxies—and eventual fall guys—to secure weapons from gray market arms dealers, the only people who could supply what it needed. I caught up with Lawson to talk about Pentagon contracting, weapons proliferation, and the act of “buying up guns and pouring them into conflict zones like it’s gonna solve the fucking problem.”