Operation Man Hunt

A few words from Damien Lewis on his new book, Operation Relentless

Posted on: 01/03/2018

Damien Lewis gives us an insight into his new book, Operation Man Hunt, publishing today.


In 2008 the world’s foremost arms-dealer to rebel and terrorist groups was sentenced in a US court to 25 years without parole. For decades fugitive Russian Viktor Bout – better known as the Merchant of Death / Lord of War – had been hunted by an alphabet soup of agencies. Why? Bout was trading arms for gems and drugs, fuelling the global nexus of narco-terrorism. But more worryingly, Bout – former Soviet military and KGB/GRU agent – was at the forefront of the new Cold War, peddling Moscow’s power and influence, and fearsome Russian weaponry, to nurture the West’s foremost enemies.

But shielded from on high by the Kremlin, Bout seemed immune to capture. The NSC, CIA, NSA, MI6 and SAS had all failed to nail the hugely intelligent and spy-craft-savvy Russian. Straight military-intel operations – like the ultra-secret Task Force Bloodstone (see below) – had failed. Something else entirely was needed. Something leftfield; unexpected; a radically new, groundbreaking approach. No one was about to ride forth and capture Bout. Instead, those pursuing him would need to think and act – and plan – like the criminal and narcoterrorist networks he serviced. Bout needed to be lured out of Moscow – tricked out of his lair.

By the summer of 2007 all efforts to nail the Lord of War had ground to a halt. It was then that the White House approached Mike Braun, chief of the DEA’s elite Special Operations Division (SOD). Could the DEA nail Bout where all others had failed? Braun figured the Agency – fresh out of a string of highly successful sting operations (see below) – had the experience and the team of undercovers to pull this off. They were the experts at ‘using a thief to catch a thief’. Indeed, they funded their operations from money and assets seized from the bad guys, and they were pastmasters at mounting such highly unconventional sting operations.

Braun turned to veteran DEA Agent and former US Marine, Wim Brown, plus former Hollywood actor and DEA Supervising Agent, Lou Milione. Together they put together the script, the plot and the cast for the Agency’s most notorious, costly and risk-laden operation. Codenamed RELENTLESS, its success would rely upon former drugs-trafficker turned undercover supremo, Carlos Sagastume, better known as the ‘King of Sting’. Carlos would be joined by former arms-dealer to terrorists, Ricardo Jardeno, AKA ‘El Comandante’; and former SAS man and sanctions-busting bush pilot, Mike Snow, known to all as ‘The Bear’. In the fall of 2007, the RELENTLESS team set their daring sting operation into action.

Jo Liddiard

Post author: Jo Liddiard

Jo represents Headline on the H for History team, and likes to spend her Sunday afternoons wandering the gardens of historical buildings. Preferably with ice-cream. Favourite period of history: V hard to pick but probably The Tudors! Favourite historical read: Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy or Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham Upcoming book I’m most looking forward to: Antonia Hodgson’s A Death at Fountains Abbey

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