Victor Bout and the military-typographical complex

[Mother Jones’ account]( of the Victor Bout arrest is good, but it’s more fun reaing the [DEA’s charges]( against him. Not for the facts – Mother Jones summarises most of the interesting bits – but for the sheer semiotics of the thing.

Just look at the document: Monospaced Courier 12 in numbered paragraphs. Badly reproduced text, lines sloping up the page. Government stamps and signatures. It fits so perfectly into nostalgic stereotypes: typewriter keys clattering in a nondescript government building, as a sweating government agent writes up his report.

And the text plays up to every cliche. The boilerplate allegation that Bout “

affected interstate and foreign commerce

“. The long, oft-repeated list of aliases (

VIKTOR BOUT, a/k/a “Boris,” a/k/a “Victor Anatoliyevich Bout,” a/k/a “Victor But,” a/k/a “Viktor Budd,” a/k/a “Viktor Butt,” a/k/a “Viktor Bulakin,” a/k/a “Vadim Markovich Aminov”

). The whole document is begging to be stuffed into a brown paper envelope and sent to Bob Woodward or Fox Mulder.

Since I don’t spend much time reading US legal documents (maybe I should?), I have no idea how standard all of this is. Apparently a lot of US court documents really do still have to be produced in this format. Intentional or not, though, the layout makes it all seem like part of a great cloak-and-dagger Cold War adventure. I’d like to believe that somebody in the US goverment has figured this out, reasoned that it gives people the impression they have mountains of secret information, and decided to stick to Courier.

Oh, and the content? Still reasonably entertaining. Bout’s henchman Andrew Smulian comes off as a complete muppet, calling Bout on a phone the DEA had given him. It looks like the main problem with arranging the sting was that they couldn’t do it in Moscow, but had to entice Bout out to more US-friendly Thailand. Mostly, though, I’m just reading for the typography.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *