I just finished reading The Scorpion and the Frog, the book by Felix Sater’s Wall Street pal, Salvatore Lauria.
It’s an interesting read about Sater’s time on Wall Street and his dealings with Mobsters.
Even more interesting are the details about his cooperation with the CIA in Russia against al Qaida that helped keep him out of prison for racketeering.
A lot of these details were new to me, so I thought I would post a little summary of what’s in the book.
Sater’s lawyer, Robert S. Wolf, has called some of the CIA-related portions of the book “fabricated.” However, The Scorpion and the Frog was the subject of a 2002 legal proceeding in federal court in Los Angeles. Lauria sought to stop publication of his own book. Not because it was fiction, but because it told the truth.
According to Lauria, he had agreed to write the book on the condition that his real name not be used. His publisher, however, went ahead and used his real name, and Lauria was worried that he could be physically harmed by the people named in the book. A bench trial was held and in the end a federal judge cleared the way for the book’s publication.
With that said, here’s my abridged version of what the book says:
Felix Sater walked away from his Mob-linked Wall Street business in 1996 and headed for Russia. He would spend the next two years there before returning to the United States to surrender to the FBI in 1998 and plead guilty to racketeering.
Sater had two jobs in Russia. The first was a deal to bring AT&T bulk long distance service and pre-paid phone charge cards to the country. The second was to find a deal that could get him out of jail.
Sater began to develop contacts at secret Russian military installations known as closed cities, which held “some of the great secrets of the Soviet Union,” Lauria wrote.
The closed cities were opening up. Their representatives were contacting “various countries and rogue organizations interested in buying everything from missiles to assault rifles to millions of rounds of ammunition,” Lauria wrote. They also would make munitions and missiles “to order.”
“We ran into guys selling shiploads of arms to Arabs and other Muslims — Libya, Iraq — countries that were hostile to the United States,” Lauria wrote.
At some point, according to the book, Sater made an initial contact with “someone connected to the CIA.”
Sater gave this version of events to New York magazine.
One night, Sater told me, he went to dinner with a contact that he assumes was affiliated with the GRU, the Russian military-intelligence agency, where he was introduced to another American doing business in Moscow, Milton Blane. “There’s like eight people there,” Sater said, “and he’s sizing me up all dinner long. As I went to take a piss, he followed me into the bathroom and said, ‘Can I have your phone number? I’d like to get together and talk to you.’ ” Blane, who died last year, was an arms dealer. According to a government disclosure made 13 years ago in response to a Freedom of Information Act query, Blane had a contract with the Defense Department to procure “foreign military material for U.S. intelligence purposes.” Sater says the U.S. wanted “a peek” at a high-tech Soviet radar system. “Blane sat down with me and said, ‘The country needs you,’ ” Sater said.
Back to the book. Sater’s unofficial contact in the CIA came to see him and told him the agency wanted a radar tracking system that the Russians had developed before the fall of the Soviet Union. The radar tracking system had never been deployed, and the CIA worried that the system could fall into the hands of our enemies.
“We looked around through Lex’s contacts and found we could definitely get the radar system. For once, this was a deal we were doing with no interest in the money. We were doing it to enhance our own position regarding the legal charges, and also as something that might benefit the country. Money or profit was not an issue. We just wanted the credit for doing it. With a direct line to the radar system, we contacted our lawyer in New York, who went to Washington DC to talk to the CIA”
The CIA was interested. The agency sent a man to Russia, and Sater located the radar tracking system. (In other parts of the book, Lauria calls it a “missile guidance system.”)
With that success, Sater was approached about acquiring a dozen Stinger missiles. The Stinger was the portable, shoulder-fired missile that used a heat-seeking sensor to home in on an aircraft’s engine. They could be fired from as far away as 5 miles away and could easily bring down a passenger airliner.
The CIA was desperate to get hold of them. Lauria states that at least 12 Stinger missiles were obtained by Osama bin Laden.
As he had with the radar tracking/missile guidance system, Sater found that he could get the Stingers, albeit in a round-about way.
Sater could not buy the Stingers directly from al Qaida. “Instead, he used his contact with a KGB general who claimed he had strong ties with Ahmad Shah Massed, leader of the Northern Alliance,” Lauria wrote. Sater alaso used “connections he thought he had with both sides in the Afghan War.” This is interesting. Was Sater dealing with the Taliban?
According to Lauria, Sater obtained photographs of the Stinger missiles as well as the the serial numbers of three of them to verify their authenticity. Sater also obtained what he thought was an active cell phone number for bin Laden. His attorney supplied it all to the CIA.
The CIA offered to pay Sater $300,000 per missile. Lauria insists there was no profit built into the deal. However, one of their partners, Gennady “Gene” Klotsman went behind their backs and demanded $3 million per Stinger. The CIA was furious and called off the deal.
A few days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Lauria got a phone call from Sater. The information they had provided about Osama bin Laden was now being actively pursued.
“Our situation had improved,” Lauria wrote.