Once a Gun Runner . . . The Real Story is former international arms dealer Efraim Diveroli’s memoir. Unlike War Dogs — the movie based on the twenty-something’s life — there’s nothing funny about Diveroli’s book. Not to put too fine a point on it, the man’s without mirth or merit. Note: I didn’t say morals.

If we are to believe Mr. Diveroli’s account, he never “intentionally” sold guns, ammo or explosives to the “bad guys.” The feds’ case against him — for selling Chinese ammunition — was bogus. Provided, that is, you accept Diveroli’s explanation: his Albanian subcontractor repackaged the “pre-embargo” ammo and stripped out Chinese language packing materials simply out of an abundance of caution.

At the time I believed that acquisitions prior to the embargo were exempt  [from the ban] . . . We were doing nothing wrong, so why risk giving the impression we were? Why tempt fate?

If character is fate, Mr. Diveroli was destined for jail from an early age. Once a Gun Runner is an often interminable account of a money-obsessed drug addict on his way to ruin; a punk-ass kid from a dysfunctional Orthodox Jewish family who could no more stop making deals than he could stop snorting lines, smoking dope, sucking Parliament cigarettes, guzzling booze and screwing prostitutes.

To say Mr. Diveroli has no moral core would be like saying Hillary Clinton lacks respect for the Second Amendment. Now I know that the international arms trade is, by its secretive high-profit political nature, a corrupt business. A strong conscience has to be a distinct liability, if not outright disqualification. But reading Mr. Diveroli’s accounts of his shady business dealings is more than a little nauseating.

Keep in mind I was gearing up to fly tons of cargo into an active war zone; al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents were regularly firing small arms and RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) at cargo planes arriving at Kabul and the U.S. military base in Bagram. Every once in a while the rebels would hit one, causing the commercial aircraft to crash, losing the flight crew and worse the freight. Despite my best efforts to do so, this stuff wasn’t insured!

Worse the freight? He’s not kidding, folks. Like any “good” sociopath, Mr. Diveroli lacks anything remotely resembling empathy for his fellow human beings. Let’s go back to the tarmac.

Wherever possible, I liked to go an extra ton or two over the carrier’s self-imposed limit. More cargo meant the IL-76 burned more fuel and ultimately cost the carrier more, in a flat-fee charter arrangement . . .

“No, no . . . Forty-eight is the maximum load capacity,” slurred the load master, “sorry.”

I pulled a wad of crisp bills out of my pocket, “I’m sure we can work something out,” I said, as I peeled off 300 Euro. “It’s only a few tons.”

I pushed the bills into the Russian’s greasy hand, he ran his fingers through his oily hair and I noticed there was dirt under his fingernails. “Hum . . .” he said, “make it five hundred . . . and I’ll go fifty-one tons.”

I pulled two more notes out and handed them to him. I looked at Alex and said “You need to be doing this every flight . . . got it?”

There’s not even a pretense of humanity here, or elsewhere in the book. The Trade Towers massacre is mentioned only in passing, as the engine powering Mr. Diveroli’s ascendancy into the international arms trading fraternity. The Miami native is only concerned with one person: himself.

Once a Gun Runner (courtesy amazon.com)

Hence the Scarface pose adorning Once a Gun Runner’s cover. Interspersed amongst examples of Mr. Diveroli’s unbridled, self-congratulatory greed: lurid, poorly-written tales of cheating on his girlfriend with “perfect” prostitutes, partying with same, and short, facile, dismissive descriptions of foreign cities.

Malaysia is in Southeast Asia, and the whole coastal country is covered by dense tropical rainforest – I’d never seen a place that green. The capital is a combination of bamboo huts and modern skyscrapers, heavily populated by Malays and Chinese.

Once a Gun Runner fails as an exposé, a cautionary tale and a work of literature. There’s no story arc; Mr. Diveroli’s eventual prison sentence does nothing to alter his inability to take responsibility for destroying himself and those around him. Here’s the jailhouse “confession” that helps bring the book to a close:

I was a high-school dropout-turned-international arms dealer, and became a self-made millionaire by age 18. By 21-years-old I had landed nearly $400 million in weapons and munitions contracts for the U.S. Government. I may have been a rebellious kid, but I overcame my obstacles, worked hard, built my business, and enjoyed my accomplishments: an American success story.

Life was good, until some self-righteous New York Times reporters manipulated the facts to embarrass the U.S. Army and the Bush Administration by stating “the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur” [ED: true story] and that AEY, Inc. was providing “[unreliable] decaying ammunition” procured from “scrap heaps of abandoned Soviet Arms.” Not one fucking round didn’t fire! Not one!  

If that’s an American success story — a drugged-up kid with “all-devouring ambition” skirts the law to make millions off the U.S. taxpayer to spend on hookers, blow and gambling, with only perfunctory regard to the devastation inflicted on friends and family — America is in deep trouble. The arms industry is, of course, as healthy as ever.

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21 Responses to Book Review: Once a Gun Runner . . .

  1. ” a punk-ass kid from a dysfunctional Orthodox Jewish family who could no more stop making deals than he could stop snorting lines, smoking dope, sucking Parliament cigarettes, guzzling booze and screwing prostitutes.”

    Hard liquor, cigarettes, hookers and blow sounds like the start of a nice weekend.

    Anyways…

    Haven’t read this yet, but I did read ‘War Dogs’. What I got from it was the business was primarily a Chi-Com ammunition re-packaging operation that for the most part provided millions of rounds of ammo as contracted, ammo not from a legal source as specified in the contract.

    The crap ammo was a small part of that, but that is what they chose to hang them on.

    • “Hard liquor, cigarettes, hookers and blow sounds like the start of a nice weekend.”

      I’ve always liked the cut of your jib…

      Personally, I’ve always been a stripper guy for those kind of weekends. I’m still a junkie for the rush of successfully attracting any woman, especially ones who have guys throw themselves at her dozens of times a day.

      • Strippers suck. If I can’t touch em I don’t want them.

        Pro tip: walk into a strip club with a girl. The strippers become much friendlier.

        • I guess that depends on the ROE where you frequent. Customers get to touch, as long as the entertainer is working the customer’s hands.

          In my neck of the woods, if you go on the Fri/Sat (amateur nights) , there’s bunches of 20 somethings with their gfs. It’s pretty normal these days. Bringing the gf does make the take-home a slam dunk though, especially when the gf is also ‘in the same field’.

  2. “a drugged-up kid with “all-devouring ambition” skirts the law to make millions off the U.S. taxpayer to spend on hookers, blow and gambling, without considering the devastation he inflicted on his friends and family — America is in deep trouble”

    Indeed. Only politicians are allowed to do that.

  3. This is amusing and the story is based on something true. It is fucking capitalism at its finest. I don’t care who sells weapons anymore than I care about those who choose to go to war. It is gonna happen no matter what and someone is gonna make money. The movie does the story little justice and makes light of very serious risks taken by people in war zones.

    • There is risk, and there is outright stupidity in air cargo operations, like *routinely* loading over gross limits and improper cargo tie-down.

      If you fail to properly secure cargo, like the loadmaster failed to do in this video, you risk this happening, winning stupid prizes for playing stupid games:

  4. In all honesty I can’t get all hot-under-the-collar about this.

    If there was one factual thing about Lord of War it’s when Nick Cage explains that the US government gets into some VERY shady deals with people they can’t be seen supplying and then allow or use a 3rd party to get the goods to the buyers.

    While you don’t have to like the author you should understand that having what the rest of us see as a moral compass in such a business isn’t just a liability to your business, it’s a liability that is likely to get you killed possibly along with your associates and family. With great reward comes great risk and those who succeed in such situations are either completely selfless or completely self-interested. Arms dealing isn’t a job for the former so it will always fall to the latter.

    The truth is that even if this guy wasn’t in the business someone else would be and, if there wasn’t anyone to take his job, the people who wish to kill each other would find ways to get the job done anyway. Just look at large parts of sub-Saharan of Africa. They don’t need AK’s to commit mass murder; they’ve got powerful narcotics, child soldiers and machetes.

    • DITTO. I read this TTAG article and immediately began to pen a reply when I saw this–now I don’t have to as this comment is verbatim what I was going to reply.

  5. I would do business with him. A man motivated solely by money is predictable and can be guided down legal avenues.

    • Not a guy I’d do business with but you are correct. When someones mission is compromised by laws, love, morals or fear, that’s when they get really dangerous.

    • Legal business arrangement or not, it’s clear he wouldn’t think twice about doing shady things to chase an extra dollar if he thought he could get away with it, and he would always be looking for those opportunities. He just wouldn’t tell YOU about it…

      Seems like an almost stereotypical amoral, greedy, sociopath. Dude could’ve been an investment banker if he was smarter. Make more money, wreck up the global economy, and never see the inside of a jail cell or risk catching a bullet from the angry rabble.

  6. I read the book Once A Gun Runner and completely disagree with your review. I found it to be a brutally honest telling of the story as it actually occurred. Although Mr. Diveroli may have ben motivated by money (but what true businessman isn’t?), he also had a fascination with guns from an early age. I found the book to be a thoroughly refreshing, honest, and revealing take on the story. I appreciate Mr. Diveroli’s truthfulness, vulnerability, and self-deprecation. A good read!

  7. I don’t think you could be more wrong. The book was great! It was an exciting, thrilling, funny and well written look at the story. Sure, Diveroli reveals and admits to all of his addictions and shortcomings, but c’mon the guy was quite a businessman – especially for his young age. To me, his honesty was impressive, no matter how it made him look. It was a very insightful look into how the international arms trade works with the government. I thought the book was awesome.

  8. I loved this book. It’s the real deal. Great details and insight. Truthful depiction of what happened. If you want the real story, unlike the crappy movie, this it it. Recommended reading.

  9. Actually, I have another guest post idea that would be perfect for your site.
    It’s called: “Surprising Details About HOW TO RUN THE GUN Uncovered”
    I could have it sent to you this week.
    Either way, thanks again for your insights!
    Most Excellent,

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