It’s terrific that Brittney Griner is safe and back in the United States.

It’s unfair that Paul Whelan remains in a Russian gulag.

It’s sinful that at least 60 Americans worldwide are being wrongfully detained, according to the James Foley Foundation.

It’s deleterious that Viktor Bout (pronounced “boot”) is out of jail. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated there was never an option to include Paul Whelan with Brittney Griner when discussing the prisoner swap. “The choice was one or none.”

I don’t believe that is true. It may have taken more time, but there are reasons to think it was possible to get both Americans Russia was holding unjustly in exchange for Viktor Bout. To come to the same conclusion, you must understand the following:

Historic precedent

The U.S. has traded two for one before.

In 1962, the U.S. and USSR exchanged prisoners — except the U.S. got two for one. The story is told in the 2015 film “Bridge of Spies.” 

In 1957, the FBI arrested Rudolf Abel in his Manhattan hotel room. He is represented reluctantly by an insurance lawyer, Jim Donovan, played in the movie by Tom Hanks. Although he is found guilty of espionage, Donovan talks the judge, who is otherwise unsympathetic toward Abel, into sparing his life as an insurance policy, should the day come when the Soviets have one of our spies.

Donovan’s words prove prescient when Francis Gary Powers is shot down and captured less than three years later while flying a U2 reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union. Powers admits to flying an intelligence mission for the CIA and receives a ten-year sentence.

Both governments want their men back, but neither can acknowledge they are spying on the other. Abel is on a British passport. The U.S. claims it never authorized the U2 flight. Negotiations must be unofficial.

Donovan goes to Berlin, where he is to meet a representative for Abel’s family who may be able to negotiate a swap.

READ MORE — Andy Bloom: What a dozen years working with the Howard Stern Show taught me about freedom of expression

The events occur amidst increasing tensions between the East and West. Donovan arrives as the final bricks of the Berlin Wall are being put in place. A 25-year-old Yale graduate student, Frederic Pryor, gets trapped on the eastern side of the wall, and the East Germans imprison him as a spy.

Donovan’s CIA handler, Agent Hoffman, calls Pryor “a new wrinkle.” He warns Donovan that they may try to get him to accept Pryor for Abel but “not to fall for it.” The U.S. government is focused squarely on Powers and isn’t concerned with Pryor.

Donovan says, “Every person matters.” Through all the plot twists, Donovan never stops saying, “Our guys. Two guys.”

When they have a deal for Powers but not Pryor, Hoffman says, “We’re all set.” Donovan remains firm. “There is no deal unless we get two men. Two, two, two-two,” he responds.

At the critical moment, Donovan says, “This whole thing has been to feel me out. Would I swap one for one, and which one? But I said no. They know where we stand.” In the end, the Soviets wanted Abel back. They had gotten as much out of Powers as they could. Pryor, a student, was of no value anyhow. They made the deal.

Although I wasn’t in the negotiating room, I believe the Russians would ultimately have done the same now because of Bout’s high value.

Viktor Bout is pure evil

Bout is an international arms dealer known as The Merchant of Death. He was also known as “Sanctions Buster” for his ability to elude arms embargoes.

Bout graduated from the Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages, which U.S. Intelligence believes was connected with the GRU, the Soviet foreign military intelligence agency. Abel spoke five languages. Bout speaks six or seven.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Bout had unfettered access to surplus weapons, munitions, and helicopters, scattered across the former Soviet empire. He purchased three Russian military freight planes, making it hard to fathom he didn’t have any connection to Russian intelligence, military, or government. He built a legitimate air freight business. Under the cover of distributing humanitarian aid, he transported the deadly merchandise that was his primary business.

He sold arms and weapons in every part of the world, including to nearly every African dictator who used them to commit atrocities against civilians. He dealt with both sides of a conflict, such as the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.  

In 2010, Michael Braun, former chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told 60 Minutes, “Viktor Bout is one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth.”

In 2008, the DEA set up a sting operation to catch Bout. He went to Thailand to sell an “arsenal of military-grade weapons” to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). If it were an actual sale, those weapons would have killed Americans. Eventually, he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He wasn’t scheduled to be released until August 2029. 

The Russians desperately wanted Bout back

Yahoo News reported that Jonathan Winer, a senior official in the State Department during the Clinton administration who tracked Bout, said, “Putin’s regime has desperately sought [Bout’s] repatriation.”

In the article, Winer said, “[The Kremlin] moved heaven and earth to first prevent Bout’s extradition to the U.S. from Thailand and then, more than a decade after his capture, serially raised his release.”

Brittney Griner was a bargaining chip

Brittney Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s basketball team and six-time WNBA All-Star. Russian customs officials detained and arrested her for possessing less than one gram of cannabis oil. Brittney Griner has a medical prescription for cannabis oil due to chronic pain. In Russia, cannabis is a controlled narcotic.  

It’s incumbent on a person visiting another country to know its laws, but this seems to be an overreaction by the Russians. Many believe Russia was looking for American bargaining chips and that Brittney Griner was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Brittney Griner had lousy timing. She was arrested on Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Airport. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was imminent and began on Feb. 24. 

Paul Whelan is an unlikely U.S. government asset

Whelan served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1994 to 2008. He was deployed to Iraq twice. He was tried by court martial and discharged from the Marines for bad conduct. The Washington Post reports that he attempted to steal $10,000 from the U.S. government. According to CNN, Whelan was accused of using somebody else’s social security number and writing bad checks.

Whelan first visited Russia while stationed in Iraq and returned several times after. He was there in 2018 for the wedding of a Marine he had served with in Iraq. He thought he could assist Americans there for the wedding, who had never been to Moscow.

As president, Joe Biden is also the Commander-in-Chief. He knows better than to have left the former Marine, Paul Whelan, behind in Russia.

During that visit, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Whelan for espionage. He was carrying a USB drive allegedly containing state secrets. Whalen says it has a friend’s vacation photos. He was found guilty and sentenced to sixteen years.

The Russians are accusing Paul Whelan of being a U.S. spy. If Paul Whelan is a U.S. spy, it would be the strangest incident since Lee Harvey Oswald — if Oswald was ever in the CIA.

Leave no man behind

I spent four years as Communications Director for Congressman Mike Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). His district includes Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). One of the themes I repeatedly heard from those who serve our nation most bravely was, “Leave no man behind.” 

The Air Force, Army, Army Rangers, and Marines use some form of the phrase in their creeds.

As president, Joe Biden is also the Commander-in-Chief. He knows better than to have left the former Marine, Paul Whelan, behind in Russia.

By leaving Paul Whelan behind, the Biden administration failed. The administration released one of the world’s most dangerous criminals because of political pressure at home to get Griner released fast. Biden signaled to bad actors around the globe that the United States can be pressured, making it less safe for American citizens to travel abroad. 

The people negotiating for Griner and Whelan weren’t up to the task. Biden should have found somebody else, and I know who.

Biden should have sent Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles Executive Vice President and General Manager) to make the trade. I do not doubt that in exchange for Bout, Roseman would have gotten Griner, Whelan, and a future draft pick. Putin would have thanked him for such a favorable compromise and hurried to conclude their agreement before Roseman could negotiate, leaving Ukraine into the deal.

Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

One thought on “Andy Bloom: The Griner-Bout trade was a failure”

  1. Why didn’t Trump get him out? Whelan’s family said Trump didn’t care. And the Whelan family approved of the Griner for Bout swap.

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

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