In 2007, three potheads from Miami Beach became one of the Pentagon’s largest weapons suppliers. Ephraim Diveroli, a 21-year-old gunrunner; his friend David Packouz, a 25-year-old part-time masseur; and a small-time 24-year-old pot dealer named Alex Podrizki had no training, but they were smart, ruthless and brimming with greed. Locking themselves in a one-bedroom apartment for months, passing a bong back and forth (and sometimes a vile of cocaine), the friends bid on defense contracts posted on an online government site. At the time, the U.S. military was desperately trying to supply weapons to the fledgling armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan — and no one at the Pentagon wanted to know what private contractors like these dudes were doing to obtain the arms.
Then Diveroli and Packouz landed by far their biggest score: a $300 million Pentagon contract to supply a mountain of ammunition to the Afghanistan military. Their attempt to source an order for hundreds of millions of AK-47 rounds took them around the world. They did business with Balkan gunrunners, corrupt politicians and American officers working on bombed-out tarmacs in Baghdad and Kabul. The trio were arrested in the spring of 2008 on 71 counts of federal fraud, and became the subjects of Guy Lawson’s National Magazine Award-nominated feature for Rolling Stone, “Arms and the Dudes.”
Out this week is Lawson’s new book based on the article, Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History (a movie based on the book, starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, is currently in production). It includes years of additional reporting, and details exactly how the Pentagon turned itself into the largest gunrunning organization on the planet — and the mayhem and murder that followed. “I knew from reporting the article there was more to discover — way more,” Lawson says. “There were documents under seal in federal court, and I hadn’t talked to all of the dudes. So I persisted and got a few breaks and the truth eventually emerged, in all of its crazy and unbelievable glory.”
The book also expands on the story of the dudes, from the day Diveroli launched his improbable venture to the consequences of his inevitable downfall; a Pentagon investigation found that the failed contract caused mass shortages in the supply of ammo in Afghanistan during the fighting season in 2008. “The entire SNAFU really illustrates exactly how the United States lost the war in Afghanistan, as well as the war in Iraq,” Lawson says. “Billions were squandered, but the US government simultaneously shortchanged the effort. The Afghan arms deal the dudes won is the perfect example of self-defeating failure.”