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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hassan Osama Nasr was kidnapped in Milan on February 17 2003. On the 23rd of June the Italian GIP Chiara Nobile issued 13 arrest warrents for CIA agents who participated in the kidnapping. I have no special information on the case and have just read articles in The New York Tims, The Washington post and two in the Los Angeles Times.

The articles make it clear that police and magistrates in Italy are furious with the CIA and the Bush administration. They are not allowed to talk to reporters, but they have clearly decided to ignore this rule pushing stories on the three papers simultaneously. It is clear that the person doing this (cough Armando cough Spataro) knows that he or she will not be able to bring the agents to trial and is determined convince the court of public opinion to inflict as much punishment as possible. The campaign of leaks strikes me as brilliant and likely to be devastating. In particular the leakers are not relying on opposition to torture or respect for Italian law or Italian sovereignty. They are stressing that the CIA has sabotaged the war against terror and that the CIA agents are totally incompetent and self indulgent.

Thus their campaign might influence Americans who don't care about human rights (too many) and who have no respect for the institutions and authority of the Republic of Italy (all of us but at least I admit it).

Some key nuggets from the stories

"The abduction of Abu Omar forced Italian authorities to abort an extensive case they were building against him. His arrest had been imminent, they said, and formal charges against him are pending."


"Abu Omar's disappearance angered several officials who thought they had always cooperated fully with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, only to be trampled on in this operation.

"Kidnapping Abu Omar was not only a crime against the state of Italy, but also it did great damage to the war on terrorism," said Spataro, the prosecutor. "We could have continued the investigation and found evidence on other people. He would be on trial by now instead of missing.""


"Most experts, including former intelligence officers, said it was unlikely that the CIA would mount such an operation without some level of approval from the host nation.

Berlusconi considers himself the most loyal supporter of the Iraq war among leaders in continental Europe.

"It is impossible that they did this without Italian cooperation, but we found no evidence," an Italian law enforcement official said." Tracy Wilkinson I

Clearly Spataro is going for blood. He also clearly understands which arguments are effective in convincing people in the US who are not convinced already.

The next day, anonymous sources open a new line of attack. The CIA agents were incompetent and corrupt. "MILAN, Italy — They ran up tabs of thousands of dollars at some of Milan's best hotels and restaurants. They chatted easily on their cellular telephones and gave out passport, frequent-flier and driver's license numbers when booking flights or renting cars.

And now they are fugitives.

If Italian authorities are right, they have exposed a CIA operation here that on some levels was brazen and perhaps reckless, even as it successfully spirited away a notorious Egyptian imam." Tracy Wilkinson II

Evil, stupid and ridiculous. Kevin Drum doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. I don't know which response is more deadly.

The fact that there is a campaign to convince the US public is made clear by the identical leaks to Craig Whitlock at the Washington Post

For 19 American intelligence operatives assigned to apprehend a radical Islamic preacher in Milan two years ago, the mission was equal parts James Bond and taxpayer-financed Italian holiday, according to an Italian investigation of the man's disappearance.

The Americans stayed at some of the finest hotels in Milan, sometimes for as long as six weeks, ringing up tabs of as much as $500 a day on Diners Club accounts created to match their recently forged identities, according to Italian court documents and other records. Then, after abducting their target and flying him to Cairo under the noses of Italian police, some of them rounded out their European trip with long weekends in Venice and Florence before leaving the country, the records show.

And all on the tab of US taxpayers.

Finally, in the New York Times Stephen Grey and Don Von Natta have been listening to (presumably) the same angry Italians who are clearly determined to get the message across.

On Feb. 17, 2003, Mr. Nasr disappeared.

When the Italians began investigating, they said, they were startled to find evidence that some of the C.I.A. officers who had been helping them investigate Mr. Nasr were involved in his abduction.

"We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city," a senior Italian investigator said. "We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network."

He and other senior Italian officials in Milan's police and prosecutor's office were angry enough to answer detailed questions about the case, but insisted on anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Again the key argument that the kidnapping was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.
Notice that it is a crime for officials in the prosecutorìs office to talk to the press (it is like revealing grand jury testimony). They are angry enough not to mind the NY Times reporting the detail that people both with the police and at the procura are talking.

The claim that the kidnapping disrupted a very broad investigation is proven in the New York Times article based on access to theoretically secret court records

According to court records, this exchange occurred in one eavesdropped conversation at a Milan mosque, recorded by the Italian secret police:

Unidentified speaker: "We must find money because our objective is to form an Islamic army, which will be known as Force 9."

Mr. Nasr: "How are things going in Germany?"

Unidentified speaker: "We can't complain. There are already 10 of us, and we are also concentrating our efforts on Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Egypt and Turkey. But the hub of the organization remains London."

Thus the Italians can prove that they had leads useful for an investigation of an international network and can convincingly argue that this investigation was sacrificed for a chance to torture the one key player who had been identified and placed under surveilance but seems not to have known that he wa giving the Italian police invaluable information until the CIA ruined everything by kidnapping him.

Notice that the Italians insist that the kept the CIA informed so, if the CIA team had not been a gang of total idiots, they would have understood that a kidnapping would be an idiotic crime for the same reason that an arrest would have been a mistake.

update: I am working on posts on The Italian Judiciary, the current assault on the independence of the Italian judiciary, The procura di Milano, Armando Spataro and Guido Salvini. If you keep visiting this site, they will grow before your eyes.


Thanks Brad, Max and Charles at Mercury Rising for the links


Charles said...

We linked you at Mercury Rising, Robert (thanks to Brad DeLong for spotting this fine piece).

You've done a commendable job of analysis. Thank you.

shrimplate said...

Wow. Amazing story. I look forward to reading more.

Koranteng said...

erustication n: 1 Extraordinary Rendition to Uzbekistan Syria (or similar) by the US government for the purposes of torture and intelligence "extraction"... [snip]

Erustication and The Italian Job

I'm with you Robert.

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