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Friday, July 01, 2005

Technical Illiteracy at the CIA

No wonder they were confused about the aluminum tubes. They aren't comfortable with those little cellular telephonino thingies.

link reciprocity.

I thank various blogs for links. Max Sawicky , Brad, Jim Henley and Nell commenting on Jeanne's post at Body and Soul

I'm embarrassed to admit that I learned from Jeanne that the story broke first in Italy (where I live) here a il Corriere della Sera (the evening courier one of Italies two top morning newspapers). Still I don't feel so bad about not keeping up with Italian papers, since the CIA station chief in Milan seems to have been totally clueless about how the law works in Milan in a way possible only by careful avoidance of Italian newspapers.

The article contains this interesting bit of information on CIA technological ignorance. I shouldn't sneer because it is news to me too, but I don't have a gazillion dollar a year budget to keep up on such things. A cell phone used by one of the kidnappers was later used by someone who works at the US embassy in Rome. Il Corriere doesn't name this person. The mistake was that he changed the little gold card in the phone which determines its number (called a SIM in Italy). However, the cell phone itself has another identifier which it sends when it calls. I didn't know that, and neither, it seems, does the CIA. I'm, sure this will come as a shock to all the Italian guys who have one SIM for family (like their wife) and another for "work".

In questa situazione già delicata, la polizia ha scoperto che il telefonino usato da Harty Benamar, uno degli agenti che hanno eseguito materialmente il sequestro, è tornato a funzionare un anno e mezzo dopo il rapimento, dall’11 al 19 settembre 2004. Il nuovo utilizzatore è un cittadino americano, S. L., che si è limitato a cambiare il numero (scheda «Sim»), ma non l’apparecchio (identificato dal codice «Imei»). Secondo le prime verifiche, L. S. all’epoca lavorava per la diplomazia americana a Roma. In ogni caso con quel telefonino si è agganciato, negli orari d’ufficio, sempre alla stessa «cella radiobase» (l’antenna Tim) di viale Molise 4, che è la più vicina all’Ambasciata americana: circa 100 metri. Ed è questa incauta riattivazione a convincere la polizia che quel telefonino facesse parte di un gruppo di cellulari «in dotazione» all’ambasciata, alla quale alcuni sequestratori li avrebbero restituiti dopo l’uso.

In this already delicate situation, the police discovered that the cell phone used by Harty Benamar, one of the agents who performed the physical kidnapping, began to work again a year and one half after the kidnapping, working from the 11 to the 19th of September 2004. The new user of the cell phone, a US citizen, S. L., just changed the number of the cell phone (changing the SIM card) but not the device itself (identified by the "Imei" code). According to the preliminary investigation, L.S. worked at the US embassy in Rome. In any case, during working hours, that cell phone always linked to the same antenna on viale Molise , which is the closest antenna of that phone company to the US embassy. This incautious reaactivation convinced the police that that cell phone belonged to the embassy to which some of the kidnappers may have returned it after using it.

Very sloppy. Magistrates have easy access to anything of the sort that appears in a phone bill. Carelessness with Cell phones is the basis for one of Berlusconi's convictions (one count overturned on appeal which implied that the statute of limitations had run out as it was the most recent act of bribing the Treasury police, then all counts overturned on the merits by the Cassazione which can do that if the buy who got away because of the statute of limitations asks for a verdict on the merits of the case).

follow up at Il Corriere is mostly he said he said blame shifting. The CIA says the told the Italians what they were up to(il Corriere got that from the Washington Post). Berlusconi says no Italians were told. Now I know many of you have a firm opinion of the CIA but, believe me, nothing Berlusconi says can possibly be true. The problem is that the CIA seems to be such an inept intelligence agency that they don't know what every Italian newspaper reader knows, which is that Berlusconi sure can't control the procura di Milano, which can order arrests, which means a certain CIA ex station chief of Milan (named in the Corriere article) isn't going to live in his house in Italy any time soon. Also Hassan Osama Nasr's family has visited him and he confirms that he was tortured in prison in Egypt, but I'm afraid we basically knew that already.

Of course the most dramatic story involving spies and cell phones is the case of "the engineer" the chief bomb maker for Hamas who answered a cell phone, identified himself and never spoke again because it blew his head off. Mossad had booby trapped a phone so they could remote detonate it and somehow gotten it to him. I often wonder how many such phones they made and where the others ended up. For example the thought comes to mind every time someone talking on a cell phone while driving comes close to killing me (once or twice a day in Italy).


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