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October 19, 2010

Reasoning Behind the CIA’s Italian Job

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 2:00 am
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Scott Horton recently interviewed Steve Hendricks, who has just published a book about the CIA’s rendition of Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt in 2003. The thing that strikes me as most intriguing about the case is the reasoning for Abu Omar’s kidnap. This is Hendricks’ take:

Abu Omar was almost certainly a terrorist but, as you say, of middling or even lowish rank and without imminent plans to attack. Because the Italians had him under thorough surveillance, they almost certainly would have been able to arrest him if his plans changed, and in any case they were going to arrest him in a month or two when they had gotten all the intelligence they could from his cell. In other words, there was no reason at all to render him, even by the CIA’s own criteria, which amounted to getting the “worst of the worst” off the streets before they could do serious harm.

The most convincing theory to explain why the CIA snatched Abu Omar is that the agency’s chief of station in Italy, Jeff Castelli, wanted a promotion. After September 11, renditions were all the rage in the CIA. Station chiefs around the world were collecting scalps. Several Italians and Americans who worked with Castelli believe he convinced Langley to approve the rendition by exaggerating the threat Abu Omar posed and denigrating the Italians’ monitoring of him. Castelli had boosters at Langley who were grooming him for a higher post, and at least one or two of them were among those who weigh the merits of proposed renditions and approved or denied them. Probably Castelli’s boosters were overly eager to help their man get his scalp.

A lesson here is that although we think of the CIA as a spy agency, it is also—I might even argue it is foremost—a bureaucracy, and its bureaucrats have most of the motivations of bureaucrats elsewhere. Sure, they work for the good of their country as they perceive it, but they’re also looking out for themselves, and career often trumps country. The opportunity for mischief is all the greater because the CIA has very successfully fought off outside oversight and hidden its sins under the opaque cloak of national security.

I have to say that I don’t buy this for a second, but I can’t really come up with something that is much better. Here’s a simple question that bugs me: why pick Abu Omar? If any old low-to-middle-ranking militant would do, why did Castelli pick Abu Omar?

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November 5, 2009

‘Italian Job’ Verdict: That’s Not Justice

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 2:38 am
Tags: , , ,

The verdict is in in the trial of CIA, US Air Force and Italian military intelligence personnel over the kidnapping of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). 22 low-level CIA officers got five to eight years, the air force officer got five years and two low-level Italian officials were also convicted. Three CIA officers were acquitted, including Jeff Castelli, the station chief who dreamed up the whole operation. The acquittal was on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. Other Italian officials were acquitted on state secrecy grounds. Former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet signed off on the operation, but were not even put on trial.

This is not justice by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Some low-level people got sentenced to prison, the higher-ups stay free. Some of them weren’t even put on trial because they ordered their subordinates to keep their mouths shut and take the fall. As the Americans will not go to Italy, the only people who will be punished are the two low-level Italians, who will go to prison, and former CIA officer Robert Seldon Lady, whose villa near Milan will be sold to compensate Nasr. Lady actually opposed the operation and was not that heavily involved in it.

As I blogged a while back, the rendition made no sense.

Update: Soctt Horton has more at Harpers. Unsurprisingly, everybody is going to appeal.

October 25, 2009

The Conventional Wisdom on the CIA’s Italian Job and Why It Might Be Wrong


One of the most famous CIA counterterrorist operations after 9/11 is the extraordinary rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. “Abu Omar”) from Milan, Italy, to Egypt in 2003. Although it generated little publicity at the time, Abu Omar was later released in Egypt and called home. The Italian authorities intercepted the call, found he had been tortured, and started to investigate.

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