Saturday, June 25, 2005

Thirteen Is Not A Lucky Number

There is much odd and inbelievable about this story:

Thirteen With C.I.A Sought By Italy In Kidnapping"

"MILAN, June 24 - An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 officers and operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency on charges that they seized an Egyptian cleric on a Milan street two years ago and flew him to Egypt for questioning... Chiara Nobili of Milan, signed the arrest warrants on Wednesday for 13 C.I.A. operatives who are suspected of seizing an imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, as he walked to his mosque here for noon prayers on Feb. 17, 2003. "

Isn't Italy an ally of the United States - both in NATO and in the Global War on Terror?

Why would we operate in such a manner that suggests otherwise?

Why are our allies pursing our alleged agents in such an aggressive manner?

Why are we even conducting extra-judicial , non intelligence producing, operations in Italy?

Italy is not only an ally in the Global War on Terror, they have also been part of Bush's Iraq 'coalition of the willing.'

Does Bush know or care that the whole world constantly sees him saying one thing and doing another?

Recall the howls of laughter when the world heard Condi Rice critique the Iranian election, while keeping quiet about Saudl and Egyptian authoritarianism.

Recall the cynial chuckles heard around the world when Condi critiqued Russian democracy lapses , while she and her boss remain pretty silent about horrible allegations of unspeakable acts conducted by our new 'allies' in Central Asia's former Soviet Republics.

Every nation's leader is a bit hypocritical, but Bush is way over the top.

There seems to much incredulous about this whole fiasco, if true.

Our agents are poorly served by such odd operations - These operations seem, at face value, to be at cross-purposes to our strong relations with Italy and their own investigation of this man.

If this Egyptian Cleric the C.I.A. is alleged to have kidnapped and "renditioned" to Egypt was actually a terrorist, why was he not arrested, charged, and prosecuted?

Terrorism is illegal in Italy.

Indeed, the man who was allegedly kidnapped was actually under investigation (now botched?) for terror links.

Where that investigation would have led is now a mystery.

Now that Nasr has disappeared, it seems he and his contacts can no longer be as fruitfully tracked; we may have missed out on learning about new enemy cells.

Also, if the allegations had merit, why send him to Egypt?

In Egypt suspects are reportedly tortured; any confession obtained by torture is obviously meaningless and historically infamous.

Public opinion is better served by a detailed revelation of the facts.

Regarding the Americans who are alleged to be involved, we feel very bad for them. The administration has not demonstrated good loyalty for people who follow orders, rather than give them.

Please read the whole story, but check out some of these odd aspects:

"It was not known Friday whether the *Italian government* had approved the rendition here .... several former American intelligence officials have said they would be surprised if C.I.A. operations here had not been approved by Italy."

If that was true, and Italy approved- maybe there there should be a new rule that says if you [Italy] are going to approved such operations on Italian soil, you should not investigate what you knew was going to happen.

"Several senior Italian investigators said they believed the 13 operatives had left Italy. A raid carried out Thursday at a villa owned by one of the operatives in the Piedmont hills produced a computer disk drive and documents, investigators said."

Stop for a moment; How many intelligence officers can afford a villa in the Piedmont hills on their government check? Who among them would be so careless as to leave operational details on a easily seized computer disk?

Unless that was the point.

".... American agents used their Italian cellphones (Mama Mia!) at the precise moment Mr. Nasr was abducted; they kept the phones switched on for hours at a time, making it easier to track their movements; and they dialed many phone numbers in the United States, most of them in northern Virginia, including at least one number at agency headquarters."

If novelists and screenwriters know that cellphones are not secure, don't the professionals?

One hopes this seeming slip was intentional. Otherwise, that would raise disturbing issues of operational abilities and poor use of tax payer resources and training..

Maybe, just maybe, they were creating this loud visible mess, for little seeming gain, and at great cost, so as to distract from some brilliant, quiet, intricate operations that will make us safer.


Here's more odd stuff:

"The police said they were able to retrace nearly every step the American operatives made during the nine days they were in Milan for the operation. They identified the suspects by examining all cellphones in use near the abduction, and then tracing the web of calls placed. Investigators said they were able to trace several calls by Americans on the road from Milan to Aviano, the joint American-Italian air base north of Venice."

"The suspects stayed in five-star Milan hotels, including the Hilton, the Sheraton, the Galia and Principe di Savoia, in the week before the operation, at a cost of $144,984, the warrant says, adding that after Mr. Nasr was flown to Egypt, two of the officers took a few days' holiday at five-star hotels in Venice, Tuscany and South Tyrol."

Five-star hotels? Five-day holiday? Where was Ian Fleming?

"The Italian investigators also collected photocopies of the operatives' passports, photographs, cellphone numbers and their MasterCard and VISA credit card numbers (PIN numbers?). Six other American officials - either C.I.A. officers or diplomats posted at the Milan consulate - are under investigation for helping support the abduction, Italian investigators said."


"Mr. Nasr, a 42-year-old Egyptian-born cleric, came to the attention of counterterrorism officials here in 1997, shortly after he arrived from Albania. After Sept. 11, 2001, he was identified by American and Italian intelligence officials as a supporter of Al Qaeda who fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia and had made anti-American statements. At the time that he disappeared, Italian authorities were investigating reports that Mr. Nasr had tried to recruit jihadists through his mosque in Milan."

"The Milan police said they had been told by witnesses that at noon on Feb. 17, 2003, two or three Italian-speaking men approached Mr. Nasr as he walked along Via Guerzoni, in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city. The men asked Mr. Nasr to show them his identification, the witnesses said. The men then sprayed him in the face with chemicals and forced him into a white van, which sped away."

What kind of secret agent sprays supected clerics in foreign streets in front of witnesses?

What could be more suspicious looking that a white van in Milan?

Were these agents also wearing fanny packs, cell phones, and Disney t-shirts?

Here are some more details in the paper:

"....Mr. Nasr was taken within five hours to the American military base at Aviano, and was flown to Egypt on Feb. 18, 2003. His journey to Egypt began on an Air Force Learjet, operated under a radio call-sign Spar 92, which is used by the 76th Airlift Squadron, in Ramstein, Germany. It took off from Aviano at 6:20 p.m. for Ramstein. There, a week later, Mr. Nasr was transferred onto a Gulfstream IV executive jet for Cairo, the warrants say. "

Reading this, one cannot imagine a less secret operation.

"The Gulfstream belongs to a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox, Philip H. Morse. The warrant noted that Mr. Morse had previously confirmed that his jet was regularly leased to the C.I.A., with the team's logo covered. In an article in The Boston Globe on March 21, Mr. Morse was quoted as saying he was "stunned" by a newspaper report that the plane might have been used for renditions."

Is Jerry Seinfeld planning CIA operations?

Maybe that was Eliane and George who took off for a five day Northern Italian tour.


"A senior Italian official said the apparent abduction of Mr. Nasr had disrupted the Italians' attempt to identify his connection to a suspected terrorist network in Europe. "Our belief is that terrorist suspects should be investigated through legal channels and brought to a court of law - not kidnapped and spirited away to be tortured in some secret prison," the official said."

He is correct. Trials are not just the means to an end, but are an end in themselves.

That's no secret either.


At 8:20 PM, Anonymous MandT said...

"One hopes this seeming incompetence was intentional otherwise disturbing issues of operational competance are raised and one must contemplate the complete waste of taxpayer money on poor clandestine services." I'm afraid that incompetence is the least of it. For years, since the Bushies have suspended Habeaus Corpus, instituted rendition and torture as policy, and have established Neo-Con droit de Seigneur as foreign policy we see compounded the insolence and laisse faire of corrupt power. Michael

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Copeland said...

Italian-American relations took a turn for the worse after Nicola Calipari, an Italian agent, was shot to death on a special secured road to Baghdad airport. The Sgrena affair was never really explained to anyone's satisfaction; and the US miltary never did allow Italian authorities to examine the physical evidence.

I don't know if what happened with the 13 was payback or just Italy's way of saying they won't accept this kind of acting with impunity from the US. It must really be a sore point that the US extralegal action botched a local investigation of Mr. Nadr. That really impacts Italian and European security in a most unwelcome way.

But the strangest thing about the story is the grossly unprofessional behavior of these so-call CIA agents, the profligate spending, the clumsy abduction technique, the extreme untidiness of it all. First of all, it makes me wonder whether they were seasoned agents at all, or if they were off-the-reservation people. That plausible denial thing. Maybe some of this "rendition work" is really being handled as a rogue operation. Bad apples?

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Since the story seems so strange - Maybe it's less about Americans than it is about one part of Italian authority at odds with another- The conspicuous nature of it all seems bizarre otherwise.

Maybe they wanted to be noticed - who knows?

We think the Calipari affair was an accident. The testimony of Americans that were there seems to suggest that- but it is true that many in Italy assume otherwise because an assumption of intrigue, and a lack of tranparancy in the investigation- people assume a cover-up, even if that was just ordinary government inclination to be obtuse. Add to that the fact that for Italians G. Dubs is not granted the benefit of the doubt.

America stands to benefit more by having a democratic ally like Italy keep tabs on common enemies, than by sending them to nations that do not uphold practices that are our stated ideals.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger halcyon67 said...

I read something about this in the Post Gazette this morning. I think the Italian officials are just upset because they were not notified that such an operation was being held in their country.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger halcyon67 said...

From the Post Gazette via the LA Times: Abu Omar had been long suspected of terrorist activities by Italian authorities, who had him under surveillance themselves as part of an investigation into an Islamic cell accused of recruiting and sending suicide bombers and fighters to Iraq.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Corona Red said...

The thing is the story is incomplete at best.

For starters, who these men were is still unknown. Were they actually agents or not?

Secondly, about the first class accomodations, as a fedeal employee I can tell you we sometimes get great rates at nice places. Plus, it didn't say who financed the costs. If they were done with their assignment and the government wasn't paid for it, who cares?

Lastly, I totally agree with you that Bush takes it to a new level. A low one.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger halcyon67 said...

THey were CIA officials.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Mags said...

Yeah, I read this in the NYT over the weekend. And I couldn't help thinking, "Dammit, there they go again, thinking 'Murkins are above the law - anywhere."

At 9:32 AM, Blogger amy said...

WC, have you checked this out in today's Washington Post?


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