Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

‘Massive expansion’ in US covert operations in Africa

US military base in DjiboutiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States administration of President Barack Obama is implementing a near-unprecedented expansion of covert operations by American military forces throughout Africa, aimed at a host of armed groups deemed extremist by Washington. A lead article published yesterday in The Washington Post quotes over a dozen unnamed American and African officials, as well as military contractors, who refer to the US military-led effort as Project CREEKSAND. It allegedly involves secret operations in several African countries, conducted out of a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations around the continent. According to The Post, most of the airplanes used in Project CREEKSAND are small, unarmed, disguised to look like private aircraft, and bear no military markings or government insignia. In reality, however, they carry sophisticated electronic equipment designed to collect signals intelligence, while some are used to transport US Special Forces troops during capture or kill missions. The paper quotes an unnamed “former senior US commander […] involved in setting up the [air bases] network”, who alleges that the US government has built about a dozen such bases throughout Africa since 2007. These secret air bases are located in countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Seychelles. Most of the US personnel involved in Project CREEKSAND consists of Special Operations forces tasked with “training foreign security forces [and] performing aid missions”. However, The Post alleges that there are also small teams of US operatives who are “dedicated to tracking and killing suspected terrorists”. Read more of this post

US considered covert mission to recover drone captured by Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
What a difference two days can make! On Monday we speculated that Iran may have captured intact a United States Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. At that time, most American officials questioned or flatly denied Iran’s capture claims. It now appears almost certain that Iran is indeed in possession of the aircraft; what is more, it seems increasingly likely that the captured drone was conducting a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance mission when it crashed in the desert along the country’s 1,000 km-long border with Afghanistan. The significance of the drone’s capture by Iranian authorities can be discerned from the fact that US officials are said to have considered last weekend several options for retrieving it from Iranian territory. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Defense, in association with the CIA, discussed at least three separate plans for recovering or destroying the aircraft wreckage. One of the options discussed involved sending an airborne team of US covert operatives into northeast Iran to locate the crashed drone, disassemble it, and carry its top-secret mechanical and electronic components back to a US base in Afghanistan. The US also considered deploying Special Forces stationed in Afghanistan, or tasking US intelligence assets inside Iran, with locating and blowing up the crashed drone. A third option involved destroying the downed aircraft with a remote airstrike from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Analysis: CIA retains special operations role in post-9/11 era

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Despite its ‘shoot ’em-up’ image in popular culture, the Central Intelligence Agency is predominantly responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence for the benefit of US policymakers. The Agency’s paramilitary tasks —also known as ‘special operations’— form a somewhat smaller part of its overall mission. The CIA is America’s only government agency that can legally authorized by the President to perform special operations. The question is, should it? One of the 9/11 Commission Report’s chief recommendations was that the CIA should be stripped of its special operations function, and that the latter should be surrendered to the Department of Defense, in the form of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Clearly, JSOC has played an important role in post-9/11 counterterrorist operations. Yet it is equally clear that, not only has the CIA not been stripped of its paramilitary tasks, but the latter have actually been drastically augmented by the Obama administration —not least through the continuing unmanned drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A well-written analysis by Politico’s Josh Gerstein correctly notes that recommendations to eliminate the CIA’s paramilitary role and transfer it to the Pentagon “remain unpopular in the highest echelons”. The article quotes Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who is one of the few intelligence planners that favor transferring special operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. He says that military functions “ought to be performed by trained military organizations […]. Do you want the CIA operating a combatant command responsible for fighting our twilight wars, especially in a world when twilight wars are the wars we mainly fight?”. The argument seems to be that, as special operations become increasingly central in America’s ‘war on terrorism’, they should be commanded by a military, rather than a civilian, agency. An unnamed former CIA official puts forward the Agency’s view in the article: what do you do “if you have a [host] country that wants to deny a program”? In other words, how do you exercise plausible deniability through the Department of Defense? “[T]he CIA is going to [have to] move to the front of the queue”, he answers. Read more of this post

White House considering covert operations against Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the major strategic objections to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the near-certain prospect that removing the Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party from power would increase Iranian-Shiite influence in the country. As the US military exit strategy gradually unfolds in Iraq, the administration of US President Barack Obama is faced with precisely this prospect. While US troops are leaving Iraq, Iran is doing what any logical regional power would do: namely strengthening its clandestine footprint inside Iraq and preparing Tehran-allied Iraqi groups for the impending showdown with Sunni power centers. An article that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal notes that “growing concern [about regional] influence from Iran” has prompted the Obama administration to explore covert ways of countering it. According to the article, US intelligence agencies have detected “increased arms smuggling [by Iran] to its allies” in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria (and, one would suppose, Lebanon, though this is not mentioned in the piece). The administration has therefore “pushed the military and intelligence communities to develop proposals to counter Tehran”, says the Journal. The push has prompted American intelligence and military planners to request “greater authority to conduct covert operations to thwart Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq”. This essentially implies an appeal for a Presidential “finding”, a secret executive authorization that —under the National Security Act— would provide the required legal basis for covert operations conducted abroad. Read more of this post

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