Former CIA station chief regrets “trail of evidence” in Italy abduction

Hassan Nasr

Hassan Nasr

For over two years, Italian justice has been after 26 Americans and five Italians who kidnapped a Muslim cleric suspected of terrorist ties and secretly flew him to Egypt, where he was secretly renditioned. The cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who was kidnapped while walking down a street in Milan, says that his Egyptian jailers held him for years without formal charges and tortured him severely. The Italians’ search for the 26 Americans, all of them almost certainly CIA personnel, has been met with a “no-comment” policy from Washington and the CIA. But now one of the 26, Robert Seldon Lady, has given a rare interview to Italy’s Il Giornale newspaper, in which he essentially admits that the CIA was behind the operation.  Lady, who was the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, acknowledged that the abduction broke Italian law, but argued against the zeal with which Italian prosecutors have gone after the abductors, because “most covert activity abroad is illegal and still every country authorizes it […]. I worked in intelligence for 25 years and almost no activity I did in those 25 years was legal in the country where it happened”, said the former station chief, who was essentially smuggled out of Italy by the CIA once his connection to the abduction became publicly known. Lady refused to acknowledge personal guilt or discuss the morality behind Nasr’s abduction, saying that he was “only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors […]. I am consoled by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism [and] that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me”, he told his Italian interviewer. But the CIA agent does have one regret: that he and his colleagues left a lengthy trail of evidence for Italian investigators to trace, including records of telephone activity and even large bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. “How could we have been so unprofessional? My answer is that there were too many people involved. In these operations, there should be few”, he said.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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