Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
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.

Lady and several other CIA operatives involved in Nasr’s abduction were subsequently identified in a judicial investigation by Italian authorities, which also exposed the American team’s careless spy tradecraft. The latter included unsecured cell phone calls to each other in the days before the abduction, and extravagant bills incurred while staying in luxury Italian hotels. The US government refused to acknowledge that most of the 23 identified Americans were CIA operatives and pressured the Italian authorities to drop all charges. But Washington’s efforts failed and the Americans were convicted in absentia in 2005.

According to the Italian media, Lady was arrested by police near Panama’s border with Costa Rica on Wednesday, soon after he entered the country. There is no mention in the Italian press of the reasons why Lady, who is wanted by INTERPOL in pursuance of a formal request issued by Rome, was traveling outside the United States. It is also unclear whether the Panamanian authorities were acting at the behest of the Italian government. Italy now has two months to file a formal extradition request for Lady, who has been convicted to nine years in prison for his role in Nasr’s kidnapping. The CIA has declined to comment on Lady’s reported arrest and possible extradition.

16 Responses to Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

  1. Paul says:

    I see Mr Lady is a radio amateur. The HF transceiver left of his head in the image is a Kenwood TS430 with a vintage dating from 1985 to 1988. Not aware of extradition arrangements between Italy and Panama. This will be an interesting event

  2. Kidd says:

    sounds like he’s still in the game. you can check out any time, but you can never leave

  3. Paul says:

    The image you show is not Robert Seldon Lady; it is his father, Billy c/s HR1RL whose amateur licence was granted by Presidential Decree in 1959. If it was Robert then he would have been 8 years old. As it is the equipment dates back to 1985. In 1985 Robert would have been 34 years old – the bloke in that pic is much, much older.

  4. Paul says:

    Excellent post Pete. I was interested to hear what Morris Davies said and there were two things that stood out: “Who’s going to tell us we can’t do it?” and later, “….we follow the impediments of the rule of law.”

    I suspect that even when moves are made to the US to tell them that such actions are not acceptable they don’t really take much notice anyway and with the ‘impediments of law’ whose law did Col Davies mean, International Law or more likely, US law?

    Anyway, there were 25 others involved, of those 6 were Italian subjects and working for what was then SISDE, the rest US citizens and all safely back in the US bar Mr Lady. The rest were given 5 year sentences, reduced to 3, which by some quirk of fate means they won’t serve any time. One female CIA operative too US Govt to court – and lost but will appeal – leaving Robt Lady with a reduced sentence of 6yrs, which means he’ll still go to gaol.

    I suspect, he’ll do no such thing. There’ll be an agreement with the US/Italian Govts and the news that Robt Lady is on a flight to the US, as released this morning on Sky News, may well be true.

    As for the effects on Abu Omar who was knowingly tortured by what used to be the Egyptian SSI, known to be most cruel by the Human Rights Watch, doesn’#t seem to even enter the rquation.

  5. Mo says:

    Interpol let the Italians down. Italy should kick Interpol out of Italy. They let this guy go and put him back on a plane to the US. Panama has no backbone and should not expect to receive any respect from Italy or other LATAM/South American true soveriegn nation-states, who are standing up to the US. If I was paid by the Italians to go get this guy and hold him, I would have with pleasure. US has no respect for Italy’s rule-of-law. So their global demand to respect their rule-of-law should be ignored as well. Italy should repay an eye-for-an-eye by developing their own rendition program to get this guy in the US and fly him back to Italy to start his prison term.

  6. intelNews says:

    @Paul: Good catch re: R.S.L.’s photo. We’ve pulled it down. It’s all over the media and misidentified as R.S.L. Thanks for the correction. [IA]

  7. Paul says:

    Many thanks :)


  8. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Brilliant work Paul !! :)

    You are so right Kidd – you never leave (something Mr Snowden dosen’t seem to understand)

  9. Pete says:


    Thanks. The youtube interview seemed fair. Ammunition for those disagreeing it was fair might come from identifying who owns the RT-America Network. The ultimate owner is Russia with RT being Russia Today.

    So in some respects the interview was made possible because RT on US national security issues is not as easy to pressure as American media networks.

  10. Pete says:

    Here’s an entertaining read on the Lady-Milan affair – from the perspective of Italian counter-intelligence against the CIA :

  11. TFH says:

    Flashback: NSA tried to spy on US Congress member

  12. Pete says:

    Hi TFH

    Looks like you’ve done timely detective work :) with indicating:

    “technical advances in the field of telecommunications mean that NSA is often unable to technically separate digital communications signals originating inside the United States from those originating abroad.”

    and more particularly

    “the latest revelation shows “our government is still violating the law [and] reaffirms […] that a lot more Americans have been illegally wiretapped than we know”.”

    I think the big difference between the 2009 affair and now is that Snowden released the eye-catching NSA Powerpoints and is articulate on camera.



  13. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Now, if I was the NSA I would be pro-active and put an experienced asset like Mr Lady (Jnr) into place nearby or within Ecuador ‘prior to’ Mr Snowden’s intended holiday in that country !!
    This time hopefully without a massive support team to complicate the plan and draw unwanted attention. :)
    Alternatively – If I were a South American politician, I would constrain that assets ability to function and disrupt any travel plans for the forseeable future thus defuseing the threat (be it real or perceived)
    I doubt neither Interpol nor Italy promoted this sudden development at the border.
    Holding Mr Lady (Jnr) in custody would I guess be a nice card to play when Snowden makes his next bad move.

    I hope Edward realises that there are a dozens of other operatives of similar skills well able to disrupt his forthcoming vacation for ever & when that happens I will play my last record for Edward -It is a very old record an SP, has but one track only, it is understood by all nationalities without need for translation & it ends very abruptly (as only a staccato drum roll can).

    Fortunately for Mr Snowden , if he can gain Russian travel documentation , it is not too late for him to give
    some thought to my original offer of mediation, secure in the knowledge that he can also rely on the protection afforded to him by a very experienced Russian Human Rights advocate in the
    process..But – South America – Edward – don’t even think about it,

  14. steve says:

    Counterpunch–always entertaining. The story is very entertaining but leaves out the involvement of the Italians. The CIA is unlikely to have moved forward with an operation that sensitive without the approval of the Italian authorities. Also it fails to address the anti-Americanism that erupted after the accidental shooting of an Italian intelligence officer attempting to run an American check point in Iraq earlier in 2005. A host of political and social issues spun around this case and can’t be ignored–Including the Italians ignoring diplomatic immunity that should have been accorded to at least 3 of the convicted personnel.

  15. TFH says:

    @Pete. Yeah great. I think every second or third of my comments make it now. Some take it upon themseves to be the Big Brother.

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