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

Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #551

Salva Kiir Mayardit

Salva Kiir

►►Analysis: The fallout from the CIA’s vaccination ploy in Pakistan. We wrote earlier this month that not everyone is amused by news that the CIA tried to collect DNA evidence on Osama bin Laden by running a phony vaccination program in Pakistan. In an editorial published in The Washington Post on July 15, two American public health professionals argued that the CIA’s DNA-collection operation “destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode” and “burned bridges that took years for health workers to build”. The issue is developing into a very interesting case study in intelligence ethics, as two new articles on the subject were published this week. One is by Jack C. Chow formerly US ambassador on global HIV/AIDS and ex-assistant director-general of the World Health Organization on HIV/AIDS. The other, by Slate magazine columnist Tom Scocca, argues that the the CIA vaccination scheme “reveals the moral bankruptcy of American spooks”.
►►South Sudan dissolves intelligence and security bodies. The president of the newly established Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has issued an order dissolving the country’s national security and intelligence organs. There are at least two intelligence agencies in existence in the new nation, both of which were illegally formed in 2006, before South Sudan’s independence.
►►China warns US to halt spy plane flights. China has demanded that the United States stops spy plane flights near the Chinese coast, saying they have “severely harmed” trust between the two countries, state-run media reported Wednesday. The warning comes a month after two Chinese fighter jets chased an American U-2 reconnaissance plane into Taiwanese airspace.

News you may have missed #369

  • UN official criticizes US over drone attacks. The use of targeted killings by the CIA, with weapons like drone aircraft, poses a growing challenge to the international rule of law, according to Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
  • Russian spies less active during Obama administration. The Czech Republic’s Military Intelligence Service said in its annual report on Tuesday that Russian agents have reduced their activities in the country since US President Barack Obama abandoned Bush-era plans for missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.
  • Analysis: A look back at US intelligence reform. The 2004 US Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was supposed to “address institutional obstacles that had complicated the intelligence community’s struggle to adapt to new technologies and a changing national security environment”. But five years later, many of those original obstacles remain in place.

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News you may have missed #0279

  • Pakistani spy agencies drug political activists. Intelligence agencies in Pakistan are using drugs to extract information from political activists, with the cooperation of doctors on the payroll of the state, according to one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers.
  • Georgia jails alleged Russian spy. Vakhtang Maisaia, a military expert who advised Georgia’s mission to NATO, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for spying for Russia during the 2008 South Ossetia War. Last week, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, son of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-communist president, was formally charged with “collaborating with Russian intelligence services”.

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Obama’s Afghan plan includes expanding CIA ops in Pakistan

Predator drone

Predator drone

By I. ALLEN & J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Obama Administration’s plan to increase US military presence in Afghanistan includes expanding the CIA’s work in neighboring Pakistan, a country with which the US is officially not at war. An article published yesterday in The New York Times notes that the President has authorized the CIA to expand its Predator drone assassination program to include strikes in places like Baluchistan, which are outside Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas and far from the Afghan-Pakistani border. This development represents a major policy victory for the hawkish wing in the Pentagon’s senior leadership, which has been pressing Obama’s advisors to expand CIA assassination operations deeper into Pakistan since November of 2008. It also further reveals the Obama Administration’s policy preference toward undercover operations with a strong deniability proponent. Read more of this post

Comment: Why the Italian Convictions of CIA Officers Matter

Sabrina DeSousa

Sabrina De Sousa

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian court has convicted 22 CIA officers and a US Air Force officer involved in the abduction of a Muslim cleric from Milan in 2003. All but three Americans tried in the case received jail sentences ranging from five to eight years, for kidnapping Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in broad daylight and for illegally renditioning him to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured before being released without charge. As intelNews has previously reported, it is extremely unlikely that the US will agree to extradite the convicted abductors to Italy. Washington has formally invoked the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, arguing that the offenders were operating “in the course of official duty” and fall therefore under US, not Italian, jurisdiction. But the convictions are important nonetheless, for three reasons.

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Analysis: Interesting interview with a CIA psychiatrist

David Charney

David Charney

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Veteran national security correspondent Jeff Stein has published some interesting highlights of an interview with psychiatrist Dr. David L. Charney, who has worked for the US intelligence community for over 20 years. Charney is one of several medical professionals whom the CIA has appointed to assist its personnel in dealing with a variety of emotional issues. Additionally, he has previously been appointed to supervise the psychiatric assessment of a number of American double spies, including Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent who spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades. In the interview, Charney identifies a number of psychological disorders that tend to burden CIA officers, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often plagues agents who have survived “death-defying escapes after their covers were blown”. Read more of this post