Italian prosecutor is tracking convicted CIA agents
The Italian prosecutor who won convictions against nearly two dozen CIA operatives for kidnapping last year is tracking their movements via cell phone and credit card records.
Armando Spataro, the chief prosecutor in Milan, said he regularly signs subpoenas, which do not require a judge’s approval, for information on the whereabouts of the 23 Americans, all but one CIA operatives, who were convicted of kidnapping after the discovery of their 2003 “rendition” of an al-Qaeda suspect known as Abu Omar.
It is the only case of an “extraordinary rendition” resulting in a conviction of a U.S. official abroad.
“The mobile phone companies give us the data without any problems,” Spataro said via e-mail on Sunday. “But we don't have permanent access to the database of the companies.”
“For the credit cards,” he added, “very often the [foreign] companies write us that they don't have the data So, if we need them, we have to send a request for cooperation to other states.”
Spataro did not respond to a request for further details on the companies who provide the data.
Last year, in a discussion of legal ramifications of the conviction, Scott Horton, a lawyer who has followed the case closely for Harper's Magazine, wrote that Italian authorities were using "sophisticated law enforcement techniques, many pioneered by the United States … to track their movements."
The FBI and CIA gave the Italians the equipment to track terrorists, Horton said.
On Sunday, Spataro confirmed Horton’s reporting, which was buried in a larger discussion of the case and has drawn no notice until now.
Also escaping notice here was Spataro’s March 18 motion to strip three of the defendants of diplomatic immunity and his request for bench warrants for their arrest.
The three, listed as U.S. State Department officers at the U.S. Embassy in Rome in 2003, were put beyond the reach of Spataro by a judge who said their diplomatic status protected them from arrest, even if they were convicted in the kidnapping.
But Spataro argued that since they were actually CIA officers using State Department cover to carry out a “hateful” crime, they should be subject to arrest.
The targets of Spataro’s motion are Jeffrey Castelli, Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando, all who were listed as diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in February 2003, when a CIA team snatched an al-Qaeda suspect known as Abu Omar off a street in Milan and “rendered” him to Egypt for interrogation. Castelli was the CIA’s Rome station chief.
Because of the operatives’ sloppy security, Italian police investigating the crime were able to captures boxes of classified documents from the local CIA base chief and identify the rendition team’s true names and movements.
They risk arrest if they try to enter any European Union state.
"Castelli, Medero and Russomando do not deserve being covered by diplomatic immunity as at the time of Abu Omar's abduction,” Spataro argues. “Even if they were diplomatic agents according to the Vienna Convention, they were not really acting as diplomatic agents, but as members of the US intelligence, a qualification for which they were never ‘accredited’ in Rome."
Italy’s Ministry of Justice has refused to ask Washington to extradite the defendants.
UPDATE: Spataro now says he misunderstood my questions and was speaking only of subpoenas during the 2004-2006 period. He said he couldn't comment on current investigations.
| April 5, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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