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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 04/ 5/2010

Italian prosecutor is tracking convicted CIA agents

By Jeff Stein

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.

By Jeff Stein  | April 5, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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Interestingly enough Jeffrey Castelli was Plame's liaison on the Niger documents way back in 2002.

Posted by: accentmark | April 5, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

This is a case of a self-righteous foreign politician looking for publicity at US expense, and the prosecutor could be called a friend of al Qaeda....
BUT, these dimwits (members of the "elite CIA) were so inept at playing spy that they and this obnoxious Italian deserve each other.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan:
"Where do we get such men?"
At the unemployment office.

Posted by: graywolf98 | April 5, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

If the Italian prosecutor had all this stuff secretly going on for him, he would not be talking about it in public.

If street level drug dealers know how to use burners for cell phone communications, and thwart law enforcement, I am sure CIA agents can figure this out to.

Just straight up "puffing."

Posted by: john_bruckner | April 5, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

I bet they got medals from the Cheney administration for being Nazi's torture buddies.

Posted by: Geopolitics101 | April 6, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't surprise me that the Italy prosecutor is tracking the defendents. Essentially their career is over because of many mistakes made during the rendition process.

The only reason the Ministry of Justice refuse to ask Washington to extradite them is due to politics.

Posted by: beeker25 | April 6, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I have no problem with the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar to Egypt. Hopefully Omar got what he deserved from the Egyptians.

What I do have a problem with is operational sloppyness and stupidity, and these CIA agents are clearly guilty of both. Hopefully all concerned were either severely disciplined or fired. It's unfortunate they can't travel anywhere in the EU on vaction, but they deserve that punishment for their sloppiness.

Posted by: CJMARTIN04 | April 6, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

It seems like there is a huge opportunity for in-depth reportage on how the large multi-national telecom and banking corporation are not only acting as de facto spies for the US Government (via the no-judge-required subpoena process), but how they are also playing exactly the same spying role for -- apparently -- any country that bothers to ask.

We Americans are the first to wave our flags, chant "9/11", and declare that it's a company's patriotic duty to help the government's surveillance efforts. But watching OTHER countries lay their (equally 'justifiable', equally 'legal') claim to the same degree of corporate-enabled surveillance should be a chilling wake-up call to us all.

America used to pride itself on being a positive example for freedom-loving countries to emulate. Now we've become quite a bad example, and our bad example is contagious.

Posted by: 12008N1 | April 6, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Maybe they are irked because we sold them the junk Cry-sler parts and they can't build a better Frank and Stein. Look at it this way, Post has a better Stein and I'm getting a Lotus and girlfriend is getting whatever she wants, which is God knows whatever makes her happy. I have aerospace grade plumbing for laughing go fast gas, so you won't catch me. Everybody is tracking somebody and it might pay off to track down all those molesting priest directed from Italian soil. Don't tread on us, we are deadly.

Posted by: tossnokia | April 12, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

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