Secret Agents Spilling Secrets

The Washington Post
Friday, December 8, 2006; 3:11 PM

Following are excerpts from a wiretapped conversation in June 2006 between Gen. Gustavo Pignero, former director of counter-espionage for the ItalI'military intelligence agency known as SISMI, and his successor at SISMI, Marco Mancin'the pair discussed the origins of a CIA-sponsored operation in 2003 to kidnap a radical Muslim preacher known as Abu Omar and take him from Milan to Cairo.

One month after the conversation was recorded, Pignero and Mancini were both arrested and charged in Abu Omar's kidnapping. Pignero died of cancer on Sept. 11, 2006. Warrants in the case have also been issued for the arrest of 25 CIA officers and a U.S. military officer.

Note: Translated from the original Italian by The Washington Post. The identity of the CIA's Rome station chief has been redacted because the officer still serves in an undercover capacity. EdI'made by The Washington Post noted in [brackets].

Source: Italian court documents

G. PIGNERO: At the end of 2002 I often met with [the CIA's Rome station chief]

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: ...because it was...

M. MANCINI: You were behind the division, of course.

G. PIGNERO: ...it was a normal thing...

M. MANCINI: Of course, of course.

G. PIGNERO: ...and we often met. During one of these meetings -- I said -- which took place in (inaudible), one of the things we talked about was that the CIA was planning to start up the American public project of...

M. MANCINI: Of renditions.

G. PIGNERO: I didn'talk about renditions, I said exactly this: of search...


G. PIGNERO: ...localization and capture...

M. MANCINI: Ah, perfect.

G. PIGNERO: ...of people they believed were...

M. MANCINI: Involved.

G. PIGNERO: ...anywhere they might be in the world, even in Europe and Italy, who were involved in the attack on the two towers or with Al Qaeda activities.

M. MANCINI: Exactly.

G. PIGNERO: In this context, informally and only verbally, he gave me a series of names, a series of characters...

M. MANCINI: Americans?

G. PIGNERO: No, Arabs.

M. MANCINI: Arabs, ah, yes.

G. PIGNERO: Um, to look for.


G. PIGNERO: To look for, to look for.

M. MANCINI: ...I understood the magistrate...

G. PIGNERO: To look for.


G. PIGNERO: As far as I can remember, I'm saying, vaguely, they were in Europe ... and I threw out ... Holland, Belgium, Austria, because more or less it seemed to me that that's where they were.

M. MANCINI: This I haven't... You didn'tell me this, this thing here.

G. PIGNERO: Well, okay. But it seems to me that...

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: Furthermore, I said, also in Italy, he gave me some names of people in Italy, but I can't remember the names now... But Abu Omar was one of these names, only in the sense that... he wasn't indicating him as 'Abu Omar,' but with his own proper name.


G. PIGNERO: However, since he also told me this guy's function, that he was the Imam in Milan, etcetera, then I knew it was Abu Omar, that guy. In addition to this he also told me about this guy working in Vercelli...

M. MANCINI: Hey, you didn't tell me about that guy, though.

G. PIGNERO: ...In Vercelli, Naples, Turin...

M. MANCINI: Yeah, but you didn't tell me about this part.

G. PIGNERO: Yes, but there was a list of...

M. MANCINI: Ah, I understand, I understand.

G. PIGNERO: Turin, etcetera, etcetera.

M. MANCINI: But you told me the director gave you the list, not him.

G. PIGNERO: Yeah, but I didn't... I took the director out of this completely.

M. MANCINI: Okay, okay.

G. PIGNERO: I mean, the meeting was between me and [CIA's Rome station chief].

M. MANCINI: Okay, okay.

G. PIGNERO: Also because I don't want the director coming to me tomorrow and saying: "You didn't say a [expletive] thing to me, but you got me involved."

M. MANCINI: I get it.

G. PIGNERO: And I'll say: "I didn't get you involved at all."

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: So, ahem... So Abu Omar was one of the names in the middle of the others. Now, okay, what did I do? Naturally, this was back in 2002, nobody was talking about kidnapping, nobody was talking about renditions... Yes, he said, "But maybe Clinton has already talked about it," etcetera. He talked about it! We were tied up in a whole other series of things.

M. MANCINI: Yes, but you said that... You told me, if you remember, you said to me that: "The Americans want to take him." Do you remember?

G. PIGNERO: Yes, but I was giving you the version that I was assuming was...

M. MANCINI: No, I know, but, what I'm saying is...

G. PIGNERO: Saving...

M. MANCINI: You said "capture," right?

G. PIGNERO: Yes, to him I did, yes.

M. MANCINI: Ah, perfect. Okay.




[Editor's note: Pignero and Mancini discuss how Gen. Nicolo Pollari, director of SISMI, passed along the request from the CIA for the rendition of Abu Omar]

G. PIGNERO: So there's no... There's no exchange of documents, nothing written down...

M. MANCINI: How was that request we made written, was it protocol?

G. PIGNERO: Which request?

M. MANCINI: The one for the rendition, the one the director gave you, was it protocol or not?

G. PIGNERO: Noooo! No, no.

M. MANCINI: Then what was it?

G. PIGNERO: No, no. It was an anonymous note.

M. MANCINI: An anonymous note.

G. PIGNERO: An anonymous note. It wasn't protocol; it was just a note I kept until one year ago, when... I kept it in my office. Then one fine day I read this thing...

M. MANCINI: (Laughs)

G. PIGNERO: You know what?

M. MANCINI: (Laughing) You made a...

G. PIGNERO: Ah, go [expletive] yourself!

M. MANCINI: (Laughs)

G. PIGNERO: I destroyed it, and that was the only copy.

M. MANCINI: The one the director gave you.


M. MANCINI: (Laughing) The [expletive] director...


G. PIGNERO: I remember that it was written in English.

M. MANCINI: [Expletive!] The director doesn't speak English, so it's difficult to believe he wrote it himself.

G. PIGNERO: Okay, but it wasn't...

M. MANCINI: Protocol.

G. PIGNERO: Protocol. There wasn't even a remote chance of tracing anything in any [expletive] direction. And even if the Americans did make a copy, and by some absurd crazy chance somebody drags out that copy, it was still a piece of paper with no date, no protocol. It could have been written today.

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: Nobody gives a [expletive]!

M. MANCINI: As long as the Americans don't say: "Yes, the Italians knew about it."

G. PIGNERO: They say that, but I say no.

M. MANCINI: (Laughs)

G. PIGNERO: I can't say anything... Right now I can't say anything different...

M. MANCINI: No, for the love of God!

G. PIGNERO: Because it would be a real mess.

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: Because of course everybody would say: "What, is Pignero crazy, suddenly starting to tell one thing instead of another?! Evidently he's under pressure from some politicians because he's starting to say..."

M. MANCINI: Of course.

G. PIGNERO: And then there'd be a whole other mess.

*Omissis: a break in the conversation, as reflected in official court documents

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