Testimony Helps Detail CIA's Post-9/11 Reach
Saturday, December 16, 2006
MILAN -- A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA station chief in Rome paid a visit to the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, Adm. Gianfranco Battelli, to float a proposal: Would the Italian secret services help the CIA kidnap terrorism suspects and fly them out of the country?
The CIA man did not identify which targets he had in mind but was "expressly referring to the possibility of picking up a suspected terrorist in Italy, bringing him to an airport and sending him from there to a foreign country," Battelli, now retired, recalled in a deposition.
This initial secret contact and others that followed, disclosed in newly released documents, show the speed and breadth with which the CIA applied in post-9/11 Europe a tactic it had long reserved for the Third World -- "extraordinary rendition," the extrajudicial abduction of Islamic radicals overseas for interrogation in friendly countries.
A year after the first contact, the CIA officer held another meeting with his Italian counterparts, this time sharing a list of more than 10 "dangerous people" the agency was tracking in Italy, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands, according to a deposition from Gen. Gustavo Pignero, another high-ranking Italian military intelligence official. "It was clear that this was an aggressive search project, that their willingness to employ illicit means was clear," Pignero said, adding that the list was later destroyed and he could not recall the names.
U.S. spies drew up suspect lists with the help of European intelligence agencies and chased some of the men around the globe before putting a brake on the operations in early 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, according to documents unearthed in criminal investigations, lawsuits and parliamentary inquiries.
All told, the U.S. agency took part in the seizure of at least 10 European citizens or legal immigrants, some of them from countries not cited in that list of "dangerous people" received by the Italian spies. Four renditions occurred on European soil: in Sweden, Macedonia and Italy. Six operations targeted people who were traveling abroad or who had been captured in Pakistan; European intelligence agencies provided direct assistance to the CIA in at least five of those cases, records show.
Each prisoner was then secretly handed over to intelligence services in the Middle East or Africa with histories of human rights abuses. Some remain imprisoned in those countries; others have been taken to the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. One man was later released after being taken from the Balkans to Afghanistan, the victim of an apparent case of mistaken identity.
In the early stages, the CIA had prepared even more ambitious plans, according to the depositions from the Italian intelligence officials, who testified last summer during a criminal investigation into a CIA-sponsored kidnapping of a radical Islamic cleric in Milan.
For example, Pignero said in his deposition that the CIA's Rome station chief had offered in 2002 to abduct a fugitive leader of the Red Brigades -- a Marxist network blamed for dozens of assassinations in Italy -- who had found refuge in South America. "The Americans would capture him and turn him over to us, and we in return would have to 'extradite' him to Italy without any legal proceedings," Pignero said.
In exchange, the CIA wanted help in abducting Islamic radicals living in the Italian cities of Turin, Vercelli and Naples, Pignero said. Italian intelligence officials rejected the offer, he added, because it was "contrary to international laws."
Reports of clandestine CIA operations have fueled deep public anger in Europe, where many people regard renditions as a blatant violation of national sovereignty and international law. Since last year, prosecutors have opened four separate criminal investigations into CIA activities in Europe. A dozen countries have conducted legislative inquiries into whether local spy agencies were involved.
Last month, a European Parliament committee investigating CIA operations in Europe condemned the practice of rendition "as an illegal and systematic instrument used by the United States" and called it "counterproductive in the fight against terrorism."