It all began with the kidnapping of terror suspect known as Abu Omar, a Egyptian radical mullah who was lifted off the streets of Milan (Italy) on 17 February 2003, in what was termed as an ‘extraordinary rendition’ and transported by special aircraft to Egypt, where the local ‘mukhabarat’ (secret police) tortured him for almost 7 months for information.
Abu Omar was suspected to have been a recruiter of jihadists for Abu Musab al- Zarqawi (the father of the ISIS / Islamic State) who was then operating in Northern Iraq.
The operation included 18 ‘contractors’ on-the-ground believed that the Italian Secret Service (SISMI) had approved of their operation and would not interfere. But, either out of arrogance or sheer incompetence, they had not consulted with the police or the courts in Italy. Not only they carried out the operation in full view of witnesses, but when Abu Omar got out of jail in Egypt and called his wife (who was still in Italy, and whose phone was being monitored by SISMI) the details of the operation were revealed by the victim himself, and these could not be ignored since the wiretap details were being submitted to the local Courts as evidence against potential terror activities.
To add to the evidence; the kidnappers had left a trail of phone calls, hotel reservations, and vehicles rented on official credit cards; allowing the Italian investigators to put together a highly detailed picture of the activities of the CIA before, during and after the operation. The persons who were identified through this investigation were the military pilots who handled the flight out of Italy to Germany and onwards to Egypt, the then CIA Station Chief Jeffrey Castelli, senior CIA agent Robert Seldon and of course the accused spy Sabrina De Sousa (the focus of this story).
Born in Mumbai (Bombay – India) of Goan heritage, Sabrina married a serving U.S. diplomat and became a naturalized American citizen. Due to her fluency in multiple European languages and her connection to the diplomatic community, she ended up working for the CIA and at the time of this fiasco was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. She holds dual nationality of Portugal and USA and has relatives in Portugal as well as in India. The Italian courts have determined from evidence available to them that De Sousa was the planner of the kidnap operation and that she actively monitored the kidnap from planning to delivery of the victim to Egyptian authorities. De Sousa, as can be expected, denies the criminal charges against her.
So, where did she screw up? Firstly, De Sousa (assuming that she was actually the CIA case officer for this operation) came to Italy on a diplomatic passport and was attached as a Consular officer. This would have brought her straight under the EU / Italian surveillance microscope, where her activities in public would have been monitored routinely.
Secondly, she put together a team that was shoddy in their operational procedures and left behind a trail that the prosecutors could easily follow.
Thirdly, she wrongly assumed that diplomatic cover for an operative at the consulate, even those carrying diplomatic passports; is not a guarantee of diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Had she gone to Italy as an ‘dark operator’, isolated herself from the U.S. Gov and its various services and most importantly; used third-party contractors paid in cash to catch her ‘fish’ and have it transported to Egypt using a tramp cargo vessel ; she would have achieved her objective without anybody being the wiser and with full deniability.
De Sousa claims that she was following orders which were issued at the highest level of the U.S. Government (which basically means the President). But, executing the orders is the responsibility of the operatives and here she and her team (as also her bosses in Europe) failed miserably.
Today, De Sousa is legally detained in Portugal under a EU arrest warrant in her name and would be produced in an Italian court-room in the next few days. While she has been convicted in absentia by the Italian Courts earlier (and given a four year prison sentence); it’s possible that she can demand and get a retrial. A retrial would be nightmare coming alive to the CIA and the Italian intelligence agency, since many old operational records would have to be made public as evidence, both by the prosecution and the defense legal teams; and this might lead to further and potentially damaging information of parallel spy operations of those days.
Currently, Sabrina De Sousa is the only person who is poised to go to jail for the kidnap. Her old bosses Castelli and Sheldon were pardoned by Italy’s President Matarella in 2015; and gave a tactic understanding to the CIA that Italy would not push for the extradition of any of the U.S operatives who were involved in the kidnap.
De Sousa tempted fate by travelling to Portugal, while being fully aware of the EU arrest warrant against her and has approached U.S President Trump to intervene in her case. The world over, spies are waiting to observe the fate of De Sousa; which would definitely impact operational procedures drastically.
Author: ‘Sardar’ Sanjay Matkar
25 February 2017
Information for this article sourced from public sources.