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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Top arrests show Italian intelligence in need of reform

Rome, 6 July (AKI) - Two top Italian intelligence officials who were arrested in connection with the 2003 abduction of a radical Muslim cleric in Milan were not leading an illegal, parallel ring under the CIA, in the American-led operation to detain and interrogate the imam, according to analyst Andrea Nativi, the editor-in-chief of the Italian Magazine of Defence. In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Nativi said that the high profile arrest of Marco Mancini, the number two of Italy's military intelligence SISMI, and Mancini's former boss, Gen Gustavo Pignero, shows how badly Italy needs to reform its intelligence.

"SISMI is a hierarchic organization inside which the two officials operated under the command of its chief Nicolo Pollari who in turn depends on the government," Nativi explained.

Illegal, parallel initiatives are always possible, Nativi told AKI "but I think it is very unlikely that a cell (of SISMI) operated illegally in this instance."

The case has caused a furor in Italy as the former conservative cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, has always denied any involvement in the abduction, part of an American 'extraordinary rendition' practice which involves seizing a terrorism suspect and transferring him to another country for interrogation. This controversy is part of a backlash against US tactics in fighting terrorism, some of which have involved secret cooperation by European governments or intelligence services.

Moreover on several occasions Nicolo Pollari, the head of the intelligence agency who responds directly to the Italian government, has testified that his agency played no part in the abduction.

Italian intelligence agents — Mancini, the current head of military counterespionage, and his predecessor at the time of the abduction, Pignero — are accused of helping plan and carry out the kidnapping of Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric and terror suspect. One witness reportedly told prosecutors that "three or four people" at the scene of the abduction in February 2003 spoke fluent Italian.

Overall, the real problem, Nativi says, is that "Italy hasn't reformed its intelligence after the September 11 terror attack in the US like other European countries such as Britain, France, Spain and Germany."

Under current laws, military intelligence agents who follow their superiors' orders in cases such as the imam's abduction are considered as directly responsible for their actions and can be prosecuted by regular magistrates.

Considering the type of action agents are often required to undertake to pursue terrorists "this poses a problem if they can be held directly accountable though they are obeying their superiors' orders," says Nativi.

"The two officials now face two choices: they can tell magistrates that they obeyed orders or they can say that they acted independently," continues Nativi. Either way, however, they will face charges of aiding and abetting in the abduction.

Indeed even if the cabinet had aknowledged that it had approved the operation and recognized its political responsibility "this wouldn't change much in the case against the agents with the current legislation."

"We need a reform of the intelligence services," concluded the analyst. "It is very grave that we have done nothing after September 11."
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