LA DOLCE VITA….This story about the Italian judge who ordered the arrest of 13 CIA agents for kidnapping Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr is really fascinating. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. On the “laugh” front, there’s this:

While most of the operatives apparently used false identities, they left a long trail of paper and electronic records that enabled Italian investigators to retrace their movements in detail. Posing as tourists and business travelers, the Americans often stayed in the same five-star hotels, rarely paid in cash, gave their frequent traveler account numbers to desk clerks and made dozens of calls from unsecure phones in their rooms.

During January 2003, they were regular patrons at the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, which bills itself as “one of the world’s most luxuriously appointed hotels” and features a marble-lined spa and minibar Cokes that cost about $10. Seven of the Americans stayed at the 80-year-old hotel for periods ranging from three days to three weeks at nightly rates of about $450, racking up total expenses of more than $42,000 there.

But there’s a whole lot more on the “cry” front. The LA Times, Washington Post, and New York Times all have essentially identical stories, which means the Italian authorities must have been pretty anxious to get the word out about this. Apparently the Italians are seriously pissed:

By early 2003, the Italian secret police were aggressively pursuing a criminal terrorism case against Mr. Nasr, with the help of American intelligence officials….On Feb. 17, 2003, Mr. Nasr disappeared.

When the Italians began investigating, they said, they were startled to find evidence that some of the C.I.A. officers who had been helping them investigate Mr. Nasr were involved in his abduction.

“We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city,” a senior Italian investigator said. “We supplied them information about [Nasr], and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network.”

….”The American system is of little use to us,” a senior Italian counterterrorism investigator said. “It’s a one-way street. We give them what we have, but we are given no useful information that can help us prosecute people.”

The evidence so far indicates that at the time of the kidnapping the American agents were working with the full knowledge of the Italian government (or perhaps Italian intelligence):

The former [CIA] station chief [who orchestrated the kidnapping] apparently planned on retiring in Italy and had bought a home near Turin. Although he has been absent from Italy for several months, officials say, his wife had remained in the home, which Italian police raided Thursday night, confiscating a computer, computer disks and papers.

That he thought he could live out his golden years in Italy is another indication of the impunity with which he and the other alleged agents felt they were operating, Italian prosecutors say.

The Italians also allege that the CIA station chief showed up in Cairo five days after the kidnapping, which suggests that he knew exactly where Nasr was being held and what the Egyptians were doing to him.

Read all three stories to get the full picture. Each one has details the others don’t, and you need to read them all to get a feel for what’s going on. Nobody expects any of the CIA officers to be turned over to the Italians, of course, but the big question still remaining is what happens next: will the Italians treat this like a shot across the bow and let the case die out, or will they use it to embarrass the American government as fully as they can? Stay tuned.

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