Introduction to Italian Intelligence Agencies — PART I : The Scandals

“Here in Italy, the possible complicity of the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister at the time, is one of the most difficult issues in the case. Among the Italians indicted Friday were Nicolo Pollari, who until earlier this year was Italy’s chief of military intelligence, and his former deputy, Marco Mancini.”

New York Times — February 17 2007

Former SISMI Director Nicolò Pollari

In August 2007, Italy reorganized its Intelligence agencies and their Oversight Committee. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

Since the end of World War II, the Italian Intelligence Community has experienced several such reorganizations.

Like other European countries, Italy initiated these reforms in order to increase their effectiveness and bring them “more fully” under civilian control.

But in Italy, these reforms were — first and foremost — brought upon as the result of major political scandals.

The 2007 Legal reforms were triggered by an endless series of such scandals which included:

the Italian Intelligence Services involvement in CIA renditions program

the unlawful monitoring of the activities of politicians, authorities, businessmen, lawyers, members of the judiciary and NGOs

the planting of scares and false information in the media while having journalists as paid informants

RELATED POST: Suspicious Aviation Tragedies: Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870 (USTICA-1980)

SISMI — the military intelligence service at the time — and its Director Nicolò Pollari had been at the center of most — if not all — of these scandals. [Pollari was dismissed in November 2006.]

In order to understand current and future events involving Italian Intelligence Services, it is therefore crucial to understand the 2007 legal reform. And to understand why that reform was passed, it is necessary to remember and understand the scandals that brought it. This is the object of this post which is the first of a five parts series.

[In following posts, we will discuss the old system (Part II), The 2007 reform (Part III), The Oversight Committee (Part IV) and some technical details about procedures and State Secrets (Part V)]

Niger uranium forgeries

The Niger uranium forgeries were forged documents initially released by SISMI (Italian military intelligence), which seem to depict an attempt made by Saddam Hussein in Iraq to purchase yellowcake uranium powder from Niger during the Iraq disarmament crisis.

“On the basis of these documents and other indicators, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom asserted that Iraq violated United Nations Iraq sanctions by attempting to procure nuclear material for the purpose of creating weapons of mass destruction.”  [WIKIPEDIA]

In a 2005 article published in the newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Giuseppe D’Avanzo and Carlo Bonini identified Pollari as the man who brought the discredited documents directly to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Office of Special Plans. There is no doubt that the CIA knew that these documents were forgeries.

RELATED POST: CIA Plame-Wilson’s Memoir

The Abu Omar case

On 5 December 2006; Pollari’s indictment was sought for his role in the abduction of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from the streets of Milan on 17 February 2003.

Marco Mancini, n°2 of the SISMI, as well as the n°3, General Gustavo Pignero, have also been indicted, and arrested, in July 2006, for their role in the Abu Omar case, as well as 26 American citizens. On 12 February 2013 Pollari was sentenced to ten years in prison by the Appeals Court of Milan.The sentence was overturned on 24 February 2014.

RELATED POST: Former CIA Officer Sabrina de Sousa forced to testify in Italy on ‘rendition program’

The Mitrokhin Commission 

According to the Italian public prosecutor Pietro Salvitti, cited by La Repubblica, Nicolò Pollari, as well as Marco Mancini, were some of the informers, alongside Mario Scaramella, of senator Paolo Guzzanti, in charge of the controversial Mitrokhin Commission.

Mario Scaramella — who had lunch with Alex Litvinenko shortly before his poisoning with Polonium 210 — was arrested at the end of December 2006 on charges of defamation and arms-trade.

The Mitrokhin Commission falsely claimed that former Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, had been the “KGB’s man in Italy” during the Cold War. [Yes, that game has been played for many years… Long before Donald Trump arrived at the White House.]

Rogue Agency

Beside targeting Romano Prodi and his staff, this “network” — according to Pietro Salvitti’s words —  also aimed at defaming General Giuseppe Cucchi (Director of the CESIS between 21 November 2006 and  3 August 2007), Milan’s judges Armando Spataro (in charge of the Abu Omar case) and Guido Salvini, as well as La Repubblica reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo.

Embarrassment and loss of credibility

The damages were irreversible. On the inside, it was absolutely obvious that the Italian Intelligence Community — in particular SISMI —  had been allowed too much “autonomy” which their services had badly abused.

Internationally, the trust had evaporated. Foreign agencies cold no longer possibly collaborate with such organisations.  Law 801 of 24 October 1977 — wich had structured the Italian Intelligence services for three decades — had to be rewritten.


Italy Indicts C.I.A. Operatives in ’03 Abduction — New York Times — February 17 2007

Italy denies role in CIA’s extraordinary rendition of Egyptian imam — Guardian

Abu Omar “was captured exclusively by CIA agents”, Paolo Accardo, lawyer for the Italian government, told the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“The applicant was never – not even for one moment – in the hands of Italian authorities, nor has he been lawfully detained for some time by Italian authorities,” said Accardo.


Introduction to Italian Intelligence Agencies — PART I : The Scandals

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