Sismi's #2 arrested. From a note from Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell, I see that La Repubblica is reporting that the Italian military intelligence organization's deputy director and director of the first "foreign" or counterintelligence division Marco Mancini has been arrested in Italy, allegedly for his role in the CIA extraordinary rendition of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from Milan in 2003. When I was in Rome on a few recent reporting trips, Mancini was the guy who everybody was literally frightened of even saying his name. I mean literally, people just referred to him as Marco. He was highly involved in Sismi's Middle East affairs, as well, apparently, I am hearing from Rome, in several recent cases of illegal wiretapping and illegal domestic spying in Italy. Arrest warrants have apparently been issued in the same Abu Omar case for four more CIA officials as well, including for the former CIA station chief in Rome.
Repubblica and the AP report a second Italian intelligence officer has also been arrested. Repubblica names him as General Gustavo Pignero, and says he was the Sismi officer in charge of operations in northern Italy at the time of the Abu Omar abduction.
This is interesting as well:In fact, on Sismi's behalf, Farina and Libero led the bogus charge that France was responsible for the Niger forgeries. Farina was also the beneficiary of illegal wiretaps seemingly conducted by friends of Sismi. Interesting times indeed.
Also as part of the investigation, the Milan offices of an Italian daily, Libero, were searched Wednesday by about a dozen police, who seized the computer of the newspaper's deputy editor, Renato Farina.
Farina has covered the case, and the newspaper said police were looking for information they thought had been leaked by the SISMI to the journalist.
From my brief exposure to politics there, I would say Mancini is far more comparable to a Lewis Libby figure than to his ex-CIA deputy director counterpart John McLaughlin, far more wired into the Byzantine politics of the Berlusconi project than a straight intel professional. Although this arrest would seem to be lapping pretty high on the ankles of the ex-Berlusconi administration itself, a friend in Rome writes that it may not go any further, and Prodi is giving indications he may not wish it to, especially as far as Sismi is concerned.
More from Henry Farrell.
Update: A reader in Rome writes that Libero's Farina is "under investigation not for his articles but because he has allegedly been identified as a Sismi source code-named 'Betulla.' ... [Sismi's] Mancini and Pignero are suspected of having studied Abu Omar’s habits and having prepared an initial plan for his abduction which would have the airport of Ghedi as the first destination of Abu Omar after his kidnapping. The plan went otherwise, as Aviano was opted for. They are also accused of spying on Repubblica's Giuseppe D’Avanzo as of May 12th..."
If I understand this and other recent Italian news reports correctly, Mancini was allegedly a liaison to several private Italian dirty tricks intelligence operations. Some of the details of those dirty tricks wiretapping operations are described here. Farrell also translates a bit from today's Repubblica story, "Digos' agents also visited the home and office of a Telecom employee, but they haven't yet said why." One can only guess that extra-legally-ordered wiretapping may be part of the rationale for the visit. Also from the Repubblica piece, "The number two at Sismi, [Mancini], together with another functionary, had listened 'fraudulently' to outgoing calls from the cellphone of La Repubblica journalist Giuseppe d'Avanzo.""
"I think Laura may be on to something here. This isn't directly tied to the Niger stuff. But I think Laura's reading of the macro-politics is likely on the mark. And it could lead to more."