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Profile: Robert Seldon Lady
Robert Seldon Lady was a participant or observer in the following events:
A dispute breaks out at the CIA after a proposal is made to render an Islamist extremist named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt. Nasr had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), but had been close to a senior al-Qaeda figure (see Summer 2000). Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s senior official in Milan, disagrees with the plan. The CIA and local Italian authorities are co-operating on surveillance of Nasr, and in a few months Lady thinks they will have enough evidence to arrest and convict him. In addition, kidnapping a man in Italy could endanger US-Italian relations. However, the rendition is supported by Jeff Castelli, the chief of the CIA station in Rome. [GQ, 3/2007 ] Reporter Jeff Stein will even say that the rendition is Castelli’s “brainchild.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2008] Opinion appears to be divided at CIA headquarters. According to one account, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center is against the idea, but the plan is ultimately approved by unspecified CIA managers. [GQ, 3/2007 ] According to another account, it is the Counterterrorist Center that approves the rendition. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2008] One of the CIA officials involved in the rendition is Stephen Kappes, assistant director of the Directorate of Operations. However, details of his opinions on it are unknown. [New York Times, 11/4/2009] CIA Director George Tenet also agrees to the rendition. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
A surveillance photograph of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The CIA kidnaps an Islamic extremist who previously informed for it in Milan, Italy. The man, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), who was a member of the Egyptian terror group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was close to al-Qaeda, provided information to the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After) and operated in Italy (see Summer 2000). [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] While the kidnap is happening, one of the CIA officers involved in the operation, Robert Seldon Lady, is having a meeting on the other side of Milan with Bruno Megale, head of Milan’s antiterrorism police service, DIGOS. The meeting’s purpose is to allow Lady to keep an eye on Megale in case something goes wrong. [GQ, 3/2007 ] The US will say that Nasr is a dangerous terrorist and that he once plotted to assassinate the Egyptian foreign minister. However, Italian officials, who were monitoring him, will deny this and say his abduction damages an intelligence operation against al-Qaeda. A senior prosecutor will say, “When Nasr disappeared in February , our investigation came to a standstill.” Italian authorities are mystified by the kidnap, as they are sharing the results of their surveillance with the CIA. Nor can they understand why Egypt wants Nasr back. When Nasr reaches Cairo, he is taken to the Egyptian interior minister and told that if he agrees to inform again, he will be set free. However, he refuses and spends most of the next 14 months in prison, facing “terrible tortures.” The Chicago Tribune will ask, “Why would the US government go to elaborate lengths to seize a 39-year-old Egyptian who, according to former Albanian intelligence officials, was once the CIA’s most productive source of information within the tightly knit group of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania?” One possible answer is that he is kidnapped in an attempt to turn him back into the informer he once was. The kidnapping generates a substantial amount of publicity, leading to an investigation of the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition, and an Italian official will comment, “Instead of having an investigation against terrorists, we are investigating this CIA kidnapping.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] Arrest warrants will later be issued for some US intelligence officers involved in the kidnapping (see June 23, 2005 and After).
Robert Seldon Lady, chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, Italy, travels to Egypt for three weeks. A radical imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan five days before and taken to Egypt, and Lady will later be accused of being a party to the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). According to the Washington Post, “many counterterrorism analysts take [Lady’s trip to Egypt] to mean he took part in the initial interrogation.” A search of Lady’s villa will later turn up computer disks showing a flight reservation from Zurich to Cairo and cell phone records will show that a phone associated with Lady was used to place calls from Cairo during the period Lady is thought to be there. Nasr will later say he is tortured when in Egypt (see April-May 2004). [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA officer involved the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from Italy to Egypt, retires from the agency. The retirement comes at the end of many years of service and is not due to any fallout from the abduction. When the rendition becomes public knowledge next year, Lady will be the only one of the CIA officers accused of involvement to have retired. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Page from a passport used by Anne Linda Jenkins, one of the CIA officers who kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: CBC]Italian authorities issue arrest warrants for nine Italians and 26 Americans, including former CIA Milan substation chief Robert Seldon Lady, over the kidnapping of an Islamic extremist in Italy (see Noon February 17, 2003) [Washington Post, 12/6/2005; Associated Press, 1/26/2007; CNN, 2/16/2007] The kidnapped person, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and Summer 2000), but was held hostage at two US airbases, Aviano in Italy and Ramstein in Germany, and then reportedly tortured in Egypt. This is the first time a foreign government files criminal charges against the CIA for an overseas counterterrorism mission. The Washington Post will comment, “Coming from a longtime ally, Italy, which has worked closely with the US government to fight terrorism and has sent troops to Iraq, the charges reflect growing unease in Europe about some US tactics against suspected Islamic terrorists.” The 13 are not in Italy to be arrested and many appear to have been using fake names. Court documents show they spent over $100,000 staying in luxury hotels in Milan, Florence, and Venice before and after the kidnapping. Nasr is released temporarily after being held for about a year, and Italian authorities monitor a call in which he says he has been tortured with electric shocks in Egypt. The operation is so badly planned and executed that former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer has difficultly believing the CIA could have done it, saying, “The agency might be sloppy, but not that sloppy.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2005]
Armando Spataro, the Italian prosecutor investigating the CIA’s rendition from Italy of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), offers a deal to Robert Seldon Lady, one of the agency officers involved in the operation. Spataro wants Lady to testify against the CIA for the prosecution. In return, Lady will not be sentenced to prison in Italy, and half of a villa he owns there will not be confiscated. However, Lady declines the offer, later saying that doing so would cause him to “lose respect for 24 years of my life”—the length of time he worked for the CIA. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Italian authorities investigating the kidnapping of radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) seize half of a villa belonging to Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA substation chief involved in the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and February 22-March 15, 2003). The half of the villa that belongs to Lady (the other half belongs to his wife) is to be held until the end of Lady’s trial for the kidnapping (see February 16, 2007). If Lady is convicted, it will be sold to pay for court costs and possibly damages. [Associated Press, 1/26/2007]
An Italian judge rules that there is enough evidence to try thirty-five people in the affair of kidnapped imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). Nasr was kidnapped by the CIA, with the knowledge of the Italian military intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), in Milan in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, a former CIA asset (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), was then taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured (see April-May 2004). The 26 Americans that are indicted can be tried in absentia in Italy and include Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, the former CIA station chief in Rome, and an officer from the US air base in Aviano, near Venice. The nine Italians include former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, but three of them are only charged with complicity in the kidnapping, not the kidnapping itself. However, none of the Americans are in Italy at this time, and Italy has not asked for them to be extradited. [Associated Press, 1/26/2007; CNN, 2/16/2007]
Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA officer involved in the rendition from Italy to Egypt of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), grants an interview to GQ magazine. In addition to discussing the rendition and the surveillance of Nasr that preceded it, Lady comments on his life afterwards, saying he feels he is constantly watched and that his wife has left him because of the stress following his outing as a covert operative. Furthermore, his home in Italy will probably be confiscated if he is convicted in legal proceedings against the kidnappers in Italy, although he is still making mortgage payments of $4,000 a month on it. “I’ll probably be convicted, but I won’t go to the trial, and I’ll never see Italy again,” he says. The CIA apparently told him to “keep quiet and let this blow over,” and he has to report to headquarters every month for update meetings. “No one’s called me for support. No one has helped. I keep thinking, ‘F_ck it, I’ve got nothing to lose,’” he adds. “Leaders used to protect those below from the top as they went up. It’s a way of harnessing the loyalty of those they led. Now they protect the top. They manage down and step on anyone below. What happened to me—and it happened to many good people—is that I worked too hard. I was decent. Even bureaucracies must die.” [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Italian police testifying at the trial for the kidnap of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003) name their four former CIA contacts. The 12 policemen, all members of the Milan Counterterrorism Police and the Milan Carabinieri Special Branch, say the four CIA officers are Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the agency’s Milan base, Jeff Castelli, former CIA station chief in Rome, Sabrina Se Sousa, and Betnie Medero. The four are accused of being involved in the kidnap and have all previously been named in prosecution documents. The CIA declines to comment. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2008]
Robert Seldon Lady, one of the more senior CIA figures charged in Italy over the kidnap of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), breaks his silence in a rare interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale. Lady acknowledges a role in the abduction, but says the plan was not his idea: “I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors.” He adds that he committed no crime because the kidnapping was a “state matter,” and, “I console myself by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism, that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me.” He also says, “I wasn’t at the scene and I didn’t organize the thing, the rendition, the arrest, the kidnapping, however we want to call it.” He claims only one Italian, a police officer who has already confessed, was at the scene. Lady also comments on why the operation was so sloppy that Italian prosecutors could uncover it: “How could we have been so unprofessional? The answer I’ve given is that there were too many people involved. In these operations, there should be few.” [Reuters, 6/30/2009]
Most of the defendants are found guilty at a trial of dozens of US and Italian officials over the rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003). Twenty-three US officials are convicted, the most high-profile being former CIA officers Robert Seldon Lady and Sabrina de Sousa, as well as Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Lady gets the heaviest sentence, eight years, whereas de Sousa, Romano, and the other Americans—Monica Adler, Gregory Asherleigh, Lorenza Carrera, Drew Channing, John Duffin, Vincent Faldo, Raymond Harbaough, James Harbison, Ben Amar Harty, Cynthia Logan, George Purvis, Pilar Rueda, Joseph Sofin,
Michalis Vasiluou, Eliana Castaldo, Victor Castellano, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Anne Lidia Jenkins, and James Kirkland—get five years. [Reuters, 11/4/2009; International Commission of Jurists, 11/24/2009 ] Judge Oscar Magi finds three US officials not guilty as they have diplomatic immunity. They are the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli, whose “brainchild” the abduction was (see Before February 17, 2003), former first secretary at the US embassy in Rome Ralph Russomando, and former second secretary Betnie Medero. Prosecutor Armando Spataro says he may appeal the decision to grant them diplomatic immunity. Five agents of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI are also not convicted. The officials, including former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, get off because evidence against them is suppressed on state secrecy grounds (see March 2009). However, two junior SISMI agents are convicted and sentenced to three years in prison as accomplices. [Reuters, 11/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Monica Adler, Oscar Magi, Michalis Vasiluou, Pilar Rueda, SISMI, Raymond Harbaough, Vincent Faldo, Ralph Russomando, Victor Castellano, Robert Seldon Lady, Sabrina De Sousa, Joseph Sofin, Lorenza Carrera, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Joseph L. Romano III, Ben Amar Harty, Armando Spataro, Anne Lidia Jenkins, Central Intelligence Agency, Cynthia Logan, Betnie Medero, Eliana Castaldo, Jeff Castelli, John Duffin, James Kirkland, Drew Channing, Gregory Asherleigh, George Purvis, James Harbison
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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