By John A. Cote MSSI, CPP
February 17, 2003. An Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, (also known as Abu Omar) was on his way to daily prayer, walking along the Via Guerzoni in Milan when he was allegedly grabbed by two men, sprayed with a chemical substance in the face and then bundled into a white van which took him to Aviano Air Base, a joint American- Italian base.
According to Nasr, he was eventually taken home to Cairo, Egypt by his kidnappers (CIA and Italian Service agents) where he was arrested and allegedly subjected to electric shock, hung upside down, exposed to extreme temperatures and loud noise affecting his hearing.
Although the U.S. government has neither confirmed or denied playing a role in the kidnapping, this type of event is called extraordinary rendition.
The CIA group which executed this mission, in my mind, completely failed to follow any sense of true tradecraft whatsoever. Why do I say that?
1. More than 20 CIA agents (including the head of the CIA Milan substation) were named and indicted in a kidnapping case in Italy.
2. Evidence of detailed interrogations exists.
3. Telephone transcripts and records have been found.
4. Intercepted telephone conversations.
5. Long trail of paper and electronic evidence against the CIA operatives.
6. Operatives gave their own personal frequent flyers numbers to the desk clerks in hotels.
7. Made several phone calls from their hotel rooms on insecure phones.
These operatives were members of a covert CIA team sent to execute an extraordinary rendition. Yet, these operatives were methodically tracked and monitored by the Italian police during there stay in Italy. What are we teaching our new breed of covert operative these days?
Could it be we have cut so much meat from the agency that we have lost institutional knowledge on how real spies work. This case does not bode well for our “ War on Terror”.
Many seasoned agency personnel have left the company due to a hostile environment in the intelligence community. This case is a prime example of what can happen when you loose that precious commodity called institutional knowledge. Information and experience handed down by people who have used the methods in the field and are teaching from their own experience not just what they learn from a book, this is institutional knowledge.
In another article on intelligence I have stressed the need for good Human intelligence (HUMINT) this case shows you what happens when we have poor HUMINT -specifically poor tradecraft.
All the operatives named in the indictment should have known better than to do the things they did so cavalierly. It almost seems that they just felt that they were CIA and nothing could possibly touch them. This could be a sign that we are cranking out operatives much too fast in order to beef up our numbers in the field.
Whatever the case, the Director of Operations of the CIA needs to take a long hard look at the training going on there. We can’t afford fighting the terrorist on two fronts, in the field of battle and in the limelight of the press.
By John A. Cote MSSI, CPP