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November 2002: CIA Team Arrives in Milan for Abduction of Radical Cleric

An 11-member team of CIA agents arrives in Milan in preparation for the abduction of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). The team will remain in Milan until mid-February 2003, leaving shortly after Nasr’s successful kidnap (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to Luciano Pironi, an Italian who helps the CIA with the abduction, the team makes over a dozen unsuccessful attempts before actually taking Nasr; during the false starts they are called off due to unexpected pedestrians or police cars near the planned kidnap site. As the CIA officers’ stay in Milan drags on, discipline on the abduction team breaks down. Two agents use their cell phones to call home; these calls will later be discovered by Italian prosecutors. At least two others take rooms at two of Milan’s more upmarket hotels, the Sheraton Diana Majestic and the Principe di Savoia, for what GQ magazine will call “romantic encounters,” paid for by the agency. One team member, apparently a freelance contractor, uses his real name when checking in to hotels. In addition, the team does not use the walkie-talkies they have been given, because, according to a senior CIA official, they make them “look too much like spies.” Instead, they use their cell phones, which Italian prosecutors will later trace easily. This aspect of the operation will be severely criticised; former CIA officer Milt Bearden will say, “This was amateur hour with a bunch of Keystone Kops.” A senior CIA official who approved the plan will say, “They were told to stop using their phones and stop calling home, but they did it anyway.” He will add that the responsibility for the errors should be laid at the door of the chief of the CIA’s Rome station, Jeff Castelli, who is in charge and whose “brainchild” the operation reportedly was (see Before February 17, 2003). According to the official, Castelli is good, but does not pay attention to details, and fails to inform CIA headquarters about the sloppiness with the cell phones. [GQ, 3/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Luciano Pironi, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Milton Bearden, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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