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Profile: Jeff Castelli

Positions that Jeff Castelli has held:

  • CIA station chief in Rome

Related Entities:

Jeff Castelli was a participant or observer in the following events:

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli, reportedly asks SISMI to provide the US with any useful intelligence it might have. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Jeff Castelli, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org [ERiposte, 10/31/2005] , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003]
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; US Department of State, 9/2005]
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003] This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. [ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004, pp. 227] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mamadou Tandja, SISMI, Elisabetta Burba, Nassirou Sabo, Wissam al-Zahawie, Saddam Hussein, Jeff Castelli, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Michael Ledeen, Jeff Castelli, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Antonio Martino, Mel Sembler, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Ian Kelly, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Panorama, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

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 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Robert Seldon Lady, Stephen Kappes, Counterterrorist Center, Jeff Castelli, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief whose idea it was to render Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt (see Before February 17, 2003 and Noon February 17, 2003), is promoted twice following the operation. According to journalist Matthew Cole, this places Castelli “deep in senior management” at the agency. [GQ, 3/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003), is disciplined over the affair. Castelli is reprimanded by the CIA’s accountability board and sent to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. One reason for the domestic posting is that Castelli may have difficulty traveling, as he could be arrested if he entered a European country, as well as some other states. [Congressional Quarterly, 2/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003), is considered for the position of chief of the CIA’s station in New York. Reporter Jeff Stein calls this an “astounding comeback, especially considering that Italy is planning a trial in absentia of the CIA employees implicated in the kidnapping, perhaps as early as this spring.” Because of the kidnap allegations, if Castelli attempted to enter a European country, he would be arrested. One of Stein’s sources comments on the posting under consideration, “Well, they can’t send him overseas because of the Milan thing.” [Congressional Quarterly, 2/15/2008] However, Castelli will not get the position, and will leave the agency this year. [Congressional Quarterly, 9/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Jeff Castelli, Jeff Stein, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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]

Entity Tags: Sabrina De Sousa, Betnie Medero, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Seldon Lady, Jeff Castelli

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003), joins a Los Angeles-based marketing analysis company called PhaseOne Communications. Castelli had left the agency the previous year over the fallout from the rendition’s exposure. His role at PhaseOne, owned by former CIA officer Reynold Stelloh, is unknown. However, although most of the company’s clients are commercial, a source familiar with the business will say that his main responsibility will probably be generating government contracts. Reporter Jeff Stein will comment that a 2004 description of the company in a trade journal “suggests its work may be applicable to managing the effectiveness of US government propaganda operations.” The journal said, “The formulas and systems used by PhaseOne were originally derived during World War II as elements of classified work of US and British intelligence analysts, who developed the science of content analysis to a point where it was able to successfully predict enemy behavior based on public communications.” Stein will add, “Knowledgeable observers said they would not be surprised if PhaseOne were contracted by the government to analyze the effectiveness of terrorist propaganda against the United States, and vice-versa.” [Congressional Quarterly, 9/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, PhaseOne Communications, Jeff Castelli

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

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 pdf file] 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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