First, some backstory from the article.
On Feb. 17, 2003, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, a heavyset and bearded man in his early 40s, went missing en route to midday prayers at his mosque in Milan. The CIA and Italian police considered the man, better known as Abu Omar, to be a recruiter for al Qaeda. His family and the Italian police had no inkling where he'd gone.
Fourteen months later, Abu Omar emerged from jail, called his wife from Egypt and described his abduction and mistreatment in captivity. Italian authorities listened via a telephone tap on his home phone in Milan and started to look into a kidnapping.
Their investigation led to the CIA and its man in Milan. The political mood in Italy, initially sympathetic to the U.S. in the wake of 9/11, turned to outrage when the alleged breach of sovereignty was revealed in 2005. An aggressive magistrate named Armando Spataro got indictments for 26 Americans and five Italians, the first known time that employees of the CIA had ever been prosecuted by a friendly government for doing their jobs.
Then, the frustrating parts...
More recently, Italy worked with the CIA to grab an al Qaeda member—a "high-level guy"—and put him into an Egyptian prison "forever," he says, but "I can't tell you the details."
Thinking of his current predicament, Mr. Lady says he's struck by "the hypocrisy of this whole thing." Bill Clinton approved extraordinary rendition and so has every president since. "In every case, in every rendition I have ever been involved in, the local government was a partner," Mr. Lady says, and Abu Omar was no exception.
Who in Italy knew what about the Omar rendition remains unclear and controversial. The government of Silvio Berlusconi, then in power, denied direct knowledge. The brass at the CIA's Italian counterpart, the SISMI, was aware of the operation. An Italian policeman, who testified that he was tapped by Mr. Lady to take part, stopped Abu Omar on the street to check his documents seconds before American agents threw the cleric into a white van. Mr. Lady denies he recruited the policeman for the rendition, saying "I'm convinced that he was forced to say that so he could get immunity."
He has no doubts the Italian government was on board. "Everything we did in Italy was joint. Everything," he says. "Italy is one of our closest allies. Our only interest in Italy was working on common targets."
Mr. Lady, who arrived in Milan in 2000, developed close personal relationships with Italian counterterrorism police. He says he brought Abu Omar to the Italians' attention a month before 9/11, identifying him as rising militant.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, field operatives were under pressure to take "hard measures," as in the title of the memoir by former CIA clandestine service chief José Rodriguez, to produce "legitimate, actionable intelligence against terrorists," says Mr. Lady. "They were desperate times. We were working endless hours." He says his superior, Mr. Castelli, wanted to pull off a notable rendition just to help his own career. He calls Mr. Castelli "human exhaust" and suggests the feeling was mutual. "Castelli hated me so much," Mr. Lady says, "that he wouldn't let me near an operation like that." (Mr. Castelli, who has since left the CIA, didn't respond to requests for comment submitted through his office.)
The CIA station chief in Rome insisted on grabbing Abu Omar over objections from Mr. Lady and skepticism in Washington, according to Mr. Lady and Ms. de Sousa. Mr. Lady says Abu Omar was "a bad guy" but "not a major al Qaeda figure." His capture, the CIA agent worried, would irritate the Italian police, who had put in time and resources to monitor him.
Once Washington approved the rendition, Mr. Lady says he was told "either do it or get out of Dodge." Why not resign? "I was," he says with a long pause, "one year away from retirement. Would you throw away 23 years of your career and resign without a pension?"
As Italian investigators showed with excruciating detail, the "Italian job" was sloppy tradecraft. The several dozen agents brought in for the rendition—many more, says Mr. Lady, than the 20 identified by the Italians—used cellular phones and paid hotel bills with credit cards that were easily traced back to them.
What do you think? International payback for the accidental killing of an aid worker in Iraq? Trying to punch above their weight diplomatically? The US trying to distance themselves from the fact that rendition exists, has always existed, and will continue to exist, just more quietly?