|26 October, 2006
|Less than routine: Italy's spy chief replaced
Spy chief Pollari is the first government official to be charged by his home
country, more or less, for cooperating with the US.
Commentary by Eric J. Lyman in Rome for ISN Security Watch (26/10/06)
IMost Italian newspapers quietly reported earlier this week that Italian intelligence
director Nicolo Pollari would be replaced by the end of the month. Seemingly routine
news, but between the lines of those vague articles buried on internal pages and
below the fold is a stark warning for shadowy pro-Washington officials in Ankara,
Bucharest, London, Prague, Sofia and other capitals of the war on terror.
Until Monday, Pollari, 63, was Italy's top spy. Now he is the first government official
anywhere to be charged by his home country, more or less, because he cooperated
with the US.
Hardly anyone in the know believes he will be the last.
The specifics of Pollari's case are controversial even if they are not unique. In 2003,
the US Central Intelligence agency (CIA) reportedly plucked 42-year-old Egyptian cleric
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr -also known by the alias Abu Omar- off the streets of
Milan on suspicion of ties with at least two terror-related investigations. At first, the
case was treated as an affront to Italian sovereignty because the agents were
reported to have acted unilaterally and without informing Rome.
But as the investigation proceeded, it became clear that Pollari was an active
participant, and that the operation had at least tacit - if not explicit - approval from the
government in Rome, then led by strong Washington ally Silvio Berlusconi. Magistrates
began looking into the case after Berlusconi was ousted from power by former
European Commission president Romano Prodi by the thinnest of margins in April.
Pollari's lawyers are so far using the spy defense for their client, saying that the
veteran agent cannot defend himself because the case would breach security.
"This has to be looked at in a broader context," the Italian press quoted attorney Titta
Madia as saying. "This is a very delicate topic because it pertains to international
relations and national security."
But whether the tact is accurate or not, has fallen on deaf ears so far: A trial date in
early 2007 is likely.
From Washington's perspective, the best-case scenario is that Pollari's pending trial will
merely shed an uncomfortable light on the smoky backroom deals that link national
intelligence organizations. But it may go further, prompting governments taking part in
the US-led war on terror to distance themselves from their own officials who
performed the dirty work associated with the most controversial parts of that campaign.
The war has never been terribly popular beyond US borders, and the limited support
for it is eroding with time. That means that many pro-Washington leaders are being
called to task. As with Berlusconi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was severely
wounded at home by his association with US President George W Bush - and as they
are replaced, the behind-the-scenes foot soldiers, like Pollari, may be left without cover.
Eric J. Lyman is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent in Rome.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the
International Relations and Security Network (ISN).