“Castelli went to SISMi to ask them to work on the rendition program, and SISMi says no,” De Sousa recounted. That, however, “didn’t stop Jeff,” she said.
Castelli did not respond to a request for comment.
Castelli “was hell-bent on doing a rendition,” she said, and he pressed the director of SISMi at the time, Nicollo Pollari, throughout 2002 to agree, according to cables De Sousa found between Castelli and CIA headquarters.
“This is very important, because there is a written trail of what was going on,” she said.
Pollari refused to budge, telling Castelli that the rendition would be “an illegal operation … unless the magistrates approved it,” De Sousa said. Pollari, she said, wanted to wait until the Italian Parliament passed intelligence reform legislation that would have allowed SISMi broader counterterrorism powers.
Castelli’s superiors at Langley insisted that SISMi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had to agree to the operation, or “they couldn’t go to Condoleezza Rice and the president of the United States” for authorization, De Sousa said.
“So what does Castelli say? Castelli says, ‘Well, I talked to Pollari and he’s not going to put anything in writing. But wink, wink, nod, nod. You know, wink, wink, he’s provided a tacit sort of approval. They are not going to put anything in writing,’” she said.
The rendition had another problem: There was no outstanding arrest warrant for Nasr from Egypt, she said. To resolve the issue, Castelli asked the CIA’s Cairo station to request one from Omar Suleiman, the powerful intelligence czar for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The warrant was issued. Later, after Nasr had been turned over to the Egyptians, the CIA station in Cairo asked Castelli for the evidence the Egyptians needed to prosecute.
“Castelli wrote back and said, ‘I thought you had the information. That’s why you issued the arrest warrant,’ ” De Sousa said. Cairo replied that Egypt had issued the warrant only “because you needed an arrest warrant.”
Of her CIA superiors, De Sousa said, “They knew this [the rendition] was bull----, but they were just allowing it. These guys approved it based on what Castelli was saying even though they knew it never met the threshold for rendition.”
An Italian prosecutor began investigating the CIA’s role in Nasr’s disappearance in 2004, carefully building a case based on the CIA rendition team’s sloppy use of cellular telephones and credit cards. By then De Sousa had returned to the United States and had assumed a new CIA position at headquarters.
She was charged by Italian authorities in 2006 in the last of three sets of indictments.
De Sousa said that she has tried for years to report what she said was the baseless case for Nasr’s abduction and her shoddy treatment by the CIA and two administrations.
Her pleas and letters, however, were ignored by successive U.S. intelligence leaders, the CIA inspector general’s office, members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rice, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder, said De Sousa.
She briefly made headlines when she sued the CIA, the State Department and Clinton in 2009 in a bid to secure her diplomatic immunity, but lost. U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, however, declared herself troubled by the government’s treatment of De Sousa, which she said sent a “potentially demoralizing” message to U.S. employees serving overseas.
“My life has been hell,” De Sousa said, explaining that her Italian conviction left her career in ruins, crippled her ability to find a good paying private-sector job and left her liable to arrest abroad. Her resignation, which she submitted after the CIA barred her from visiting her ailing, elderly mother in Goa for Christmas, and then refused to fly her mother to the United States, left her without a pension.
Asked why she’d agreed to be interviewed, De Sousa replied, “I find this coverup so egregious. That’s why I find it really important to talk about this. Look at the lives ruined, including that of Abu Omar. And I was caught in the crossfire of anger directed at U.S. policy.”
Now, she noted, she also could face prosecution in the United States for revealing what she has. “You’ve seen what’s happened lately to anyone who has tried to disclose anything,” she said.
But her treatment, she said, provides a warning to U.S. employees serving around the world. If they get prosecuted while doing their jobs, she said, “You have no protection whatsoever. Zero.”