Saturday, July 23, 2005


A month ago we mentioned that an Italian court had ordered the arrest of thirteen American CIA agents involved in the kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition" of Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr; the U.S. snatch-and-torture operation had not only scuttled an ongoing terrorism investigation by local authorities, but, according to judge Guido Salvini, violated Italian sovereignty. Our eminent colleague Tom Engelhardt reminds us that the costs are not merely diplomatic -- for global wars on terror are never, never won on the cheap:
Here's what we know at present about this particular version of La Dolce Vita:
  • The CIA agents took rooms in Milan's 5-star hotels, including the Principe di Savoia ("one of the world's most luxuriously appointed hotels") where they rang up $42,000 in expenses; the Westin Palace, the Milan Hilton, and the Star Hotel Rosa as well as similar places in the seaside resort of La Spezia and in Florence, running up cumulative hotel bills of $144,984.

  • They ate in the equivalent of 5-star restaurants in Milan and elsewhere, evidently fancying themselves gourmet undercover agents.

  • As a mixed team -- at least 6 women took part in the operation -- men and women on at least two occasions took double rooms together in these hotels. (There is no indication that any of them were married -- to each other at least.)

  • After the successful kidnapping was done and the cleric dispatched to sunny Egypt, they evidently decided they deserved a respite from their exertions; so several of them left for a vacation in Venice, while four others headed for the Mediterranean coast north of Tuscany, all on the taxpayer dole.

  • They charged up to $500 a day apiece, according to Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, to "Diners Club accounts created to match their recently forged identities"; wielded Visa cards (assumedly similarly linked to their fake identities); and made sure they got or used frequent flier miles. (The Diner's Club, when queried by Tomdispatch, refused to comment on any aspect of the case.) Our master spies "rarely paid in cash," adds Whitlock, "gave their frequent traveler account numbers to desk clerks and made dozens of calls from unsecure phones in their rooms."

  • To move their captive in comfort -- for them -- they summoned up not some grimy cargo plane but a Learjet to take him to Germany and a Gulfstream V to transport him to Egypt, the sorts of spiffy private jets normally used by CEOs and movie stars . . . .
When evaluating the CIA's actions in Italy, you might consider the Agency's mission statement as laid out at its website: "Our success depends on our ability to act with total discretion… Our mission requires complete personal integrity… We accomplish things others cannot, often at great risk… We stand by one another and behind one another." Or you might simply adapt an ad line from one of the few credit cards the team in Milan seems not to have used: The nightly cost of a room in Milan's Hotel Principe di Savoia, $450; the cost of a Coke from a mini-bar in one of its rooms, $10; the cost of leasing a GulfstreamV for a month, $229,639; that feeling of taking the American taxpayer for a ride, priceless.

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