WASHINGTON — A former CIA agent convicted by an Italian court of participating in the covert 2003 abduction in Milan of an Egyptian cleric suspected of terror-related offenses had gone public to defend herself.
In an interview published in the Washington Post, Sabrina de Sousa, 56, denied playing any role in the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a member of Egypt’s radical Islamist opposition also known as Abu Omar.
Abu Omar was seized on the streets of Milan on February 17, 2003 in a joint operation between the CIA and Italian intelligence services. He was then transferred to Egypt, where his lawyers say he was tortured.
It was part of a CIA practice known as “rendition” — when a terror suspect is forced against his will to fly to a third country known for allowing torture during interrogations.
In 2009, an Italian court sentenced De Sousa and 22 other CIA agents to seven to nine years in prison over the incident.
In the interview, published one day before Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation is to open a hearing on whether to uphold the convictions of the CIA agents, De Sousa says she was a low-level official who had nothing to do with the rendition.
“I can’t just pick up the phone and call Washington and say, ‘Hey, send me a plane!’” said the former agent, who quit in 2009.
“Who can order a plane like that? It’s got to be the Defense Department, the head of CIA, the head of the State Department.”
De Sousa refused to say whether she was aware of the operation.
Now she is furious with the CIA and the State Department for not protecting her. In 2009, she lost a lawsuit brought against the agencies for not invoking diplomatic immunity on her behalf. An appeal is under way.
“Officially, I was a diplomat, that’s all I can say. But when diplomats or troops take risks, you expect your own government to help,” De Sousa countered.
In 2008, the CIA told her that “intelligence activities are not covered by diplomatic immunity.”