American Spies on Trial in Italy

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The trial is underway in Italy of 26 Americans, mostly CIA operatives, accused of abducting a radical Egyptian cleric in Italy and whisking him off to Egypt for torture.

They’re on trial in absentia, but there’s an Los Angles Times reporter there, telling a great story of “spies spying on spies”

Italy’s top counterterrorism official, Bruno Megale, took the stand in Milan yesterday to tell how tapping phones helped to blow the lid off the Bush Administration’s practice of “extraordinary rendition.”

Megale obtained records of all cellphone traffic from the transmission tower nearest the spot where Abu Omar was abducted, for a 2 1/2 -hour period around the time he disappeared. There were 2,000 calls.

Then, using a computer program, Megale was able to narrow down the pool by tracing the phones that had called each other, in other words, an indication of a group of people working together. Seventeen phone numbers, which showed intensifying use around the time of the abduction, were pinpointed. By following all other calls made from those phones, the investigators ultimately identified 60 numbers, including that of a CIA officer working undercover at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

In his testimony, Megale revealed that one telephone number he recognized was that of Robert Seldon Lady, then-CIA station chief in Milan. Lady and Megale had worked together in counter-terrorism investigations. It was a number, Megale said somberly, that he and his team knew.