EXCLUSIVE: Convicted CIA Spy Says "We Broke the Law"

Sabrina deSousa says U.S. "Betrayed" her and others found guilty in kidnapping.

November 4, 2009, 11:52 AM

Nov. 4, 2009 — -- One of the 23 Americans convicted today by an Italian court says the United States "broke the law" in the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

"And we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this," said former CIA officer Sabrina deSousa in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.

DeSousa says the U.S. "abandoned and betrayed" her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), a member of the House Intelligence Committee told ABC News that the trial was a disaster for CIA officers like DeSousa on the frontline.

"I think these people have been put out there. They've been hung out to dry. They're taking the fall potentially for a decision that was made by their superiors in our agencies. It's the wrong place to go."

Italian prosecutors said deSousa was a CIA officer who helped organized the kidnapping using her diplomat cover at the U.S. Consulate in Milan. Several former U.S. intelligence officials confirm to ABC News deSousa's role in the operation.

Without confirming her CIA role, deSousa said her status as a State Department diplomat should have protected her, but that the U.S. refused to invoke diplomatic immunity.

"Everything I did was approved back in Washington," she said. deSousa says she was on a ski trip on the actual day of the kidnapping.

The ruling by the Italian court was seen as landmark repudiation of the U.S. policy of rendition, involving the capture of suspected terrorists taken to secret locations for interrogation.

"It's clear that the kidnapping of Abu Omar was a great mistake," said Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro, who led the five-year long investigation. "It did serious damage in fighting terrorists because we don't need torture, we don't need renditions, we don't need secret prisons."

The former CIA station chief in Milan, Robert Seldon Lady, was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison. deSousa and twenty-two others received five-year sentences.

Jeffrey Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, who several former CIA officers describe as the alleged architect of the kidnapping, was acquitted by the Italian court. The court ruled that he and two others had diplomatic immunity because they worked out of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

The CIA declined to comment, as it has since the case first became public.

A State Department spokesman said the Obama administration was "disappointed" by the verdict.

Also convicted was Air Force Colonel Joseph Romano, who allegedly helped facilitate the CIA kidnapping team's flight to Egypt from a U.S. air base in Italy.

The Department of Defense had unsuccessfully claimed the court had no jurisdiction over Romano under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

"We are clearly disappointed with the ruling and the lack of respect for the fact that we have asserted jurisdiction in this case," said Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell.

"The verdict today came as a complete surprise since Italy lacks jurisdiction over Col Romano," said Romano through an attorney upon his conviction and five year sentence in Italy today. "We believe the judge clearly misapplied the law by failing to recognize his nation's obligations under the NATO Treaty. The trial judge's irresponsible actions should be an embarrassment to Italy and we find the verdict illegitimate."

The kidnapping was discovered and linked to the CIA by Italian authorities due to "sloppy" tradecraft, according to U.S. officials. Much of the evidence used in the trial involved cellphone records of the CIA team assembled to take Abu Omar.

"They were using e-mail, they were calling home, the Italians were able to connect their credit cards with true names and true addresses," said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

"I did these same things under the Reagan administration," Baer told ABCNews.com "When we did a rendition, we did it in international waters. The Bush administration threw all caution to the wind."

The operation to capture Abu Omar was part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, according to U.S. intelligence officials involved in his transfer. The kidnapped cleric was held in Egypt for four years and says he was repeatedly tortured there by Egyptian interrogators.

He was never charged with a crime and ultimately set free. He remains in Alexandria, Egypt.

"He was the wrong guy," said Baer. "It was not worth putting the reputation of the United Sates on the line going after somebody like this."

According to both U.S. and Italian intelligence officials, the trial ruined the relationship between the two countries' intelligence services, and has hurt continued counterterrorism efforts.

DeSousa who resigned from and brought a lawsuit against the U.S. government fears the damage to U.S.-Italian relations from the verdict will continue.

"It's getting more embarrassing every day," deSousa said.

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