National Security

Pete Hoekstra: Our intel officers take great risks for us. We can’t let one of them wind up in an Italian jail

In the years since September 11, 2001 U.S. policy leaders have authorized and sanctioned a number of controversial programs and activities. This includes enhanced interrogations, extraordinary renditions, and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden. There is a lingering impact from these activities. This is true despite the ending of enhanced interrogations, extraordinary renditions, and the death of Bin Laden in 2011.

To further elaborate, the stated actions were approved at the highest levels of the American government. This includes the president of the United States and the gang of eight in Congress. The individuals who oversaw the implementation of these programs included the leaders of both the executive and legislative branches of the government.

As with any strategy, these policies were approved at the 30,000-foot level by senior officials. Midlevel intelligence officers and cooperating individuals then had the responsibility to make the policies become real actions and activities. They had to get their hands "dirty." They were the ones responsible for rendering individuals, performing interrogations, and killing Usama bin Laden in Pakistan. They took great risks to carry out U.S. foreign policy. 

Most of the time the people taking these risks continue to have the support of their government. However in some instances, operatives at the ground level are left behind when the proverbial dirt hits the fan. So while political leaders who authorize these activities may continue to enjoy their comfortable livelihoods in politics, on corporate boards, or in their retirements, the realities for the others become incredibly different and difficult.

President Obama and his Justice Department did the right thing. In 2012 they decided against prosecuting individuals involved in the enhanced interrogation program. He supported them instead.

Some have not benefited in the same way. Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani who helped positively identify Bin Laden before the May 2, 2011 raid now languishes in Pakistani prison. It is very possible that without his help Usama Bin Laden might still be alive.  He was instrumental in one of America's successes against the terrorists. 

So while President Obama feverishly works to clear out Guantanamo Bay of people dangerous to the United States, Dr. Afridi is still in prison in Pakistan with no expectation of freedom. 

In yet another disappointing and currently developing case, Sabrina De Sousa, reportedly a former CIA case officer in a rendition case of Abu Omar in 2003, may soon find herself serving a four-year sentence in an Italian jail. Convicted in abstentia by Italian courts, De Sousa and other CIA intelligence officers have faced the possibility of imprisonment since 2006.

It is a real possibility for her today. De Sousa was detained in Portugal in December 2015 per an extradition request from Italy. In response, the Portuguese courts will seemingly honor the extradition request to send De Sousa to Italy by January 17, 2017 to begin serving her sentence.

Mrs. De Sousa and the other Americans, convicted in abstentia by the Italian government, merit the support of the U.S. government. Even if the facts presented by the Italians are purportedly true, their actions of 2003 needed authorization from both the American and Italian government. It is also worth noting that Italian intelligence officials participated in the 2003 snatch and grab of Abu Omar. 

Washington is indefensible in neglecting to defend the upstanding individuals it hires to protect and serve the United States of America. -- Policy leaders continue to enjoy their freedom while others worry about their ability to travel, see their families or just live their lives. 

Ms. De Sousa, Dr. Afridi, and the other Americans convicted in Italy should not be forgotten.

The time is long overdue for America's leaders to finally support those who risked so much by doing what they were directed to do – complex and dangerous work.

It is unacceptable that allies and friendly governments hold mid-level U.S. government operatives accountable while America's leaders stand silent. 

Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and is author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya."

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