National Security

Ex-CIA officer faces imminent extradition to Italy, hopes Trump can help

Sabrina De Sousa, 61, faces imminent extradition to Italy for her alleged role in the 2003 rendition of a terror suspect.

Sabrina De Sousa, 61, faces imminent extradition to Italy for her alleged role in the 2003 rendition of a terror suspect.

CIA officer Sabrina De Sousa was skiing with her son in Northern Italy on a chilly February day in 2003 when agents snatched a suspected terrorist off the streets of Milan as part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program.

Fourteen years later, De Sousa faces imminent extradition from Portugal to Italy and six years in jail in connection with the abduction after being convicted in absentia by Italian courts for a decision made by the highest levels of U.S. government.

De Sousa, who no longer works for the agency, is now poised to become the first CIA officer and U.S. diplomat imprisoned over the controversial rendition program -- and is making an urgent appeal for intervention.

"I'm a scapegoat," De Sousa told FoxNews.com Wednesday, in an extensive phone interview from her home in Portugal.

The former officer claims the Obama administration has ignored all requests to intervene on her behalf but hopes the incoming Donald Trump administration might be able to help.

Time is not on her side.

Trump's inauguration would come after the Italy-set Jan. 17 extradition date. According to De Sousa, this would "set a hugely bad precedent for the conviction by an allied nation of a U.S. diplomat." 

HOEKSTRA: DON'T LET ONE OF OUR INTEL OFFICERS WIND UP IN JAIL

De Souza was working in Milan as an undercover CIA officer in 2003 when U.S. and Italian intelligence agents abducted radical Egyptian cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr -- also known as Abu Omar -- and transported him to his native Egypt for interrogation.

The authorized operation was part of the controversial program implemented under President George W. Bush in which terror suspects could be transferred to countries where torture is allowed.

Omar -- who turned out to be a "nobody," according to De Sousa -- was held at an American military base in Germany before being flown to Cairo, Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. He was soon released from prison for lack of prosecutable evidence against him. 

In 2009, De Sousa, along with 25 other Americans, were convicted in absentia on kidnapping and other charges related to the abduction. Several were since pardoned and not one has done time in prison. The Italians also convicted Omar in absentia of "criminal association for the purposes of international terrorism" and sentenced him to six years in prison.

Phone records obtained by Italian prosecutors corroborated De Sousa's claim that she was some 130 miles away in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, chaperoning her son's school ski trip, on the day Omar was abducted. Still, Italy brought "broad charges" against her for a plot she says she had no direct part in.

"[The Italians] said, 'She was responsible for planning and without her OK, it never would have happened,'" De Sousa told FoxNews.com. "And this came third-hand from someone who told an Italian intelligence officer."

"We are being convicted for decisions made for which we had no input at all," she said. "Nobody wants to look any higher, and this is the best way to deflect attention from anyone else."

The former spy, who was born in India and holds both American and Portuguese passports, left the CIA in 2009 and moved to Portugal in April 2015 to be near family.

In October 2015, she was detained at Lisbon's airport on a European arrest warrant while attempting to travel to India. She was later released but ordered to remain in Portugal.

The series of events that followed amount to an international legal nightmare.

Italy first sought extradition of De Sousa with the guarantee of a retrial or appeal with new evidence, acknowledging she had been tried in absentia. Based on these guarantees, the Portuguese courts agreed to extradite. 

But in June 2016, Italy sent Portugal a letter saying De Sousa's conviction was final, and no retrial would be granted. In a move that shocked De Sousa and others in the intelligence community, Portugal's high court ordered her immediate extradition. 

De Sousa acknowledges her move from the U.S. to Portugal was "catastrophic." The 61-year-old mother, who recently underwent eye surgery, has been ordered by her doctor to remain in Portugal until her recovery. Her extradition date is now set for Jan. 17. 

This follows years of unsuccessful bids to clear her name. De Sousa said she continues to cling to hope that a new administration might come to her aid. 

"I would really like to reach out to the Trump administration," she said, noting that, in her view, the president-elect is beholden to no one and not interested in protecting those who authorized the program.   

"I think a General [Mike] Flynn in the administration – I can't see him allowing the prosecution of a senior military officer by a foreign nation," she said. 

It's unclear what action, if any, the Trump administration may take on the case, but a member of the transition team has sent background information on De Sousa's situation to senior officials with the incoming administration, FoxNews.com has learned. 

Transition team spokesmen have not responded to requests for an official comment.

Asked for comment on the case, a State Department spokesperson referred FoxNews.com to De Sousa’s lawyer for specific details but said they’ve seen reports that a Portuguese Court plans to transfer her and “we can say that the Department of State takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously.”

The official said: "This is a matter that U.S. officials have been following closely. We have asked our European counterparts what their next steps may be, but we are not in a position to detail those discussions."

Aside from warnings about the precedent that could be set, De Sousa also claimed such a trial would be unfair, since she would not be permitted to divulge state secrets.

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., an outspoken advocate of De Sousa, said he has appealed to members of the Obama administration on her behalf -- because "it seemed like a slam-dunk case." 

"What’s happening to her is inherently wrong," Hoekstra told FoxNews.com. "You’ve got an alleged case officer who's going to go to jail [for] doing exactly what the American government ... asked her to do."

"The executive branch leaders can continue to travel throughout Europe -- they face no consequences," he said. "Some of the people have gotten pardons and all of the Italians no longer face consequences."

Hoekstra, too, expressed hope that Trump would intervene.

"Donald Trump supports the little guy," he said. "And I think in this case I would like to believe and I would expect that he would be on the side of Sabrina."