FOREIGN POLICY

Ex-CIA officer says she's being forced to testify in Italy on 'rendition'

Italian government wants operation information

 

EXCLUSIVE: A former CIA officer spared jail time in Italy tells Fox News that despite her commutation, she may be forced to testify to Italian lawmakers about the secret post-9/11 “rendition” program – and warns the testimony could be extremely "damaging."

"The Italian Intelligence Oversight Committee has contacted my lawyer in Italy asking that I come testify on a CIA operation," Sabrina de Sousa said. "Several members have been pushing the Italian intelligence services for release and declassification of documents related to this case."

De Sousa is speaking out about her decade-long ordeal, which started when an Italian court convicted her in absentia -- along with two-dozen others -- connected to the 2003 U.S. government-sanctioned kidnapping of cleric Abu Omar.

Under President George W. Bush's rendition program, Omar was snatched from Milan, Italy, and flown to Egypt, where he claimed to be tortured. De Sousa says the evidence was weak and Omar was eventually released, but she is still living a legal nightmare.

In February, after CIA Director Mike Pompeo and others in the Trump administration intervened, de Sousa's case seemed to be near a resolution. The Italian president reduced her sentence from four years to three, in turn opening the door to non-prison sentences, and de Sousa returned to the U.S. But De Sousa said she must still return to Italy to do community service, which has been described by her lawyer as the equivalent of house arrest in that country. And once back in Italy, she expects to be called to testify before the Italian government's version of the Senate intelligence committee about U.S. government secrets.

"I think it will be damaging for both countries because at this point, right now, Italy, the previous Prime Minister Renzi, asserted state secrets over everything Italian, and in the U.S. everything's classified," de Sousa explained.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Thursday, and de Sousa said she’s making a “personal plea to President Trump for resolution."

She said the issues are bigger than her case: "It sets a precedent, a precedent where the U.S. allowed convictions of intelligence officers and U.S. diplomats overseas by foreign courts."

De Sousa said she is thankful for the help of former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra who has stuck with the issue and raised her case with the Trump White House as well as Pompeo. De Sousa's American lawyer Victoria Toensing said resolving the case will send a strong message to current and prospective intelligence officers that the U.S. government has their back. 

"The United States government authorized this operation at the highest levels. Moreover, the United States government assured Sabrina that this operation had the blessing of the Italians and what happened? After her conviction the Obama administration completely abandoned her," Toensing said. 

Toensing further claimed that de Sousa was singled out because she was public about her opposition to the rendition.

"The people who did get pardoned, did not speak out," she said.

In March, a former senior intelligence official disputed claims that the Obama administration did not work behind the scenes on the ex-officer’s behalf. "There was an extensive effort by the entire U.S. government to push the Italians to pardon these individuals," the official said. 

De Sousa, 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 tied to the Italian case, while attempting to travel to India. She was later released but ordered to remain in Portugal. De Sousa had been warned by the CIA not to travel to Europe.

In 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, before her partial reprieve.

"Personally it has cost me and my family a lot," de Sousa said. "Professionally it has cost me my career."

Fox News' Cristina Corbin contributed to this report.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.