Mancini Faces the Music

by Henry Farrell on July 5, 2006

A rather important political development in Italy. Marco Mancini, the second-in-command of SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency has been “arrested”:, along with his former boss, General Gustavo Pignero, for his part in the extraordinary rendition/kidnapping of Abu Omar. The “NYT”: also has a piece on this, but its focus is on the magistrates’ decisions to issue arrest warrants for four Americans who were allegedly involved. It seems to me that the SISMI part of the story is the more important one. There’s no prospect that the US is going to comply with warrants issued against its agents, but there is a real possibility of substantial political repercussions from the SISMI arrests.

The path to justice in Italy is a long and tortuous one – arrest by magistrates is no guarantee of successful prosecution. But the arrest of a key figure in the Italian intelligence agency suggests that the unwritten rules of Italian politics are changing. SISMI has traditionally been a law unto itself, with many connections to shady right wing groups in Italian politics, and an unstated presumption of judicial immunity. This may not be true any longer. The Italian government has issued a statement which is a quite perfect example of the art of flowery Italian political rhetoric – effusive and entirely meaningless expressions of confidence in the loyalty of the Italian intelligence apparatus to the state, which strongly suggest to me that some of the principals of aforementioned intelligence apparatus are being measured for the chopping block. Readers of “Laura Rozen”: and “Josh Marshall”: will remember that there are many interesting things that Mancini’s boss, Nicolo Pollari, could reveal about Nigerien uranium and forged documents should he choose to. It’s still unlikely that he’ll be forced to make that choice, but it’s a little more likely than it was yesterday.



Tom Scudder 07.05.06 at 6:02 pm

Now, if the Italians win the World Cup, how much slack does that give Prodi to pursue their rogue intelligence agencies?


jerry 07.05.06 at 7:22 pm

Not Ledeen, sigh. That would have been too fun.


Dan Goodman 07.05.06 at 8:19 pm

I suspect Intelligence employees are being reminded that loyalty to the previous administration isn’t quite the same thing as loyalty to the government.


P O'Neill 07.05.06 at 10:31 pm

What’s missing so far is that classic Italian ingredient, the leaked transcripts of phone calls.


otto 07.05.06 at 10:41 pm

I’m waiting for the classic Italian ingredient of some people dying, one way or another, before they can be forced to testify.


staffrider 07.05.06 at 10:48 pm

… and which character does Sophia Loren play?


will u. 07.05.06 at 10:49 pm

As for me, I’m waiting for the classic Italian ingredient, balsamic vinegar.


derrida derider 07.06.06 at 12:02 am

Well I knew Prodi was supposed to be a socialist, but I didn’t think he’d actually try and nationalise the secret service!


a 07.06.06 at 12:42 am

Why is everyone making fun of the Italians? Would that the U.S. and the U.K. show such moral fortitude…


John Quiggin 07.06.06 at 2:57 am

Although there’s no direct link, I think this presages a drastic crash for Berlusconi. He’s made it very clear that for him, it’s either absolute power or nothing, and the Italian polity seems ready to give him nothing.


Tim Worstall 07.06.06 at 5:54 am

“The path to justice in Italy is a long and tortuous one – arrest by magistrates is no guarantee of successful prosecution. ”

Quite. They have things called trials at which, amazingly, some people are found innocent of the charges.


Yes, I know what you meant, but that phrasing is a little off don’t you think?


Barry 07.06.06 at 8:14 am

Not particularly, tim. But thanks for stopping by and adding that. Should we expect some articles from you in TCS, talking about how evil it is to persecute these poor guys?


P O'Neill 07.06.06 at 9:23 am

The last few comments bring out one possible advantage/disadvantage (depending on how you look at it) of the Continental system of investigating magistrates. In the Republic of Ireland, the Garda did some half-assed investigation of the alleged Shannon renditions, but since they had no access to any of the principals, and made no effort to get such access, it was purely for show. By contrast, the Italian investigation is being driven by a magistrate actually making some effort and making things awkward for other parts of the State.


Tim Worstall 07.07.06 at 6:35 am

“Should we expect some articles from you in TCS, talking about how evil it is to persecute these poor guys?”

I doubt it very much. I’m all in favour of prosecuting (rather than persecuting) those suspected of crime. I just get uncomfortable when the implication seems to be that the fact of either prosecution or even investigation or charging is taken as evidence of guilt.


Henry 07.07.06 at 8:22 am

Tim – I was trying to say two things in one. First, given the inquisitorial system, it’s hard to judge the likelihood that charges will be pressed seriously. Second, given the dysfunctionality of the Italian legal system (which is an incredible mess) that it’s hard to be sure that even if (a) there is a prosecution, and (b) there’s good and convincing evidence, there will then be a conviction. All that said, the facts are looking pretty damning to me.


Barry 07.07.06 at 10:53 am

Harry, that probably applies to any country with a serious intelligence establishment. They’ve to have reams of blackmail material on current, past and prospective political leaders and civil servants. The prospect of it being a political purge might help – if the current government sees the intelligence establishment as a partisan enemy, that provides motivation.

Comments on this entry are closed.