Looking behind the scenes

by Henry Farrell on July 6, 2006

More on the Mancini affair. First, the foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema (who’s one of the less pleasant operators on the Italian left imo) has suggested that the Italian government “knew about Abu Omar’s kidnapping”:http://www.repubblica.it/2006/07/sezioni/cronaca/arrestato-mancini/amatop-riforma-servizi/amatop-riforma-servizi.html.

bq. It appears to me unlikely that operations of this sort, which seems to have involved actors at the highest level of the services, could have taken place totally unbeknownst to the political authorities (my translation).

Second, the justice minister, Giuliano Amato has suggested that there may be a need to reform the secret services. There appears to be a debate taking place within the Italian government over whether the blame should be laid at the door of individual actors within SISMI or SISMI as a whole. Amato is being quite cautious – but hinting that serious reforms are needed. Prodi is even more cautious – but may become less so as this develops (see below).

Finally, Laura Rozen links to a “story”:http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2006/7/6/184443/8436 at the _European Tribune_ suggesting that Mancini was running an elaborate dirty tricks operation with dossiers on thousands of Italians considered enemies of the previous Italian government. I’m not sure what the sourcing is for this piece, but it’s certainly interesting and consistent with much of what we know already.

Now on the one hand, as “Robert Waldmann”:http://rjwaldmann.blogspot.com/2006/07/not-seeing-forest-for-trees-brad_06.html suggests, none of this is likely to surprise many Italians. There’s a long tradition in Italy of “dietrologia” – of assuming that politics is a shadow play, where the really important things happen back stage among clandestine actors of one sort or another. Most Italians will likely be less surprised that SISMI was involved than at the revelation that some within SISMI seem to have resisted the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar. But on the other, there does seem to be an interesting political realignment taking place. I wouldn’t like to bet hard money that the Italian government is going to use the scandal as an excuse to clear out some of the rotten wood from the Italian intelligence services, which have traditionally been run like a state within a state (think of a combination of the worst attributes of J. Edgar Hoover and James Jesus Angleton and you won’t go far wrong). But Romano Prodi is among those who have suffered directly from smear campaigns run by people with SISMI connections in the past, and may well be personally inclined to do something about it, as the scandal gathers force. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that there were connections between SISMI and the Berlusconi government which went considerably beyond formal lines of authority, suggesting that there may be some political gains to be made by investigating further. More as this develops.

Things that work in Belgium

by Maria on July 6, 2006

Well, this will be a short post…

Usually I avoid writing about annoying aspects of Belgian life and its weird mix of individual opportunism and ossified institutional arrangements (what I call ‘the dodgy and the stodgy’). There are endless examples; landlords that leave their non-Belgian tenants without power or water but sic the authorities on them at even the threat of non-payment; the ISP I never received service from which nonetheless billed me for months, ignored registered letters, and only desisted when the very efficient Dutch debt collection company they used reviewed the correspondence and sighed ‘yes, this seems to happen a lot, there’. And then there’s the schizophrenic Belgian tendency to ignore people in distress in public places (ask any ex-pat whose been knocked off their bike, attacked, mugged, or just fallen over in the street) yet go on enormous public protests following murders. And don’t get me started on the bizaare collective amnesia about the Congo.
[click to continue…]

It’s Symbolic Of Course

by Belle Waring on July 6, 2006

Michael Ledeen fails to think things through:

In today’s “reportage” of the World Cup semifinal between Italy and Germany, the (lefty) Washington Post reported that the game-winning goal was scored on a left-footed kick, while the (righty) Washington Times reported it was scored on a right-footed kick. The Post account was correct, but don’t you find it mysteriously symbolic of something or other?

I…words fail me.