- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

The arrest this week of Italian intelligence operative Marco Mancini for allegedly aiding CIA renditions could signal a tectonic shift in European attitudes toward their intelligence services and a rollback of cooperation with the United States. Until now, despite the often fractious public political disputes between the United States and European governments, European intelligence has quietly but effectively aided the war on terrorism in significant ways. The Mancini case, however, is clear evidence that that is changing.

At the very least, it shows that Prime Minister Romano Prodi cares far less for U.S. counterterrorism efforts than his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, and is willing to sacrifice his own spies for cooperating with the CIA. The intelligence officials we know are worried that Mr. Prodi will try to arrest their colleagues — American, Italian or otherwise — and actively obstruct U.S. counterterrorism. They are also worried that other European partners could follow suit in a politically appealing but damaging rejection of effective counterterrorism.

Mr. Mancini, Italy’s deputy intelligence chief, was taken into custody Wednesday on charges of helping the CIA nab radical Egyptian cleric Hassan Nasr from the streets of Milan in March 2003. As has been widely reported over the last year, the CIA whisked Nasr to Egypt for interrogation, where, the cleric alleges, he was tortured by local forces. Until this week, Italy had officially denied involvement in Nasr’s nabbing, largely because Mr. Berlusconi’s conservative government — recognizing the threat of radical Islamists in its midst — had staunchly supported U.S. antiterrorism efforts.

But Mr. Prodi is in charge now, and things are quite different. This is a cynically opportune issue for the leftist Mr. Prodi; he can send a strong signal to members of Italian intelligence sympathetic to Mr. Berlusconi that times are changing in ways pleasing to the electorate. Interest in the Nasr case snowballed over the last year as Italian leftists decried the country’s role in his alleged torture. Meanwhile, Italians across the spectrum were enraged over the “friendly fire” killing by U.S. forces of a spy, Nicola Calipari, in Iraq last year after he negotiated a hostage release. The timing to smack the Americans, and the Italians who helped them, could hardly be better.

The arrest of Mr. Mancini tells Italian spies that they can be arrested for carrying out the policies of Mr. Prodi’s predecessor. As it happens, those policies were very effective; they have been defended by intelligence professionals across the spectrum, including those otherwise hostile to the Bush administration. This can only hurt.

European intelligence cooperation has thus far been quite good, but now, politicians in the rest of Europe are likely to recognize a saleable political issue in analogous cases. This is only aided by Western press revelations like the Washington Post’s CIA renditions coverage in Eastern Europe or the New York Times’ SWIFT reporting, which are demagogic fodder for anti-U.S. sentiment.

Vladimir Lenin famously called non-Communists whose actions redounded to Communist benefit “useful idiots.” Mr. Prodi and friends are no sympathizers of Islamist terrorism, but their decisions are helping Islamists greatly. They are today’s useful idiots. Intentionally or not, their actions are likely to endanger both Italians and Americans because they improve the prospects of lurking Islamists.

We can’t help but regard Mr. Mancini as a hero. For doing his job, he now sits in a Milan prison awaiting trial. The real target, of course, is not Mr. Mancini but the tough policies he was a part of.

Very regrettably, Italy is set to be a very different player now. Islamist activity is now likely to rise in that country as Mr. Prodi dismantles Mr. Berlusconi’s counterterrorism apparatus and signals a more lax intelligence environment for terrorists.

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