Italy: External Intelligence and Security Agency (AISE)

The AISE (Agenzia informazioni e sicurezza esterna, or External Intelligence and Security Agency] is responsible for safeguarding national security against threats originating abroad, and protecting Italy’s political, military, economic, scientific and industrial interests. The responsibilities of the agency include: collecting relevant intelligence and countering espionage, other hostile activities and WMD proliferation from enemies abroad.


AISE was created in 2007 after Italy’s military intelligence service, Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare  (SISMI) was implicated two scandals related to the U.S.-led war on terror.


In 2002 SISMI agents passed a series of forged documents to the CIA purporting to show that Iraq leader Saddam Hussein was secretly purchasing yellowcake uranium in Africa to use in his alleged nuclear weapons program. The documents, which State Department officials insisted were fraudulent, wound up being cited by President George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address. In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency declared to the United Nations Security Council that the Niger uranium documents were totally bogus and that Iraq was not building a nuclear bomb.


In 2005 SISMI chief Niccolo Pollari admitted that the source of the bogus report was a former informant who had been kicked out of the service.


Pollari also figured in the “extraordinary rendition” in 2003 of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. A Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar, Nasr was kidnapped by SISMI and CIA agents and sent to Egypt where he was tortured. In 2004 an Egyptian court ordered him released saying there was no evidence he was involved in terrorism. Omar, who now lives in Egypt, was later convicted in absentia for terror activities before his rendition.

Rule of Law

According to the UK-based Rendition Project, seven SISMI agents were charged in connection with Abu Omar’s kidnapping. In February 2013, an appeals court gave a ten-year prison sentence to former SISMI chief Pollari, and a nine-year sentence to his deputy, Marco Mancini.


The Americans involved also faced legal charges. In 2009, 26 Americans, including 22 CIA employees, were tried in absentia for the Abu Omar rendition operation. The U.S. government put pressure on Italy to suppress the extradition requests made to compel the accused to travel to Italy and stand trial. The Americans were all sentenced to five-year terms, except for former station chief Robert Lady, and base chief Jeff Castelli, who received nine and eight year sentences respectively.


Since then two of the CIA defendants have been pardoned by the Italian government, and Lady’s sentence was reduced from nine years to seven years. Lady and the rest of the CIA employees are considered fugitives under Italian law.


The Iman Rapito affair, as the Abu Omar rendition was known in Italy, forced the reorganization of Italian intelligence. To establish greater civilian control, Prime Minister Romano Prodi abolished SISMI and created AISE to handle foreign intelligence matters and the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna (AISI, internal information and security agency) to handle domestic security.


The AISE director is Giovanni Caravelli.