Ex-CIA Officer Abandoned by Obama: Without Trump Admin, ‘I Would Be Spending Tonight in an Italian Prison’

Former CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa talks to the press after leaving Judiciary Police headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Former CIA case officer Sabrina De Sousa thanked the Trump administration for intervening to save her from extradition to Italy and imprisonment in a statement on Friday.

“I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the Trump administration for all their efforts on my behalf. Without their support I would be spending tonight in an Italian prison,” said De Sousa, in a statement quoted by Fox News.

“The Obama administration and former CIA Director John Brennan abandoned De Sousa the last seven years, and in six weeks, the Trump team made her freedom possible,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) told Fox News.

Hoekstra was one of De Sousa’s strongest champions and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s conduct in her case. He laid out her case and castigated Obama for abandoning her, along with a healthy dose of criticism for the governments of Italy and Portugal, in a Tuesday op-ed and Fox News:

Originally convicted in absentia in 2009 by the Italian legal system, America, until recently, has done very little to defend and support Sabrina and her family since. They have lived under the shadow of these convictions for years. Now she’s on her way to face punishment in Italy.

Roughly eighteen months ago Sabrina took a risk returning to Portugal. During her trip, Sabrina was arrested and instructed not to leave.

Portugal has detained her ever since.

The Obama administration did nothing for seven years following Sabrina’s conviction. They did nothing while she was detained in Portugal.  Meanwhile, President Obama released prisoners from GITMO. The White House handed out pardons. Not a finger was lifted to assist Sabrina.

CIA Director Brennan visited Portugal twice in 2016. Sources in the Portuguese intelligence community indicate that Sabrina’s case was never even discussed.

De Sousa, 61, was working undercover for the CIA in Italy when Egyptian cleric Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, a.k.a. Abu Omar, was plucked from the streets and returned to Egypt in an “extraordinary rendition” operation. He was believed to have been involved in a plan to bomb a bus full of school children in Milan.

The case against Omar turned out to be thin. He was interrogated — he says “tortured” — by the Egyptians and released, then he was convicted in absentia by Italy for “criminal association for the purposes of international terrorism” and given a six-year sentence. He has never actually served time in an Italian prison for this conviction.

One might argue that De Sousa bears no responsibility for the Egyptian government’s conduct in the case, but the maddening truth of the case is that she did not even have anything to do with his rendition. She has documentary evidence in the form of phone records that she was over a hundred miles away when the operation occurred. She and 25 other Americans, mostly CIA employees, were convicted in absentia by an Italian court.

As Newsweek chronicles, De Sousa was en route to visit her mother in India in October 2015, having long since left the employ of the CIA, when she was detained at the Lisbon airport. To her astonishment, she ultimately found herself in a Portuguese prison awaiting extradition to Italy for what remained of a five-year prison sentence. Her mother, sadly, passed away while she was detained in Portugal.

She says she was scapegoated for the operation, which she has been highly critical of, expressing puzzlement that everyone from President George W. Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to the Egyptian government was so eager to move against Omar. In one interview, she suggested the “ambition” of the CIA station chief to impress his superiors might have played a role.

According to the Washington PostItalian law enforcement somehow became convinced De Sousa was secretly the head of CIA operations in Milan rather than a case officer and that Omar’s rendition was “close to the hearts” of both De Sousa and the CIA chief in Rome.

Rep. Hoekstra compared De Sousa’s case to President Obama’s abandonment of Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who played a crucial role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In his Fox News op-ed, he lambasted everyone from Italy and Portugal to Bush and Obama administration officials for allowing De Sousa to suffer, even though everyone knew she was merely “a political pawn in a much larger dynamic.” He bluntly accused the Italian government of cowardice for going after De Sousa instead of the high-ranking Bush administration officials — possibly including former President Bush himself — who actually authorized and executed the rendition of Abu Omar.

Hoekstra told Newsweek about his campaign to get help for De Sousa from the Trump administration:

He had a number of friends in the national security apparatus from his time on the House Intelligence Committee—people like Michael Flynn, the recently departed White House national security adviser, fellow former Representative Mike Pompeo, now director of the CIA, and former Senator Dan Coats, the new director of national intelligence. And it didn’t hurt that he had chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign.

“I just said this was terrible that she should go to jail for something that was approved by the National Security Council and probably President Bush himself,” Hoekstra said. “They recognized this had to be a front-burner issue,” he said. “The optics” were bad. “You don’t want a CIA case officer sitting in an Italian jail.”

Hoekstra said he kept administration officials apprised of De Sousa’s situation “in real time” as the day, and then hour, for her extradition grew near. “I was convinced that Wednesday morning she would be transported back to Lisbon and onto a plane to Italy,” he said. And so was she. Her husband, a retired Department of the Army employee who had joined her in Portugal, packed her suitcases with only the light clothing she had. “It was warm here,” she said, “and I dreaded freezing in Milan.”

Newsweek described De Sousa as “bitter at Obama administration officials” because they did not invoke diplomatic immunity to defend her (she was nominally a State Department diplomat while on CIA assignment to Milan). She even sued Hillary Clinton’s State Department for abandoning her to suffer “significant emotional, professional and economic harm, including, but not limited to, possible criminal or civil liability.”

Years later, she felt compelled to officially disclose she had been working for the CIA as well as the State Department, which did not please the CIA. She has flatly accused Obama and his CIA director, John Brennan, of throwing her “under the bus.”

It turns out that one of the things De Sousa has been doing since escaping from her legal entanglements in Italy is reading Newsweek because she used her Twitter account on Friday to swiftly dispute a nameless Obama official’s claim that she was not abandoned by the previous administration:

The arrangement reached by the Trump administration involved reduction of her sentence, so there was no longer any reason for Portugal to extradite her to Italy, and the 11-year-old warrant against her is finally nullified.

“I had an arrest warrant issued against me 11 long years ago that prevented me from seeing members of my immediate family in Europe,” she told Fox News. “Finally, I can rest with the assurance there is no warrant hanging over my head.”

“In six short weeks, the Trump administration has given me more hope and support than I ever received in the past eight years from the Obama Administration or the CIA, my former employer. I had feared that the country I signed up with in good faith to serve had abandoned me,” De Sousa said.


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