Why an Ex-CIA Official was Detained in Panama

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Marco Werman: Breaking news today on that former CIA operative who was arrested in Panama yesterday. The State Department said today that Robert Lady is now either on his way back to the U.S. or he's already here. Lady was arrested in Panama because he is a wanted man in Italy. He was a CIA station chief in Milan in 2003 when he supervised the so-called "extraordinary rendition" of a terrorism suspect. Muslim cleric Abu Omar was snatched from a Milan street by a CIA team and secretly flown to Egypt where he was tortured. Italian authorities charged Lady and more than 20 other Americans with kidnapping. They all left Italy but were convicted and sentenced to jail in absentia. Matthew Cole is a producer for NBC News has been following the case closely. He told me what he knows about Lady's arrest.

Matthew Cole: What appears to have happened is that he was travelling from Panama over the Panamanian/Costa Rican border and the Costa Rican officials actually detained him initially and sent him back to the Panamanians.

Werman: So, do you think the Panamanians grabbed him on behalf of the Italians?

Cole: That's not clear. What I do know and what has been…I think that some of it is public…is that the Italian Ministry of Justice had several months ago issued or put in a request for a Interpol Red Notice. Now, that Red Notice has not been made public so it doesn't appear to have been cleared. However, there are several other layers of Interpol law enforcement requests that the Panamanian government, or in this case, the Costa Rican government may have been honoring. So, as a sort of pro forma, his name comes up on a list and they stopped him and held him. Why they gave him back to the Panamanians? It's not clear why they didn't hold him themselves. I think Robert Lady is probably extraordinarily lucky, actually, that he was being held by the Panamanians because the Panamanian government, historically, has such a close relationship with the United States. And, because Panama doesn't have an extradition policy or agreement with Italy it made it, I think, probably easier to get him out.

Werman: So, what has Robert Lady been up to since he was chased out of Italy and, do you know what he was doing in Panama?

Cole: I do not know what he was doing in Panama. He has been…my understanding is essentially working as a security consultant in and out of the U.S. and Latin America.

Werman: Business still with the CIA or with the State Department?

Cole: No. My sources have indicated that he has no real relationship with the CIA professionally and was just a security consultant doing due diligence for a variety of business customers.

Werman: So, what's been the response from the CIA to all of this?

Cole: No comment. By and large, they have never acknowledged publicly or confirmed that they were even involved or responsible for the rendition of Abu Omar. They have never publicly acknowledged that Bob Lady ever worked for the CIA or anyone else involved in the case.

Werman: Robert Lady is on route to the U.S. Now, do you think the U.S. intervened somehow to get him out of any possibility of getting extradited to Italy?

Cole: I would be shocked if this wasn't done at a very high level inside the U.S. government.

Werman: So, now that he's heading back to the U.S., any chance that Italy will ever get him back on their soil?

Cole: I don't think that there was ever any chance that Italy was going to get him. Historically, the Italian government had tried on several occasions to push through an extradition request but within the Italian government they wouldn't honor it. So, the Italian government has actually never formally requested an extradition of Bob Lady or any of the other convicted American officials involved in the operation and I think we won't see that now.

Werman: Matthew Cole, a producer with NBC News' Investigative Unit who's been following the story of former CIA chief in Milan Robert Lady. Thanks very much Matthew.

Cole: Thank you.