Former CIA agent wanted in Italy 'rendition' case detained in Panama

Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents off the streets of Milan and taken to Egypt. He says he was repeatedly tortured by Egyptian authorities before being released without charges in 2007. Amr Nabil / AP file

A former CIA official wanted by the Italian government in connection with the agency’s 2003 “rendition” abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan has been detained in Panama, a source familiar with his detention told NBC News. 

The official, Robert Seldon Lady, was wanted by Interpol at the Italian government's request and was detained crossing the Panama-Costa Rica border on Wednesday, according to the source.

Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in 2003 when the CIA abducted Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric suspected of terrorism, and flew him to Egypt for interrogation. Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, says he was tortured there for seven months before being released without charges in 2007. 

In 2009 Lady, along with 23 other American government employees were convicted and sentenced in absentia for their roles in the “extraordinary rendition” of Nasr. Three additional CIA officers were convicted last year for the operation. 

None of the Americans involved in the case was arrested or ever served prison time. Earlier this year the Italian government reduced the prison sentences of 25 of the 26 Americans, including cutting Lady’s sentence to nine years. Lady was the only CIA official the Italian Ministry of Justice sought for arrest. 

 Lady has been living and working in Latin America for several years as a security consultant. “We are investigating my father’s situation,” Lady’s son Bobby told NBC News on Thursday. “We have no further comment at this time.” 

Calls to Lady’s U.S. lawyer, Tom Spencer, were not returned. 

The CIA had no immediate comment.

Lady was first charged in 2005 for kidnapping by a Milan prosecutor. The charges and arrest warrants for Lady and the CIA operatives involved helped expose the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, which expanded after the 9/11 attacks. The program involved U.S. operatives capturing suspected terrorists and transferring them to a third country, where they were charged, detained or interrogated. The CIA rendered suspected terrorists to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, as well as several European nations where the CIA maintained secret “black site” prisons for top al Qaeda detainees.

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