Italian intelligence agencies
Italian intelligence agencies have been reorganized many times since the 1946 birth of the Italian Republic in an attempt to increase their effectiveness and bring them more fully under civilian control.
A scandal rocked Italy and its intelligence agencies in 1977, after the arrest of a former chief of Servizio Informazioni Difesa (SID), General Vito Miceli, for "conspiracy against the state" following the attempted Golpe Borghese (Borghese Coup). Legislative Act n.801 of 24/10/1977 then reorganized intelligence agencies a democratic attempt. This re-organization mainly consisted of:
- The split of SID, the intelligence agency at that time, into two separate agencies with different roles: SISDE (the domestic one, for the defence of democratic institutions, run by the Interior affairs ministry) and SISMI (the military secret service, run by the Defence Ministry).
- The creation of CESIS, with a coordination, analysis and direction role between the two intelligence agencies, put under the authority of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and ultimately responsible for the intelligence structure.
- The creation of the Parliamentary Committee, COPACO, to oversee the activities of the two agencies.
Another scandal succeeded to Prime minister Giulio Andreotti's public revelation, on 24 October 1990, of the existence of Gladio, a stay-behind anti-Communist network supported by NATO which was accused by the Left of having engaged in the "strategy of tension" during the Years of Lead.
In the 2000s, the SISMI became again the target of national controversy, leading to the resignation of its chief, Nicolò Pollari, in November 2006, after his indictment in the Imam Rapito affair, which concerned the "extraordinary rendition" and kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (aka Abu Omar) in Milan in 2003. As part of the judiciary investigation on the abduction of Abu Omar, a SISMI-run black operation targeting center-left politician Romano Prodi and a vast domestic surveillance program, involving the Telecom, was uncovered. The planting of disinformation through paid informants in the Italian press as well as misleading of justice has also been underlined.
Beside the Imam Rapito affair, the SISMI was implicated in the Niger uranium forgeries scandal, during which SISMI agents transmitted false documents to US President George W. Bush, which were used as main pretext in the invasion of Iraq.
Finally, Italian magistrates searching the SISMI's headquarters in August 2007 found documents proving that the intelligence agency had spied over various European magistrates between 2001 and 2006, who it considered carrying a "destabilization" potential. These included the Medel, a European association of magistrates, as well as three French judges, including Anne Crenier, former president of the Syndicat de la magistrature French union, who is married to Italian magistrate Mario Vaudano who works at the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
The March 2007 reform
Henceforth, the new center-left government of Romano Prodi enacted the Legislative Act n.124 of 08/03/2007, which created a new "information system for security," placing in particular the intelligence agencies more closely under the Prime Minister's supervision, who is responsible for nominating directors and deputy directors of each agencies, and which
|“||introduces far more detailed procedures with regards to state secrets, cooperation with police forces and public administrations, judicial investigation of the conduct of secret service personnel and the regulation of the instances and procedure for undertaking acts normally deemed illegal and the acquisition of secret documentation by oversight bodies or judicial authorities, than was previously the case under law 801 of 24 October 1977.||”|
It replaced the SISDE, SISMI and CESIS by Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna (AISI; internal information and security agency), Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE, external information and security agency) and Dipartimento delle Informazioni per la Sicurezza (DIS, security information department), and the COPACO, transformed into the Comitato interministeriale per la sicurezza della Repubblica (CISR, Interministerial committee for the security of the Republic) was granted additional oversight and control powers, and is still chaired by the Prime minister. It also comprises the ministers for foreign affairs, home affairs, defence, justice and economy. The DIS general director will act as secretary of this body.
While the intelligence agencies were before this reform mainly divided into the SISMI, dependent of the Defense Ministry, and the SISDE, part of the Interior Ministry, the main division line now passes between "internal" and "external" security. On the other hand, the Italian military's new intelligence agency, the Reparto informazioni e sicurezza dello Stato maggiore della difesa (RIS), is not integrated into this "information system for security". Its function is limited "exclusively" to activities of a technical military and military police nature, particularly with regards to collecting information to protect armed force outposts and activities abroad, in co-ordination with AISE.
According to Statewatch, "the law also envisages the adoption of a regulation including provisions to guarantee the information services access to the computer archives of public administrations and public utility providers, with technical means of monitoring what personal data was checked after the event."
Furthermore, the "intelligence services are forbidden from employing or commissioning advisory or co-operation services from elected politicians at the European, national, regional and local level, members of governing bodies or constitutional bodies, judges, religious ministers and journalists."
The commission of illegal acts by intelligence officers, detailed in the law and excluding license to kill, will have to be authorised, case by case, by the Prime Minister or delegated authority, in compliance with a principle of "special cause for justification" for such conduct, as part of an "authorised operation". Such permission will have to be motivated, in writing, and may be subsequently revoked. In cases of "absolute urgency" that do not allow the normal procedure for authorisation to be followed, agency directors may authorise the activities, informing the Prime Minister and DIS "immediately", and explaining the reasons for such a course of action. According to the new law, the principle of justification is not applicable to actions:
|“||endangering or harming life, physical integrity, individual personality, personal freedom, moral freedom, the health or safety of one or more people.||”|
"Authorized operations" explicitly excluded ordinary illegal acts which would be carried in the offices of political parties, in regional parliaments or councils, trade union offices, or if they target professional journalists. Aiding and abetting is allowed, except for cases involving false testimony before judicial authorities, concealing evidence of a crime or where there is an intention to mislead investigations. Three to ten-year prison sentences are envisaged for officers who illegally fix the conditions under which "authorized operations" are granted.
3 to 10 years prison sentences may be incurred for compiling illegal dossiers outside of the intelligence agency's objectives, with secret archives also forbidden.
State secret status may cover "documents, news, activities or any other thing." Declaring "things" a state secret falls under the prerogative of the Prime Minister, who may do so for 15 years period, renewable to 30. It may not be applied to activities involving subversion, terrorism or to attacks aimed at causing deaths. In particular, the Constitutional Court may not be denied access to documents on the basis of them being state secrets. The PM can lift state secret when the initial motivations for it do not apply anymore. State secret may also be lifted for the COPACO if the unanimity of its members agree to do so.
- Statewatch News, "Italy - Law reforms intelligence services", URL accessed on September 24, 2007 (English)
- Ecco i dossier del Sismi sui generali "di sinistra", La Repubblica, 6 July 2007 (Italian)
- Trois juges français espionnés par les services secrets italiens, Rue 89, 12 July 2007 (French)
- Legislative Act n.124 of 08/03/2007, reported in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic, General Series, n.187 of 08/13/2007. .(Italian)