Intelligence is done with men on the ground and not behind a computer

Dear director, for Giorgia Meloni this year Halloween night came early. First away from home with the nightmare of the unexpected conflict in the Middle East and, a few days later, at home, with Striscia’s joke. But let’s reflect on the first one. The slap suffered by Israeli intelligence at the hands of Hamas should serve as a warning to the arrogant Western intelligence that found itself completely unprepared for the massacre of October 7th. Between notes, post-its and reports on everything and everyone on his desk, no “message” about the Hamas blitz, much less about his ex-partner’s outbursts. The irritation was great, as was the “closing of ranks” loudly ordered on various fronts, national and international. No sooner said than done. A large Copasir delegation promptly invaded the various American offices of the CIA and the Pentagon with weapons and luggage for “updates”. And so, a few days ago, again at Copasir, the head of DIS, Elisabetta Belloni and the director of Aise, Mario Parente, the subject of the meeting, received information from Washington about possible Russian infiltration in Italy with a view to European elections.

Another excess of work by Ambassador Belloni that adds to the increasingly heated discussions with Alfredo Mantovano, Undersecretary of the Presidency and Delegated Authority for Security – in relation to intelligence reform. Perhaps also taking away precious time from the actions to be developed in the field of immigration and terrorism in light of the new war scenarios in Europe and the Middle East and certainly fueling indignation among division heads who, feeling their seats shaking, no longer think about something else.

A few weeks ago, Belloni received the Francesco Cossiga Intelligence Award 2023. Who knows if Picareta, her devoted admirer, would have appreciated the latter’s choice to hire hundreds of promising “IT experts”, all specialized in cybersecurity, which she considers “a qualifying component of our work”, recruited largely online. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that cybersecurity is now incorporated into Artificial Intelligence, which is the segment to reinforce and study, in the civil and military sectors. But let’s return to those recruited with skills in the areas of algorithms for cryptanalysis, photointerpretation of satellite images and machine learning techniques for biometric recognition. In this way, Belloni and his men left aside, a little too much, the formation of units in the territory, the famous “human factor” that allowed, over the years, our services to become – since the times of the legendary Colonel Stefano Giovannone operating in Beirut, also mentioned in Aldo Moro’s letters – one of the first in the world in what the “fake beards” define as “offensive counter-espionage”.

The topic heated up in light of the book “The Rules of the Game”, which Alfredo Mantovano, without ever mentioning the author, placed in the index among the books “that contain a lot of rubbish”. The unidentified man is former DIS manager Marco Mancini, who made headlines when he was photographed with Matteo Renzi at the famous Fiano gas station. However, we must not forget that Mancini has been, for better or worse, the protagonist of our intelligence since, with the nickname “tortellino”, he became part, as carabiniere, of the historical nucleus of General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa who dismantled the Red Brigades. He went to SISMI from General Nino Lugaresi in the years of the Cold War to AISI and DIS, from where he was Pilatesquely “fired” in 2021, precisely because of the history of the post and on which Undersecretary Mantovano even placed the state secret seal. Inside Mancini’s book there is a piece of Italy, a “behind the scenes” of memory that resurfaces.

The series of episodes he reports are highly charged, such as the arrest, in 2004, in Beirut, of Ahmad Mikati, head of Al-Qaeda in Lebanon and a fugitive for more than ten years, when he was about to attack with 400 kilos of explosives, the Italian embassy in the land of cedars. Or the missions in Iraq during the Berlusconi government to release hostages, not just Italians, and without paying ransoms. Times may have changed, but the methods used back then weren’t that bad and certainly produced results. Mancini writes in his book: «If you consider a subject of institutional interest (and you want to know who he knows, where he works, what his friendships and acquaintances are), you cannot send just Italian intelligence personnel to the field. The agents would be discovered and identified within four minutes. You have to put locally born and raised people on your man’s trail. But first you need to recruit them, leaving them in their habitat. Then instruct them in the clandestine collection of information, and only then use it according to your information needs.” In practice, this was the “net”, you didn’t search sterilely on the internet from a desk or surf the deep or dark web: there was decisive human intelligence and, if your “spy” needed it, you were there, you weren’t after a screen and, when necessary, you paid rent, bills and medical expenses.

In the pages of the book there is also a suggestion for Meloni, Mancini notes that it is a waste of time to blame “the undisturbed smugglers” who drive the sea boats and who, moreover, are most often recruited at the last moment; on the contrary, it would be necessary to identify the control rooms where it is necessary to have infiltrators who want to create terror in Europe with the weapon of immigration. Today, a large part of Africa, where European services, led by Italy, once played a role, is instead in the hands of Wagner’s men, the Turks and the Chinese. Believe him? Certainly at least listen to it rather than censoring the book, with the consequence that in the end you only amplify its effect. “Come on…” said Wojtyla.

Source: IL Tempo