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silvia costanza romano

Silvia Costanza Romano

The case of the kidnapping of the Italian aid-worker Silvia Costanza Romano, which took place in Kenya on November 20, 2018, raises the issue of what is the procedure to be followed for such cases. There are two main actors: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the External Information and Security Agency (AISE). The first operates through the embassy in the country where the event takes place and, in this case, out of Nairobi. Instead, AISE works through its local representative.

Both structures operate, as it should be, in coordination with each other. Two channels are activated respectively:

- the embassy turns to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to sensitize the counterpart on the Italian government's concern for the safety of its compatriot;
- the representative of the Intelligence Services, in this case the Bureau Chief, does the same with his local counterpart, specifically the Kenyan National Intelligence Service, monitoring on the ground what the other party has implemented. Investigations are carried out by the Kenyan police who carries out the probe, mans checkpoints or carries out arrests. The result of this activity is continuously communicated to the Italian authorities on the spot.

Two different sets of responsibilities

Although both Italian bodies are important in their dialogue with local institutions, once the Kenyan authorities have been sensitized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have played their role almost completely. The ambassador will remain in continuous contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both in Rome and in Nairobi, he will certainly ask for and obtain a meeting with the Kenyan Interior Minister. He will also be the spokesperson for those Italian investigative bodies working with the local Ministry of Justice. He will also be able to activate and solicit the honorary consul of Malindi, who is territorially competent in the light of where the abduction occurred, the village of Chakama. The same will be possible with the other honorary consul in Mombasa who works in the coastal area of ​​Kenya.

But the operational part, the one that refers to all the initiatives that can be implemented to free the hostage, it falls on the Bureau Chief of the AISE. It is he who continually converses with the local Services, it is he who establishes a direct contact with the police, he is the one who is entitled to provide operational suggestions to the other party, to advise against any operations that are too dangerous, to solicit useful initiatives during the investigations. It is still he who acts as an intermediary between the Italian investigative departments, in this case the ROS (Special Operational Grouping of the Carabinieri), and the local security organizations. It is not interference, obviously it cannot go beyond the limits of insistence, but certainly what he says "must" be considered.

aise logo

The AISE logo

The arms of the Bureau Chief

The Bureau Chief, or rather the one that performs his job well, certainly has an excellent relationship with the National Intelligence Service and this means that the collaboration of the counterpart is not only out of duty, but also out of participation. The Bureau Chief is a bit like the ambassador of AISE in the country, when he speaks he does so on behalf of his Director in Rome and therefore enjoys consideration, perhaps not in public, equal to that of his counterpart of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador.

If he does well, he will have had the time and opportunity to get to know influential local individuals, he will also have the opportunity to lobby his requests with the benefit of these contacts. For obvious reasons of contiguity between the respective jobs in the security field, generally the Chief of Police is one of these.

Another area where AISE develops personal relationships is that of the Italian community residing in Kenya. It is a numerically consistent community and, in this specific case, it has very qualified people inserted in the local social fabric. An awareness-raising activity can also be carried out through these links.

Certainly a lever that can be used with Intelligence Services in this type of bilateral relationship are training courses, an official invitation from the Director to visit Italy, the supply of materials or equipment. These are gestures of consideration that, when applied to the Agencies of developing countries, such as Kenya, have a very high positive spillover coefficient.

A possible negotiation for the release

Although officially government authorities always deny the payment of a ransom, the reality is that when the life or safety of a hostage is at stake, Italy is among those countries that is willing to negotiate for its release. It happened widely in Iraq. It happened recently in Syria.

Obviously it is an activity that takes place secretly with (preferably) or without the assistance of local security forces. In this case the first problem is to find the interlocutor who speaks on behalf of the kidnappers. The second is to evaluate its reliability. In other words, the contractual power at its disposal must be verified. And it must obviously provide evidence that it actually has access to the hostage.

A good part of this activity is always the responsibility of the local Bureau, even if certainly other agents from the Main Office are also involved in the operation. Any negotiation is extremely delicate, generally the ransom is paid in a third country, the timings of the release of the hostage and the payment of the ransom must be well coordinated, other intermediaries are often involved and of which the Bureau Chief probably doesn’t know the identity. And when there is money and there is a person's life involved it is good that more people evaluate the initiatives, take responsibility, make the right decisions.

The Bureau and other Intelligence Agencies

In the country in which he resides, the Bureau Chief also develops contacts with his counterparts of other Intelligence Agencies that operate just like he does. These are contacts that are created in the context of common acquaintances, it is also part of that empathy that brings people who do the same job together and maybe share the same risks.

A Bureau Chief will get to know these colleagues sooner or later, also because identifying them for security purposes is part of his job. He must know under what cover they act, how they are introduced into the local social fabric, what they do and what they look for in their nation's informational priorities. Generally, intelligence agencies, whether friends or foes, do not share information or news, do not carry out joint operations, nor can they be deemed reliable when they share info with you. But, when there is an event like the one that sees the kidnapping of an Italian aid-worker, there is some degree of solidarity. This is so also because the line between crime and terrorism (and the latter affects everyone), in an area close to the border with Somalia, is always very thin. Simply put, we help each other, we give ourselves a hand, we share specific news. It is no longer an intelligence problem with often competing roles, but something different.

In Kenya are deployed the representatives of several Intelligence Services, and some of them are very important. Perhaps the CIA representative could be asked (both from the Main Office in Rome but also from the Bureau Chief) for support in wiretapping, the use of a drone to locate the kidnappers' hideout considering the massive American presence in Djibouti.

Ministero degli Affari Esteri

The Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome

What happens in Rome

While agents work on the field in Kenya, emergency units are set up in Rome to follow the event. As regards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a Crisis Unit which operates mainly in these types of emergencies. It is the structure that dialogues with the ambassador in Nairobi and interfaces with the relatives of the kidnapped aid-worker back in Italy. The Unit continuously communicates the evolution of the investigative activity.

But still in Italy, even AISE has its own Operations Room which follows the world's most important security events around the clock. For the kidnapping of Silvia Costanza Romano this structure has certainly activated a specific desk. All information of interest is communicated to the Italian Prime Minister or to the Undersecretary with responsibility for the Services (AISE depends on the Presidency of the Council of Ministers) through the DIS (Department for Information and Security), which coordinates the activity both of the AISE and the AISI, or, if authorized, directly. The government is therefore continuously informed on the evolution of the case.

If news of interest emerges on the conditions of the compatriot or on the evolution of the investigations, these can be supplied from the AISE also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be brought to the knowledge of the relatives.

Useful synergies

Whatever information the Bureau Chief acquires in Nairobi is transmitted directly to Rome and, if there are no contraindications, it is a good rule that the ambassador is also informed at a later date. The same should, indeed "must" happen in the opposite direction. Synergies are useful to ensure that we avoid overlaps of initiatives, waste of resources that would otherwise be put to better use. Also because, in the end, both the Bureau Chief and the Ambassador need to be informed respectively and act accordingly. It may also happen that either one of them, in a specific moment of the awareness-raising activity, needs the other.

The results

It is clear that, as effective as the awareness-raising activity of the Ambassador or the intervention of the Bureau Chief may be, the success or failure of the activity of the Intelligence Services depends on the investigative capability of the latter. The hunt for kidnappers and the eventual release of the hostage, whose been in the hands of criminals for months, is however also linked to a number of activities which are largely hidden, to a series of characters who move about in the shadows and who will eventually contribute, together with local police, to the ultimate success. Characters, as in the case of the local Bureau Chief, who do not have a face or a name and who once everything is hopefully successful, will not even have the right satisfaction of being cited to Italian public opinion.

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