Headley’s wife had told FBI in 2005 that he was LeT operative
FBI held key 2008 Mumbai terror conspirator & let him go inexplicably
EVEN two years after the horrific Mumbai terror strikes on November 26, 2008, which claimed the lives of 166 people and injured several times that number, a miasma of suspicion hangs over the role of US agencies in failing to prevent the attack.
A report in the Washington Post on Saturday seems to have only deepened the doubts and raised questions about the nature of Indo- US counter- terrorism cooperation.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI), according to the newspaper, was told in 2005 by one of the key conspirators, David Coleman Headley’s wife that he was a member of the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba ( LeT), that he had trained in its military camps in Pakistan and had shopped around for equipment such as night- vision goggles for them.
Indeed, Headley managed to visit India in March 2009, three months after the Mumbai attack. He was arrested only after British intelligence stumbled upon his plans tocarry out attacks in Europe and tipped off the FBI, which arrested him in October 2009.
The Post reports that Headley’s wife phoned the special line of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York on August 26, 2005, and this led to her husband’s arrest on August 31. “ He was released on bond and was never prosecuted for reasons that remain unclear,” the Post adds.
The unstated suspicion is that he pulled strings with the US Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA), for whom he worked as an informant between 1988 and March 2008. They used him to break the closely run Pakistani cartels and serve as a witness against drug runners. As part of this operation, they encouraged, and possibly financed, his visits to Pakistan.
Headley’s wife, whose identity is being held secret for her security, not only gave the FBI details of his relationship with the Lashkar but also showed them audio cassettes and jihadi propaganda material, and “ described his emails and calls from Pakistan and to individuals whom she thought to be extremists”. Headley was inducted into the Lashkar’s India operations in 2005 and in 2006, and to draw a smokescreen around himself he had changed his name from Daoud Gilani to David Coleman Headley. He carried out six visits to India for detailed surveillance of targets between September 2006 and March 2009. At any point of time before the Mumbai attack, information on his background would have led to his arrest and interrogation, and a possible foiling of the Lashkar’s Mumbai plan.
Inexplicably, neither the FBI, nor the DEA, with whom Indian officials interact regularly, provided any hint till September 2008 when the FBI tipped off the Indian side about a possible conspiracy to attack Indian targets in Mumbai. India and the US have been cooperating on counter- terrorism since 2000. That was when a Joint Working Group on Counter- Terrorism, a multi- agency outfit, was established and it keeps holding regular meetings in Washington and New Delhi.
Indeed, the FBI tip- off came only by accident. An FBI official seconded to the Special Operations Division of the DEA was asked to listen in to some audio tapes made by Headley in Pakistan.
While listening to the tapes, the FBI officer came across conversation in which there was reference to a “ fedayeen assault” on Mumbai aimed at various places and hotels. Instead of filing the report only to the DEA, the officer also alerted his own agency. After it became clear that the DEA was not raising the issue by itself, the FBI formally warned India in September 2008. The FBI later claimed that their hands were clean on the issue. But the Washington Post revelations indicate that the FBI, a trained counter- terror agency, also failed to act when it should have. Especially since December 2001, when the LeT had been declared a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the US in the wake of the December 13 attack on Parliament House in Delhi.
Both the DEA and the FBI are refusing to talk about the Headley case because they claim it is ongoing and that they do not discuss informants, but there are other indications as to his association with them. One of them is the manner in which a federal judge cleared him of probation in December 2001, enabling him to travel to Pakistan.
He began serving a 15- month sentence in November 1998, but was out within six months and headed for Pakistan.
Under the original sentence he would have been on probation till mid- 2004. But the prosecutor asked the judge to end his probation early and the judge agreed.
Whether it was 9/ 11, or some other development, this was around the time that Headley was radicalised and in 2002, in one of his visits, probably on behalf of the DEA, he also attended a Lashkar- e- Tayyeba training camp for three weeks and was trained to use guns and grenades. In April 2003, he went for the longer three- month course, which also included close combat tactics and survival skills. In all, he had five rounds of training with the Lashkar.
A statement by the US Ambassador Timothy Roemer in Delhi, meanwhile, has noted that they were examining the Post report, and that “ when we have determined exactly what transpired, we will be in a position to speak to the specific claims made in the article and other media reports.”
Mail Today lead story October 17, 2010