New Delhi: Almost three years after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India is still in the dark about the funding of David Coleman Headley, who confessed to have scouted the locations targeted by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in the country’s financial capital and other places.
“The US never gave us access to David Headley’s bank accounts that would have revealed who paid for his trips (to India and Pakistan),” said former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai.
Headley undertook five visits to India to map out targets for the November 2008 attacks and made videos of two luxury hotels, a train station, a Jewish boarding house and a cafe in Mumbai, besides a popular bakery in Pune and military installations in New Delhi and other places. Headley, a Pakistani-American, was arrested in Chicago in October 2009.
Pillai, who assumed charge as the country’s home secretary shortly after the Mumbai attacks and has been critical of the quality of actionable intelligence shared between India and the US prior to the siege, repeated his assessment that there was “no” specific intelligence about the attacks before it happened.
David Coleman Headley facing US District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber in Chicago. (file photo of a courtroom drawing. AFP)
“We were told of some likely seaborne attacks along the coast much before it happened but it was general information without dates and locations,” he said, adding that the US authorities started sharing information only after Headley’s arrest and “after his value as a source to the United States had finished.” Pillai was pointing to reports suggesting that he was a double agent working with the US Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA).
According to investigative website ProPublica, Headley’s recent trial “shed little light on Headley’s past as a US Drug Enforcement Administration informant and the failure of US agencies to pursue repeated warnings over seven years that could have stopped his lethal odyssey sooner—and perhaps prevented the Mumbai attack.
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“US officials say Headley simply slipped through the cracks. If that is true, his story is a trail of bureaucratic dysfunction,” the article said.
“I feel vindicated. The article confirms what I have told the US,” Pillai said. Indian investigators were allowed access to Headley once last June.
The ProPublica article on the Mumbai carnage also says that Headley’s role “as an informant or ex-informant helped him elude detection as he was training in Pakistani terror camps and travelling back and forth to Mumbai to scout targets”. The article highlights the differences among various US law enforcement agencies—the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the DEA—on Headley and his involvement with drug enforcement and even helping gather intelligence after the 11 September, 2001, attacks in the US.
Smoke rises from the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (File photo )
“Some US officials and others involved say the government ended Headley’s probation for a drug conviction three years early in November 2001 to shift him from anti-drug work to gathering intelligence in Pakistan. They say the DEA discussed him with other agencies as a potential asset because of his links to Pakistan —including a supposed high-ranking relative in the ISI (Inter-Services-Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy agency).
“A senior European counterterror official who has investigated Headley in recent years thinks the American became an intelligence operative focused on terrorism,” the article said. “In the frenzied aftermath of Sept. 11, US intelligence agencies were scrambling to recruit spies. With his language skills, Pakistani connections and undercover talents, Headley had potential. A US law enforcement official familiar with the case said he doubts the government ended the probation early just to reward Headley, and even let him leave the country, because he suddenly decided to stop being an informant,” it said.
Various US authorities failed to take note of disclosures made by two of Headley’s wives and his mother about his increasing radicalization and the training he received in Lashkar camps in Pakistan, it added.