Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story
This is an extract from ProPublica’s post on the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. Not very new or revealing -but useful, as it a rare case, where most of the information in the public domain is presented as a single narrative.
This extract is about the role of David Headley. It is 2ndlook’s opinion, that David Headley’s role is a window to the smokescreen – and ISI-Pakistani State involvement, if it is, is a small part of a bigger story.
The bigger story is Oil.
Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a youthful terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. With the support of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American businessman named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.
His name at the time was Daood Gilani, but he would become known to the world as David Coleman Headley.
Headley, now 50, differed from Sajid Mir’s other protégés. He was older, a ladies’ man, a globe-trotter at ease among American and Pakistani elites. Born in Washington, D.C. to a prominent Pakistani broadcaster and a Philadelphia socialite, he moved to Pakistan as an infant and grew up in a conservative, devout household, attending a top military school.
Returning to the United States at 17 with his mother, he lived in Philadelphia and then New York and slid into a wild lifestyle of heroin dealing and addiction. In 1988, the DEA busted him at the Frankfurt Airport trying to smuggle drugs from Pakistan to the United States. According to court documents he promptly betrayed his accomplices, cooperated with investigators and won a reduced sentence.
After a bust in New York in 1997, Headley became a prized informant of the Drug Enforcement Administration. At the same time, he radicalized after years of a casual attitude toward Islam, according to associates. While spying on drug traffickers in Pakistan and participating in undercover DEA stings in New York, he began raising funds and recruiting for Lashkar. During a visit to his father’s home in Lahore in 2000, he became friends with Saeed, the Lashkar spiritual chief who draws tens of thousands to his rallies, and embraced the group’s ideology.
Headley juggled women as well as allegiances. He entered into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani in 1999 and now has four children with her. But he continued a longtime relationship in New York with a blonde make-up artist whom he married in 2002, according to court documents and interviews.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. authorities decided Headley’s unique profile would help them respond to a dire need for intelligence from South Asia. Prosecutors and DEA agents went to a federal judge and won an unusual decision ending Headley’s probation three years early, according to court documents and anti-terror officials. Weeks after the December 2001 ruling, Headley headed for Pakistan. U.S. officials say he was still a DEA informant when he began training in the Lashkar camps in early 2002 and may have remained an informant until 2005 or later.
Although the Pakistani instructors in the camps decided Headley was too old and too slow for combat in Kashmir, the charming American hit it off with Sajid Mir, the coordinator of foreign recruits. The two bonded because they both had smooth, aggressive con-man personalities, investigators say. Mir decided to cultivate this man of many worlds as a clandestine operative, according to documents and officials.
Later that year, Sajid Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits paid off. Lashkar chose him to develop its most ambitious plot to date, a strike on Mumbai, India’s economic and cultural capital. Mir turned to Headley, his prize American recruit.
Headley was eager to put his talents to use. He had studied ideology, weapons, hand-to-hand-combat and survival skills during five extended stints in the Lashkar camps. He had become friendly with Lashkar bosses, some of whom were his neighbors in Lahore. Mir, his friend and protector, lived near the airport and a golf club in that city, according to Headley’s interrogation.
During a trip to New York in August 2005, Headley survived a close call with his wife there. New York police arrested him for assault after he allegedly slapped her in a domestic dispute, according to investigators and an investigative document. The wife reported his activities with Lashkar to a federal terrorism task force, describing in three interviews his radicalization, his training in the Pakistani camps and his claims that he was working as a U.S informant. Nonetheless, the FBI decided Headley did not pose a threat and closed the inquiry. His travels around the world continued, unimpeded.
Soon afterward, Headley met in Pakistan with Mir and other Lashkar bosses. They told him he had been chosen to do reconnaissance for a big job in Mumbai. He went to Philadelphia in November and legally changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley to conceal his Pakistani heritage. He also arranged to use the consulting firm of a Pakistani friend in Chicago, First World Immigration Services, as a cover for his terrorist reconnaissance.
“The change of name, establishment of an immigration office in India …use of an American passport and so on were my ideas,” Headley later told interrogators. “Lashkar appreciated these ideas.”
Headley had learned by now that Lashkar had an almost symbiotic relationship with the ISI, according to his confession.
The spy agency has “control over the most important operatives” of Lashkar, and every chief “is handled by some ISI official,” he told investigators, according to the Indian report. An ISI brigadier general served as handler for Zaki-ur-Rehmane Lakhvi, Lashkar’s military chief, who also “is close to the [Director General] of ISI,” he said. The ISI funded Lashkar and shielded Saeed, the spiritual leader, from interference, Headley said.
Saeed “is very close to ISI,” Headley said. “He is well protected.”
Headley’s confession confirms the assessment of foreign intelligence agencies, according to officials and experts: In exchange for ISI funding and direction, Lashkar has steadfastly avoided attacking the Pakistani state.
Pakistani officials deny such allegations. But U.S. and Indian investigators say Headley was more than a terrorist: He became a Pakistani spy.
“I don’t know of any other cases in which ISI has used and worked with Americans,” said Faddis, the former CIA counter-terror chief. “Having a guy like this would be great for LeT and ISI. The Indians are working off a profile of what they think enemy operatives look like. This guy does not fit that profile. He can walk through the screen without being seen.”
Headley’s relationship with the ISI began in January 2006 after Pakistani authorities briefly detained him for trying to smuggle arms into India. An ISI officer named Major Samir Ali interviewed the American, then referred him to a Major Iqbal, who became his main handler in Lahore, according to Headley’s account.
Major Iqbal, described as a fat, deep-voiced cigarette-smoker in his mid-thirties, brought Headley to a meeting with a man identified as Lieutenant Colonel Shah. The two officers promised Headley financial support for terrorist operations against India, according to the interrogation report.
At subsequent meetings in safe houses, Major Iqbal gave Headley secret documents on India. He assigned a noncommissioned officer to give the American standard intelligence training. Headley learned techniques for detecting surveillance, developing sources and other skills, then practiced with the lower-ranking officer on the streets of Lahore. The specialized training lasted several months and continued intermittently as Major Iqbal taught Headley how to use cameras and other devices for missions, the report says.
“I became close to Major Iqbal,” Headley said. “The training given by this NCO under the guidance of Major Iqbal was much more scientific and effective than the trainings I did in the LeT camps.”
Phone and e-mail evidence have corroborated Headley’s contact with Major Iqbal and other suspected ISI officers, U.S. and Indian officials say. Major Iqbal has been detected directing intelligence and terror operations in other cases, officials say.
Because Lashkar keeps the spy agency informed about its foreign militants, Headley’s arrest near the Pakistani border may have been part of a plan to recruit a promising American operative, an Indian counter-terror official said.
Pakistani officials say they haven’t been able to identify Major Iqbal. They deny that any serving military officers were involved in the plot.
“It’s possible people impersonate the ISI or the army,” the Pakistani official said. “Uniforms have been stolen in the past for this kind of thing.”
In the summer of 2006, according to U.S. court documents and investigators, Major Iqbal gave Headley $25,000 to pay for expenses and to establish his cover, a new office of the U.S. immigration consulting firm in the city that was his target: Mumbai.
Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.
He hired a secretary and opened an office of First World Immigration Services, which brought hundreds of clients to the United States. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.
But it was all a front. Headley was busy gathering intelligence, taking photos and shooting video of potential terrorist targets. When he returned to Pakistan, he reported to Major Iqbal in Lahore and Mir in Muzaffarabad, according to court documents.
Mir and Major Iqbal were both keenly interested in the iconic Taj, the centerpiece of the plan, according to U.S. and Indian court documents. Mir told Headley he needed more images and also schedules for the hotel’s conference rooms and ballroom, which often hosted high-powered events, according to investigators and court documents.
“They thought it would be a good place to get valuable hostages,” the Indian anti-terrorism official said.
Headley did more reconnaissance missions over the next two years, reporting to Mir and Major Iqbal before and after each trip. His Lashkar and ISI handlers met him separately, but they coordinated with each other, according to court documents and investigators.
In addition, Major Iqbal sent Headley on separate spying missions to scout an atomic research center and military sites around India. The ISI officer called Headley from a phone number with a 646 area code (one used in the New York area). This could have been a technique to conceal the origin of the calls in Pakistan and avoid eavesdropping by American and Indian intelligence agencies.
“The whole thing feels like ISI is trying to maintain plausible deniability,” said Faddis, using the intelligence term for operating through an intermediary who can be disavowed. “They are running in parallel with LeT and clearly leveraging sources for their own purposes, but they are still trying to avoid being directly tied to the attack planning, most of the time.”
In 2007 he and Major Iqbal sent Headley to assess several dozen targets in Mumbai and other Indian cities. Headley even befriended aides to a Hindu political strongman, a potential first step for an assassination plot, according to his confession.
Both Mir and Headley got married during this period, although Headley was still married to his Pakistani and New York wives, according to court documents. Mir wed the daughter of a former Pakistani navy chaplain. Headley’s new wife was a Moroccan medical student in Lahore.
Headley’s bride, Faiza Outalha, was a devout Muslim who covered her head with the traditional hijab. But she was also strong-willed. Soon after the wedding, she demanded that Headley take her with him on what she thought were his business trips to Mumbai. Headley did not want to blow his cover as a non-Muslim American, so he kept her at a distance from acquaintances and hotel staff and tried to avoid registering her at the Taj, according to his confession.
“It was very difficult to conceal her Muslim identity as she was wearing a hijab,” Headley told Indian interrogators. “Two persons had seen me with Faiza when I was with her in the lobby of the hotel….I managed to convince both of them by telling them that she was a client of mine.”
In September, Mir showed Headley a Styrofoam model of the Taj that was constructed using his photos, videos and reports. They talked about attacking a conference of software engineers at the hotel. The plan resembled previous Lashkar strikes in India: a bold but limited shooting attack on a single target by gunmen who escaped afterward.
But soon Mir began working on a more ambitious project involving multiple targets, including Western ones. The shift resulted from conflict in the ranks of Lashkar and the ISI, according to investigators and Headley’s account. Disillusioned militants who wanted a bigger role in fighting in Afghanistan and in the global jihad were defecting to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, because Lashkar and the ISI were keeping the main focus on Kashmir.
Lashkar’s leadership responded to this dangerous internal rift by deciding to carry out a spectacular al-Qaeda-style strike on Western targets in Mumbai. The ISI approved the shift in tactics, Headley explained.
“The ISI I believe had no ambiguity of understanding the necessity to strike India [and] …shifting and minimizing the theater of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan,” he said.
The analysis rings true, according to officials and experts.
“Lashkar’s senior leaders are sometimes pulled between adherence to the ISI and their dedication to pan-Islamist jihad,” Tankel said. “Meanwhile, the ISI is trying to pressure the group enough to keep it in line and not so much that it fragments. That becomes more difficult as LeT integrates further with other outfits and a segment of its members agitate for breaking free of ISI control.”
Headley’s tangled personal life soon caused trouble again. His quarrels with his new wife spurred her, like the wife in New York two years earlier, to report him to U.S. authorities.
During walk-in visits to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in December 2007 and January 2008, Outalha told federal agents that she believed her husband was a terrorist. She mentioned militant training and suicide bombings and described his travels to Mumbai, including her stay at the Taj hotel, U.S. law enforcement officials say.
But U.S. agents at the embassy decided the woman’s account lacked specifics. Headley continued to roam free.
In early 2008, the FBI and CIA began hearing chatter about Mumbai as a Lashkar target. The intelligence may have come from communications intercepts or sources in Pakistan. But privately, some U.S and Indian anti-terrorism officials suspect that U.S. agencies were tracking Headley’s movements and communications and picking up bits and pieces about the plot-without realizing he was deeply involved.
U.S. intelligence officials alerted their Indian counterparts in early 2008 that they had general information about a Lashkar plot against Mumbai. Officials insist that they didn’t warn the Indians specifically about Headley because they didn’t know about his involvement. Although U.S. officials say Headley was no longer working as a DEA informant by early 2008, it isn’t clear when that relationship ended or whether it evolved into wider intelligence-gathering. The CIA and the FBI say Headley never worked for them.
Meanwhile, Pakistani security forces stepped up their support of the plot. In March 2008, Mir brought Headley to an important planning session in Muzaffarabad hosted by Lakhvi, Lashkar’s military chief. They were joined by Abu Qahafa, a training specialist, and Muzzammil Bhatt, one Lashkar’s most feared bosses. The guest of honor was a frogman in the Pakistani navy.
The crew-cut, clean-shaven frogman, identified as Abdur-Rehman, was in his mid-thirties. He spread a maritime chart on the table. For two days the plotters discussed options for sending an attack team to Mumbai by sea and using a hijacked Indian boat for the clandestine journey.
“They had discussed various landing options along the coast of Mumbai,” Headley recalled. “The frogman told them that the sea became rough after the month of June. … [He] told me to check the position of the naval vessels on the Indian side so as to avoid a gunfight.”
Soon afterward, Headley met with Major Iqbal in Lahore. The ISI officer already knew about the maritime strategy, Headley said. In that meeting and other conversations, he said, Major Iqbal offered tactical advice: escape routes for the gunmen, setting up a safe house, the hijacking at sea.
In April 2008, Headley’s Moroccan wife returned to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad with another, more specific tip. She warned that her husband was on “a special mission.” She also linked him to a 2007 train bombing in India that had killed 68 people and that India and the United States blamed on Lashkar at the time, U.S. officials say. Authorities haven’t implicated Headley in that still-unsolved attack, however. It is not known how the U.S. Embassy personnel responded to the wife’s allegations, but officials say the tip didn’t reach the FBI until after the Mumbai attacks.
Headley returned to Mumbai in April. He went on a series of boat tours, using a GPS device that Mir had given him to assess landing sites for the amphibious attack, U.S. court documents say.
In May, U.S. agencies alerted India that new intelligence suggested Lashkar was planning to attack the Taj and other sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to U.S. and Indian anti-terrorism officials. A map identifying the U.S. consulate and other targets in Mumbai was found when Indian authorities arrested an accused Lashkar scout.
Despite the pressure of planning his biggest project ever, Mir took time during this period for a rather odd personal enterprise. He underwent plastic surgery on his face, apparently for esthetic reasons rather than to disguise his appearance. Mir’s fellow militant chiefs made fun of him afterward, according to the report.
“In my assessment, his face has not changed much,” Headley told interrogators. “Zaki ridiculed Sajid by telling him that plastic surgery had widened [his] eyes.”
The Stronghold Option
Mir and the other Pakistani masterminds decided on a classic Lashkar “fedayeen raid” in which fighters inflict maximum chaos and casualties.
“Fedayeen” is an Arabic word for guerrilla fighters and means “one who sacrifices himself,” but the concept is not the same as a suicide attack. Mir and Major Iqbal still envisioned a scenario in which the attackers would escape in the confusion, according to investigators and documents.
Over the summer, Mir oversaw the work of Abu Qahafa, the veteran Lashkar trainer, who prepared 32 recruits during months of drills in mountain camps and at the group’s headquarters outside Lahore, according to investigators and court documents.
Fifteen candidates were sent to Karachi for swimming and nautical instruction. But the youthful country boys had little experience with water. Some got seasick. Some ran away from swim training. Trainers had to bring in eight replacements, Indian and U.S. anti-terrorism officials say.
In June, Mir discussed targets with Headley. For the first time, Mir said he wanted to attack the Chabad House, thereby singling out Jews, Israel and-because the rabbi was American-the United States.
“I was very impressed to know that Chabad House had been put as a target,” Headley told interrogators. “Sajid, as I understand is a ‘Saudi Salafi.’ They consider the Jewish people as the number one target.”
Headley then met with Major Iqbal, who “was very happy to know that Chabad House had been chosen,” according to the interrogation report.
Headley’s final reconnaissance trip lasted the month of July. When he returned, the planning gathered steam. The leaders of Lashkar held a special meeting to discuss the plot. Mir had Headley wait nearby, coming out of the meeting to consult with him about details.
The chiefs decided the attack would be too complex for the fighters to escape. Instead, they would barricade themselves and fight to the death. The planners called this “the stronghold option.”
In September, the anti-terrorism chief of the Mumbai police visited the Taj Hotel to discuss new warnings from U.S. intelligence about a Lashkar plot. Hotel management beefed up security, Indian officials say.
At about the same time, Headley’s Moroccan wife complained about her husband to “senior police officials” in Lahore. Headley said Pakistani police jailed him for eight days, but his account doesn’t specify the charges. His Pakistani father-in-law put up bail and the ISI intervened as well, the interrogation report says.
“Major Iqbal also helped me [in] this case,” Headley said.
A Pakistani official denied the story. He blamed U.S. officials for failing to tell Pakistan about the intelligence the United States had shared with India in 2008.
“Perhaps with Pakistan alerted, the plots could have been avoided,” the Pakistani official said.
In November, Headley went to Karachi to meet with Mir, who updated him on the status of the operation. Headley had no contact with the attack team, though Mir showed him photos of the youthful gunmen, according to documents and officials.
The attack squad set sail for Mumbai in the fishing trawler. On the evening of Nov. 26, they reached a point about five miles offshore and transferred to an 11-seat dinghy. They landed in Cuffe Parade, a slum scouted by Headley where lights, phones and police were scarce.
At the Karachi command post, Mir took a moment to send a telephone text message to Headley at home in Lahore. The message told Headley to turn on his TV.
As the bloodshed intensified, Indian intelligence officers frantically checked known phone numbers associated with Lashkar. They were able to intercept and record nearly 300 calls. Mir’s voice dominated the conversations, according to officials and documents. Thanks to Headley, he knew the targets inside-out.
Although the recorded conversations between handlers and gunmen were broadcast worldwide, Mir did not appear concerned that the notoriety would expose him to arrest. During a visit to Headley’s home, he looked tired but was boastful and talkative.
“Sajid made me hear the audios of the Mumbai attack,” Headley recalled. “Sajid played…the Mumbai video where along with others Sajid was instructing the attackers from the Karachi control room. I heard Sajid’s voice and he was instructing the attacker in the Chabad House to kill the women.”
Mir and Headley were already at work on their next target: a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The planning had begun before Mumbai, at a crucial meeting in November 2008. After maintaining a careful distance from each other for almost two years, Headley’s handlers from the ISI and Lashkar, Mir and Major Iqbal, paid him a joint visit in Lahore, the report says.
“This is the first time Major Iqbal and Sajid came together to my home,” the American said. “We discussed about the Denmark project.”
Mir directed and funded Headley’s subsequent reconnaissance on the newspaper’s offices in Denmark, according to the report and U.S. court papers. Major Iqbal’s previously undisclosed involvement in the high-stakes meeting to launch an attack in the heart of Europe is a “pretty seismic” revelation, said Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based security consulting firm.
“They take it to the next phase,” Gohel said. “Either the hierarchy was aware or there was no accountability.”
Experts say Iqbal’s visit alongside Mir sent a message of trust to Headley. But the extent to which the major approved of the Danish plot, and the degree to which he was acting on his own, remain unclear.
“I think this was a particularly sensitive discussion, and somebody above Iqbal’s pay-grade told him to sit in and be present for the conversation between Headley and Mir,” said Faddis, the CIA counter-terror veteran.
Indian anti-terror officials think the ISI gave the operation its blessing, even if it did not participate directly. There is no record that Pakistani intelligence ever warned Denmark about Headley or the plot.
Mir gave Headley a thumb drive with information about Denmark and the Jyllands Posten newspaper, according to U.S. court documents and officials. They christened the new plot “The Mickey Mouse Project.”
In December, Headley suggested killing only the cartoonist and an editor. Mir disagreed. Despite the uproar over Mumbai, he seemed eager to take an audacious terrorism campaign into Europe, according to documents and investigators.
“All Danes are responsible,” Mir declared, according to U.S. officials and documents.
Across the ocean, the FBI was pursuing yet another tip about Headley. A friend of Headley’s mother in Philadelphia had come forward after seeing news about the Mumbai attacks. She told agents that she believed Headley had been fighting alongside Pakistani militants for years. Agents conducted an inquiry in December but then put it on hold because they thought Headley was out of the country, U.S. officials said.
Weeks later, Headley traveled from Chicago to Denmark. Using his business cover again, he visited the newspaper’s offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus and inquired about advertising his immigration firm. He shot video of the area and – because Mir mistakenly believed the editor was Jewish – of a nearby synagogue. He took careful notes, just as he had done when scouting in Mumbai, according to U.S. court documents.
But a few weeks later, Mir put the Denmark operation on hold. Pakistani authorities had finally arrested a big fish: Lakhvi, Lashkar’s military chief. The ISI also arrested Abu Al Qama, a Lashkar boss who had allegedly worked the phones with Mir at the command post for the Mumbai attacks, along with some low-level henchmen.
The ISI Reacts
The way the ISI handled the arrests deepens the mystery and ambiguity surrounding its role in the Mumbai case.
The agency held Lakhvi in a safe house for some time before putting him in jail, according to investigators. And Headley said Gen. Ahmed Suja Pasha, the ISI’s director general, met with Lakhvi after he was jailed.
“Pasha had visited him to understand the Mumbai attack conspiracy,” the report quotes Headley as saying, without further elaboration.
Pakistani officials deny that Pasha, one of the most powerful men in Pakistan, made the jailhouse visit. U.S. and Indian officials and experts are more willing to believe the story. Headley’s language suggests that Pasha, who had become director only two months before Mumbai, was surprised by the attack or at least by its dimensions. This reinforces the U.S. view that top ISI brass weren’t involved in the plot.
Meanwhile, Major Iqbal cut off contact with Headley and told him to get rid of compromising evidence, according to U.S. court documents and investigators. The ISI handler said, “the Mumbai investigation was getting bigger and hotter,” and a suspect had revealed “ISI cooperation” in the plot, the Indian interrogation report says.
But Headley did not sever all his links to the ISI. He remained in touch with Ali, the ISI major who had first recruited him, until June 2009, even during trips back to the United States, he said.
As for Mir, he stayed cool. Despite the evidence implicating him in the attacks, he visited Lakhvi, his Lashkar boss, in jail, according to the Indian interrogation report. If true, this reinforces suspicions that Mir was either an ISI officer or had powerful protectors, investigators say.
Headley’s Final Months
Despite Lashkar’s decision to hold off, Headley remained fixated on the plot against the Danish newspaper. In the spring of 2009, he gravitated increasingly toward al-Qaeda, according to U.S. and Indian court documents.
Lashkar veterans who had defected to al-Qaeda connected him with al-Qaeda’s chief of operations, Ilyas Kashmiri. At a sit-down in May, the veteran Pakistani militant offered to provide Headley with operatives in Europe for the attack. Kashmiri envisioned them decapitating hostages and throwing heads out of the newspaper office windows, U.S. court documents say.
In August Headley returned to Denmark for more reconnaissance. He also went to Britain and Sweden to discuss the newspaper plot with Kashmiri’s operatives, according to U.S. and Indian documents.
Despite occasional tensions, Headley stayed in touch with Mir. They discussed new reconnaissance in India as well as personal matters. The American asked about Mir’s baby son, referring to the boy in e-mails as “polar cub.” Headley also urged Mir to return to the Denmark plot, according to U.S. documents and officials.
In an e-mail, Headley described his trip to Copenhagen. He jokingly complimented Mir about his “music videos” – code for a TV program about Mumbai that had featured Mir’s voice directing the attacks.
With affectionate exasperation, Mir warned his operative to be careful, according to documents and officials.
“Your skin is dear to me, more than my own,” Mir wrote.
In September 2009, documents show that Headley again discussed joining forces with Mir for the Denmark attack, a sign that Mir was still operating freely. But Headley’s luck was running out. His contact with two known al-Qaeda suspects in the English town of Derby had put him on the radar of British intelligence, who alerted their U.S. counterparts. In October, the FBI arrested Headley in Chicago, where he had moved his Pakistani wife and children.
The FBI had been investigating Mumbai since a team rushed there right after the attacks. FBI leads- phone analysis, forensics, money trails – had been instrumental in the Indian and Pakistani investigations.
Now Headley gave U.S. agents a treasure trove of evidence and intelligence. He quickly confessed and spent days describing his exploits, according to U.S. officials.
In March he pleaded guilty to helping organize the Mumbai attacks and the Denmark plot. As part of the plea deal to avoid the death penalty, he agreed to cooperate. Officials say his confession and the contents of his computer showed he had scouted scores of targets, including American ones, around the world. They say he did not do reconnaissance in the United States, but they noted a chilling detail: His immigration consulting firm had offices in the Empire State Building.
Headley helped investigators overcome a basic problem. American agencies lacked data on Lashkar: photo books, organizational charts, profiles.
It seems clear, however, that the government did underestimate Headley. A recent review by the director of national intelligence found that U.S. agencies had received six warnings about Headley from his wives and associates from October 2001 to December 2008. Yet federal agents didn’t place him on a terrorist watch list or open a full investigation until July 2009, eight months after the Mumbai attacks.
Between June 3 and June 9, investigators with India’s National Investigation Agency questioned Headley for 34 hours in Chicago in the presence of U.S. prosecutors, FBI agents and his lawyers. Headley’s account, contained in the interrogation report obtained by ProPublica, opened a rare door into a secretive underworld of spies and militants.
A Pakistani official said the Indian version was “totally distorted and fabricated.”
“There was no involvement of the ISI whatsoever,” the official said. “Nor did any serving official interact with Headley or any of the perpetrators.”
But U.S. investigators say much of Headley’s account is credible and essentially repeats his account in the federal case in Chicago. The investigators believe Major Iqbal was a serving member of the ISI and that several other officers also had contact with Headley.
FBI agents and their Indian counterparts have spent more than a year checking Headley’s story against other evidence: witness testimony, phone and e-mail intercepts, travel and credit card records.
“Most of the Headley statement is consistent with what we know about the ISI and its operations,” the Indian counter-terrorism official said. “And it’s consistent with what he told the FBI and what they told us.”
Physical evidence backs up Headley’s confession. The FBI identified a phone number that investigators believe connects the American, Mir and ISI officers. Headley called Pakistani officers at that number. It was also called by an accused ISI spy who went on the secret mission with Mir in India in 2005, investigators say. (via Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story – ProPublica).
- India Ink: Overlooked and Unheard, Ahead of the Mumbai Attacks (india.blogs.nytimes.com)
- “The Perfect Terrorist” Investigation Debuts Tomorrow (propublica.org)
- Mumbai blasts renew scrutiny of Pakistan’s crackdown on militants (guardian.co.uk)
- Mumbai Attacks Renew Questions About Pakistan’s Crackdown on Militants (propublica.org)