INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO.591
Q: There is a growing demand in India that the Indian investigators should be allowed independent access to David Coleman Headley, the Chicago-based American member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), who had visited India five times before 26/11 to collect pre-attack operational information for the LET. Will the FBI continue to resist this demand?
A: Any professional intelligence or investigation agency will, if it is worth its salt. Deniability is an important operational principle followed by all intelligence agencies. Once an intelligence agency grants free access to another agency to one of its sensitive sources, deniability is gone. The Intelligence Bureau will not grant the Research & Analysis Wing free access to any of its sensitive sources and vice versa. It is unrealistic to expect that any US agency---whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the FBI --- will grant to their Indian counterparts free access to Headley, since it has clearly come out that he was a conscious agent of the DEA at least since 1998.
Q: How about Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the other member of the LET’s Chicago cell?
A: His case seems to be qualitatively different. Firstly, whereas Rana’s lawyers have been fighting for a bail for him, Headley’s lawyers have not sought bail for him. Headley and his lawyers seem to have reconciled themselves to his being in custody till January 12 when a decision on the “status of his trial” is expected to be taken by the court. Secondly, the latest report on the various charges against Headley filed by the FBI before the court on December 7 is called the Criminal Information Report. In that report, there is no reference to any pending or proposed trial against him. As against this, the latest report filed before the court by the FBI on December 14 opposing the grant of bail to Rana says “ further support of the motion to detain defendant Rana pending trial.” From this, it is evident that while a decision has been taken to have a formal trial against Rana, no such decision has yet been taken against Headley.
Q: What does this indicate?
A: While the FBI has been handling Headley’s case cautiously since he was an agent of the DEA, it does not feel the need for such caution in the case of Rana. This is probably because Rana was not an agent of any US agency. It is also interesting to note that while the FBI had details of Headley’s pre-26/11 visits to India, it has not so far given any indication in the documents produced before the court that it was aware of Rana’s visits to India. Whatever details have appeared in the Indian media about Rana’s visits to India, have come from Indian and not US sources. This would indicate that since Headley was a source of the DEA, the FBI, through the DEA, was aware of his visits to India. Since Rana was probably not a source of any agency, no US agency was aware of his travels to India.
Q: Since Rana does not appear to have been an agent of any US agency, will the FBI allow Indian interrogators to question him?
A: Possibly, provided he is questioned in the presence of FBI officers and the questions are vetted by them and the court allows it.
Q: Is a similar procedure possible in the case of Headley?
A: Seems difficult.
Q: The US intelligence was reported to have alerted the Indian intelligence in September,2008, about the likelihood of a sea-borne terrorist attack by the LET on the hotels. Could this information have come from Headley?
A: Difficult to say. If Headley had conveyed this information to the US intelligence, he should have also told them that the LET had also targeted the Nariman House. Neither the Indian intelligence nor the Israeli agencies would appear to have been warned by the US intelligence about a likely attack on the Nariman House. At that time, George Bush was still in office. His administration had close relations with Israel. Israel would have been immediately alerted. It was apparently not. How would one explain the fact that the US intelligence was aware of the intended attack on the hotels but not of the planned attack on the Nariman House? My own suspicion is that the US warning of September 2008, came from technical intercepts or other sources in Pakistan and not from Headley.
Q: What is the most interesting part of the report filed by the FBI in the court on December 14 opposing bail to Rana?
A: Even in the earlier affidavit filed by the FBI against Rana, it was somewhat evident that the first incriminating conversation between Headley and Rana regarding future operations of the LET in India took place during a joint car drive by the two on September 7,2009. The latest report confirms it. It says: “On September 7, 2009, Headley and Rana took a long car ride and discussed several topics. This conversation was recorded. During their conversation, Headley and Rana discussed the attacks that occurred in November 2008 in Mumbai, India, in which approximately 170 people were killed. It is clear from the conversation and extrinsic corroboration that Rana was told just days before the Mumbai attacks that the attacks were about to happen.” This conversation while moving in a car could not have been recorded through telephonic or E-mail intercepts. This could have been recorded only by planting a secret recording device in the car without the knowledge of either Headley or Rana or by the FBI using Headley to pose leading questions to Rana and recording his replies without Rana’s knowledge. Neither in the affidavit filed against Headley nor in that filed against Rana after their arrest in October, was their any reference to their role in respect of 26/11. The only reference was to their agreed role in a future strike. The FBI knew about their role in 26/11 at least since September 7,2009, if not earlier. Why this was kept out of the affidavits filed initially? ( 15-12-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )