Sunday, December 20, 2009



Periodic misunderstandings and mutual bitterness in the relations between co-operating intelligence agencies are part of the game of intelligence.

2.The CIA's penetration of the Chennai office of the Research & Analysis Wing in the 1980s to collect intelligence about India's role in Sri Lanka, its penetration of the Intelligence Bureau in the 1990s to collect intelligence about its counter-intelligence set-up,its post-2001 penetration of the R&AW through Maj.Rabinder Singh, who was helped by the CIA to flee to the US to avoid being arrested and interrogated by the Indian counter-intelligence, and its post-2004 penetration of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) through the mechanism of the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum created feelings of bad blood and bitterness in the relations between the intelligence communities of the two countries, but this did not last long. The intelligence communities of the two countries realised the importance of not allowing such instances of perceived betrayal of confidence to affect their long-term relationship, which has served the two countries well in the past and which would be necessary in the future if they have to strengthen their strategic relationship.

3. A permanent itch for penetration is ingrained in an intelligence professional. He or she keeps looking out all the time for opportunities for penetration. It is immaterial whether the set-up to be penetrated is that of a friend or a foe. The important question is whether the penetration would produce valuable intelligence and whether the resulting intelligence is of such value as to warrant risk-taking to the extent of temporary misunderstandings with the country whose set-up is penetrated.

4. Past instances of misunderstandings and unhappiness in counter-terrorism co-operation between the intelligence communities of India and the US date from the days of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, the Mumbai blasts of March,1993 and the outbreak of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir in 1989. The Indian intelligence community always felt and continues to feel that in matters relating to the complicity of the State of Pakistan in acts of terrorism in India, the co-operation of the US intelligence left much to be desired. This position shows no signs of changing even after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai in which for the first time Pakistan-sponsored terrorists killed not only 141 Indian nationals, but also 25 foreigners---six of them US nationals and six others Jewish either with Israeli nationality or with dual Israeli-US nationality.

5. Despite this, there has been a qualitative change in the Indo-US co-operation in counter-terrorism since 9/11. This change has been particularly noticeable in four matters. Firstly, the US has recognised that some of the terrorist organisations operating in India such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) are largely, if not wholly, Pakistani organisations and not Kashmiri organisations as claimed by Pakistan. Secondly, examples of advance sharing of preventive intelligence are increasing. An example was the reported alerts from the US intelligence in September,2008, about the plans of the LET for a sea-borne attack on some hotels in Mumbai. Thirdly, there is a greater readiness on the part of the US to place its forensic resources at the disposal of the Indian investigators to facillitate their investigation into acts of terrorism. This was clearly seen after the 26/11 attacks. Fourthly, there is a greater willingness on the part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to assist the Indian investigators in the prosecution of the terrorists. Before 26/11, the FBI was reluctant to allow its experts to testify before Indian courts. After 26/11, it allowed its experts to testify in Indian courts through video-conferencing.

6. At a time when the co-operation was developing in a positive and mutually beneficial direction, some suspicion has crept in the relations between the intelligence communities of the two countries following the discovery of the Chicago cell of the LET consisting of David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana and their arrest by the FBI. Even if it is true----one will never be able to find that out definitively--- that Headley was a penetration agent of the US intelligence to monitor the activities of the LET, the Indian intelligence should have no grouse against its US counterpart on that account. Since the US agencies fear that any future terrorist attack in the US homeland would originate either from Pakistan or from the Pakistani diaspora abroad, their efforts to penetrate organisations in Pakistan or of Pakistani origin in order to collect preventive intelligence not only about terrorists but also their links with the narcotics world are understandable. Placed in a similar situation, that is what the Indian intelligence would be doing.

7. After 9/11, there has been considerable criticism of intelligence agencies all over the world---including in India and the US---for their inadequacies in the field of human intelligence (HUMINT).The only effective way of improving the collection of HUMINT is through more and better penetration operations.

8. In the case of the Headley operation, there have been failures on the part of the intelligence communities of both the countries. In the US, the failure is one of effective supervision. It was an operation which has created an embarrassment for the US because the US agencies failed to factor into their tradecraft the danger of the LET playing Headley back on the US and using him for its operations in India and the West.

9. One would find it difficult to accept that the US agencies were aware of the entire conspiracy relating to 26/11 through Headley, but shared the information only selectively with the Indian intelligence. The allegation that has been made in India is that the US intelligence shared with India only those portions of the intelligence which would not have endangered their penetration operation and refrained from sharing those portions which could have endangered it. Theoretically, this is possible, but really not. The US agencies would have been anxious to protect the lives of their nationals and those of Israel and NATO countries. They would not have consciously sacrificed their lives in order to safeguard their links with Headley. Due to the poor control exercised by the US handling officers over Headley, he was more loyal to the LET than to the US agency handling him and was not telling everything to his US handling officers.

10. In the case of the Indian agencies and the Ministry of External Affairs, the failures have been relating to the apparently inefficient scrutiny of his visa application by the Indian Consulate-General in Chicago and the failure of the Indian intelligence and investigative agencies and the airport immigration to suspect even once his bona fides. According to the FBI, after each of his five visits to India, Headley went to Pakistan to hand over to the LET the video-recordings made by him in India. It is amazing that none of the Indian officials noticed his frequent toing and froing between India and Pakistan and questioned him on that.

11. There are only three ways of explaining this.

Either, the Indian immigration at the airport was negligent in the scrutiny of his passport;

or he was using two passports----his old pre-2006 passport as Gilani for his travels to Pakistan and his new passport as Headley for his travels to India;

Or, the ISI was helping the LET by allowing him to enter and exit from Pakistan without any entry in his passport.

12. The present misunderstanding between the intelligence professionals of the two countries has arisen from the alleged reluctance of the FBI to give independent access to Headley to Indian investigators for interrogation and from the feeling right or wrong that that the FBI has not been as forthcoming as it ought to have been and has not shared with the indian investigators all the information that needed to be shared.

13. Continued breast-beating by the Indian professionals about the perceived reluctance of the FBI to co-operate fully is not going to help matters. There are two aspects to the L-affaire Headley. The first relates to the reconstruction of the 26/11 attacks. The second relates to the prevention of future attacks.

14. Indian and US professionals must remember that Headley may be only the tip of the LET iceberg in the US as well as India.It is in the common interest of the two countries to identify his network of contacts and sleeper cells, if any, in the two countries. It is significant and worrying that neither the FBI in the US nor the Central Investigation Agency in India has so far been able to identify and arrest any other contact of Headley in their respective countries except Rana of Chicago. This gives rise to a strong suspicion that while he has been taliking freely to the FBI about the past, he has not been forthcoming about the future and about the identities of LET cells in the US and India, which could organise future attacks.

15. This is an area where the intelligence professionals of the two countries can and ought to co-operate despite the Indian unhappiness about the past. The Indian unhappiness about the past is legitimate and understandable, but this should not be allowed to come in the way of joint efforts to prevent future attacks. ( 21-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:



In protecting its national interests and national security, India is perceived as a soft state not only by large sections of its population, but also by intelligence and security professionals in many countries of the world. Many Governmental and non-Governmental professionals in different countries of the world strongly believe that India has not been able to deal effectively with the problem of terrorism of foreign origin because of the lack of security consciousness in large sections of our administration and political class and the permissive nature of our administration. Terrorists such as David Coleman Headley, mafia leaders such as Dawood Ibrahim and intelligence agencies such as Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are aware of this and take full advantage of it.

2. During the investigation into the Mumbai blasts of March,1993, orchestrated by the ISI with the help of Dawood Ibrahim, it came to notice through intercepted telephone conversations that the members of Dawood's gang used to get logistics help for their stay during their visits to Delhi through the Personal Assistant to a senior member of the Cabinet of Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister. This PA had helped an associate of Dawood stay in the New Delhi guest house of a public sector corporation.

3. Another glaring example of the way we function in national security related matters relates to the air dropping of arms and ammunition to some extremists or terrorists by an aircraft piloted by a British pilot in December,1995, in the Purulia area. The moment this pilot was approached by the unidentified extremists for his help in the air drop, he immediately informed the British Defence Ministry through the headquarters of the Royal Air Force. After consulting the Indian authorities, the British asked the pilot to keep passing on information about the air drop to enable the Indian authorities to lay a trap. He reportedly did, but the Indian authorities botched up the operation so badly that the air drop could not be prevented. The extremists managed to collect the air-dropped arms and ammunition and disappear. Till today, we have not been able to identify them though the crew of the aircraft were arrested and prosecuted.

4. The Headley case is yet another glaring example of the permissive nature of our Administration. It will only confirm the already widely prevalent impression in the professional world that India is a soft state. The massacre of 166 persons--- 141 of them Indian citizens--- by the 10 terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) between 26 and 29 November of 2008 was the culmination of a conspiracy, which had two places of origin---- the Pakistan end from where the actual executioners were selected, trained and launched and the Chicago end from where the collection of all pre-attack information which made the terrorist attack possible was orchestrated by Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, who used to live and work in Philadelphia as a Muslim under his original name of Daood Gilani and shifted to Chicago and started living there under the changed Christian-sounding name of David Coleman Headley.He shifted from Philadelphia to Chicago in February,2006, after getting his name changed before a Philadelphia court and applied in the Indian Consulate in Chicago for a visa on June 30,2006.

5. When a person changes his name and applies for a new passport, his new passport is supposed to carry an endorsement to the effect that "this person previously travelled under the name with the passport No ". If the Indian Consulate-General in Chicago had carefully scrutinised his passport and his visa application as they were supposed to under the rules, they might have noticed the following things: Firstly, he had changed his residence from Philadelphia to Chicago just before applying for an Indian visa. Secondly, he had changed his name and obtained a new passport just before applying for an Indian visa. Thirdly, his father was a Muslim with a Muslim-sounding name even though the visa applicant himself had a Christian-sounding name.

6. This should have immediately resulted in a personal interview with the applicant in order to question him on these points. We know how many of the applicants for foreign visas before missions in India are called for a personal interview and grilled because of suspicious circumstances coming to notice during the scrutiny of their passports.

7. Anyone who changes his name in order to obtain a new passport is immediately viewed as a suspect by the consular and immigration authorities of all countries of the world. Hard States , which give no quarters to terrorist suspects, have two specific columns in their papers which are to be filled by the applicants: Question No.1: Have you ever travelled by another passport? If so, give particulars. Question No.2: Have you ever travelled under a different name? If so, give particulars. The moment the answers to these questions create any suspicion he has to face an interview.

8. It is immaterial whether Headley is a Pakistani citizen or an American citizen born in Pakistan or an American citizen born in the US. The most incriminating evidence at the very starting point of this conspiracy is the fact that he changed his name in order to conceal his Muslim background. This could have been found out only in Chicago, the starting point of his journey, and not in India after his arrival.

9. Even if he is an American citizen born in the US that should not prevent us from questioning him. We saw the way Shah Rukh Khan, the film actor, was questioned for nearly an hour by the US immigration. The fact that he is an honoured Indian citizen and that the US has close relations with India did not inhibit them from questioning him.

10.All applicants for visas---tourist or business--- are required to submit certain documentation along with their passport. These include a to and fro air ticket, particulars of the cities he intended visiting and the places where he will be staying and a letter of sponsorship from someone in India knowing him---whether he be a friend or a relative or a corporate house. Without this documentation, no visa can be given unless the applicant is personally known to the Consul-General and he is in a position to vouch for his reliability.

11. The scrutiny of the additional documentation is more strict when the applicant applies for a business visa.

12. The Chicago end of the conspiracy, which led to the massacre of 166 persons by the terrorists, started on the day Headley walked into the Consulate-General with a changed name to conceal his Muslim identity and a new passport with which he had not travelled anywhere before and applied for a business visa. All the papers relating to his visa become important material evidence to reconstruct this conspiracy. The moment the FBI informed the Government of India about the arrest of Headley and his travels in October the MEA should have asked the Consulate-General to put all his papers in a sealed cover and send them to Delhi for scrutiny by the investigating agency. It is surprising this was not done for nearly two months.

13. We are now given an unconvincing story about the difficulties of retrieving applications from the archives of Indian missions abroad. I had worked as a visa officer abroad for eight years. It should not take more than a few minutes to take out the papers and send them to Delhi. You take out the visa register, find out the number under which the visa was issued to him and take out the application and other papers with the help of that number.

14. Apart from investigating the circumstances under which the visa application of Headley was processed, the relatives of those killed by the terrorists should consider suing the MEA for acts of alleged negligence which enabled Headley to come to India and set in motion the conspiracy. It was reported that after the 1988 Lockerbie tragedy, in which a Pan-Am aircraft was blown up by the terrorists over Europe, relatives of some of those killed sued the State Department for perceived acts of omission and commission, which resulted in the deaths of their relatives. This had a salutary effect.

15. It is time for us to have such victim activism in India. ( 20-12-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )