The Headley Trail

I

Have you had a chance to browse through the latest media interaction of the US ambassador to India, a gentleman called Mr Timothy Roemer? (US wants Headley to be brought to justice: Roemer, February 18, 2010 17:53 IST, rediff.com ) And could anyone decipher that it was a response to the growing clamour in a section of the media about seeking access to American terror suspect Headley whose name has surfaced in the light of his links with the 26/11 plot and who is at present lodged in the US jail. There were also reports about Headley’s visit to India in March 2009 and his survey of the Osho Ashram, Chabad House as well as the German Bakery in Pune, which became a site of the bomb explosion in second week of February 2010.

Of course, it does not mean that the possibility of involvement of Hindutva organisations in the Pune blast has been ruled out. A senior home department official recently told media persons in Mumbai about it (rediff.com, Pune blast: Hindu outfit links not ruled out, says official, February 22, 2010 21:42 IST )

It is worth noting that the in the said interview by Mr Roemer ‘acknowedges that India and America share a “common enemy” in terror groups’ and also reiterates that ‘US wants to bring American terror suspect David Headley, charged in the Mumbai attack, to justice and make sure he pays a “severe penalty”.Underlining the fact that “Headley may well be responsible for canvassing, tracking information to pass on to attackers of Mumbai blast”, he expressed US government’s seriousness “..along with Indian people and Indian government, to bring him to justice and make sure he pays a severe penalty for what he has done.”

Interestingly while emphasising that “..US will track people like Headley and other blood thirsty terrorists wherever they go to bring them to justice”, nowhere does Mr. Roemer seem ready to grant access to Headley. The interview is concluded with a wish that US-India friendship should blossom and it ends with a caveat that “There is no limit to this relationship, ofcourse that does not mean there are agreements on every issue and no country or no ally has it” (total agreement).

As has been well established the 26/11 attack was a handiwork of the dreaded outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba. Pakistani journos and human rights activists were the first to formally acknowledge that the lone terrorist Kasab, who could be caught alive, belonged to a village in Pakistan. While sections of Pakistani civil society risked wrath of their rulers to identify Kasab, US establishment have had no qualms in refusing access to Headley with the specious plea that this Lashkar-e-Toiba operative (as claimed by the US itself) “..does not want to be questioned by Indian investigators..”

A report released by PTI and carried by www.rediff.com (December 15, 2009 20:18 IST) tells us “During their discussions, FBI officials told Indian investigators that Headley does not want to be questioned by Indian investigators, raising suspicion that the US agency does want him to be questioned by India. “

Anyone who is concerned about terrorist acts in the country and the rest of the world and the loss of innocent human lives accompanying them would be definitely surprised over US government’s stand. If Headley really happens to be a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative then does not it make more sense that his interrogation could have revealed a few gaps in the whole story of the 26/11 attack as well as helped unearth the all India network of this outfit. Looking at the fact that Headley had himself surveyed German bakery in Pune, possibly the Pune explosion could have been avoided saving many innocent lives.Of course, US had made its intentions clear some time before itself when a team of investigators from India had gone there with a hope that it would get easy access to Headley and found themselves at their wit’s end when US flatly refused to entertain their request raising some technical difficulties.

One should also remember the fact that a lone women witness from Bombay who had seen the group of terrorists involved in 26/11 landing near Bombay claimed later she was forcibly taken to a ‘foreign country’ ( possibly US) by FBI agents supposedly to know her version of the story. The irony is not lost on the observer. A witness can be forcibly taken out but a terror mastermind or key player in the whole terrorist operation is allowed to enjoy the hospitality of US government.

Afterall why does the US government, which has ‘perfected’ the practice of extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects from any part of the world and which has built secret prisons across the globe much on the lines of Guantanamo and Bagram, denying every human right to the detainees, feels constrained because of ‘technical difficulties’ to grant access to a key player in the biggest terrorist attack in India in recent times.

Is it a sign of the US government’s sincere attempts at delearning the negative lessons learned and imbibed in the aftermath of 9/11 or there is something special to it ?

II

Imagine for a moment that India inadvertently or so stumbles upon a fanatic / terrorist who emerges as a key missing link in the 9/11 attack. With this disclosure becoming public, the US asks for the custody of the terrorist or requests the Indian government to grant access to him. And the Indian government or one of its representatives engages itself in all empty talk of the ‘historic frienship between two biggest democracies’ and their ‘sharing of vision for a tolerant, inclusive world bereft of violence and terrorism’ but skillfully skirts the key issue of access/custody of the terrorist.

What would be the reaction of the US people or for that matter US government ?

It is clear that it would definitely not be very positive. But if one looks at the recent history of US one finds that it has itself engaged in similar duplicitous behaviour n number of times. While singing paens to the principles of universal brotherhood/sisterhood it has decided about things from case to case and the key factor has been what serves US interests better. It has shamelessly condoned clandestine operations by Mossad, the Israeli secret service where it has presented itself not as gatherers of information but international assasins. The much debated case of the Cuban-American terrorist Possada Carilles who was instrumental in blowing up a civilian airliner killing 73 people is a case in point.

Perhaps very few people in this part of the globe have even heard about Possada Carilles, a Cuban immigrant to America. In fact he was on the payroll of the CIA for around 40 years, engaged in doing all those ‘dirty jobs’, which the US intelligence wanted him to do. In 1960 he joined the CIA Operations 40, made up of sharpshooters whose job was to murder the leaders of Cuba’s government. In early 70s he was sent to Caracas, Venezuela by the CIA with substantial bomb making materials. In 1975 he opened a separate outfit (in reality a CIA cover) and masterminded the bombing of a civilian airliner by placing a bomb in the restroom of a civilian Cubana airliner which blew up in midair after leaving Barbados for Havana, killing all 73 civilians aboard. ( 6 October 1976) The recently declassified parts of CIA, FBI and State Department reports confirm Posada’s key role in it. He continued with his terrorist operations thereafter and got finally caught in 2000 in Panama City with 37 lb. of C-4 explosives in his car, intending to kill Castro and hundreds of students at a speech to be given at a local university.

Even a cursory glance at Posada’s bloody career makes it clear that the top bosses of the US establishment made every effort to save him. It is revealing to note that despite the fact that he was convicted and has confessed to his crime, the U.S. government protected him.

It was no surprise that in his speech before UN few years back, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez made it a point to present details about this case. According to him ‘’.. Thirty years will have passed from this other horrendous terrorist attack on the Cuban plane, where 73 innocents died, a Cubana de Aviacion airliner.” He added “..where is the biggest terrorist of this continent who took the responsibility for blowing up the plane? He spent a few years in jail in Venezuela. Thanks to CIA and then government officials, he was allowed to escape, and he lives here in this country, protected by the government.”

In fact, the day the then US President George Bush went on national television (September 11, 2006) to declare a non-stop war on “terrorism,” the same day his government went into the last stage in the legal process to free this man who was held on the immigration charge.

The US magistrate Norbert Garney then recommended Posada’ release, who was held on the immigration charge, on the basis that, attorney general Gonzales, who has been instrumental in presenting a ‘legal’ advocacy of torture, did not deem it necessary to classify Posada as a terrorist. The state department also refused to extradite Posada to Venezuela where he is wanted to stand trial for the destruction of the airliner in 1976.

III

Coming back to the Headley case, one can see for oneself that despite playing a key role in 26/11 and supposedly facilitating the Pune bomb explosion – which extinguished 15 innocent lives and injured scores of people – whatever one knows about David Headley is through secondary sources only.

We are told that his father was a Pakistani Muslim and mother an American and his original name was Daood Gilani. He later shifted to US where he was caught in drug related charges in 1998, was convicted and sent to jail.He was released after 9/11 and sent to work as an undercover agent for Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He was given a new passport in the American name of David Headley (his American mother’s maiden name is Headley) rather than his original name of Daood Gilani.He flew around the world, entering and leaving the US at will, avoiding the sort of attention that a convicted drug criminal was certain to attract at US airports.

In fact when Headley was first arrested, the Americans declared that they had foiled a plot to kill a Danish cartoonist. With more details trickling out, the terror suspect, it was then learnt that he was a US citizen of Pakistani origin, had some links with the LeT and had visited India and might have been part of an advance team for 26/11.

Broadly there are three possibilities which can be gleaned from these different pieces of information to know the ‘real David Headley’.

– This Pakistan born US national was a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative

– He was a double agent, who worked both for the LeT and the CIA

– He worked for the CIA initially but became a ‘rogue’

In fact, mainstream media channels in India had raised the issue when news came in that Headley was apprehended in the US in October 2009. In his commentary Suman K Chakravarty of CNN-IBN (Was David Headley a double agent? Published on Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 20:56 in India section ) posed the question

New Delhi: Who exactly is David Coleman Headley? Is he just a Lashker-e-Toiba operative? New evidence suggests that he might have been a double agent – one who turned rouge after working for America’s Drug Enforcement Administration’s murky intelligence unit. After 9/11 America was covered with a high security net, but Headley – originally known as Daood Gilani and a convicted felon of Pakistani descent – travelled to and fro between US and Pakistan with apparent ease. This connection has now raised several uneasy questions.

Writing on the issue in ‘The Hindu’ (Dec 16, 2009) Vinay Kumar raised very similar question ‘David Headley, a double agent ?’

NEW DELHI: Pakistani-origin American, David Coleman Headley, who is at the centre of a global terrorism investigation for his alleged role in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, may well have been a “double agent” working for U.S. agencies as well as Pakistani terror organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Headley travelled to India in March 2009, four months after 26/11, but the U.S. agencies, including the FBI, did not alert or inform their Indian counterparts because it could have led to his arrest here, top officials of the Union Home Ministry said on Tuesday.

Investigations also pointed to the fact that Headley could have travelled to India with his wife last March.

The officials said there was a “strong suspicion,” based on nation-wide investigations, that the CIA knew about Headley’s links with the LeT one year prior to 26/11 but did not inform Indian agencies as it could have blown the lid off Headley’s activities.

He was arrested on October 3 by the FBI in Chicago for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks.

Highly placed government sources said if he was given lesser punishment in a U.S. court, it would only strengthen India’s suspicion that he was a “double agent.”

Such a punishment could also be given through the process of “plea bargain” before the court between him and the U.S. agencies.

It is also learnt that the the 49 year old Headley, during his multiple visits to India, had spent a lot of money running into lakhs of rupees through credit cards issued by American banks and in fake Indian currency, believed to have been brought from Pakistan. Indian investigators were now trying to find out who had paid his credit card bills in the American banks.

Perhaps one of the most devastating writeup on the l’affaire David Headley appeared in Hindustan Times. (20 Dec 2009). Vir Sanghvi in his thought provoking article ‘Did America Keep Mum on 26/11 attacks ?’ posed important points.

…American journos, on the whole, refused to believe that he (Headley) worked only for the DEA and thought that he was probably in the pay of the CIA. But, many said, Headley had clearly gone rogue, becoming a double agent and owing true loyalty to the LeT.

Indian investigators had many questions. We know now that the US tipped us off that attacks on the Taj Mahal Hotel were imminent and that the terrorists would use the sea route. At that stage, it was believed that the intel came from a CIA mole within the terror network. Could Headley have been that mole?

Besides, if US investigators had been on Headley’s trail for a while — as the US officially claims — and they knew that he was regularly visiting India on behalf of the LeT, why was this information never passed on to New Delhi? If you accept the official version, that Headley was a terrorist they were tracking, then surely we had a right to be informed of his visits to India? If he was an agent who had gone rogue (the non-official US version), even then we should have been told. So why were we kept in the dark?

As far as I know, there has been no official answer to any of these questions.

So all we have is the theory of the Indian investigators. It goes like this:

In the aftermath of 9/11, the US was desperate for spies it could sent into Pakistan. Headley was sprung from jail and asked to infiltrate terror groups. Assisted by the US government (new passport etc.), he worked for the LeT using his American passport to gain access to places where he would normally have been treated with suspicion if he had revealed his Pakistan roots.

He came to Bombay not just to check out the Taj but do a recon of Nariman House. He posed as an American Jew and sent back detailed reports. Along the way, he revealed details of the 26/11 plot to his American handlers. The US was caught in a bind. If it told us everything, the LeT would know that Headley was the source and his cover would be blown. Yet, it could not sit by. So, it compromised by giving us some intel about the attack that could not be traced back to Headley. And Headley continued to operate as a US asset inside LeT.

A few months ago, Indian agencies began tracking a Bangladeshi with US links. That trail led to an American who was involved with LeT. They asked the US for help. Headley was arrested soon afterwards.

The arrest took India by surprise. The way these things work is that if the US knows about a terrorist, it allows him to fly to Pakistan or India (both frequent Headley destinations) and then tips off the local intelligence service. The terrorist is arrested and tortured to extract information. (Americans are now banned from using torture.) When the terrorist has been wrung dry, he is handed over to the US, along with his confession.

In this case, however, the Americans arrested Headley before he could fly out. He was formally charged, allowed to appoint a lawyer and is now entitled to all the protections of the US Constitution: he would be within his rights to tell Indian investigators to take a flying jump.

Why would the US treat a 26/11 suspect with such consideration?

The only explanation that fits is this: he was an American agent all along. The US arrested him only when it seemed that Indian investigators were on his trail. He will be sentenced to jail, will vanish into the US jail system for a while and will then be sprung again — as he was the last time.

It is disturbing to note that after the Pune blast where Headley’s name has resurfaced, not much is being written about this aspect of Headley’s identity. The nuanced analysis about his origins stands forgotten. Most of the mainstream media is busy portraying him as a LeT operative who was busy executing the ‘Karachi Project’ of our neighbours. As one newspaper put it ‘security agencies are now revisiting the US Jihadi’s trail’. The same Vinay Kumar (The Hindu) who posed the question about Headley who ‘.. may well have been a “double agent” working for U.S. agencies as well as Pakistani terror organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)’ referred earlier seems now convinced that he is a LeT operative who had ‘surveyed’ Chabad house and GermanBakery in Pune. (The Hindu 14 th Feb 2010).

One fails to understand the sudden change of heart in the media community despite enough indications that FBI has tried every trick in the kitty to ‘protect him’.

As a report in Indian Express put it (14 th Feb 2010, Post-Pune, govt to again seek access to Headley..)

Not only did the US authorities refuse to consider Indian intelligence team’s request to be allowed to question Headley and Rana on the ground that the same was not possible under the US law, they did not even allow partial access to the information and reports in its possession that could link Headley and Rana to attempts to carry out attacks in India.

As an aside the Headley trail reminds one of another suspicious US national Ken Heywood, a key suspect in the Ahmedabad terror attack, who had sent the terror mail just five minutes before the attack happened and was allowed to escape the country. Concerned citizens had raised question about his escape, despite his being  ‘..under the constant glare of the media and who even had police security posted outside his residence’ Much on the lines of Headley there was concern that he could be an undercover CIA operative who was deputed with the task of formenting terror.

IV

As we go to the press there are reports in a section of the media about the ‘Karachi Project’. A writeup in ‘The Week’ (21 st Feb 2010) tells us that “..[i]t is the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s improved blueprint to bleed India through a thousand cuts. The plan is designed to give the LeT greater flexibility in picking and attacking Indian targets. It will bring together LeT operatives and serving and retired officers of the Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence to train Indian jihadis to attack urban targets in India. Hence the suspicion about the Karachi Project using Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives in Pune. But many in the intelligence fraternity blame the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which has been on a revival path, for the attack.”

Quoting the home secretary G.K. Pillai it says that “..[N]ew Delhi had reasons to believe the strike was part of the Karachi Project. LeT operative David Coleman Headley, a US citizen, had clearly referred to it during his interrogation.’

Another weekly newsmagazine ‘India Today’ also carried a cover story on the same theme.

One does not know why the investigators are focussing only on Jihadist groups in connection with the Pune blasts. If Pune is considered to be a key centre of the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ (as claimed by the police) it is the same city where many ‘stalwarts’ of the Hindutva terror network have not only remained active but have enjoyed support in a section of the population. How can one forget the fact that when Lt Col Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya and others from the ‘Abhinav Bharat’ formation were presented before the court in Nashik for their alleged role in Malegaon blast, they were showered with rose petals by Hindutva activists. Praveen Swami of the Hindu (19 Feb 2010) in his writeup ‘Hindutva terror probe haunts Pune investigation’ emphasises ‘..[k]ey suspects involved in Abhinav Bharat’s terror campaign have never been held.’

Interestingly ‘Times of India’ (TNN, Feb 15, 2010, 01.55am IST) is ‘credited with breaking news’ on the Karachi Project ‘ ..[a] plot by the Lashkar-e-Taiba involving fugitive Indian jihadis and serving and retired officers of the Pakistan army aimed at keeping up the offensive against India.’ It also tells us ‘As part of the project, which was revealed by American Lashkar jihadi David Headley to his FBI interrogators, fugitive IM leaders Bhatkal brothers – Riaz and Iqbal – Mufti Sufiyan and Rasool Parti are being sheltered in Karachi by Lashkar. Headley, who recceed Chabad House close to German Bakery, had also told FBI interrogators about serving and retired officers of Pakistan army being part of the project. ‘

It is clear that the last word has not been said about David Headley.

Thanks to FBI, in near future we would be able to put our hands on similar stories.And as it happens in all such cases it would be difficult to straightway reject or accept them. But that should not stop us from raising discomfirting questions before all those who are against the very idea of normalising of relations between these two countries and taking sincere steps in making this part of asia a zone of peace and cooperation and not of strife.

We should repeat what Vir Sanghvi asked very poignantly : ‘Why would the US treat a 26/11 suspect with such consideration?’

We should raise another simple question with childlike simplicity ‘Why there are bomb blasts whenever there are attempts to break the ice between these two countries and which are the internal forces/formations and their external friends which are engaged in building walls between these two peoples and are hell bent on demolishing already existing bridges.

One thought on “The Headley Trail”

  1. anything that happens is now linked to headley. as if all answers lie with headley. should one believe this ? just as it is difficult to believe some names of some particular faith always popping up here and there, accused of being some operative of some unknown group, and responsible for some act of terror. one should probably check how many different characters have been detained for one particular incident and labeled as the principal character and then nobody what happens to them. mainstream press has become a continuation of the police public relations service. hence for most curious people, believing the stories produced by the various unknown branches of the police become difficult to digest. it will be useful if sensible reporters in media start posing hard questions, instead of digesting the softballs that are catered to them.

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