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What Headley Has Told the Americans
For 10 years, Daood Sayed Gilani existed only in the shadows, quietly travelling between India, Pakistan and the United States, building his links with the terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba. Ideally, Gilani should have shown up on the radar of the Indian or US intelligence communities during his extensive tours in India. That didn’t happen because on February 16, 2006, Gilani virtually ceased to exist. He was now officially David Coleman Headley.
Arrested on October 3 last year, Headley’s journey and his central role in the planning of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai had initially confounded Indian intelligence. But his plea bargain now in the North district court of Illinois and subsequent confessions have helped Indian investigators piece together a key element of the 26/11 puzzle, adding further credence to the suspicion that it was conducted with the help of the Pakistani intelligence establishment.
The Taj Mahal Hotel ablaze during 26/11
While the broad contours of Headley’s confessions have been made public, US intelligence has also shared some sensitive material with their Indian counterparts through official channels, which has proved to be a breakthrough in the 26/11 probe. Some of the key information the US has shared with India is:
For Indian intelligence, Headley’s revelations are in many ways a game-changer. This is the first evidence of the spreading global reach of the LeT, which now includes terrorists from western backgrounds using US travel documents. Indian visa rules are very specific that any person of Pakistani origin has to be checked out thoroughly before a visa is granted to visit India.
Lakhvi put 26/11 together using the extensive videos/tactical details provided by Headley.
In Headley’s case, he managed to hide the fact that his father was a Pakistani in the documents submitted to the Indian consulate in Chicago. No surprise then that Headley was granted a multiple-entry business visa enabling him to travel to India several times between 2006-08. What now worries security officials is the possibility of more Americans or Britishers (with or without Pakistani links) visiting India who could be part of the LeT’s global terror network.
However, even with all this shared information, there has been a rift between Indian intelligence and their US counterparts. While India had granted FBI officials full access to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive in the 26/11 attack, no such access was given to an Indian security team that travelled to the US earlier this year.
This has raised doubts on whether Headley had also been working for the Americans in some covert capacity before he turned rogue. Indian officials feel that Headley’s name-change was facilitated by US intelligence to help him work with the LeT. “The Americans were probably running Headley as their asset to gather more information about the LeT and its leadership without realising that he had ‘turned’,” a senior Indian security official told Outlook.
Intelligence officials also point out that Headley had lied to the authorities that his father’s name was “William Headley”. The son of a Pakistani diplomat, Sayyid Salim Gilani, Headley had wiped clean his Pakistani links which, say Indian intelligence officials, could have only been done with the help of the Americans. The fact that Headley also managed to return to Pakistan after each visit to India to brief his handlers has also caused consternation in Indian security circles. This is another indication of the Americans probably helping Headley in a bid to infiltrate the LeT’s ranks.
Five Questions India Wants To Ask Headley
But the one question which has the Indian security establishment most worried is whether US intelligence knew beforehand about the 26/11 attack. “The Americans did share a few intercepts and intelligence that an attack was coming. But did they know what Headley knew?” an official with the ministry of home affairs asks. Could it be that they had not informed the Indian intelligence agencies in detail so as to save their own man?
Ajmal Kasab from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal video footage during 26/11
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up after 26/11, conducted a meticulous investigation based on the inputs given by the Americans. They have unearthed details of Headley’s travels in India and also gathered evidence that corroborates the US investigation. However, with the American authorities refusing to share the tapes of Headley’s communications with his Pakistani handlers prior to his arrest—which had been intercepted by the US National Security Agency—the Indian security establishment has been left in a disadvantaged position. “We could have matched them with the voice samples intercepts we have from the 26/11 attack. That would have clinched the case for us,” a security official noted.
In fact, Colonel Shah (or handler “A”) is believed to be one of the four Pakistanis who was calling in tactical instructions to the terrorists during the Mumbai assault. Incidentally, Headley has confessed that the terrorists had been instructed to “fight to the death” and had “remained in telephonic contact with LeT Member A during the attacks”.
While India will continue to use all diplomatic and legal channels available to get access to Headley, security officials note with growing concern the growing evidence of Headley’s links with Al Qaeda through the LeT. This has confirmed a long-standing suspicion within the Indian intelligence community that the LeT and Al Qaeda share a strategic and seamless relationship, waiting to strike again when the time is right.