Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate has come under incriminating spotlight in the US as a result of the ongoing judicial proceedings in a Chicago court against Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in connection with the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai and certain leaked WikiLeaks cables relating to the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.
Rana along with fellow accomplice David Coleman Headley had allegedly played an active role in facilitating the 26/11 terrorist strikes by visiting India to collect targeting information and providing logistics help such as opening an office of Rana’s Chicago-based immigration consultancy agency in Mumbai to provide an ostensibly legitimate professional cover for Headley during his frequent trips to India to collect information for the LET.
Headley has already made a plea bargain before a Chicago court and a ruling on this is still awaited. In his depositions in connection with his plea bargain, Headley had given a total reconstruction of the preparations before the terrorist strikes and his role in facilitating them. Rana has not made a plea bargain. He has totally denied till now that he has had any links with the LET, which is a designated terrorist organization under the US laws. Media reports give reason to believe that his lawyers may argue when his trial starts on May 16 that Rana’s contacts were with the ISI and not with the LET and that he has not committed any breach of the US laws by helping the ISI in its covert war against India. His lawyers may also cite the close relations of the CIA with the ISI in this connection to underline their stand that co-operating with the ISI against India does not amount to an offence.
In his detailed statement in connection with the plea bargain, Headley had referred to the active role played by five individuals based in Pakistan in connection with the planning and execution of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. The FBI documents filed before the Chicago court did not till now give their identifying particulars. Instead, they described them as LET members A,B.C and D and person A. Nor did the FBI till now choose to indict them and seek their arrest and extradition from Pakistan.
In a supplementary indictment to the main indictment against Rana filed before the Chicago court on April 25,2011, the FBI has for the time given the identifying particulars of LET members A,B,C and D , but not Person A. They have been sought to be prosecuted along with Rana for their role in the 26/11 terrorist strikes. By combining the trial of these four persons with the trial of Rana, the FBI seems to be trying to highlight the role of the LET and to undercut the expected defence of Rana that he had helped the ISI and not the LET.
One has strong grounds for suspecting that the belated decision of the FBI to disclose the identities of these four persons and try them along with Rana is meant to help the ISI in avoiding any embarrassment due to its role in the 26/11 terrorist strikes. The US intelligence may have many differences with the ISI because of its perceived non-co-operation against Al Qaeda, the Jallaludin Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, but it is not prepared to initiate any action against the ISI for its role in the 26/11 terrorist strikes.
The leaked WikiLeaks cables relate to a list of terrorism indicators given to the US interrogators in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to enable them to identify and zero in on people who could have been involved in acts of terrorism. These indicators give the names of all Foreign Terrorist Organisations figuring in the annual reports of the counter-terrorism division of the USA’s Directorate of National Intelligence plus the names of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan (ISI), Iran and Yemen which are known to be using terrorist organizations for achieving their national objectives.
The guidance given to the interrogators is that anyone found having links with these intelligence agencies could be involved in terrorism and would hence need to be intensely interrogated. The terrorism indicators seem to have been prepared between 2001 and 2007. The inclusion of the ISI as a suspect organization in the list is not a matter for surprise. We had seen for years that while the US officials were privately and informally prepared to admit the role of the ISI in sponsoring terrorism, they were not prepared to admit it formally in public. If they admitted it in public, the question of action against the State of Pakistan would arise.
The indictment filed against the four Pakistanis in the Chicago court and the leaked WikiLeaks cables raise two important questions: Firstly, will the US pressure Pakistan to arrest and extradite these persons or will it merely get them convicted in absentia without making serious efforts for their extradition? Secondly, is the US gradually moving towards officially declaring the ISI as a sponsor of terrorism? There is no reason to believe it is.
Whatever be the official US line in respect of these developments, the additional details of the ISI’s role that have become available could strengthen the case against the ISI in the petition filed in a New York Court by a relative of the Israeli woman who was killed in Narriman House by the terrorists involved in the 26/11 terrorist strikes. The relatives of the Indian victims of the 26/11 terrorist strikes should draw the attention of the petitioner in the New York case against the ISI and suggest to the petitioner and his lawyer that they should use these additional details. In fact, the relatives of the Indian victims should designate an Indian lawyer to co-ordinate with the lawyer of the Israeli family.
This may please be read in continuation of my article of April 26, 2011, titled ABCD Of 26/11 Masterminds
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.