In what appears to be a carefully scripted prosecution process, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the US has been trying to have the prosecution of David Coleman Headley, the Chicago-based US citizen of Pakistani origin, who allegedly helped the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in carrying out the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai last year, conducted in such a manner as to avoid any focus on his alleged links with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
These links were recently alleged by The New York Times in a profile on Headley. It alleged that in 1998, Headley (then known as Daood Gilani) was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan. It added: “Court records show that after his arrest, he provided so much information about his own involvement with drug trafficking which stretched back more than a decade and about his Pakistani suppliers that he was sentenced to less than two years in jail and later went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)".
Surprisingly, neither the initial affidavit nor the subsequent Criminal Information Report against him filed by the FBI in a Chicago federal court referred to his criminal record of 1998. Nor was there any reference to the fact that he was known to one of the agencies of the US Government since 1998 and had been co-operating with it in its anti-narcotics operations in the Af-Pak region. The ease with which he was getting visas for traveling frequently to Pakistan and India is attributable to the interest taken by the DEA in facilitating his travels on its behalf.
Indian media has reported that when he was produced before the federal judge for the first time since his arrest on December 9,2009, he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. It has missed two other significant points to which a reference has been made by sections of the US media. Firstly, “Headley told U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber that he understood the charges and was waiving any indictment in the case.” Secondly, he waived his right to a trial by a grand jury.
Sections of the US media have pointed out that the fact that the report filed against him by the FBI in the court on December 7 was called a Criminal Information Report and not an indictment indicates that the FBI has already reached a plea bargain deal with him under which as a quid pro quo for his admitting some charges when the trial formally commences next month, the FBI will not press other charges against him. His admitting some charges and the FBI dropping other charges will obviate the need for an elaborate trial with the introduction of detailed evidence.
This would prevent any deliberate or inadvertent disclosure by him of his work in the Af-Pak region for the DEA, which works in close co-operation with its Pakistani counterpart. The two have many joint operations.
It is very likely that the US will not allow his independent interrogation by Indian investigators and that it will not agree to his extradition to India as that might result in the Indian authorities coming to know not only of his contacts with Pakistani agencies, but also with the DEA.
Senior officials of the White House and the FBI have been taking close and unusual interest in the investigation and prosecution. The Director of the FBI himself was reported to have visited Chicago before Headley was produced before the court. Many in India have analysed this as indicative of the close interest taken by President Obama in counter-terrorism co-operation with India. A more plausible explanation is that this is indicative of the concerns in the White House and the FBI that if the prosecution is not properly handled, the case could result in a bombshell if it emerges that one of the active conspirators of 26/11 was an agent of a US agency. This could lead to suits for heavy damages against the US Government from the relatives of the Americans, Israelis and other foreigners killed.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.