November 23, 2011

Was David Headley a double agent, serving the US and ISI simultaneously?

TNN | Nov 24, 2011, 12.50AM IST

Indian officials believed that the repeated warnings by the US to India of a terrorist strike in Mumbai could have come from Headley.

NEW DELHI: Was David Headley a double agent, servicing the US and ISI simultaneously? India believes so. Though the US has denied it, a new investigative report questions the US denial, concluding that the truth was far murkier than what it seemed.

ProPublica, a Washington-based investigative journalism website, in a new documentary/report said in the decade preceding his arrest in 2009, Headley served as an informer for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, even serving as an undercover agent for them in Pakistan. Did he work for any other US intelligence agency? It's not clear.

What is clear though is that Headley led something of a charmed existence. The report details the number of times Headley slipped in and out of Pakistan, Dubai, India and the US, which, in any other person would have aroused the scrutiny of counter-terrorism officials, certainly immigration officials every time. But Headley slipped through. Was it oversight, or was Headley being played so he could access more detailed intelligence?

At some stage during this time, Headley went over to the dark side, became radicalized and a jihadi working for the Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI simultaneously, for the same project, an attack on Mumbai.

Former home secretary G K Pillai, who was in-charge of the Headley case in India, toldProPublica that he has no doubts. "David Headley, in my opinion, was a double agent," he said. "He was working for both the US and for LeT and the ISI." The CIA, FBI and DEA denied these to ProPublica, which wrote that there was no proof to show that Headley was working as a US agent during the time of the attacks.

Indian officials believed that the repeated warnings by the US to India of a terrorist strike in Mumbai could have come from Headley. The report talks about the number of clues that appeared in the past decade that pointed to Headley's increased radicalization, growing jihadi bent, frequent trips to Pakistan and meetings with LeT's Sajid Mir as well as ISI's 'Major Iqbal' who recruited him.

ProPublica spoke to DEA which clarified that Headley stopped being their agent from March 2002. "DEA did not send Headley to Pakistan for the purpose of collecting post-9/11 information on terrorism or drugs," a senior DEA official said. The denial adds another version to a murky story. Officials at other US agencies said Headley remained a DEA operative in some capacity until as late as 2005. Headley has testified that he did not stop working for the DEA until September 2002, when he did two stints in the Lashkar camps.

The report quotes a European counter-terror official who investigated Headley as saying he believed the Pakistani-American became an intelligence operative focused on terrorism. "I don't feel we got the whole story about Headley as an informant from the Americans," he said. The US hastily ended Headley's probation three years early in 2001 for him to go to Pakistan- probably to gather intelligence from there in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

No comments: