Mumbai Terror Attack: Failings of Intelligence?

The Editor

Recent revelations concerning David Coleman Headley, who has confessed to assisting Lashkar e-Taiba (Lashkar-i-Toiba or LeT) in the preparations for a deadly terror attack, have cast doubt on the efficiency of intelligence communications. Headley – born as Daood Sayed Gilani to an American mother and a Pakistani diplomat – had changed his name in February 2006 at the urging of LeT. He had chosen a Western-sounding name to draw less attention from the Indian authorities on his travels to the subcontinent.
Headley had made five trips to the city of Mumbai (Bombay) in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008, and the information he gathered was passed on to LeT. In 2008, for three days starting from November  26th, a group of LeT gunmen caused havoc at various locations in Mumbai. 166 innocent people were killed and only one terrorist survived to face justice.
According to a report by Sebastian Rotella, published in the Washington Post on October 16 and preceded by a version published on ProPublica, the FBI was aware of Headley’s links to terrorism years before he was arrested. The information came from the Moroccan-born second wife of Headley. Her exact identity is being kept secret. In August 2005 Headley had been arrested after a domestic dispute. He had struck his wife several times in the face, according to affidavits from the time.
The wife, who had married him in 2002, claimed that she had three interviews with the FBI. She said that she had told FBI officials that Headley was working for LeT, even though he was boasting that he was paid as a U.S. informant.
Headley’s life as an informant stems from his career as a drug smuggler. In 1988, he was found to be smuggling Pakistani heroin into Germany. For this crime, he received a reduced jail sentence after cooperating with the authorities. He had been a DEA nark since at least 1997, when he was again arrested for smuggling heroin.
According to a senior U.S. official, the information supplied by Headley’s wife had not been ignored. He also denied the claims that the woman had specifically mentioned that Headley was working for Lashkar-e-Taiba. The official said:
“She expressed concern about individuals that her husband was hanging around with. She had concerns that they were involved in a terrorist plot. She had no details about who he was associated with or what they might be contemplating. There was nothing specific. There was nothing necessarily to follow up on.”
The New York Times reported on the story of Headley’s Moroccan-born former wife on October 16th, naming her as 27-year old Faiza Outalha. The NYT interviewed her in Morocco. She said that she had spoken to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan:
“I told them, he’s either a terrorist, or he’s working for you. Indirectly, they told me to get lost… I wanted him in Guantánamo.”
“I told them anything I could do to get their attention. It was as if I was shouting, ‘This guy was a terrorist! You have to do something.”
There are records from December 2007 and January 2008 that Ms. Outalha had met with people at the American embassy in Islamabad. She had spoken to an assistant regional security officer and a representative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the embassy.
She said that she and Headley had stayed at the Taj Mahal hotel (pictured above), scene of some of the worst carnage in the Mumbai attacks, on  two occasions, April and May 2007. Their stay in the Taj Mahal has been confirmed by hotel records.
On Monday October 18th, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley answered questions in his Daily Press Briefing. He was asked about the wife’s claims as reported in the media: “Is this a communications breakdown? Do you know anything about this? Number one, can you confirm that that is the case and -”
The following is from the transcript of the exchange.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let me – I will respond in the context of two meetings that we did have with one of Mr. Headley’s spouses in late 2007 and early 2008. She did provide us some information. We followed up on that information and provided it to relevant agencies across the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on – P.J., as far as – I’m sorry, you want – as far as these training camps are concerned which Mr. David Headley told U.S. and Indian officials when they interviewed him. And also, in an interview General Musharraf also told a German magazine that 22 terrorist camps were in Pakistan. One, are they closed now? Can you make sure that those camps are now closed, if you have told the Pakistani authorities or if you are going to tell them here when they meet during this coming meeting?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s a lot to your question, Goyal. We have cooperated extensively in investigating the tragic Mumbai attacks, including giving Indian officials access to Mr. Headley. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment about any alleged particulars in those discussions. We have been pressing Pakistan to take more aggressive action inside its borders to deal with a threat that is of concern to us, a concern to the region, and a threat to Pakistan itself.
We – as we’ve noted many times, Pakistan has taken aggressive action within its own borders. But clearly, this is an ongoing threat and more needs to be done. That will be among the issues talked about during this week’s Strategic Dialogue.
QUESTION: And P.J., when President and Secretary visits Mumbai in November first week and they will be staying at the same hotel which was the target of the terrorist bombings from Pakistan, what message do you think they are carrying for the people of Mumbai?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to cooperate extensively with Indian officials. We were doing so prior to the Mumbai attacks. We have done so since the Mumbai attacks. Security is an area of significant dialogue between our law enforcement and intelligence agencies and those of the Indian Government. We will continue to cooperate with India on the security front, but even as we expand our dialogue and our cooperation with India on many, many fronts. And obviously, this will be part of the President’s visit to India next month.
QUESTION: Can we get back to the wife’s –
QUESTION: Yes, you said that you had this input from them. So did you follow up on that input? Was that input from Islamabad reach Washington? Did you share it with any other countries – India, Pakistan? Because allegations in the articles are coming out you did not do anything on it.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s go through those. Did we follow up? The answer is yes. Have – did we share information with our security partners, including India, prior to the Mumbai attacks? The answer is yes. We have cooperated with India since then. I think Ambassador Roemer put out an extensive statement in Delhi over the weekend that highlighted both the – our cooperation with India in – prior to and after.
Needless to say, I will just say that going back over some of the information provided to us, there was concern expressed by both spouses at the same time; the information was not specific. I think everyone should understand that if we did have specific information on this, we would have absolutely provided it to the Indian Government beforehand. The fact is that while we had information and concerns, it did not detail a time or place of the attack.
QUESTION: Did – have you noticed has there been any change or uptick in cooperation between India and the U.S. on intelligence matters like this since the – everything you’re talking about now happened under – not – it was not on your watch; it was under the previous Administration. Has there been an increase in cooperation now?
MR. CROWLEY: It’s – I mean, the short answer is yes. We have an extensive dialogue with India, and as we build a strategic partnership with India and security is one of those areas, and I would say that yes, our cooperation with India has expanded.
The story has been covered extensively in the Indian media. This is understandable, as the only surviving terrorist, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab (pictured during his murderous rampage), is currently appealing against the death sentence that was handed down to him on May 5, 2010, as I wrote earlier. During his trial, Kasab had presented himself as an “innocent” pawn, even denying that video footage of him grinning as he took part in the killing spree featured someone else.
Kasab filed his appeal on September 28 and the hearing began yesterday (Tuesday, October 19). Annoyed that he was not allowed to appear in person in the courtroom, but was expected to appear by video-link from Arthur Road Jail where he is held, Kasab showed his contempt by spitting into the video camera. He then yawned and demanded to be taken to the court. Even without Kasab being present, the Mumbai Court had undergone extensive security enhancement prior to the appeal hearing.
The group that had carried out the Mumbai attack has been named as Jamaat ud-Dawa. This is based in Muridke near Lahore province, and it was through this group that poorly-educated Kasab came to be part of the plot to attack Mumbai. The headquarters of Jamaat ud-Dawa were a front for LeT. The founder of both groups is Hafiz Saeed, an uncompromising religious biogot who has called for the death of the Pope and others, yet seems to enjoy a protected status in Pakistan. The headquarters in Muridke were even used for kidnapping Christian children who were forced into begging to gain money for the group. Jamaat ud-Dawa – even though it is inextricably linked to LeT and was said to have been banned after the Mumbai attacks – is still allowed to function legally, and Hafiz Saeed is still a free man.
While the American media shows interest in David Headley as someone who tried to dupe the DEA and , and the Indian media is willing to see some responsibility for the Mumbai attacks being blamed upon American authorities, there is a further dimension to this story. This is the role that was played by the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). The ISI has been revealed as playing both sides in the insurgency in Afghanistan, even (according to a recent report from the London School of Economics) mounting Taliban terror attacks in southern Afghanistan. One al-Qaeda supporting  former ISI director, Hamid Gul, has also been reported as funding and supporting Taliban operations in Afghanistan. His name reappears in this context in the leaked Wikileaks U.S. army documents. Reports of Gul’s involvement in insurgent activity by the Taliban (a group created by the ISI) have been circulating for at least three years.
The alleged role of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks has been discussed for some time in India. Last year, U.S. gave information to India on this subject. The information had been gleaned from David Headley and Tahawuur Rana, shortly after they were (separately) arrested in Chicago in October 2009. Rana is also accused of complicity in the Mumbai attacks. On November 21st 2009, CIA chief Leon Panetta met with India’s National Security Adviser MK Narayanan in New Delhi to share information. A month later it was reported in the Indian press that papers from the Indian Consulate in Chicago, where Headley and Rana had been issued with visas to India, had apparently gone missing.
On Monday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper revealed that it had been given access to classified Indian intelligence documents, in the form of a 109-page report:
Under questioning, Headley described dozens of meetings between officers of the main Pakistani military intelligence service, the ISI, and senior militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group responsible for the Mumbai attacks.
He claims a key motivation for the ISI in aiding the attacks was to bolster militant organisations with strong links to the Pakistani state and security establishment who were being marginalised by more extreme radical groups.
Headley, who undertook surveillance of the targets in Mumbai for the operation, claims that at least two of his missions were partly paid for by the ISI and that he regularly reported to the spy agency. However, the documents suggest that supervision of the militants by the ISI was often chaotic and that the most senior officers of the agency may have been unaware at least of the scale and ambition of the operation before it was launched.
Yesterday, it was revealed that James Clapper, America’s director of national intelligence, was ordering an “after-action review” of the information that was known about Headley. As he had apparently been known to the FBI, the State Department, ICE and the DEA before the Mumbai attacks took place, there  are still many questions that need to be answered.
Firstly, there is a problem with shared intelligence. India has more to offer America in terms of trade, resources and IT skills than Pakistan ever can, and is therefore a useful ally. If information relating to possible terrorist attacks upon Indian soil are not relayed to their Indian counterparts, U.S. federal authorities need to improve their communications. If the ISI is behind the terror attack in Mumbai, and as it has already been involved in clandestine terror operations involving the Taliban, can Pakistan seriously be considered as an ally?
Adrian Morgan

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