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Mumbai - Indian Newspaper: American Suspect Eyed In Chabad House Attack, Might Be A CIA Double Agent

Published on: November 26, 2009 05:35 PM
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Headley. Image from Video footage of NDTVHeadley. Image from Video footage of NDTV

Mumbai - It’s a plot that could be straight out of the bluff-and-double-bluff worlds created by John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth. Only, it seems to have played out in real life, to the tragic misfortune of hundreds of innocent people. The tantalising possibility that David Coleman Headley may have been a US undercover agent who turned rogue is vexing many here as American authorities keep the US-based Lashkar jihadi out of the reach of Indian investigators.

To make the tale even more dramatic, Headley may just have provided American intelligence agencies information that prevented a Lashkar attack on Mumbai in September. The theory—and it’s still a theory—is that Headley was used to infiltrate the Lashkar, but gradually went astray under the influence of the very terrorists he was supposed to be spying upon.

Torn between conflicting loyalties, he may have continued to give information to his American handlers, and a tip-off by him may even have helped avert a Laskar attack orginally planned for September. But he seems to have commited fully to Lashkar shortly after that, which could be one reason why American agencies were caught napping by 26/11.


During his interactions in India, Headley frequently introduced himself as a CIA agent. But suspicions that he’s a rogue agent stem more from the just-released information that Headley, a man with one green and one brown eye, could straddle America and Pakistan with ease despite a run-in with the law in the US.

A recent profile in the New York Times said that in 1998, Headley (then known as Daood Gilani) was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into US from Pakistan. ``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),” the NYT report said.

This suggests that Headley had a deal with authorities in the US who allowed him to get away with mild punishment in exchange for a promise of cooperation.

To many here, that also implies that he was a known entity to the counter-terror and drug enforcement authorities in the US. After 9/11, the walls between these agencies had come down because of the links between drugs and terrorism, particularly in the context of Pakistan-Afghanistan where there is a huge overlap between the functions of the DEA and CIA. Surprisingly, the FBI affidavit against Headley doesn’t mention his tryst with the DEA.

FBI’s affidavit against Headley says that he changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley in 2006 to hide his history as an offender. As he told border police in August 2009, it was to give himself the freedom to travel undetected—he said the new name aroused much less suspicion when he travelled.

It is a fact that terrorists are masking their religious identity to get past the counter-terror surveillance, with terror groups seeking to recruit Caucasians for fresh strikes. But many doubt here that the mere switching of names could have worked in Headley’s case given his brush with law but more because of the destinations he was flying to.

Given Pakistan’s unquestioned reputation as the hub of global terror, people travelling to and from the country automatically pop up on the scanner at airports across the globe. Headley, to boot, would often meet his contacts in UAE—a known rezendevous for terrorists and smugglers and a place that is of immense interest to law enforcement agencies.

The doubters found it intriguing that ultra-sensitive agencies in the US did not find anything amiss about the entries on Headley’s US passport. While the sceptics don’t think they have an answer yet, they are inclined to look at the possibility of Headley being an undercover agent who, torn between the competing demands of the jihadi outfits he had been asked to infiltrate and his American handlers, went astray.

Headley, by his own confession, joined Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2006 and received training in one of the terror camps run by the jihadi outfit.

Those who subscribe to the “rogue agent” theory are inclined to believe that this was known to the Americans, always anxious to ferret out information from hard-to-penetrate terror groups. They also feel that US agencies were perhaps aware that last year, Headley was in India to recce targets for a Lashkar attack that it had originally planned for September—as confirmed by Ajbal Kasab in his testimony—and which was finally carried out on 26/11. Rather, they also suspect that Headley might have been the source of information that helped Americans warn of the attack planned for September last year.

In their warning, which was passed on to Maharashtra government by Intelligence Bureau, the Americans had said that prominent installations in Mumbai were on the jihadis’ target. As a matter of fact, the FBI alert made a specific mention of Taj and other hotels—Marriott, Land’s End and Sea Rock.

It is felt that Headley’s defection happened immediately afterwards and that is perhaps one of the reasons why Americans could not, unlike in September, sniff 26/11. The suspicion is reinforced by the fact that it was around this time that FBI put Headley under its surveillance, leading to his arrest on October 3 this year.

Suspicions are getting stronger as Americans delay giving Indian investigators access to Headley. The hope here is that Indian agencies would get their turn to talk to the terrorist after charges—indictment in the American lexicon—are framed against him on Jauuary 1. There is also the possibility that Headley has promised to sing on the condition that he is not exposed to interrogators from India.

But during interactions on the issue, FBI has been unusually cagey about discussing Headley in detail—odd on the part of the agency which swiftly warned of the attack Lashkar had planned in September and without whose help the breakthrough in the 26/11 probe would not have happened.

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Read Comments (14)  —  Post Yours »


 Nov 26, 2009 at 08:03 PM Anonymous Says:

"But he seems to have commited fully to Lashkar shortly after that, which could be one reason why American agencies were caught napping by 26/11. "

Am I hallucinating or had the US gov't tipped off India about these attacks before-hand?


 Nov 26, 2009 at 09:40 PM Anonymous Says:

this article is riveting


 Nov 26, 2009 at 10:06 PM Anonymous Says:

I just saw the film "The Good German" set in 1945 Berlin. There the US was engaged in protecting brutal Nazis they needed for missile development. Sounds similar.


 Nov 26, 2009 at 10:17 PM spell checker Says:

I think you meant to say "Suspect" in the headline.


 Nov 26, 2009 at 10:23 PM Aron Says:

"During his interactions in India, Headley frequently introduced himself as a CIA agent."
...Maybe I'm going out on limb here, but I think that someone who goes around presenting himself as a CIA agent probably isn't.


 Nov 27, 2009 at 12:20 AM anonymous says Says:

Reply to #5  
Aron Says:

"During his interactions in India, Headley frequently introduced himself as a CIA agent."
...Maybe I'm going out on limb here, but I think that someone who goes around presenting himself as a CIA agent probably isn't.

He probably is! He may have not been a clandestine agent just assisting US. The victims of Mumbai may now have claim against US CIA for damages as he might have been an gaent of US... Big probability of this having l


 Nov 27, 2009 at 03:04 AM Anonymous Says:

What are the chances that he in fact did not go astray? Seems like nothing is clear in the whole mess, especially considering the vague demands of the terrorists, or rather no demands, they were there for the killing, nothing else. Who sent them and why?


 Nov 27, 2009 at 08:37 AM Anonymous Says:

Well! just wait for the victims and their families to hold the us responsible and sue them.


 Nov 27, 2009 at 10:53 AM Anonymous Says:

It seems the US or Israel always gives a tip-off of an impending attack, but never soon enough to prevent it. I would say this attack benefitted the US (Israel), who always seek to create chaos and division everywhere.


 Nov 27, 2009 at 05:09 PM N3m 1515 Says:

Once again a direct link is found between so called 'terror' and the United States
The US is 100% the originator of this criminal activity
From the Middle East, Asia to Africa and Central & South America, US "intelligence" agencies are involved up to their neck in drugs, arms and arming violent groups to destabilise governments and further their hegemonic geopolitical goals around acquisition of natural resources.


 Nov 27, 2009 at 08:53 PM Anonymous Says:

Sounds like a Jason Bourne from the "Bourne Identity" movies. Is Headley a CIA mind controlled "asset" who they are having trouble controlling?


 Nov 28, 2009 at 04:41 AM legalies76 Says:

The CIA has always dealt heroin and coke while keeping drug laws harsh enough to keep their profits up.


 Nov 28, 2009 at 07:09 PM big talkers Says:

you guys are all a bunch of big talkers with no backing. U talk as if you actually work for these agencies and u know how they work. Its not like they look in the movies. dont just make up stuff. If u wanna post something quote a source!


 Nov 29, 2009 at 09:44 AM vinod Gulati Says:

It's strange - US is not permitting India to interrogate David Coleman Headley - something seems to be fishy in the matter. Either US is not willing to fight against Terror as it is helping Pakistan in the wrong method, or it is cooperating Pakistan indirectly If Headley is interrogated, US may be afraid of certain secrets coming into hand of Indian authorities, which may jeopardize its crocodile tears. If it is serious, it should crush the terrorists openly.


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