Eric Schmitt, Ginger Thompson, Jane Perlez / New York Times – 2010-10-17 23:23:38
Wife Warned US — Husband Planning Mumbai Attack
NEW YORK (October 17, 2010) — Less than a year before terrorists killed at least 163 people in Mumbai, India, a young Moroccan woman went to American authorities in Pakistan to warn them that she believed her husband, David Headley, was plotting just such an attack.
It was not the first time American law enforcement authorities were warned about Headley, a longtime informer in Pakistan for the US Drug Enforcement Administration whose roots in Pakistan and the United States allowed him to move easily in both worlds.
Two years earlier, in 2005, an American woman who was also married to the 50-year-old Headley told federal investigators in New York that she believed that he was a member of the militant group, Lashkar e-Taiba, created and sponsored by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.
Despite those warnings by two of his three wives, Headley roamed far and wide on Lashkar’s behalf between 2002 and 2009, receiving small arms and countersurveillance training, scouting targets for attack, and building a network of connections that extended from Chicago to Pakistan’s lawless frontier.
Then in 2008, it was his handiwork as chief reconnaissance scout that set the stage for Lashkar’s strike against Mumbai, an assault intended to provoke a conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries, Pakistan and India.
It is unclear what US officials did with the warnings they had gotten about Headley – who has pleaded guilty to the crimes and is cooperating with authorities – or whether they saw them as complaints from wives whose motives might be colored by their strained relations with their husband.
A senior administration official said Saturday, “We took the information, passed it around to the relevant agencies, and what came back was that the FBI had a file on Headley, but it didn’t link him to terrorism.”
Headley’s ability to hide for years in plain sight has rekindled concerns that the Mumbai bombings are another instance of a communications breakdown among the agencies involved in fighting terrorism, much like the enormous intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
It also raises the question of whether US officials were reluctant to dig deeper into Headley’s movements because he had been an informant for the DEA. It may also be an instance of American reluctance to pursue evidence that some officials in Pakistan, its major ally in the war against al Qaeda, were involved in planning an attack that killed six Americans.
The Pakistani government has insisted that its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, did not know of the attack. The United States says it has no evidence to counter this, though officials acknowledge that some current or retired ISI officers probably played some role.
DEA officials said they ended their association with Headley at the end of 2001, at least two months before Headley reportedly attended his first terrorist training.
The investigative news organization ProPublica reported the 2005 warning from Headley’s American ex-wife on its website and in the Saturday issue of the Washington Post.
On Saturday, Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement, “The United States regularly provided threat information to Indian officials in 2008 before the attacks in Mumbai.” He also said, “Had we known about the timing and other specifics related to the Mumbai attacks, we would have immediately shared those details with the government of India.”
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