The following comment should be out worldwide on the IANS wire.
By Mayank Chhaya
The rash of leaks from the disclosures made by key Mumbai terror plotter David Coleman Headley gives a glimpse into the reasons why he managed to strike a deal with the US authorities to take the death penalty and extradition to India off the table.
Although such conclusions can never be officially confirmed, it is obvious that the intelligence pay dirt that US investigators hit with Headley played a significant role in the Pakistani-American getting a reasonable deal. It is equally obvious that in return for India not pushing for his extradition Headley would have agreed to reveal the full extent of the alleged involvement of Pakistani intelligence in plotting the Mumbai terror attacks.
The assertion by India’s National Security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon that “The real sense that has come out from Headley’s interrogation is that the ISI was... literally controlling and coordinating it (the 26/11 attack) from the beginning till the end” is extraordinary for its lack of equivocation. He could not have said it with such finality without the backing of Headley’s disclosures to a team of National Investigation Agency (NIA) that interrogated him in the first week of June in Chicago.
Now that an official of the standing and consequence of Menon has said it, the leaks about the content Headley’s disclosures have acquired sanctity which they otherwise would have lacked.
One troubling aspect of Headley’s disclosures relates to his unmolested visits to India despite the distinct likelihood that he was on the radar of US law enforcement agencies and possibly even being monitored because of his past brush with the law. In his earlier avatar as Daood Gilani was arrested and jailed on drug-related charges in 1997 but managed to find freedom by negotiating a deal with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Since then there have been reports that he was in fact enlisted as a DEA agent who changed his name officially from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley in 2005. However, it is inconceivable that this change of name and passport would have wiped off his past criminal record in the dossiers of the US law enforcement agencies. To that extent it is curious at the very least that Headley’s record may not have been notified to the Indian government when he visited the country five times between 2006 and 2008 with the specific purpose of scouting targets and plotting a major terrorist attack.
Given this background Headley did not really have any choice but to agree to disclose all that he knew about the Mumbai attacks not just to US investigators but eventually to Indian investigators as well. It is hard to establish whether New Delhi officially asked Washington to explain how Headley’s travels to India took place without the country’s authorities being told about his criminal record. Also, how someone who operated at the intersection of Islamic terror groups and elements of Pakistani intelligence escaped being uncovered in the post 9/11 world remains unexplained.
It is remarkable that officials of the stature of the National Security Adviser as well as Home Secretary G K Pillai are openly sharing inferences so damning of India’s most difficult neighbor drawn from Headley’s disclosures even while keeping the actual content of those disclosures away. Within the confines of nation security considerations, this may be a powerful case for access under the Right to Information Act.
P.S.: No one should be surprised if the leaks have an impact on Headley’s eventual sentencing by a US court.