Friday 18 December 2009

The strange case of David Coleman Headley

What are we to make of the David Coleman Headley case? It is alleged that Headley carried out numerous surveillance trips to Mumbai on behalf of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist group prior to the attack last year and also scoped out the offices of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons, in preparation for an attack that never took place.
He was eventually arrested in October at Chicago's O'Hare international airport when it became apparent he was participating in yet another plan by the LeT terrorist group to attack India.
Not only was Coleman a highly trained LeT operative who had spent months in training camps in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. After being convicted of attempting to import heroin in to the United States in 1997, he became a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant and then, post 9/11, an FBI agent.
Today, in yet another twist in this story, the sole-surviving Mumbai attacker, Ajmal Kasab, claimed that Headley was a member of the FBI team that interrogated him after his capture.
Clearly there are wheels within wheels here. While the US may have thought it was running a brilliant agent, he was almost certainly working for the opposition. It is almost impossible to believe that Headley's LeT handlers and their friends in Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, did not know of Headley's connections to US law enforcement agencies.
As each day goes by more information is being revealed about this unusual US citizen. He was born in Washington in 1970 and named Daood Salim Gilani, the son of Syed Salim Gilani, who worked for Voice of America and later headed up Pakistani radio, and Serrill Headley, his American mother. He spent much of his childhood in Pakistan after his father gained custody following a divorce, but returned to America when he was 17 to live with his mother. Both his parents died last year.
In fact, Headley is the half-brother of Danyal Gilani, a public relations officer for Pakistan's prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani- to whom he is also distantly related - and one of Headley’s other Pakistan-based relatives in 2001 was a ranking ISI officer.
One theory now doing the rounds is that Headley was actually a CIA asset who was used to infiltrate LeT. This could explain the remarkably explicit (but wrongly timed) warning passed by the USA to India in September last year about a planned attack on precisely the same hotels that were eventually attacked two months later. In this scenario Headley was sent to infiltrate the LeT, but was turned by them and became a double agent.
If you have the time and the inclination you can read more about this extraordinary story here, here and, for an Indian perspective, here . Whether or not Headley was a double, treble, or even quadruple agent will possibly be revealed in his trial. Either way, this case shows the dangers inherent in the black arts of the intelligence services.

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