US deployed Headley in Pakistan despite warning

November 8th, 2010 - 4:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 8 (IANS) David Coleman Headley, a suspect in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was sent to Pakistan by US authorities to work for them months after 9/11, despite a warning that he sympathised with radical Islamic groups, a media report said Monday.

According to court records and inquiries, Headley, a small-time drug dealer and informant, arrived in Pakistan in December 2001 and began training with terrorists in February 2002 on “the merits of waging jihad”, eventually playing a key role in the Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead, The New York Times reported.

The October 2001 warning was dismissed, authorities said, as the ire of a jilted girlfriend and for lack of proof.

Less than a month later, those concerns did not come up when a federal court in New York granted Headley, a Pakistani-American, an early release from probation so that he could be sent to work for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Pakistan. It is unclear what Headley was supposed to do in Pakistan for the Americans.

“All I knew was the DEA wanted him in Pakistan as fast as possible because they said they were close to making some big cases,” said Luis Caso, Headley’s former probation officer.

A senior US official said the inquiry has concluded that while the government received warnings, it did not have strong enough evidence at the time to act on them.

“Had the US government sufficiently established he was engaged in plotting a terrorist attack in India, the information would have most assuredly been transferred promptly to the Indian government,” the official said in a statement to The Times.

In recent weeks, US government officials have begun to acknowledge that Headley’s path from American informant to transnational terrorist illustrates the breakdowns and miscommunications that have bedevilled them since the Sep 11 attacks.

Warnings about his radicalism were apparently not shared with the drug agency that made use of his ties in Pakistan.

The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., began an investigation into Headley’s government connections after reports last month that two of the former drug dealer’s ex-wives had gone to American authorities between 2005 and 2008, before the Mumbai attacks, to say they feared he was plotting with terrorists.

Combined with the earlier warning from the former girlfriend, three of the women in Headley’s life reported his ties to terrorists, only to have those warnings dismissed.

An examination of Headley’s story shows that his government ties ran far deeper and longer than previously known.

A senior American official said he believed that Headley was a DEA informant until at least 2003, meaning that he was talking to American agencies even as he was learning to deal with explosives and small arms in terrorist training camps, the report said.

The October 2001 warning from Headley’s girlfriend was first reported Friday by ProPublica, the independent investigative news operation, and published in The Washington Post.

Officials told The Times that the FBI actually talked to Headley about the girlfriend, and he told them she was unreliable. They said that while he seemed to have a philosophical affinity for some groups, there was no evidence that he was plotting against the US.

The Indian government has been outspoken in its concerns that the US overlooked repeated warnings about Headley’s terrorist activities because of his links to both American law enforcement as well as to officials in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the report said.

Headley, 50, born in the US to a Pakistani diplomat and Philadelphia socialite, has pleaded guilty in connection with the Mumbai plot and a thwarted attack against a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Headley, who is in federal custody in Chicago, is cooperating with the authorities hoping to avoid the death penalty.

Officials of the DEA, which has a long history with Headley, declined to discuss their relationship with him. American authorities have not disclosed what happened after Headley resumed his role as an informant.

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