Understanding Indian press rumors about Headley

I previously analyzed the rumors, centered around the Indian press, that David Headley had penetrated Lashkar-e-Taiba as a CIA asset. These rumors generally hold that Headley then “went rogue” and become committed to LeT’s mission before his involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Although I argued that these rumors should not be regarded as credible, the Indian media is now accepting Headley’s continued work for the US government as proven fact. (He is known to have worked for the DEA in Pakistan in 1999, but there is no concrete proof that he worked for any other US government agency thereafter.)

Further, claims about Headley grow more outlandish by the day. By far the most bizarre is that Headley was part of an FBI team that quizzed Sabahuddin Ahmed in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. The Indian Express claims:

Sabahuddin Ahmed, one of the three arrested accused in the 26/11 terror attack case, has claimed that alleged Lashkar operative David Headley had interrogated him while he was in the custody of the Mumbai Police. According to Ahmed, Headley was part of an FBI team that had interrogated him while he was in police custody. He is also likely to move a plea before the Esplanade court seeking appropriate action against Headley.

It goes without saying that I do not find this latest claim credible. The fact that Ahmed waited until Dec. 15 (i.e. after the conspiratorial rumors were already flying) to air this claim even though Headley and Tahawwur Rana were both arrested in October is indicative of the falseness of his claims.

But what is going on overall? Is the Headley reporting a simple case of bad reporting by the Indian press?

In fact, an Indian journalist has confirmed to me that the country’s home secretary told reporters on deep background that he thinks Headley was a CIA double agent. There are also other indications that the Indian government is actively propagating dubious claims about Headley’s work for the US government. I suspect that this is part of a ham-handed attempt on the Indian government’s part to pressure the US to turn Headley over to them. Moving forward, it is best to regard Indian press reporting on Headley with caution given the Indian government’s endorsement of some questionable rumors (although the Indian press has had some legitimate scoops, such as Headley’s presence in the LeT “control room”).

The reasons that India would like to have Headley in its custody are entirely understandable; but equally understandable is the fact that such tactics are exceedingly unlikely to succeed.

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  • RT says:

    I doubt that the government of India seriously expects Headley to be “handed over” to India. Headley is a US citizen and has been charged with helping kill US citizens, even if the crime occured in India. Therefore, unless he is somehow not convicted in the US, there is not much scope for his extradition.
    That said, elements of Indian government are genuinely frustrated that the so called promise of total cooperation made by Mr. Obama to Indian Prime Minister Singh has not yet translated on the ground. The leaks are also aimed at Indian leadership to take up the matter with senior US leadership.
    Specifically, Indian investigative authorities want the following:
    1. Direct access to question Headley
    2. Copies of all Headley’s communications with his Pakistani handlers
    3. Copies of videotapes, written documentation made by Headley as he was doing recon for the LeT in India
    So far the FBI has used flimsly legal technicalities to avoid giving India so much as the voice samples of Headley and his contacts to be matched against India’s intercepts.
    When your so called ally is so cagey, frustration will soon spill over into nutty conspiracy theories.

  • RT:
    You make some good points about what the Indians are after. Though I think they would like to have Headley handed over to them, the three points you raise are obviously more likely.
    I should state that I am not trying to carry water for the U.S. government on this one. I can say that the rights of the accused provided by the U.S. Constitution would likely prohibit the direct access to question Headley that you mention. My feeling is that the U.S. should probably be doing more to provide reliable information to the Indians — but it is difficult to know the ins and outs of the wrangling between the two countries given my distance from the negotiations. My primary purpose was to evaluate the rumors, not weigh in on whether the U.S. is providing enough to India.

  • JOhnK says:

    Hello Bill,
    Even if Headley is a double agent I don’t think it’s a good idea to hand him over to the Indians, since a 1999 type hijack and he is back with his ISI/LeT friends. So US should keep him in custody, and not let him go free.
    But my question is(if my following claim about the FBI is true): why is the FBI reluctant to give voice samples of Headley so that the Indians can verify if it was him in the control room. Seems like its a frivolous thing to ask for its weird that FBI could not even do that part.
    Could you please shine some light on this?

  • RT says:

    Direct access is a different issue and I understand the constitutional rights afforded to under trial suspects in the US.
    However, numerous Indian media reports indicate that the FBI has not consented to providing India with voice samples of Headley and his handlers.
    My own feeling is that the FBI’s reluctance to give total cooperation maybe due to a combination of:
    (a) Trying to manage the embarassing aspects of Headley’s role as an informant to the DEA as well as to keep control over the process as a plea deal is negotiated with Headley for his cooperation
    (b) Trying to avoid putting the US government in a difficult position with Pakistan given that Headley’s handlers are reported to be serving Pak military officers especially with the ISI. Any official acknowledgement of the above would force elements in the Congress to seek for aid cutoff to Pakistan etc., which would be a s**t storm of unimaginable proportions especially at a time when US is pressing Gen. Kayani to take on the Haqqanis and the Quetta shura.

  • Abheek says:

    Headly case is an indicator of skeletons in CIA / FBI cupboard. It is amazing how US bullies other countries to tow its line & cooperate in war on terror.. but when it is its turn, it even refuses to allow its ‘ allies’ to interrogate or provide voice samples … and all those allegations of India being a third world nation, so he should not be handed over to us are mere eye-wash. This is definately not going to go down well with its relationship with India. CIA has in the past also tried to block India’s case against Dawood Ibrahim, becoz of its fear of drug related secrets would come down. It is unfortunate that US doesn’t see the big picture while tackling terroism … does what best suits its purpose, without bothering to remove the evil from the root or the effect it has on ‘friendly’countries.

  • Spooky says:

    I reject the idea that he shouldn’t be handed over, especially when the U.S. promised cooperation. The Indians have been kicking themselves since that incident in 1999, so they won’t make the same mistake of turning over anyone again.
    America should be able to prosecute their own citizens, but before carrying out whatever sentence the US courts decide, he should then be tried by the Indians (perhaps in the Indian Embassy or whatever), and allow them to do whatever they feel is necessary. Then have him serve both sentences.
    Probably doesn’t work like that, but anything is better than this bs legalese battle between two nations who need to be allies in this fight.

  • T Ruth says:

    Daveed says
    “The Indian Express claims:….” (As wild as Sabahuddin’s claim sounds.)
    Surely, the Indian Express reports and does not claim.
    Daveed says
    “In fact, an Indian journalist has confirmed to me that the country’s home secretary told reporters on deep background that he thinks Headley was a CIA double agent.”
    ————————————————–So, if the indian journalist has “confirmed” to you, has he also reported this somewhere? If so, can you pls provide a link?
    And if your contact has not reported it, you say the home secy told “reporters”, has any other report carried this, other than you? If not, i wonder why not?
    Daveed says
    “There are also other indications that the Indian government is actively propagating dubious claims about Headley’s work for the US government. I suspect that this is part of a ham-handed attempt on the Indian government’s part to pressure the US to turn Headley over to them.”
    Can you present what are these “other indications” to us?
    Else your comment about a “ham-handed” attempt sounds to me……well, both ham-handed and flimsy. Iron butterflies…

  • T Ruth says:

    Thanks for your comments which make a whole lotta sense.
    I found them to add substance and perspective to this blog entry, otherwise missing.


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