Was American national, terror suspect and Lashkar-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent? This is something that both Indian investigators and also the Intelligence Bureau are trying to ascertain. The IB says the United States knew of Headley much before his tryst with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.
There are various instances to show that the US was aware of Headley and his plans for India, well in advance. Sources say that the first alert regarding the 26/11 Mumbai attack was issued by the US in the first week of September 2008 itself. The information was passed on to India on the basis of the information that they had gathered from David Headley.
Intelligence Bureau officials told rediff.com that Headley was on the US radar since 2003, and since then they had tracked his movements. The initial information that had been picked up by the US suggested that Mumbai would be attacked in the month of September 2008.
The association between the US agencies and Headley goes back to 1998 when he was picked up for smuggling narcotics. A US court sentenced him, but his sentence was reduced after he struck a deal to become an approver. He was then sent to the Af-Pak region to work undercover in 2001, where he decided to cozy up to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. He attended a training camp in Pakistan between 2001 and 2003 before embarking upon his mission.
Sources both in the Union home ministry and the Intelligence Bureau say that all through this, the US had information on Headley. They had known about Headley when the entire Mumbai attack was being planned. However, after September 2008, the US agencies lost track of Headley and were unaware of the Mumbai attack being postponed.
What is interesting is that the FBI made Headley's arrest public much after it actually happened. IB sources say the FBI had Headley in their custody for at least six to seven months before they made it public. The FBI chose to not inform India of the same since they were worried that the Headley-FBI link would come out in the open.
Investigating officers who are probing the Headley case in India say they are also trying to verify whether the US Central Intelligence Agency was in the know of Headley's movements in India. The information handed out by IB goes on to state that while the US knew about Headley's links with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba almost a year before the Mumbai attack, they started to track him seriously only in October 2008, after he had gone off the radar in September that year. They were even aware that Headley had made several trips to India, but preferred to stay mum about the same.
Home ministry officials say his movements in the country were never picked up by the Indian intelligence agencies and neither were they told by the US about this man. The IB says the FBI was using Headley for information on terror groups in Pakistan and also regarding the drug mafia that was operating out of Pakistan.
Indian agencies say that after being sent to the AF-Pak region, he came in contact with several Lashkar operatives. In fact he had bonded very well with Lashkar's Sajid Mir. After his initial meeting with the Lashkar bosses, he had attended several terror camps between February 2002 and 2003.
This is however denied by US intelligence agencies, who say they were not on the Lashkar trail at that point in time since the outfit had not been declared a foreign terrorist organisation by the US State Department.
Home ministry officials say this expose would make the extradition process a bit difficult. It appears that the US would not want this angle to the Headley story to come out in the open, and hence they may try and ensure that Headley is not brought to India.
During the meeting of the FBI officials with their Indian counterparts, the latter were told that Headley did not want to be interrogated in India. However, the latter insisted that they would go ahead and file a chargesheet and continue to seek his extradition so that he could be questioned by Indian agencies.