The Obama administration has ordered a review of U.S. intelligence about David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American involved in plotting the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, to find out whether intelligence agencies failed to share reports that may have helped prevent the attack.
The review comes on the eve of President Obama’s visit to India and as a senior Indian official accused the U.S. of failing to share information on Headley, who traveled on reconnaissance missions to India before and after the attack.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has ordered the “after-action review,” an official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“This is an after-action review initiated by the director of national intelligence to determine comprehensive intelligence-community lessons learned — the ODNI is working with the appropriate [intelligence community] elements,” the official said.
The official said such a review is an important part of “improving existing processes.”
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, told reporters on Wednesday that the national intelligence director had ordered a “full review of everything that we knew related to the Headley case.”
Terrorists killed 164 people, including six Americans, and wounded many more in the attack on Mumbai, which lasted three days and involved terrorists using assault rifles and grenades in hotels.
According to recent reports by ProPublica and the New York Times, Headley’s two ex-wives told U.S. law enforcement officials in 2005 and 2007 that he was training with the anti-India terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan and also had shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment.
Headley made five trips to Mumbai before the 2008 attacks: in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008. On each visit, he made videotapes of potential targets, including those attacked in November 2008.
In March 2009, he made a sixth trip to India to conduct additional surveillance, including at the National Defense College in New Delhi and at Chabad Houses in several cities.
Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said this week that the Indian government was “disappointed that the name of David Headley was not provided, if not pre-26/11 at least post 26/11. So that when he came subsequently in March 2009 to India at least at that time we could have nabbed him here.”
India refers to the attacks that began on Nov. 26, 2008, as “26/11.”
Headley, a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant, had been under U.S. surveillance for at least two years before his arrest in Chicago on Oct. 3, 2009.
ProPublica, citing unidentified federal officials, said Headley received terrorist training in Pakistan while he was working as a DEA informant.
Earlier in 2008, the U.S. warned India that an attack was being planned in Mumbai. Security was beefed up at potential targets in the port city but was relaxed when weeks passed without incident.
U.S. officials did not tell their Indian counterparts whether Headley was the source of that information, prompting speculation in New Delhi that they were trying to protect their source.
Mr. Rhodes said the information present with U.S. officials prior to the Mumbai attacks was “far more general and far less specific.”
“If we had information that could have helped to prevent the attacks or pinpoint specific aspects of the attacks, we certainly would have shared that, too,” Mr. Rhodes said. “The fact of the matter is that the information we had before 26/11 was not of that nature.”
“There is a vast amount of information within the U.S. intelligence system, and the nature of the kind of information we received in this instance from Mr. Headleys ex-wives again was of a more general nature,” Mr. Rhodes said.
“Let’s get all of the facts completely together … and when that review is completed it is certainly something we will share with the Indians as well,” he added.
The national intelligence official, meanwhile, said the Indian government “will be consulted as appropriate.”
Headley, a Chicago resident whose father was Pakistani and mother an American, pleaded guilty in March to a dozen federal terrorism charges. He admitted that he had participated in planning the Mumbai attacks with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the State Department has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
He also admitted planning to attack the Copenhagen and Aarhus offices of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper that had published offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad.
Headley attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan on five occasions between 2002 and 2005. In late 2005, he received instructions from three of its members to travel to India to conduct surveillance.
At the training camps, he received indoctrination on the merits of waging jihad, or holy war; training in the use of weapons, grenades and close combat tactics; and survival and countersurveillance skills.
Headley changed his name from Daood Gilani in February 2006 so as to portray himself as American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani while on Lashkar-e-Taiba missions in India.
As part of his plea agreement, Headley avoided the death sentence and extradition to India. A team of Indian officials, however, was allowed to interrogate him in the U.S. in June.
U.S. officials said they learned a lot about the Mumbai attacks after Headley’s arrest.
“Not only did we share that information, but it is a signal of the strength of our counterterrorism cooperation that we provided access to Headley for the Indian security services so they were able to ask him questions directly which continued to flesh out the understanding of what took place on 26/11,” Mr. Rhodes said.
“We share information with India as a partner whenever we have something we think is directly relevant to their security. We certainly did so in this instance.”
Anish Goel, senior director for South Asia affairs on the White House National Security Council staff, said this case “highlights how far our [counterterrorism] cooperation has come.”
Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive in Mumbai on Nov. 6 as part of a 10-day four-nation Asia tour. They will be staying at the Taj Hotel, one of the terrorists’ targets.
U.S. and Indian officials said the decision to stay at the Taj Hotel was no accident.
Mr. Obama will pay his respects to the victims of terrorism by signing the guest book at the Taj Hotel and will speak to a group of people who were affected by the attacks.