Smoke and mirrors cloud any major intelligence operation. Gaps in the public record are causing heartburn between India and the US over the David Headley case. Here are the crucial questions and some half-answers:
Was Headley working for US in run-up to 26/11?
The straight answer is that no one knows.
It is known that Headley worked as an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA says Headley ceased to work for them in 2002. There are reports he may have remained with them until 2005. Indian intelligence, says Rana Banerjee, former RAW number two, believes the FBI or the CIA picked up Headley when they realised he was working for Lashkar or "seeded him up" to be recruited in Lashkar.
New Delhi surmises Headley was passing on information to US intelligence about 26/11 because of two subsequent US tip-offs. In September, the US warned of an attack on specific targets in Mumbai. Soon after, it warned of a maritime attack sometime in mid-November against Mumbai. India heightened security but bungled it by calling off the patrols after November 20 - just six days before 26/11. US sources say the Indian system underestimates the degree US intelligence uses electronic eavesdropping to monitor Lashkar and that this was the source of the tip-offs.
CIA terrorism consultant Daveed Gartenstein-Ross says, "The argument the tipoff could only be due to Headley being a double agent doesn't make sense. The US monitors jihadist 'chatter.' My understanding is that this is how the US learned very general information related to the coming attack. Every source I have in US intel says that our human intelligence inside Lashkar is atrocious." Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who has written on the Pakistan military and its links to terror, says the idea the US had definite information on 26/11 and didn't share it with India is "ridiculous."
Why didn't India get more access and US didn't extradite him?
In third country intelligence circles there was much surprise the US gave India any access at all. Australian and Israeli intelligence sources say the US never allows other agencies access to its terrorists. When the US agreed to India's request, it was seen around the world as a sign of Washington's desire to woo Delhi.
For extradition, global norm is to never extradite your own citizens to another country. While New Delhi has demanded extradition, Indian diplomats privately knew it would come to nothing.
India's search for elusive major Iqbal
Headley and Kasab were medium-sized cogs in a larger machinery of evil. US decided to use that cog to find out the real masterminds. The fallout was Headley naming the likes of Lashkar leader Zaki Lakhvi, the mysterious "Major Iqbal" and others. But his price was that he be saved from the electric chair.
Pakistan has denied Iqbal's existence, though he stands criminally charged in the US on the basis of Headley's information. India would like Headley for more data on Major. But for those who seek to show up Lashkar and ISI for what they are, Headley was just another step forward in a much larger stalking game.