Union Home Secretary GK Pillai on Wednesday expressed his ‘disappointment’ on record at the inordinately long period for which the United States withheld information on Lashkar-e-Tayyebba operative David Coleman Headley from India, which even enabled Headley to revisit India after the 26/11 Mumbai attack in 2008, and scout for more targets.
US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, promptly denied the charge. Though the US had Headley on its radar for a long time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation shared information with its Indian counterparts only after Headley was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2009.
India’s security establishment had unofficially earlier expressed its unhappiness with the US for holding back information about Headley’s LeT connection that may have even helped prevent the 26/11 attack.
The secrecy had a lot to do with the US trying to use Headley for its own ends — to gather intelligence for it.
On Wednesday — days before US President Barack Obama arrives on his first state visit to the subcontinent — Pillai put the disappointment on record.
"We were disappointed the name of David Headley was not provided, if not pre-26/11, at least post 26/11,” the Home Secretary said. “If the US had shared the information about Headley in time, we may have been able to arrest him in March 2009 itself.”
He acknowledged the US did share other information.
US ambassador Roemer said: “The US shared intelligence on a regular and consistent basis… prior to the Mumbai attacks and… after the Mumbai attacks.” Indian investigators were given access to Headley in June. A team led by the National Investigation Agency spoke to him for over seven days.
Headley told Indian investigators that having accomplished 26/11, he had returned to India in March 2009 — this time to Delhi, Pushkar, Goa and Pune — to prepare for a second attack. This was when Delhi was demanding action against the 26/11 perpetrators.
Among his potential targets, according to Headley’s interrogation report accessed by HT, the National Defence College “seemed imminent”.
Headley had also suggested Paharganj as a likely target and made videos of the area. It was during this visit that he conducted surveillance around Osho ashram in Pune. “I also surveyed and videographed the entire Koregaon area including German Bakery,” the report said.
He gave the video to the Abdur Rehman Hashim alias Pasha of the Lashkar. A hardcore jihadi, Pasha quit the army in 2002 after he was demoted from the major’s rank for refusing to fight the Taliban.