Pakistani-origin American David Coleman Headley, charged by FBI of being involved in the Mumbai terror attacks, was using US as a base to plan future attacks outside the country, a top Senator said on Thursday.
"I understand he was able to use the US as a base of (terror) operations," Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland and Security and Governmental Affairs who has received a classified briefing on the issue, said at a Congressional hearing.
"In the briefings that I've had on this without revealing anything classified, it seems I gather that he was not involved in any plots related to targets in the US, although one wonders whether that would have been the case for an extended period of time, but that he was using us as a base from which to plan attacks outside of the US," he said.
Senator Lieberman termed it as a "very troubling" case of Headley, who has been charged with six counts of conspiracy to bomb public places in India, murder and maim persons in India and Denmark, support the foreign terrorist plots and support Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and six counts of aiding and abetting murder of US citizens in India.
"Now as you know he's alleged to have made five trips from Chicago where he was living to Mumbai from 2006 to 2008 to conduct pre-attack planning and surveillance really to many of the targets that were struck in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks," he said.
Because Headley was a US citizen his travel at least based on entry and exit did not raise suspicions, although it may have in other ways, Lieberman noted.
The arrest this fall of a number of people charged with planning terror attacks in US - Najibullah Zazi, Betim Kaziu, Michael Finton, Hosam Smadi, David Headley - are the reminders that terrorists are crossing our borders legally in, and in Headley's case, out living among us and plotting to target us or in Headley's case are allies, he said.
"We can no longer assume that Americans are not involved in terrorism," Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Policy David Heyman said in his response to the issues raised by Lieberman.
When asked whether an ulterior-motivated name change could be blocked, the answer Lieberman received was no.
"It has been reported that Headley changed his name... His original name was Daood Gilani and he changed it to David Headley, allegedly to reduce scrutiny by Immigration and Customs officials while traveling," Lieberman said and asked what can be done to block this kind of name change being used as a way to avoid being on a watch list?
"I find challenges in my particular position because it's truly a balancing act," said Timothy Healy, Director FBI Terrorist Screening Center.
"It's a balancing act between safeguarding civil liberties and protecting the American people, and the best we can do is just keep driving the intelligence and keep working the intelligence as much as we possibly can to get the information. I don't know how else you could do it," he said.