Ask Headley for a full 26/11 List
By M J Akbar
David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani alias Whoknowswhat has been floating through multiple loyalties and their obverse, multiple betrayals, diligently obedient to the basic laws of post-modern treachery. He may not have been top-of-the-class: Daood is only the Arabic form of David. But he survived because he learnt the rules and stuck to them.
The rules establish the relationship between agency-controller and pretend-puppet. The spymaster believes that only evidence of loyalty to the enemy can ensure reasonable accuracy of information from an agent — double, triple or quadruple. This is clearly more complicated than the Cold War ruse of bait-trap-turn-burn that exhausted the intelligence agencies, and sometimes the intelligence, of superpowers.
The double agent is passé in a war that has risen above the demands, limitations and advantages of nationalism. Nationalism offers the hope, however thin, of protection in a crisis. But the stateless enemy is a frontier-less freebooter, working deals, finessing primary cause with subsidiary ventures. He is a contradiction, a high-moralist in his sense of self even as he short sells to all vendors with the glib ease of a snake-oil salesman.
This is not unknown to those who hold the strings and yet they continue the operation in the belief that the value of information, even if compromised, is worth the price of scattered lies. The freebooter has a vested interest in many masters and multi-layered deceit because complicity with all sides is his only guarantee of safety on the day of exposure, a possibility that can drive even the best to paranoia. If he is not killed before capture, then his tongue is a threat to those who cannot afford to be public about what they do in private.
Headley must be relieved that he is still alive and in the custody of those who had something to gain from him when he was a conduit through turbulent crosscurrents. He sold America to terrorists and terrorists to America and both thought they had a bargain. Facts are still at a premium, so we can only guess as to which American agencies he dealt with, although one would have to be particularly stupid to guess wrongly. Headley would not have managed the “plea bargain” that keeps him safe from Indian authorities without a nod from someone powerful in the Washington system.
It is only logical that Pakistan-born Headley should prefer an American jail to an Indian one. We did not catch him on his five trips to India to help plan 26/11, so America obviously gets first rights on his future. But since Headley was involved in 26/11, those rights cannot be exclusive. Would America have been content with a one-time interrogation if India had caught an al-Qaida leader who had done five reconnaissance missions in the States in order to facilitate 9/11? Unlikely.
So we must ask the obvious question: why is it so important for America to keep Headley in America? Headley was picked up for plotting to murder a Danish cartoonist, and confessed his role in 26/11. The main aggrieved, therefore, are Danes and Indians; India has a stronger case for repatriation since the Danish plot never fructified, while 26/11 happened.
There was no crime committed or intended on American soil, but America insists Headley will not leave its soil. (Pakistan does not want him.) No intelligence agency willingly hands over control of an asset unless compelled to; even America and Britain have not extended intelligence-sharing to total transparency. Relations between American and Indian agencies are mature enough to have survived the discovery of two CIA agents in Delhi’s services, including one posted to the PMO. So they should see through this problem too.
India will get a structured, monitored, time-specific opportunity to question Headley, if only to appease public anger. What should Indians sleuths ask? Delhi needs a sharp scalpel, not the thermometer we keep for friends, constantly measuring sentiment.
It would be a waste of time to record what is known. Headley will be an invaluable source for details about the past: the LeT, its allies, its systems, plans and links with the Pakistan establishment. But the vital question is: who knew, during the planning process, about the Mumbai terror attacks and when did they know it? Headley was an informant: whom did he inform?
James Bond is dead, along with clarity; his was an age in which you shot straight or got killed, and the story ended. By the time we reached John le Carre’s icy war of the 1960s and 1970s, the end had been replaced by a sequel. Bond knew who his friends were; le Carre’s Smiley had no idea who his enemies might be. India has no shortage of enemies. Among them is silence.