U.S. authorities sent American David Headley to work for them in Pakistan in the months following the 9/11 attacks, despite information he sympathized with terrorist groups in the region, the New York Times reported Monday. Headley started working as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant in the 1990s as part of the agency's efforts to bust an international drug smuggling ring in Pakistan that had connections to American dealers.
Headley scouted targets for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks under instructions from the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT). He pleaded guilty to 12 federal terrorism charges that were brought against him, including conspiracy to bomb public places in India, to murder Americans and others in India, and to provide material support to the LeT. The Mumbai attacks killed 166 people, including six Americans. Headley has been cooperating with government authorities since his arrest in October 2009.
Headley was arrested on drug charges in 1987 and 1998. He admitted to distributing 15 kilograms of heroin but received lighter sentences after agreeing to serve as DEA informant. In a September 1998 letter submitted by prosecutors following an arrest, Headley was described as "reliable and forthcoming" and he was sent to Pakistan to "develop intelligence on Pakistani heroin traffickers."
"All I knew was the DEA wanted him in Pakistan as fast as possible because they were close to making some big cases," Headley's former probation officer Luis Caso told the Times. A senior American official claimed Headley was a DEA informant until at least 2003, around the time he was training in Lashkar camps.
American authorities had been tipped off by Headley's former wives that he was an active member of the LeT but the allegations were brushed off as trash talk from an ex-wife and dismissed because of insufficient proof. Headley was arrested briefly by the New York police on charges of domestic assault but later released on bond after officials established the information was inadequate to legally justify opening an investigation.
The failure to share Headley's radical ties by his handlers in the DEA with either the CIA or the FBI illustrates another example of a breakdown in communications and failure to connect the dots within the intelligence community.