Journalism in the Public Interest

Trial Testimony Intensifies Allegations Pakistan Is Playing Double Game

David Coleman Headley, a confessed Pakistani-American terrorist, alleges that Pakistani officers played a central role in reconnaissance and planning for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 


In this courtroom sketch, David Coleman Headley is shown in federal court testifying as the government's star witness in its case against Tahawwur Rana on May 23, 2011, in Chicago. (Tom Gianni/AP Photo)

This report is part of a ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the Washington Post.

A confessed Pakistani-American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom on Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan's intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

David Coleman Headley's long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: U.S. federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his accused accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar "operated under the umbrella of the ISI" even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.

The ISI and Lashkar "coordinated with each other," Headley testified. "And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support."

After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said a "Major Ali" of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghan border in 2006. Major Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley's handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley's reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.

Before reporting to Lashkar, Headley always reported first to Iqbal, who participated in key aspects of the Mumbai plot such as target selection, the route for an amphibious attack and a proposed safe house for Lashkar gunmen, Headley testified.

"This was being coordinated," Headley said. "But the instructions emanated from Major Iqbal."

Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied any ISI role in the Mumbai attacks. But Monday's testimony is likely to intensify allegations that Pakistan plays a double game in the fight against terrorism, especially after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in a military town near the Pakistani capital.

After more than a year of official silence about the sensitive case, the prosecution's examination of Headley quickly laid out evidence implicating the ISI in a sophisticated commando-style attack that was designed to kill Americans, Jews and other Westerners.

To corroborate Headley's allegations, prosecutors displayed evidence of his email exchanges and phone calls with Major Iqbal. Headley testified that Iqbal had acquired a phone number with a New York area code and told him to call it while in Mumbai to avoid detection "because all calls, almost, from India to Pakistan are monitored."

The case rests largely on the credibility of Headley, a former drug dealer and DEA informant. Headley has spent months helping the prosecution prepare and has cooperated enthusiastically in drug cases in the past.

But he seemed remarkably subdued Monday. The tall, broad-shouldered and balding 50-year-old took the stand wearing a blue track suit and a solemn expression. Asst. U.S. Atty. Daniel Collins asked him repeatedly to speak more loudly. The multilingual, well-traveled Headley, who speaks with a trace of a Pakistani accent, often sighed or sounded exasperated as he responded.

Parts of the account Headley gave Monday had already surfaced in an Indian interrogation report and been disclosed to ProPublica by Western and Indian investigators. But there were new details as the evidence was aired in a U.S. courtroom packed with U.S., Indian and Danish journalists.

Headley described his close relationship Lashkar's top leaders and said they alluded casually to their alliance with the ISI. At a lunch in Pakistan 2004, Headley suggested to Hafiz Saeed and Zaki Ur-Rehman Lahkvi, the group's spiritual and military chiefs, that they sue the U.S. government for having designated Lashkar a terrorist organization, according to his account.

"Zaki said we should take the ISI into confidence before making such a big move," Headley testified.

The Pakistan military also supported Lashkar at the tactical level, Headley alleged. Headley testified that a Pakistani Navy frogman provided technical advice in a meeting at Lashkar headquarters to plan the route for the maritime attack. Headley said the debate about a landing site indicated that the frogman would accompany the gunmen to Mumbai. Headley testified that the frogman warned the plotters that a proposed landing site near an Indian naval base might force him into a shootout with Indian authorities.

Rana, Headley's boyhood friend, is the only defendant on trial. The others indicted include Major Iqbal, three Lashkar chiefs and two al-Qaida figures accused of overseeing Headley's scouting for a foiled plot in Denmark. Rana is charged with material support of terrorism for allowing Headley to use his Chicago-based immigration consulting firm as a cover for his reconnaissance.

In his opening statement, Rana's lawyer argued that Headley had manipulated Rana just as he had manipulated multiple wives, extremist groups and government agencies. Charles Swift also raised the possibility that Headley may have continued working for the U.S. government well after he started training with Lashkar. He accused Headley of changing his story to betray Rana and avoid the death penalty.

"Will David Headley make a fool out of us?" Swift asked the jury. "I'm confident he will not. ... The people who did this should be held accountable. The tragedy is that we made a deal with them."

So, this once again illustrates that govts, or officials within a govt, use terrorist groups—even the ones they have outlawed—for their own purposes.

Those of us who are in India or Indian-American have known about
these links for years I am glad the U.S Govt thru its justice dept has
finally brought this out in the open for the world to see what liers
the pak govt ISI is All aid should be stopped right away

Anthony D'Souza

May 24, 2011, 2:57 p.m.

All those who are now thinking that the USA will now stop working as an ally of ISI/ Pakistan, they are mistaken. The situation will remain ‘business as usual’ for the USA and Pakistan. For the Afghan operations, the Americns are too much dependent on the Pakis. Whereas, the Pakistanis continue to play double-games, running with hares and hunting with the hounds! They just want to milk the USA, to every possible dollar they can extract.

They first ignite fires as a professional arsonist, then they appear at the scene in the uniform of a fire-fighter to extinguish the fire! Uncle Sam gives them a pat on their back and military/financial rewards for the job (of extinguishing the fire) well-done! Uncle Sam always like to turn the blind eye to the fact that the fire was first started by Pakistan itself!

Pakistan has divided the terrorists into two categories - First, those who are anti-Pakistan and second, those terrorists who they consider as strategic assets for Pakistan to use against India and Afghanistan!

Pakistan was the aggressor in all the previous wars with India - 1947, 1965, 1971, 1999. In every direct war, Pakistanis got humiliated. As they found india to be too strong to fight a direct war, they decided to wage a proxy war against India by using terrorist groups.

For this, they created a special wing within ISI, called ‘S’ wing, which contracts retired Army officers for specific assignments. No paper work is kept and all transactions happen in cash using USD currency. This helps the ISI to have the ‘plausible deniability’, in case it gets exposed. They just say, non-state actors (like individuals) might be involved, denying involvement of State agencies. Like in 26/11 case when too many things got exposed, the Pakstanis just told the Indians that a few retired Army Officers in their individual capacity might have been involved. After all, who wants to indict himself in terrorism? Deny, deny, deny….. That is the mantra the Pakis adopt, every time they get caught with their pants down.

They used the same tricks, when AQ Khan Network was caught selling nuclear technology to Iran/Libya/N Korea. Pakistanis wriggles out of the situation by saying non-state actors (like individuals acting on their own) were involved, whereas AQ Khan on a number of occasions had confessed that every decision was taken after getting approval from Pakistan Army.

bad in this crisis has been happening and the consequences in this regard, to play into the hands of victim and aggressor, taking the population involved.

If the US is really interested into crashing Al Qaeda, and solve the problems in that region in longterm, they have to occupy Pakistan, divide the county into Punjab that can join India and Pashtunistan which can join Afghanistan. In this step a lot of problems like the Durand line issue, terrorism et al and ISI or problem with India will be solved.


May 25, 2011, 9 a.m.

I wonder why our foreign ministry and our representatives in UN donot give wake up call to UN to impose sanctions on ISI and pakistan for harbouring terrorists and creating a far among worlds countries.We need to apprise the whole situation arising out of the pakistan denying every thing although it affects it also,to apprehend and punish the terrorists.The democratically elected Govt in Pakistan is in limbo and it is under duress of army and ISI.ISI is now grown up like a demon and creating dangerous conditions for neighbouring countries.India is sufferrer to all its designated activities.We know that china may support pakistana s it is a colony of china now but the fact is thatw e would get moral support from all the nations.Also US would get the truth.Now the neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan and Iran are in dangerous condition on the apprehension that if the Pakistani taliban which had attacked Pakistani naval base

We know it but USA needs 2 reflect it in action. They are to warn Pakistan as mere words don’t fall 2 their ears. The Pakistani people are more friendly than the ARMY, ISI AND PPP.PML(N) is friendly but not allowed by army. The army is totally against India although our pm extended hands of friendship many times. Army issuing threats to our army but we have a patience. We do not want to muzzle Pakistan but they don’t want us as their friend. their inimical behaviour, actions attitude are prejudicial to all our efforts of peace. but they understand the language of pressures and suppression. They need not be afraid of India as India had never tried or made any hostile attempt. The Bangladesh issue was not made by India but by themselves. They had made east Pakistan a colony of west Pakistan and surpassed all brutality and inhuman actions. They had surpassed the atrocities committed by Nazis on Jews in east pakistan.the revolution in east Pakistan was self made.india just helped the refugees and sheltered crores in India. They would have made it a brother state they would not have defected/partitioned. But the pak army put all blame on India. magnanimously our pm returned all lands won in war to them and also the pow.the simla agreement was not adhered by Pakistan in any sphere and time. now Pakistan treat us as their no-1 enemy in world and issuing threats of nukes but if they uses nukes first they can make a damage 2 India but if India retaliates by nukes whole of Pakistan would be made barren land without any habitation for hundreds of years.

I think the majority of the population are caught in the fight between the terrorist organisations based in Pakistan and the united states . The political leadership is incapable of functioning and are corrupt as they are perceived to be stooges of the united states. There is a danger of disintegration of this rogue country

The Pakistanis made the “mistake” targeting a few Americans in their state-sponsored terrorist operation, and because of this the hundreds of Indian victims will receive a reflected justice and their families the “satisfaction” of the exposure of Pakistan’s outlaw behavior. Their own government values their lives as little as the Pakistanis do.

I agree that it will be business as usual, despite the revelations. As for Indians wringing their hands over American “hypocrisy”, tough! If you can’t protect your own citizens or avenge their premature murder by terrorists, unlike the Americans or the Israelis, then don’t expect others to carry your fainthearted water for you.

Well written Anthony Desouza. My only gripe is why have we not responded. I understand that the US does not want India to respond militarily, but there has to be a limit to what India should tolerate. It may be our mantra to turn the other cheek, but the Defense and External affairs ministry must be firm in their statements and speak the same language. The military must muzzle itself. No foolish statements by any chief.

Why is it a surprise that the ISI supported these people? I am not surprised at all. This is not news. The U.S. is being played for a sucker every day. And we will always be played like a chump if we don’t get out of bed with these failed states.

Well written Anthony. Yes, it’s the “plausible deniability” that’s what is at play.
This is a vicious cycle these Paki murderers play:

War profiteer/Murderers (ISI, Pak Military) get money -> Hatch plans to continue to get money-> Propaganda on false emotional subjects like Religion, territory, etc. -> Reign in secondary organization emotionally involved on those propaganda subjects -> train and operate these secondary orgs, while remaining in shadows -> Create trouble where the possibility of making money is possible (e.g. in Afghanistan, get rewarded from US later) -> Pretend to solve the problem just created -> money received by the perpetrators from US -> Go the beginning of this cycle -> However sometime to satisfy these secondary organizations (keep them interested) or to take on projects where money making is not a goal but other strategic interest are at play do a Mumbai like terror plot.

This is just an observation. So I am wondering, if US just stops paying the Paki War profiteer/Murderers, how many problems in the world can be solved?

But Paki War profiteer/Murderers keep the leverage with themselves by projecting threats like the terrorists taking away Pak nukes, Afghanistan can’t be fixed without Pak, etc. to remain in business as usual.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Pakistan’s Terror Connections

The Mumbai terror attacks have revealed evidence of the extent of the ties of Pakistani intelligence to terrorist groups and the flaws in the U.S fight against Pakistan-based terror.

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