Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Miami to Mumbai - Agents and Terror Conspiracies

TWO columns, of trade unionists and students, are to converge on Downing Street this evening, for a twilight demonstration against the Con Dem government's spending cuts. Later on there's to be a meeting in Portcullis house. There will be other protests around the country, and a march in London on Saturday called by the RMT rail union.

All this, modest as it is compared to what's happening across the Channel, is just a small beginning, but it is bound to overshadow a previously planned candlelit vigil on another issue, at 6 pm outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. Nevertheless, several big name speakers from the labour movement, including Tony Benn, Tony Woodley from Unite the union, the RMT's Bob Crow, and Christine Blower from the teachers' union, had agreed to speak at the embassy vigil, which is sponsored by Unite together with the Cuban Solidarity Campaign.

Two special guests are due. Irma Gonzalez Salanueva is the daughter of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Miami Five - Cubans held prisoner in the United States since September 1998 on espionage charges, after they had infiltrated and gathered information on right-wing Cuban emigre groups based in Miami. Tom Goldstein is a US lawyer who has been acting for the Five, and for wives denied US visas to visit their husbands in jail.

In August this year the Wikileaks website published a CIA paper entitled "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism'?" . This looked at the possibility that people abroad might hold the United States to blame for letting extremists recruit US nationals and use the US as a base for terror attacks.
Following hassles in the United States, the Wikileaks site has been moving, and that paper does not seem currently available, but you can read about it:

The paper considered cases where US counter-terrorism might be thought lax, and also cited the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre carried out by an American, Dr.Barukh Goldstein.

What it did not do - leading some of us to wonder if it was an officially inspired "leak" - was consider groups that have enjoyed US protection and CIA support, such as the Nicaraguan contras or the Cuban exiles. No mention of the Cuban airliner blown up off Barbados, for instance, nor of more than 3,000 people killed in terrorist attacks on Cuba. At the request of the US government, information obtained by the Cuban Five agents in Miami was passed on to the FBI, who then used it to identify and arrest the five anti-terrorists.

How much did US know about Mumbai attack ?

A question being raised now is how much US agencies know about terror attacks in other countries, besides those they designate as enemies, and what they have to do with them.

A report by
Sebastian Rotella, of the ProPublica group, published in the Washington Post on Saturday, October 16, says that:

"Three years before Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai in 2008, federal agents in New York City investigated a tip that an American businessman was training in Pakistan with the group that later executed the attack. The previously undisclosed allegations against David Coleman Headley, who became a key figure in the plot that killed 166 people, came from his wife after a domestic dispute that resulted in his arrest in 2005.

"In three interviews with federal agents, Headley's wife said that he was an active militant in the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba, had trained extensively in its Pakistani camps, and had shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment, according to officials and sources close to the case. The wife, whom ProPublica is not identifying to protect her safety, also told agents that Headley had bragged of working as a paid U.S. informant while he trained with the terrorists in Pakistan, according to a person close to the case.

"Federal officials say the FBI "looked into" the tip, but they declined to say what, if any, action was taken. Headley was jailed briefly in New York on charges of domestic assault but was not prosecuted. He wasn't arrested until 11 months after the Mumbai attack, when British intelligence alerted U.S. authorities that he was in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Europe.

"In the four years between the wife's warning and Headley's capture, Lashkar sent Headley on reconnaissance missions around the world. During five trips to Mumbai, he scouted targets for the attack - using his U.S. passport and cover as a businessman to circulate freely in areas frequented by Westerners. He met in Pakistan with terrorist handlers, including a Pakistani army major accused of helping direct and fund his missions, according to court documents and anti-terrorism officials.

In March, Headley pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism in the Mumbai attacks and to a failed plot to take and behead hostages at a Danish newspaper. He is cooperating with authorities.

It is not clear from the available information whether a different response to the tip about Headley might have averted the Mumbai attacks. It is known that U.S. anti-terrorism officials warned Indian counterparts several times in 2008 about a possible attack on Mumbai, according to U.S. and Indian officials. The warnings included details, such as a threat to the iconic Taj Mahal hotel, which became a target, officials say.

Former DEA informant

The handling of the Headley case calls into question the progress of American law enforcement and intelligence agencies in improving their coordination and ability to "connect the dots" and deter attacks. It also raises questions about a complicated relationship between American authorities and a confessed terrorist.

Court records and interviews show that Headley served as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration starting in the late 1990s. But a former senior U.S. law enforcement official said Headley's work as an informant ended before the Mumbai attacks in 2008. He could not say whether Headley worked for the drug agency during the years when he was helping to plan the attack.

"Headley was closed as an informant because he wasn't producing anything," the former senior official said. He said he believed Headley's relationship with the DEA ended "years" before Mumbai, but he did not have more precise information.

Federal officials refused to discuss the 2005 tip other than to confirm that the FBI conducted an inquiry into the allegations made by Headley's wife.

"We can confirm there was a lead based on his wife's tip," said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pending legal cases. "We can't get into details."

Mumbai joins a list of cases in which plotters caught the attention of authorities beforehand: London in 2005, Madrid in 2004, the Sept. 11 attacks. Such advance glimmers are part of the landscape of counterterrorism. Facing many threats and limited resources, authorities must make hard choices, a British spymaster said recently.


After the Sept. 11 attacks, Headley told associates that he planned to train with Lashkar as part of a secret mission for the U.S. government, the person close to the case said. "The FBI and DEA have joined forces and I am going to work for them," this person quoted him as saying. "I want to do something important in my life. I want to do something for my country."

In June 2006, a friend who owned a U.S. immigration consulting firm helped Headley open a Mumbai office of the firm as a cover, court documents say. During the next two years, Headley scouted and videotaped targets, the documents say. He joined an upscale gym, befriended a Bollywood actor and stayed with a Moroccan girlfriend at the Taj Mahal hotel, a prime target of the plot, according to documents and officials.

Headley reported to his handlers, including a suspected Pakistani Army major, at debriefings in Pakistan, according to court documents and officials. As the plot took shape in 2008, U.S. anti-terrorism agencies warned Indian counterparts at least three times about a suspected Lashkar plan to attack Mumbai, according to Indian and U.S. officials.

The first U.S. warning to India came in early 2008 and described general intelligence about Lashkar wanting to strike Mumbai, according to an anti-terrorism official with knowledge of the warnings. After a scouting trip to Mumbai in April 2008, Headley went to Chicago in May and told his accomplice about an evolving plan for seaborne gunmen to land in front of the Taj Mahal hotel, which he had scouted extensively, court documents show.

Also in May, U.S. officials told their Indian counterparts that Lashkar's potential targets included the Taj Mahal hotel and nearby sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to the anti-terrorism official. In September, a U.S. warning caused Indian anti-terrorism officials to meet with officials at the hotel, which beefed up security, according to the official.

In early November, Headley met with his Lashkar handler in Karachi, where militant bosses were making final preparations of the 10-man attack squad, documents say. And on Nov. 18, U.S. officials advised India about a suspicious vessel related to a potential maritime threat to Mumbai, the official said.

Four days later, the gunmen left Karachi by boat. On Nov. 26, they struck the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and a train station. The gunmen singled out Americans, Britons and Jews. The three-day slaughter caught Indian security forces unprepared despite the warnings.

Afterward, Lashkar deployed Headley on a plot against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In January 2009, he visited the newspaper to ask about advertising and shot reconnaissance video, documents say.

Lashkar soon put the plot on hold, so Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda kingpin in Pakistan, documents say. Kashmiri offered militants in Europe to Headley for a plan to decapitate hostages at the newspaper and throw their heads out of windows, documents say.

When Headley contacted the militants that summer, British intelligence detected him, officials say. He was arrested by the FBI last October and is now in a federal prison in Chicago. Anti-terrorism officials say he has become a treasure trove of information about Lashkar and al-Qaeda, whose recent suspected Mumbai-style plots in Europe have been linked to Kashmiri. Last week Interpol announced that it had issued worldwide Indian arrest warrants for Kashmiri and four other top suspects in the Mumbai and Denmark cases, all of whom have been identified by Headley, officials say.

The Pakistani government has admitted that the Mumbai attack was planned and launched from their soil. A former Pakistan general was arrested in connection with it. As we have said in this blog, the arms and equipment used in the Mumbai attack were such as to suggest professional military support and involvment. Two years previously Indian police chief A.N.Roy publicly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency(ISI) of using Lashkar e-Taiba, supposedly an arm of al Qaeda, to carry out the bombings of seven crowded trains in Mumbai area which killed 208 and injured 600 people.

Back when Pakistan was providing bases for US forces, and support for anti-Soviet guerrillas fighting in Afghanistan, the CIA -and probably Britain's MI6 - considered the Pakistani military and the ISI as an ally. Founded by a British officer, the ISI received CIA training. This alignment continued when Pakistan assisted the Saudi-funded Taliban. India on the other hand was seen from Washington as too pro-Soviet or at the very least suspiciously neutral. As for Kashmir, rather than support its people's right to self-determination, the powers have connived at its partition. Lashkar e-Taiba (The Army of the Pure) supported by the ISI, weakened the Kashmiri national struggle by waging its own sectarian religious war against non-Muslims, and those not Muslim enough.

Now, as in 1947, when the UN agreed to India's partition, the watchword remains divide et impera.

With its own forces waging war in Afghanistan which has spilled over into Pakistan, and with the rise of the Right in India, the United States began shifting alliances, almost 180 degrees. This is in line with Israel's links to militant Hindu nationalists (who quietly put away their past Aryanism and admiration for Hitler!) The Bush administration did not go that far, but it did start treating India as an ally. The two countries began military co-operation.

See India Is a Key Ally in the War on Terror, Obama has a chance to build on sound Bush diplomacy, article by Douglas Feith in the now Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal

But it is not always that easy to liquidate past links and assets. Indeed they may still have their uses, in persuading your new friends that they had better hasten to your side.

The Israeli intelligence news site Debka, which we'd guess is employed by Mossad to put out its own disinformation among the supposed "inside" information, is treating the news about Headley as coming from the US government, perhaps as an effort in damage limitation.

It recalls that this year, on April 2, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 439 discussed the possibility of Headley's employ by the US as an undercover double agent:

India finds it hard to believe that US terror experts were ignorant of Headley's role as key man in the planning and selection of targets for the attack [in Mumbai] and the dispatch of the Lashkar-e-Taibe terrorists for its execution.
These suspicions have led New Delhi to the supposition that Headley was a double or triple agent working for US intelligence, Pakistani's Inter-Services (military) Intelligence - ISI and also al Qaeda.
While Washington did indeed tip off Indian intelligence to the impending Mumbai attack two months in advance, the Indians now suspect that it withheld information which could have prevented the attack so as not to expose Headley.

Asking itself why the US government had decided to release information, the Israeli comes up with two possible explanations:

One: "The federal authorities are anxious to distract American public attention from the court procedures beginning last week in the case of the Palestinian-American Major Nidal Malik Hasan accused of murdering 13 US servicemen at Fort Hood base on Nov. 5, 2009 and responsibility for the most deadly Islamist terrorist attack ever staged in a US military installation. .."

Anyone would think that disturbed individuals going on shooting sprees were a hitherto unknown phenomenon in the United States, so that it must be assumed this was an organised "terrorist attack". Well, admittedly it was unusual in that the victims were military personnel, whereas all-American gunmen generally shoot down civilians such as work colleagues or schoolmates. Besides, only in Israel when some right-wing fanatic shoots up a mosque, or shoots down a prime minister, are we permitted the "lone gunman" explanation. Having fixed the "Palestinian" label on the major born in Virginia, Debka claims US soldiers were ordered to destroy "evidence" on their mobile phones, such as that "throughout his shooting rampage, Nidal never stopped shouting Allah is Great!"

"Our sources also confirm that the emergence of a Palestinian terrorist willing to carry out a massacre inside the United States is highly embarrassing for the Obama administration at a time when its diplomats are working hard to revive peace diplomacy in the Middle East". Whereas evoking the Muslim terror conspiracy is essential now for those Zionists keeping the pot warm for the Tea Party.

On to Debka's second, and if you ask me, more interesting explanation:
"Two: The US administration came under heavy fire for the unspecific, imprecise terror alert the State Department issued the whole of Europe on Oct. 3 against Mumbai-style multiple terror attacks. Three weeks later, most counter-terror agencies in Europe are certain the alert was unfounded and hurt Washington's credibility.
By releasing new data on the Headley case, the Americans hope to prove to the Europeans that they have learned their lesson from the Mumbai atrocity and were no longer repeating the mistake of disregarding incoming tips. Their warning to Europe was based on information garnered from the jailed German al Qaeda operative Ahmad Wali Siddiqui. This time it was taken seriously".

Considering the logistics of the Mumbai attacks, the backing the attackers had and the weapons used, it has been hard to imagine how such an operation could be mounted in Europe. Considering the part an American agent evidently played at Mumbai, we must worry how much the Americans really know, and whether they have told us everything.

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