The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of the Government of India is reported to have entrusted the newly-created National Intelligence Agency (NIA) with the task of follow-up investigation into the presence, travels and activities of David Coleman Headley, an American national of Chicago, and Tawahuur Hussain Rana, a Canadian national resident in Chicago, in India since 2006 and after the terrorist attack of 26/11 in Mumbai by 10 Pakistani members of the Lashksar-e-Toiba (LET).
2. Preliminary investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation between October,2008, and October 2,2009, brought out their suspected links with the LET. It also brought out that they were part of a conspiracy sought to be orchestrated from Pakistan to carry out a terrorist attack against a Danish journal, which had published cartoons of the Prophet in 2005, and a new terrorist strike in India by the LET. Both of them are of Pakistani origin.
3. Acting on preliminary evidence, which consisted largely of technical intercepts of the telephone and E-mail communications of the two, the FBI had arrested Headley on October 3,2009 and Rana on October 16,2009. According to the affidavits filed by the FBI in a Chicago court, Headley has waived his right against self-incrimination and has been talking voluntarily to the FBI interrogators.
4. The affidavits, which are available to the public, contain only that evidence which justified the decision to arrest and interrogate them. Evidence obtained during the still on-going interrogation, which would be necessary to prosecute them, has not been disclosed to the public. As and when one phase of the interrogation is over, evidence obtained during that phase is being put in a sealed cover and deposited with the court to enable the court to decide on the FBI's applications for further detention of the two suspects.
5. The FBI will be interrogating them from two angles---- their plans for future terrorist strikes and their activities in India before and after 26/11 in order to see whether they had any role in the terrorist attacks of 26/11 in which US nationals were among the foreigners killed.
6. While the US law and courts may not come in the way of the FBI sharing with India and Denmark information obtained during the interrogation which would enable the Indian and Danish Police to prevent future attacks, the FBI may not have a free hand at present in sharing with India any evidence pertaining to their role, if any, in the 26/11 terrorist attacks.
7.Any information obtained by the FBI relating to 26/11 from the two suspects has to be got verified by the FBI though the Indian NIA. For that purpose, the FBI will have to share even this information with the NIA. From its side, the FBI has taken care to see that none of the information being disclosed by the suspects during the interrogation leaks to the media and the public. The US media, which is more responsible than the Indian media, has refrained from publishing speculative stories relating to their interrogation so that the suspects continue to speak voluntarily to their interrogators.
8. Many sections of the Indian media have not been observing such restraint. There has been frenzied speculation and some journalists----in their attempts to sound more credible than others---- are even claiming to have obtained their information from "FBI sources", which one finds it difficult to believe.
9. If this kind of ill-advised speculation continues, it may come in the way of the FBI being able to share with India all the information that comes to its notice about the past and the future. The Government should caution its officials against talking to the media about the progress of the investigation and also issue an advisory to the media against frenzied speculation, which could be exploited by the lawyers of the two suspects to argue that the sharing of the information by the FBI with the Indian agencies might affect the legal rights of their clients. (21-11-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )