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MARCH 24, 2010, 2:00 P.M. ET
An Antiterror Rift
U.S.-India cooperation in the war on terror hits a roadblock.
By BAHUKUTUMBI RAMAN
Cooperation between U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies has been a hallmark of the post-9/11 era, and rightly so: The two democracies both understand the existential fight the war on terror presents. But just as the U.S. expects India to be a good partner in the fight, so too does India expect the same of America.
That's why the case of David Coleman Headley, a Chicago-based American citizen of Pakistani origin who allegedly facilitated the Nov. 26, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, matters. Mr. Headley traveled to India five times, reportedly to scout targets for Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). He and his accomplice, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, were arrested by the FBI in October during an investigation into a plot of the LET and other Pakistan-based terrorists to attack a Danish newspaper. Their alleged links to the Mumbai attacks were discovered during the FBI interrogation.
Given Mr. Headley's potentially vital role in one of the most extreme terrorist acts in India's history—an attack that lasted four days and killed 166 people—India understandably wants to extradite him for questioning. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said Saturday during a trip to New Delhi that extradition won't happen, but Indian officials will eventually "get access" to Mr. Headley.
This is a remarkable double standard. When Al Qaeda terrorists Abu Zubaidah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Faraj al-Libi were arrested in Pakistan, and when Jemmah Islamiyah's Hambali was arrested in Thailand in the years following 9/11, U.S. intelligence officials insisted on taking them into U.S. custody to interrogate them on the future plans of their organizations and on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
When Messrs. Headley and Rana were arrested, Indian authorities didn't insist on extradition, which they knew might be hard to do under U.S. law. They simply wanted Indian investigators to be given immediate access to the terrorists on U.S. soil. Given the growing antiterror cooperation between the two countries, an Indian investigative team traveled to the U.S. to question Mr. Headley after hearing of his arrest. They were taken by surprise when the FBI declined to grant them access and sent them back empty-handed.
Since then, the FBI has been dragging its feet in response to repeated Indian requests to interrogate Mr. Headley—even in U.S. territory. The plea bargain that the FBI and Mr. Headley agreed to last week has created strong suspicions in India that the FBI wants to avoid a formal trial of Mr. Headley. There are even wild rumors that Indian investigators are being prevented from interrogating him because he was a deep penetration agent working for U.S. intelligence.
India isn't asking for much. Its intelligence officers are mature professionals. Their interest will be in questioning Mr. Headley on his role in the Mumbai attacks, LET's terrorist plans, its India-based sleeper cells, and the role of the Pakistani state in the attacks.
U.S.-India intelligence cooperation has been tested over the past few years, first in 2004 with accusations that an Indian intelligence officer, Rabinder Singh, had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. (He was granted asylum in the U.S. just before he was about to be arrested by Indian counterintelligence officers.) The second blow came in 2006 with the discovery of another alleged CIA mole in India's National Security Council Secretariat, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.
The rift forming over access to Mr. Headley is a serious problem. The intelligence communities of the two countries, which have a long history of cooperation, managed to get over the trust deficit created by the CIA's alleged penetration. It's time to get over this one, too.
Mr. Raman served in India's external intelligence agency from 1968 to 1994 and on the government of India's National Security Advisory Board from 2000 to 2002. He is currently director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai.
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