A team of investigators from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Govt. of India had been to the US in the beginning of June to question David Coleman Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, who is presently awaiting sentence by a US federal court in Chicago on charges of conspiracy to blow up the office of a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen, which had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, and helping the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in carrying out its terrorist strikes in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008. According to the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation, he had visited India a number of times to collect operational data such as details of the targets, possible landing points for the LET boat etc for use in the planning of the strikes. Headley had pleaded guilty to these charges and made a plea bargain with the FBI under which he admitted the charges against him in return for an assurance that he would not be sentenced to death. The court is still to pronounce its judgement on his plea bargain.
2. The NIA reportedly interrogated Headley in the presence of his lawyer and the case officer of the FBI. During his interrogation by the NIA team, he reportedly stated that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and Navy had assisted the LET in the planning and execution of its sea-borne raid on Mumbai. He also mentioned the names of some ISI officers who were involved.
3. Headley's admission to the NIA team called for three follow-up actions by the Govt. of India:
* Request the US to exercise pressure on Pakistan to act against the officers named by Headley and co-operate with India in the further investigation. One does not know whether this was done.
* Share the information with the Ministry of Interior of the Government of Pakistan and request for investigation and prosecution of the officers involved. It has been reported that this request was made by Mr.P.Chidambaram, our Home Minister, to Mr.Rehman Malik, the Pakistani Interior Minister, whom he met at Islamabad on June 25 and 26 during a conference of SAARC Home/Interior Ministers. The media was not told about it at that time.
* Share the information with the Governments of countries other than the US whose nationals were killed by the LET and request them to exercise pressure on Pakistan to act against the officers named by Headley. One understands that this action has not so far been taken by the Govt. of India at any level.
4. A few days before the departure of Mr.S.M.Krishna, our Minister For External Affairs, to Islamabad for his July 15 meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Mr.Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Mr.G.K.Pillai, our Home Secretary, is alleged to have told a correspondent of the "Indian Express", New Delhi, about the admission made by Headley regarding the involvement of the ISI "from the beginning till the end." His disclosure to the media reportedly vitiated the atmosphere during and after the meeting of the two Foreign Ministers and created avoidable embarrassment for Mr.Krishna, who has expressed his disapproval of the action of Mr.Pillai in two interviews to Indian media on July 21. His objection seems to be to Mr.Pillai's prematurely disclosing it to the media before the Foreign Ministers' meeting, instead of waiting till the meeting was over.
5. Mr.Pillai's action raises two issues. Firstly, the professional wisdom of his action in disclosing to the media sensitive details of the interrogation of a conspirator when the facts relating to the ISI involvement are still under investigation. Secondly, the procedural appropriateness of his action in disclosing Headley's admission to the media without examining the diplomatic implications of his action in consultation with the Foreign Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.
6. Interrogations of sensitive suspects give rise to the question whether what they have stated should be disclosed to the media before follow-up enquiries into their disclosure have been completed. In August 1994, the MHA told the media details of the ISI involvement in the Mumbai blasts of March 1993 as disclosed to Indian interrogators by some members of the Memon family of Mumbai, who had allegedly played an active role in helping Dawood Ibrahim in carrying out the blasts. When Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, read about it in the media, he was very unhappy. At an inter-departmental meeting at which I was present, Rao told S.B.Chavan, the then Home Minister: "Dawood Ibrahim and the ISI must be frantically trying to find out what the Memon family members are telling their interrogators. We have made their job easy and helped them by disclosing these details of the interrogation to the media."
7. By disclosing details of Headley's interrogation by the NIA, have we similarly unwittingly helped the ISI and the LET to cover up their tracks? This is a very important question, which does not appear to have been addressed.
8. The Home Secretary's disclosure also has diplomatic implications. Firstly, the US would be unhappy that the details have been disclosed to the media at a time when their court is still to pronounce judgement on the plea bargain. Secondly, since there was a danger of its vitiating the atmosphere during the Foreign Ministers' meeting, if the Home Secretary strongly felt that the media should be informed even before the meeting, he should have referred the matter to the collective wisdom of the Secretaries' Committee instead of acting on his own. If the Secretaries' Committee agreed that the media sould be informed, the follow-up action should have been taken by the Foreign Secretary.
9.Previously, national security problems used to arise due to lack of coordination at the level of intelligence and physical security agencies. In the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh, such problems are arising due to lack of co-ordination at much higher levels such as those of the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. This dos not bode well for our national security management.
10. This episode does not speak well of the sense of propriety and professional leadership of Mr.Krishna. At the joint press conference at Islamabad, Mr.Krishna failed to rebuke the Pakistani Foreign Minister when he compared the Home Secretary's disclosure to the media to the instigatory statements of the Amir of the LET. Mr.Krishna is now trying to cover up his confused and over-awed silence on grounds of good manners. This is ridiculous.
11. His publicly blaming the Home Secretary in two media interviews is totally in violation of the rules of ministerial etiquette under which a Minister should not pull up his senior officers in public.Any rebuke must be administered in private and not in public. Mr.Krishna's unwise action mightl affect the stature of the Home Secretary in the eyes of his own staff. The correct thing for Mr.Krishna would have been to convey his unhappiness to Mr.Chidambaram and let him decide how to deal with the matter. Moreover, by publicly expressing his disapproval of the action of the Home Secretary, Mr.Krishna has enabled his Pakistani counterpart to justify his raising the issue of the Home Secretary's disclosure to the media in the obnoxious manner he did. (22-7-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )