Chicago: Even as the Department of Justice (DoJ) continues to dismiss as 'absurd' the freshly mounting claims in India that Mumbai terror plotter David Coleman Headley was a double agent gone rogue, there is now a virtual stonewall around what his covert connections might have been.
If US authorities are worried at the persistence of the charges in the Indian media that Headley is being shielded because of his past, they are not showing it at all. However, the near universal official silence is merely fueling conspiracy theories about the extent of his entanglement with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and/or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
There appears to be a pattern in this silence that might suggest that all the key players inside the enforcement, defense and prosecution handling the case know something they are reluctant to make public.
Repeated attempts to obtain any information in response to the allegations in the Indian media have failed except the reiteration of the earlier answer from the DoJ. IANS was told a couple months ago that the allegations were 'absurd.' When approached again after Headley's comprehensive guilty plea on March 18, a senior DoJ official maintained the same line. "Our response is going to remain the same," he said.
Unless India presents a smoking gun showing that Headley was indeed a double agent who not only knew about the impending terror attacks but even informed his handlers, it is less than likely that the US would feel compelled confirm it. There is another possibility which is fraught with all round embarrassment. Washington might already have briefed New Delhi on deep background about Headley's real connections and advised the Indian government to keep it under wraps for any number of reasons, including compromising future intelligence.
This may be specifically related to what the authorities referred to as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba members A, B, C and D through whom and with Headley's help the US authorities are planning to crack the larger network. It is not altogether inconceivable that it is to this strategy that New Delhi might have acquiesced.
The accumulated implication of the speculations in the Indian media is that despite having fairly actionable intelligence about the Mumbai attacks from Headley, the US authorities for some inexplicable reasons did not share it in a manner that would have prevented them.
Why someone who was reportedly being tracked by American intelligence and law enforcement agencies was allowed to undertake multiple trips to India is a question that is becoming harder to answer. One plausible answer is that his frequent travels were aimed at drawing out in the open all those jihadists who are normally hard to zero in on.
There are those in the US who think there could well be a much simpler explanation to the mystery surrounding Headley's past. They say while it is possible that in the late 1990s Headley did indeed work as a DEA agent to infiltrate jihadist group via the route of drug runners, it is equally possible that all along he managed to successfully hide his real intentions of working for the others side for purely ideological reasons. In that case it is even more embarrassing for the US authorities to acknowledge having been played by Headley.
One curious piece of this puzzle is his change of name from Daood Gilani to David Headley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2006. It is not all that difficult to change names in America but for a convicted felon changing from an obviously Muslim name to a completely Caucasian one would not have been that easy. It would have also meant changing his name on the all important Social Security card without which he would not have been able to obtain his new passport. Of course, he did all that facilitate his travels to India unmolested as a white Caucasian American.
The Social Security administration requires those changing their names to fill out the form SS5 which among other things says, "To change the information on your Social Security number record (i.e., a name or citizenship change, or corrected date of birth) you must provide documents to prove your identity, support the requested change, and establish the reason for the change. For example, you may provide a birth certificate to show your correct date of birth".
"A document supporting a name change must be recent and identify you by both your old and new names. If the name change event occurred over two years ago or if the name change document does not have enough information to prove your identity, you must also provide documents to prove your identity in your prior name and/or in some cases your new legal name.' All this, while not rocket science, requires considerable documentation which Headley ought to have completed.