Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley, who scouted targets in Mumbai for the 26/11 attacks, was a Pakistani spy working for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), whose chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha was possibly aware of the plot to strike India's financial hub, claims an investigative news report.

“In essence, U.S. and Indian officials say, Headley was more than a terrorist: He served as a Pakistani spy,” investigative American journalist Sebastian Rotella writes in ProPublica.Com.

Investigation into the Mumbai terrorist attacks by the U.S. and Indian agencies, says the news report, has for the first time given a detailed account of how the powerful ISI has been playing the “double game”: acting as a front-line U.S. ally in the fight against terror while supporting selected terrorist groups which serve Pakistani interests.

Documents about the Mumbai attacks investigation in the possession of ProPublica.Com build a strong case that officers in the ISI Directorate collaborated with the LeT in the Mumbai terror plot, Mr. Rotella writes.

“Officials from both countries [India and the U.S.] say they are persuaded that ISI officers recruited and trained Headley in spying techniques and gave him money and instructions to scout targets in Mumbai and elsewhere.

“Headley has told investigators that a Pakistani navy frogman helped plan the maritime attack on Mumbai,” says the news report, citing a 119-page report recounting Headley's interrogation this year by Indian authorities obtained by ProPublica.

Pasha visited Lakhvi

In a potentially significant revelation, ProPublica reports that Headley said ISI Director-General Lieutenant-General Pasha went to see LeT military chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in custody after he was arrested post-26/11.

“Pasha had visited him to understand the Mumbai attack conspiracy,” the report quotes Headley as saying, without further elaboration.

“Pakistani officials deny that the spymaster made the jailhouse visit. U.S. and Indian officials and experts are more willing to believe the story,” it said.

“I think Pasha was aware of the plot beforehand, or he is not chief of the ISI,” an Indian counter-terror official is quoted as saying.

The ProPublica report, however, says U.S. counter-terrorism officials do not see evidence that ISI chiefs made an “institutional, top-down decision” to attack Mumbai.

Some feel that Headley's nuanced, sometimes ambiguous narrative tends to exonerate the top spymasters. Headley told investigators that the ISI's Director-General was apparently caught off-guard by the carnage in Mumbai, the report said.

The investigators believe Headley's main handler, a man identified only as Major Iqbal, was a serving member of ISI and one of several Pakistani intelligence officers who had contact with Headley, according to U.S. officials.

According to ProPublica, Major Iqbal assigned a non-commissioned officer (NCO) to give Headley standard intelligence training. Headley learnt techniques for detecting surveillance, developing sources and practised with the lower-ranking officer on the streets of Lahore. The specialised training lasted several months and continued intermittently.

“I became close to Major Iqbal,” Headley told interrogators. “The training given by this NCO under the guidance of Major Iqbal was much more scientific and effective than the trainings I did in the LeT camps.”

Phone and e-mail evidence have corroborated Headley's contact with Major Iqbal and other suspected ISI officers, say U.S. and Indian officials say.

ISI officers supplied a boat for a failed first attempt to send the gunmen to Mumbai and intervened when Headley's chaotic personal life got him in trouble just two months before the attacks, the report says.

Headley said the Mumbai plot caused — and resulted from — conflict in the Lashkar-ISI partnership.

Disillusioned militants demanding a bigger role in fighting in Afghanistan were defecting to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while chiefs of Lashkar and the ISI tried to keep the main focus on Kashmir, he said.

In response to the dangerous internal rifts, Lashkar decided on a spectacular Al-Qaeda-style strike on Western targets in Mumbai, and the ISI approved the shift in tactics, Headley explained.

“The ISI I believe had no ambiguity of understanding the necessity to strike India [and]... shifting and minimising the theatre of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan,” he said.

More In: International | News