‘Seeking specific approvals would be elevating form over substance': Ambassador Mulford

Tensions between India and the United States over how much information from the investigation into the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai to share with Pakistan appear to have started with a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation made on December 23, 2008.

The U.S agency wanted Indian permission to pass on the outcome of its interview with Ajmal Amir Kasab, the surviving terrorist in Indian custody, to Pakistani investigators. It also wanted to give them information concerning the Yamaha outboard motor found on the attackers' boat.

The Indian side did not respond. As a cable sent on January 6, 2009 by Ambassador David C. Mulford (185899: Secret) to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte headlined “INDIAN CONCURRENCE ON INFORMATION SHARING - TAKING YES FOR AN ANSWER” reveals, on December 27, 2008, the FBI asked him to reiterate the request.

He did this two days later, on December 29, to P. Chidambaram. The Home Minister indicated India was not ready to give its concurrence “because there had been no signs the Pakistanis would cooperate in the investigation and were not providing the U.S. with access to persons of interest in the investigation, including Kasab's father”.

The next day, the FBI broadened its request to include GPS data from the devices used by the attackers and to permit the release of information from the interrogation of a Bangladeshi detainee, Mubashir Shahid alias Yahya.

On December 31, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told Mr. Mulford that the Cabinet would need to decide whether India would share information from the Mumbai investigation “directly” with Pakistan, and if so, to determine what to share.

Then came the January 3 missive from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. In a rather more conciliatory manner, the Home Minister said India would decide “as early as possible” whether to concur in the U.S sharing information with Pakistan.

“At that point, Chidambaram framed the issue for decision broadly, which was whether information obtained during the investigation in Mumbai could be shared with the Pakistanis. He agreed that if information was shared, the FBI would be free to do so “to the extent necessary” and “according to your best judgment.”

“He did not limit the information to the two items described in the initial [FBI] request, nor did he request that we seek item-by-item clearance,” Mr. Mulford wrote. Then came the January 5 dossier, one for Pakistan and one for the New Delhi-based diplomatic community, with the Foreign Secretary saying that the dossier to the Pakistanis was a “limited” version, and the Home Minister telling Mr. Mulford that information sharing with Pakistan should be limited to what was contained in this dossier.

But, as the U.S. envoy noted in his cable to Mr. Negroponte, there were no restrictions on diplomats sharing the information, and the media were already running many of the details contained in the dossier.

Referring to the condition laid down by the Home Minister, the Ambassador wrote that these were “broad categories and should be read in that fashion. We detect no intent on Chidambaram's part to seek any sort of case-by-case approval of each specific piece of information developed during the investigation.”

Such “a crabbed reading would be unworkable in any event,” Mr. Mulford wrote, arguing that “after the Indian dossier has been widely and publicly distributed, as it has, seeking specific approvals would be elevating form over substance.”

Mr. Mulford commented that “we believe strongly that we should take India's yes as an answer and proceed to use the information developed in the Mumbai investigation to push forward with the Pakistani authorities.”

Two days earlier, on January 3, after getting a whiff of the Indian plan for the distribution of the dossier, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson cabled in dismay from Islamabad (185604: secret) that it would be a “premature” step by India.

She was concerned that “it will undermine essential law enforcement efforts and forestall further Indo-Pak cooperation. Our goal is not only to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, but also to begin a dialogue that will reduce tensions between India and Pakistan.”

The U.S. later noted that India also wanted whatever information the Americans had from the Pakistani side — without Islamabad's prior approval.

Mr. Mulford cabled on January 6, 2009 (185827: secret) that when he passed on the information from the Pakistani government to the Home Minister and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, the NSA asked “that any additional relevant information the U.S. had regarding the attacks be made available without pre-approval from the Pakistanis.”

“[The NSA] said India needs to know the full story about the attack and argued that even a partial release of information would be useful. Narayanan and Chidambaram agreed that the information the U.S. had passed from Pakistani sources should also be shared on a similarly restricted basis with the Directors of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau,” Mr. Mulford wrote.