By Emily Wax and Greg Miller
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; A11
NEW DELHI - Pakistan's main intelligence service was far more involved in funding and orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks than was previously believed, according to a classified Indian investigative report. But that conclusion was disputed Tuesday by U.S. intelligence officials, who said they saw no evidence to substantiate Pakistani government involvement.
The Indian report is based primarily on the interrogation of David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani American who was arrested last year in Chicago and pleaded guilty this year in U.S. federal court to helping to plot the attack.
The three-day siege in Mumbai left 166 people dead, including six Americans. It has been attributed to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba, but the extent of official Pakistani involvement - if any - has long been hotly contested.
In the report, Headley is quoted describing his extensive contact with handlers from Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, and speculates on its alleged motivation for helping to launch the strike. In Headley's telling, the ISI was hoping to refocus militants against neighboring India at a time when they were increasingly turning their guns on Pakistan. "The ISI, I believe, had no ambiguity about the necessity to strike India," he said, according to the report.
Pakistani officials immediately rejected the suggestion that the ISI was involved, with one calling it an "Indian-staged drama."
The ISI has often been accused of exporting militancy to India, Afghanistan and beyond, rather than trying to eliminate it at home. Headley's account, if true, offers an unusual firsthand insight, complete with the names of ISI personnel with whom he says he met as the plot took shape.
But India has a significant motive of its own for blaming its arch rival for the assault, in which 10 gunmen targeted two international hotels, a tourist cafe and a Jewish outreach center.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said American authorities have seen no evidence that ISI leaders were aware of, let alone involved in overseeing, the attack.
"There are no indications that the Pakistani ISI made any kind of institutional decision to help direct, plan or orchestrate the Mumbai attacks," said the U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation. "If there was information pointing to Pakistani government sponsorship of the Mumbai attacks, surely the United States would have reacted accordingly."
Any substantial ISI link to the attack could have serious repercussions for the CIA. The agency has provided tens of millions of dollars in funding to the ISI over the past decade, and it relies extensively on Pakistani cooperation for the capture of alleged terrorists as well as permission to carry out drone strikes in areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border.
But Pakistan maintains murky relations with many of the extremist groups that operate on its soil, including Lashkar-i-Taiba, which it long nurtured but later banned.
While Lashkar was originally oriented toward antagonizing India - particularly in the disputed region of Kashmir - the group in recent years has begun to align itself with al-Qaeda and other transnational groups that espouse global jihad. Members have begun to carry out attacks within Pakistan, as retribution for Pakistani cooperation with the United States. In the report, Headley is quoted as pointing to that shift as the origin of the Mumbai attacks.
The ISI, Headley said, was under "tremendous pressure to stop the integration of Kashmir-based outfits with Jihadi-based outfits" and hoped "to shift . . . the theatre of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan to India."
The 109-page document - elements of which were reported in recent days by the British paper the Guardian and the New York Times and which was obtained by The Washington Post on Tuesday - relies on 34 hours of interrogation by Indian investigators.
U.S. officials refused to say whether Headley's accounts to American interrogators have been consistent with what he apparently told Indian investigators. Justice Department and FBI officials declined to comment, although members of both agencies were present during the questioning by Indian officials.
Headley, 50, was born Daood Gilani and later changed his name. Despite the skepticism from U.S. intelligence agencies, the Indian report includes significant detail on Headley's alleged interactions with the ISI. He identifies at least four ISI operatives by name or pseudonym and describes receiving travel funding and detailed intelligence training from the ISI.
The report "reinforces the sense that Pakistan is riding a jihadist Frankenstein," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who led the Obama administration's initial review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan strategies. Given the level of detail in the Indian report, Riedel said, there appears to be "no question of an ISI role in Mumbai."
The report was leaked at an important time, about three weeks before President Obama is to visit India. India has been frustrated by the attention and financial support that Washington gives Pakistan. The United States has urged the two nations to restart talks over Kashmir in hopes that improved relations will help stabilize the region.
Meanwhile Tuesday, intelligence officials said the U.S. director of national intelligence will review Headley's handling. The decision by James R. Clapper Jr. to undertake the review comes after a ProPublica report in The Post on Sunday that Headley's wife told the FBI about his terrorist ties three years before the attacks. The director's office will also examine a 2007 incident, reported by the New York Times, in which another wife of Headley told officials at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan that she thought he was a terrorist.
Miller reported from Washington. Correspondent David Nakamura and special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad, Pakistan; special correspondent Khan Haq Nawaz in Peshawar, Pakistan; and Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica in Washington contributed to this report.