Washington, March 26: Citing the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack and four other cases, a report has concluded FBI has made strides in the past decade but needs faster reforms to transform itself into a threat-based, intelligence-driven organization.
One of the key plotters of 26/11, the terror assault on Mumbai, Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, the report noted "had previously come to the attention of US law enforcement authorities but FBI officials repeatedly concluded that Headley did not pose a threat at the time."
"The increasingly complex and dangerous threat environment it faces will require no less," said the report by the FBI 9/11 Review Commission which studied FBI investigations into five "significant terrorism events." In none of those cases did a confidential source "provide actionable intelligence to help prevent or respond to a terrorist operation," the report released Wednesday said.
The principal authors of the report were Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University; Edwin Meese III, the former attorney general; and Timothy J. Roemer, a former ambassador to India.
In December 2007, Headley's Moroccan wife complained to US officials at the US embassy in Islamabad that her husband was a terrorist. But the FBI investigation of Headley did not begin until 2009, and it was triggered by a tip that originated outside the FBI that revealed his relationships with extremists abroad, the report said.
"One of the main lessons from the Headley case is that absent an intelligence effort across the US Intelligence Community to understand the connections among cases and complaints across field offices, relevant intelligence may fall by the wayside," it said.
News outlets, it noted, have reported, prior to his terrorist activities, Headley had worked as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, following two heroin trafficking arrests.
"A single complaint may be more easily dismissed as a poison pen motive, but several unrelated complaints should not be dismissed as readily as the work of a malcontent," the report said.
"The Headley case raises the important question faced by all intelligence agencies - certainly important to the FBI - of how to scan and assess voluminous amounts of collected information strategically and identifying valuable intelligence leads," the report said.
"Still, more than a decade after 9/11, the FBI must prioritize empowering and equipping its analytic cadre to make these connections with cutting edge technology, to minimize the risk of the FBI missing important intelligence information," it said.
In the Headley case, an analyst was ultimately able to connect him to an ongoing plot in Denmark, underscoring the value of good intelligence analysis in the field to meet the FBI's national security and investigative missions, it said.
Describing Headley as "an elusive target," the report noted, "he conducted his activities with all the skills of a trained intelligence operative-able to travel to and from the United States, Pakistan, and India with relative ease and eluding authorities."
"The FBI had no knowledge of Headley's connections to Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) until provided with a tip that originated outside the FBI that prompted the investigation in 2009.
In Chicago, National Security Letters helped the FBI track David Headley and better understand his involvement in the Copenhagen plot directed by Ilyas Kashmiri, Al Qaeda's chief of external operations at the time and the head of the Pakistani extremist organization, Harakat ul Jihad al Islami.
Over the next several months, the FBI obtained warrants on Headley and on his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani Canadian resident of Chicago.
Based on the information obtained, FBI special agents decided to arrest Headley before he could leave the country, the report noted.