Mumbai Attacks: ISI leaders had no involvement, says Headley

Published: June 1, 2011
David Headley in his testimony says Pakistan spy agency's leadership was not part of planning the attack. PHOTO: FILE

David Headley in his testimony says Pakistan spy agency's leadership was not part of planning the attack. PHOTO: FILE


The leadership of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was not involved in planning the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, self-confessed plotter David Coleman Headley testified on Tuesday.

Headley, who pleaded guilty to 12 terror charges arising out of the attacks on India’s financial capital and other unrealised plots, testified that no more than a handful of ISI agents were involved in the Mumbai plot.

“The colonel might have known and someone in the group might have known,” Headley told a Chicago court, referring to one of his alleged ISI handlers.

But when asked if he meant that neither the head of the ISI nor its senior leadership was involved, Headley testified “Yes.”

Headley had previously testified that he believed the ISI worked closely with the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and detailed his relationship with an ISI handler identified as “Major Iqbal.”

However, Headley’s testimony on Tuesday supports Pakistan’s assertion that the ISI’s involvement was limited to a handful of rogue agents.

Headley is testifying against his childhood friend and alleged co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan or Denmark.

The Washington-born son of a former Pakistani diplomat and an American woman, Headley spent two years scouting Mumbai, even taking boat tours around the city’s harbour to identify landing sites for the attackers and befriending Bollywood stars as part of his cover.

In a plot that reads like a movie thriller, Headley said he was given a GPS device to locate possible targets, including Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel, the eventual site of the attacks in addition to the headquarters of the right-wing political party Shiv Sena.

Rana is accused of providing Headley with a cover and acting as a messenger, with prosecutors alleging he played a behind-the-scenes logistical role in both the Mumbai attacks and another abortive plan to strike Copenhagen.

Rana, a Canadian-Pakistani and Chicago businessman, has denied all charges, and his defense attorneys argue that he was duped by his friend, whom he had met in military school in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (58)

  • AD
    May 31, 2011 - 10:39PM

    Does that mean ISI heads were sending him reports that they are not involved or lower rank offices of ISI are not ISI?Recommend

  • Thinking
    May 31, 2011 - 10:40PM

    These disgusting people need to be put behind bars for the rest of their lives with no opportunity for parole and left in solitary confinement to waste away.Recommend

  • Star
    May 31, 2011 - 10:51PM

    “ISI leadership was not Involved”…. Yeah Right, like they were going to reveal the top heriarchy to Mr. Headley in the first place.

    P.S. Stop saying “Pakistan’s powerful intelligence spy agency, Pakistan’s super spy agency, etc, etc.” The abbotbabd incident has shattered this Myth forever.Recommend

  • Pradeep
    May 31, 2011 - 10:57PM

    Ever heard of plausible deniability?Recommend

  • Usman
    May 31, 2011 - 11:13PM

    Ever heard of innocent until proven guilty?Recommend

  • Zeeeee
    May 31, 2011 - 11:31PM

    @Star: Agree with u man…………Recommend

  • Ali
    May 31, 2011 - 11:39PM

    Our Govt. must not spend tax payers money on defending the people who were a part of this attack on Indian soil. They should rot in prison.Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad
    May 31, 2011 - 11:44PM

    This guy keeps changing his statements…he is a liar!…Recommend

  • Cautious
    May 31, 2011 - 11:44PM

    Kinda like quizzing a USA private about what happened during a Pentagon meeting – not a very meaningful question/answer.Recommend

  • Dragon
    May 31, 2011 - 11:58PM

    Interestingly, Indian media is not posting this on their websites while they were bend on displaying each and everything thing regarding Headley for the last few weeks and ISI alleged involvement in Mumbai attacks. For the ignorants, he has been FBI double agent and what ever he craps worth nothing when it comes to creditability. Recommend

  • G. Din
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:21AM

    “…plausible deniability?”
    Do you find it plausible? I don’t!
    Clean chits to the upper echelons of ISI, first by Secretary Clinton, now by the most impeccable authority, the proverbial horse himself, Hadley. Hmmmm!
    They have a pretty dim view of intelligence of others!Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:31AM

    Whatever Headly says in his statement is wrong, except the parts where he gives clean bill to the top dogs at ISI.

    It is just like Wikileaks is all bunch of lies by the USA/CIA except the parts against the elected civilian got of Pakistan.

    The simple fact is in any secretive organization people do not know the whole command structure, otherwise it would not be secret but open and honest. Recommend

  • star plus
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:25AM

    @Star: It seem some people are disappointed knowing the fact that powerful Intelligence ISI was not involved? Well Mr. Headley’s trail is the proof that RAW and some biased Media hide their incompetency by blaming ISI without any proof. Mumbai criminal attack has disclosed incompetency of Indian Intelligence very brutally Recommend

  • Haris
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:30AM

    Omg Bharat must be crying at this news they had all their eggs in 1 basket. Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:38AM

    If ISI top leadership is not involved then why is not ISI identifying and punishing the officers involved ? ISI has been denying the existence of the ISI officers named by Headley.Recommend

  • Arindom
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:56AM

    this defence of “rogue agents” is really thin….

    If you were leading a company and found someone in the lower ranks were stealing from the company’s cash box, would you sit tight in denial, saying, “the thief must be a rogue employee”?Recommend

  • Cosmo
    Jun 1, 2011 - 2:09AM

    ” ISI’s involvement was limited to a handful of rogue agents” well, how swiftly put. Is that good enough? It only took few rouge agents to kill 166 people. It only took few rouge fundamentalists to execute 9/11. It only took one Hitler to create the world wide mayhem. Well, ask yourselves what were the consequences. Entire Germany had to pay the price. Entire Afghanistan had to pay the price. Well, shouldn’t entire ISI be tried ? Does it matter if its one or 10, end of the day rouge ISI agents were “State Actors”. Pakistan can no longer hide behind the “non-state-actor” pretext. Recommend

  • Cosmo
    Jun 1, 2011 - 2:14AM

    Why is the headline not ” THREE ISI rouge agents were involved in Mumbai attack?” Does it mean that if the top leadership is not involved, it takes away the responsibility of Pakistani State to punish these rouge agents? Recommend

  • Star
    Jun 1, 2011 - 2:31AM

    @star plus: No amount of Mumbai’s will ever compare to the insult,incompetence and dreadfully miserable failure of the ISI, when the World’s most wanted Man Osama Bin Laden was found living for 5 years+ next to the Pakistan Military Academy, and also let’s not forget the Plethora of other terrorists from all parts of the world springing up in all major cities in Pakistan.

    Oh i’m sorry, then again, it wasn’t incompetence, OBL along with Mullah Omar and The Haqqani and a few hundred thousand uzbek, chechen, tajik, saudi, libyan, somalian etc etc, terrorists of every color, shape, size are the unofficial State guests of Pakistan, courtesy the hospitality of the ISI

    So what will it be? Incompetence or Collusion. Either way OBL living next to PMA for more than 5 years… INCOMPETENCE MAYBE… COLLUSION YES!Recommend

  • Jun 1, 2011 - 3:07AM

    Mumbai attack was a conspiaracy against Pakistan, this was disclosed
    by Faisal Muhammed ” International Mediator” last year and today’s
    David Coleman Headley statement confrum Mr Faisal’s warning that
    “Imperial powers tightening circle around Pakistan” and they are using Multiple Methods in this regard, he also disclosed that
    RAW and some biased Media hide their incompetency by blaming ISI
    with out any proof.
    Only Indian Media is not responsible but Pakistan Leading Media also taking Benefit under the table from enemy of Pakistan that’s why all the time Pakistan so called Media showing “TALK SHOW” of corrupt politician who looted Pakistan.Recommend

  • Raja
    Jun 1, 2011 - 3:49AM

    Such evil mindset displayed by Pakistani posters here!! your country is today where it is because of such evil mindset. But it doesn’t matter, you have been completely exposed to
    the rest of the world.Recommend

  • Hasan Siftain Cheema
    Jun 1, 2011 - 6:56AM

    haha, Heard Alot about Incompetency of ISI, What about RAW. After yesterdays trail Indian Baised Media and RAW must be crying,
    Long Live PakistanRecommend

  • Sherif
    Jun 1, 2011 - 7:17AM

    @ starplus- Powerful ISI ??????

    They did’t even know that OBL was living under their nose, they couldn’t findout quite a number of Army/ Navy/ Airforce officers involved with militant outfits. They don’t have a clue about daily bombings going on in Pakistan for last 3-4 years, no idea who is behind the target killings in Karachi. Could not prevent the attack on BB ….. NEED TO CONTINUE?

    The argument that no top ISI personal is involved in Mumbai, shows the indiscipline/ unprofessanilsm in the organization as the top brass doesn’t know what their subordinates are doing.


  • Jehangir
    Jun 1, 2011 - 7:33AM

    So the question of “Incompetence or Complicity” continues! Same question during OBL Attack, same question PNS Attack, now 26/11.

    But i think the world will stop ask questions sooner or later and directly repeat the Abbottabad raids. Russians came knocking to see the chechan dead, Indonesian were there and soon the whole world.

    Sarcastically, how about starting Terror Tourism in Pakistan? .Recommend

  • Vinayak
    Jun 1, 2011 - 8:35AM

    If it is the truth, it means that he knows the ISI inside-out.Recommend

  • Kazmis
    Jun 1, 2011 - 9:24AM

    For the sake of argument, If an agency can prepare people like David Hadley, and David Hadley can perform event like 26/11, a real big event, then you must admit it is a super spy agency. So far Abbottabad even is concerned, the agency perhaps did not considered to interfere due to some big compromises. In all cases ISI is GREAT.Recommend

  • Hiran
    Jun 1, 2011 - 9:32AM

    all supporters of raw, hard luck!!!Recommend

  • ashok sai
    Jun 1, 2011 - 9:58AM

    ET’s Yesterday Editorial,

    Back in business,

    Yeah, we know that its going to happen.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jun 1, 2011 - 10:05AM

    This is a specious argument by Daood Gilani. At best he can say he does not know if leadership of ISI is aware of the plot since he had no interaction with them. How can Majors and others plot and plan operations that have global repercussions, with leadership of disciplined cadre based organisation being clueless? The terror machine has only one Commander – in – chief but many franchisees. Now franchisees have their put their reps into the mother organisation compromising it from inside. The result is a loss of 35000 lives with citizens being victims in the grip of an Octopus. Either there is complicity or incompetence and the entire leadership of all security organisations need to be replaced immediately. It is hard to believe that there are no honest upright officers to replace the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Recommend

  • Nada
    Jun 1, 2011 - 10:12AM

    Hey guys,
    Please read the news item again
    “Headley’s testimony on Tuesday supports Pakistan’s assertion that the ISI’s involvement was limited to a handful of rogue agents.”
    So, there were rogue agents in ISI Nevertheless., then whats this Non State Actors? Isnt the government / establishment responsible for the acts of those rogues?
    So, does it mean, ISI is either complicit or incomepetent to control its own rogues?Recommend

  • Mohd Rizwan
    Jun 1, 2011 - 10:52AM

    @ Hasan… Very bleak chances of Long Live Pakistan as per the present condition. Everyday a bomb blast or terror incidence is happening, moderates have been targeted. No one can protest the mis deeds of Terrorist. What the hell Pakistan is becoming? A day is not far when it will the mirror image of Afghanistan and Iraq. The main reason of this situation is the impotency of Liberal and educated Pakistani and the rise and dare of fundamentalist and Islamist minded Pakistanis. Till they remain in majority no one can save Pakistan. Even no need for India to raise a war as Pakistan is rapidly become self-destructed nation.Recommend

  • Adeel
    Jun 1, 2011 - 10:59AM

    As we speak Times of India site’s main caption is….”Headley told wife he ‘made a fool’ of 26/11 co-accused Rana”

    Funny…long live the Indian Democracy :pRecommend

  • KM Khan
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:06AM

    Oh! have they agreed on North Waziristan operation? Yes. Good, lets give them a clean chit.Recommend

  • Loose Salwar
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:21AM

    This guy was a RAW/CIA/Mossad agent till yesterday. Now he is ISI and the apple of the Pakistan’s eye!!Recommend

  • James
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:42AM

    Ever heard of denial till you are blue in the faceRecommend

  • Anti Conspiracy Psychos(ACP)
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:43AM

    @Loose Salwar: I second you.that;s what i was wondering.That pakis were calling him RAW/CIA Agent and now all of a sudden it has become a GENUINE witness.
    Lol ‘INTELLIGENT pakistanis’Recommend

  • Chacha
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:50AM

    you can either accept this testimony at face value or not. So either rougue agents were involved (so the Mumbai attack did originate from Pakistan from people who have a government connection if not thier backing) or Headley is lying (so anything is possible – Kasab could be from Brazil). Recommend

  • king
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:51AM

    @Adeel: Just now I found saleem shahzad’s story and I started loving our democacy. Isn’t it amazing. We do have have corruption but our system works. Our millitary and agencies are under civillian control. Our defence secretary also a talented civillian. We have so much diversity but still our system works. Last 20 years India made astonishing progress. You are absolutely right when you say long live Indian democracy. Mr. Anna hazare will improve the system. We will progress much more faster rate in future. I started loving democracy. Recommend

  • James
    Jun 1, 2011 - 11:52AM

    An agent will only come into contact with his handlers.How does he then know that the top people are not involved.If his handlers had told him that they were acting on their own,why did he follow their instructions.Headley and Rana followed instructions because they were authorised from the top,or they were dedicated jihadhis.Headley comes across as a charachter who will sell out his motherRecommend

  • ashok sai
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:05PM

    Sigh of relief shown by Pakistanis here indicates about the magnitude of the crime committed. Trial is not yet over my friends, one more attack on NATO tankers will make Headley spill the beans.Recommend

  • Zahid
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:09PM

    Proud of ISI,whether they are involved or not ..You should question your mofo incompetent SECURITY agencies first & spare a thought if they cant handle only “5” of those,whats your future holds for them ??Recommend

  • hammad
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:18PM

    And what about the terrorist list created by RAW. Some men are still in India. Recommend

  • Rakesh
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:21PM

    Interesting conundrum. How does this guy know that the higher-ups are not involved? Recommend

  • rightman_07 Bond
    Jun 1, 2011 - 12:48PM

    To all Indians on board, to make argument why you have to make ur bring GDP %. you might be doing well as country but stop comparing urself to Pakistan in term of GDP. Give us break.Recommend

  • King
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:36PM

    @hammad: For your information the list is created by indian police and CBI in 2003. But stupidity is that it was not updated. The entire list was not disclose to Indian media till 2010. There was always partial disclosure about names. But after Obama episode the list disclose on CBI website and media started investigating. Indian media found the stupidity of CBI special thanks to MID-DAY news paper and times group. RAW does not have Area of operation inside India. RAW can support NIA but can not conduct own operation inside India. Recommend

  • IamConcerned!
    Jun 1, 2011 - 1:58PM

    Pakistan Zindabad! Not surprised to see “paid” Indians making comments against Pakistan on every other news-website! Recommend

  • Pradeep
    Jun 1, 2011 - 2:17PM

    Let me reiterate. It is called plausible deniability. No spy agency will ever expose its official arm in any operations. That way it can disown all accusations thrown at it. Even if the ISI top leadership was not involved in the tactical planning of the attacks it is the strategic thoughts of the leadership that resulted in the ground level operations. Since the Hitler example is oft stated, let me explain in a different but diametrically opposite analogy. Abraham Lincoln probably never fired a single shot at slave owners/Confederates during the American civil war, but he is credited to have abolished slavery. The same applies here but in the negative sense. The leadership has to own up to the follies of the foot soldiers. That is why they are called the ‘leaders’.Recommend

  • Henna Khan
    Jun 1, 2011 - 2:38PM

    Between 2002 and 2005, Headley made several trips to Pakistan for terror training, and was in fact working as a Drug Enforcement Administration informant at the same time. Wikipedia

    Doesn’t it ring the same kinda bell it rang in the case of Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 hijacker-pilo?, While my novel teacher was drilling a hole in our brains for the sake of viewing literature in Freudian psycho-analytical light, it seems they consider his theories only in the matter of sex. After the incident they know everything about them, what about before the incident? Is “background check” only valid in the boyfriends’ cases…
    ISI or not, he’s American, first… Recommend

  • vasan
    Jun 1, 2011 - 3:12PM

    yeap; Now ISI top leadership is certified by David Headly. Can u claim it to be ISO 9000/10000/100000/a Million. Can any one explain where this certification stands vis a vis ISO 9000/9010Recommend

  • ashok sai
    Jun 1, 2011 - 3:12PM


    23 recommendations as of now, surely ‘I am concerned’ with this denial syndrome.Recommend

  • hafeez.indian
    Jun 1, 2011 - 4:13PM

    @IamConcerned!: Please tell me who is paying? I also want to take my share.. LOL..Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Jun 2, 2011 - 1:07PM

    So his handler in ISI paid $25000.00 from his own pocket and also expenditure incurred on satellite phone, GPS devices and other equipment. Seems these ISI guys are paid quite a lot considering his handler was just middle rung officer! What nonsense.Recommend

  • Kamran
    Jun 2, 2011 - 1:28PM

    I wish the top brass knew all about it. The thought that people inside the army are operating on their own is even more frightening.Recommend

  • Bangash
    Jun 2, 2011 - 7:56PM

    Looks like India will not be joining this case after all!!!Recommend

  • Anwar
    Jun 3, 2011 - 2:33AM

    Sorry India, try again. You’ve been wanting to get the world to try and dismantle the ISI. Too bad you won’t be able to, because if you actually try, half of India will be burning by tomorrow morning that’s for damn sure.Recommend

  • shahazad
    Jun 4, 2011 - 4:31AM

    This is the most astonishing answer ..
    How can someone put millions of rupee without boss order..

    It looks like tie up between isi and CIA for major battle in taliban…

    CIA doesnt care about mumbai blasts….

    If pakistan doesnt punish these suspects,then india must create an army and militant wing of agency to pay back the pakistan..

    We must support taliban ,to bleed pakistan..Enough is enough …

    we asked them to hand over these morons they wont…so lets teach them in their own languageRecommend

  • Feroz
    Jun 4, 2011 - 6:13PM

    Sir, I am also an Indian but want to state that your comment is in very poor taste. If your brother is following the wrong path it would be much appreciated if you can guide him to the right path with logic and reason. Showering abuse on friend or foe will never qualify as a productive activity. You want to support the Taliban even after seeing what they did to our brothers and sisters in Afganistan. Pakistan is already paying through its nose for supporting these violent misogynists next door who want to pay back the favour by killing all of them and taking over their Assets. A naked fakir with only a walking stick could galvanise millions to overthrow the Worlds most powerful Empire and gain us independence – yet you believe in eye for eye.
    Shocking ! Recommend

More in Pakistan