An FBI agent called Headley’s former DEA handler, according to the senior DEA official. The FBI agent said the wife had claimed, curiously enough, that the drug agent had obtained night-vision goggles for Headley, according to the senior DEA official.
The DEA agent denied that assertion, the senior official said. The drug agent said Headley was no longer his informant and that the agent had not known Headley to threaten the United States, according to the senior official. The FBI agent said he felt the wife “had an ax to grind” because of the other wife in Pakistan, the senior DEA official said.
The FBI knew about the previous allegations in New York and Philadelphia, according to U.S. law enforcement officials. Yet, the agents did not question Headley as a suspect or even as a potential source of intelligence, officials say.
“Why close a case when you have a guy going to Pakistan to train?” said a U.S. law enforcement official who believes Headley was still an informant. “He could have been training with al Qaeda, too. We keep cases open for years on people.”
A senior law enforcement official said Headley’s past with the drug agency influenced the FBI’s decision that he was not a threat. The report went into the FBI’s Guardian Lead system, which was created to improve the tracking of leads in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Headley soon found out about his wife’s tip, but it didn’t affect his activities, officials say. He went to Philadelphia and initiated the legal name change from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley, adopting his mother’s family name. Pennsylvania officials did a required check for a criminal record but apparently did not find his two federal drug convictions, according to state documents and officials.
As for his wife’s assault charges, there were several hearings before the prosecution was dropped, officials say.
In January 2006, Headley took another big step: He was recruited by an ISI officer named Major Iqbal. U.S. counterterror officials believe Iqbal was in Directorate S, the wing of the spy agency that works with militant groups.
Headley and Iqbal met at a safe house with a colonel who was Iqbal’s commanding officer. It has not been revealed whether Headley mentioned his relative in the ISI.
“I told him that I was being sent to India and that I had applied for a name change and would be getting that in the near future,” Headley testified. “I was planning to leave for the United States at that time. So he told me to leave and call him after I returned.”
On Feb. 7, Headley had a familiar experience at JFK International. Border inspectors sent him to the secondary inspection area for questioning because his travel had caught their attention. He told them he had been visiting family and described himself as an owner of a video store, officials say.
The ex-convict had a lot to hide: The three FBI inquiries. His upcoming mission. His recruitment by the ISI. The pending name change.
But the inspectors, once again, didn’t have access to databases where leads were stored, officials say. Nor was his name on a watch list. Headley eluded detection again.
At about this time, Headley called his former DEA handler for a brief social conversation, according to the senior DEA official. The official said this was the DEA’s only documented contact with Headley between November 2001 and his arrest in 2009.
Armed with his new name, Headley became a Pakistani spy. Noncommissioned officers trained him in espionage techniques during dozens of sessions at a safe house and on the streets of Lahore. Now he had two handlers: Mir and Major Iqbal. They ran him in tandem but always met with him separately to maintain deniability.
U.S. investigators have corroborated Headley’s contacts with Mir, Major Iqbal and other ISI officers through emails, phone intercepts, witness accounts and other evidence.
“I’m trying to think of another case where we saw somebody who was an international jihadist direct against foreign targets that would involve the killing of Americans and who was also so deeply involved … with [a] foreign security service,” said Mudd, the former FBI official. “I can’t remember another case like that.”
In June 2006, another warning made its way into the government. Headley’s estranged Canadian wife filed a petition for permanent residency with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under a law for abused spouses, according to U.S. officials.
In addition to accusing him of abuse, the petition recounted Headley’s radicalization, travel and militant training, his hatred for Jews and Hindus and his praise for suicide bombers. It mentioned his claims of working for the U.S. government and the 2005 FBI inquiry, according to officials and the close associate.
The green card was granted. The petition “raised concerns” at the immigration service, a U.S. official said. But privacy laws governing immigration issues are even stricter for cases of abused spouses, the official said. As a result, the immigration service did not advise law enforcement about the disturbing portrait of a potential terrorist, the U.S. official said.