David Coleman Headley Avoids Life Sentence for Mumbai Attacks

David Coleman Headly was sentenced today for his role in the Mumbai bombings and planned attack of a Danish newspaper. His plea agreement called for a life sentence, allowing him to avoid the death penalty.

He was sentenced today to 35 years, a reduced term, because of his cooperation with authorities. Even Patrick Fitzgerald showed up to argue for the lesser sentence.

Headley is 52. The Judge said today he hoped his sentence would keep Headley in prison for the rest of his life. (He will have to serve 85% of the 35 years, but he will get credit for the time he has spent in custody since his arrest in 2009.) [More...]

[T}he judge pointed out that Headley previously received two generous plea bargains when he was charged with heroin trafficking in the 1980 and 1990s.

He said Headley had been spared the death penalty by the plea deal and from extradition to Denmark and India, where the lone survivor of the 10-man Mumbai attack squad was hanged last year.

“I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person committed to the American way of life,” Leinenweber said. “I hope the sentence I impose will keep him under lock and key for the rest of his natural life.”

Headley's cooperation didn't result in any higher-up being convicted. While indicted as co-defendants in the case, they are still at large, and no one seems to be looking for them.

Headley’s handlers have been identified as a Major Iqbal of the ISI and Sajid Mir, a veteran Lashkar chief who is accused of being the project manager of the Mumbai plot. Iqbal remains an officer in the Pakistani security forces, and Mir remains in Pakistan protected by the ISI, according to U.S. and Indian counterterror officials.

Asked Thursday whether Pakistan has made any effort to arrest the accused masterminds, Gary S. Shapiro, acting U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, said: “I have no idea.”

A U.S. counterterror official says the answer to that question is "No one is looking for them in Pakistan."

Headley's cooperation resulted in the conviction of Tahawwur Rana, who played a very minor role (if any) and was sentenced by the same judge to 14 years last week.

U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro today also said:

“We need witnesses. The only way you get witnesses in this world is to threaten them with prosecution and then offer them an incentive to cooperate.”

I disagree. Cooperators' testimony is purchased testimony and inherently unreliable. It is testimony the Government purchases with promises of leniency, and freedom is a commodity far more precious than money. The incentive to lie is enormous and it is a practice that is making our criminal justice system morally bankrupt.

The DEA has yet to answer why it joined Headley's request for early termination of his supervised release while he was working as their informant, acquiesced in his request to travel to Pakistan, and then failed to notice he had joined the terrorists. Here's a timeline of how David Coleman Headley outwitted the DEA.

Why did the DEA enlist a heroin addict with two strikes to work for them in Pakistan? Why didn't they send a handler with him? Why didn't they keep tabs on him? How did they not realize he had switched sides or was playing both sides?

Headley testified at Rana's trial that he lived in Lahore in 2000, when he first made contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba. "I went to a meeting. I listened to speeches." He told prosecutors after his arrest that it was in 2001 that he decided to join the LeT and fight for the cause of jihad.

Headley got out of prison on his second heroin case in 1999. He was placed on 5 years supervised release. He was allowed to go to Pakistan in July, 1999. The docket reads:

07/20/1999 ORDER as to Daood Saleem Gilani, endorsed on letter dated 7/14/99 from Howard Leader to Judge Amon, requesting permission to travel to Pakistan from 8.10.99 through 9.15.99. Application granted. ( Signed by Judge Carol B. Amon , on 7/16/99) (Entered: 07/20/1999)

If Headly was living in Pakistan in 2000 when he was due back 8/10/99, he either got extensions which don't appear on the record or came back and went again. His probation/supervised release officer had to know about it, as would the Court.

In November, 2001, two months after 9/11, Headley and the Government made a joint application to terminate his supervised release three years early. The DEA told the judge they considered him "reliable and forthcoming" and they wanted him to go to Pakistan to develop intelligence on Pakistani drug traffickers.

According to the probation officer, it was a rushed affair. He had to apologize for not being in court attire, and the prosecutors apologized for not having enough time to put the motion in writng. The Court granted the request. From the docket of his NY heroin case:

11/16/2001 CALENDAR ENTRY as to Daood Saleem Gilani ; Case called before Judge Carol B. Amon on 11/16/01 for Status Conf. ESR: Loan Hong. AUSA: Michael Beys; Howard Leader, Esq. for the Deft. Joint application for termination of Supervised Release granted. (Permaul, Jenny) (Entered: 11/20/2001) (my emphasis)

12/27/2001 ORDER as to Daood Saleem Gilani. It is ordered that the releasee be discharged from supervised release and that the proceedings in the case be terminated. Signed by Judge Carol B. Amon, on 12/18/01. (Entered: 12/27/2001)

When Headley left for Pakistan in December, 2001, he had a working agreement with the DEA. Coincidentally (or not) this was the same month the Government designated LeT a terror organization. By February, 2002, Headley was enrolled in his first LeT training program.

It was in February,2002, that Headley undertook Daura-e-Sufa training for three weeks in Muridke. In August, 2002, he attended LeT’s Daura-e-Aam training in Muzaffarabad. In April, 2003, he attended the three month long Daura-e-Khas at Muzaffarabad. in September, 2003 , he took unarmed close quarter combat training with the LeT. It was at the September training that he met LeT commander-in-chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

Where was the DEA? Still clueless, apparently. They were probably feeding him information and money which he fed right back to LeT.

According to Sebastian Rotella at Pro Publica today:

The DEA says he was deactivated as an informant in early 2002 as he began training with Lashkar. Other U.S. agencies say he remained a DEA informant in some capacity until at least 2005. And Indian officials allege that he remained a U.S. agent later than that.

The FBI has some egg on its face too. At Rana's trial, it came out that after receiving a post-9/11 report in 2002 that Headley was sympathetic to Jihad , they dropped the investigation after Headley explained it by saying he was a U.S. spy. Was Headley working for the CIA? The CIA has denied it. But it seems obvious Headley switched from being a drug informant to a terror informant after the 9/11 attacks, and by 2005, was planning the Mumbai attacks, and nobody in the U.S. government figured that out.

See also:

Also don't miss Sebastian Rotella's exceptional work on the case for Pro Publica. All of his articles are available here. A couple to choose from: The American Behind India’s 9/11—And How U.S. Botched Chances to Stop Him and Feds Confirm Mumbai Plotter Trained With Terrorists While Working for DEA

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  • Display: Sort:
    Great questions (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by ruffian on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:15:36 AM EST

    Why did the DEA enlist a heroin addict with two strikes to work for them in Pakistan? Why didn't they send a handler with him? Why didn't they keep tabs on him? How did they not realize he had switched sides or was playing both sides?

    All of a sudden the show Homeland does not seem so ridiculously implausible.

    True. The terrifying thing about Homeland (none / 0) (#14)
    by caseyOR on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 05:16:10 PM EST
    is not Carrie's mood swings and her unsettling eyes. It is the thought that the scripts are based on the real life actions of security services operatives.

    i am still curiousl as to exactly what this guy's (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:44:56 PM EST
    problem is? did his heroin addiction cause him to become mentally unbalanced or what? as to his involvement with the DEA & the CIA, don't expect answers to be forthcoming anytime soon, they're all in "CYA" mode.

    It must be Hillary's fault (none / 0) (#2)
    by Peter G on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:23:00 PM EST
    I think we need a Congressional investigation.

    I'm sure the crazies on the right (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by nycstray on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:55:58 PM EST
    are roaring to go another round with her . . .

    India is actively searching for (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 11:58:22 PM EST
    anyone suspected to be connected to the murders Mumbai is is extremely upset that Pakistan isn't.

    Do you know if India is trying to extradite (none / 0) (#7)
    by ruffian on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:17:47 AM EST
    (or whatever the process is there) Major Iqbal? Seems like everyone knows he is involved and there is is still in the Pakistan military.

    This article sheds some light: (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:47:19 PM EST
    35 years, huh? (none / 0) (#5)
    by unitron on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:52:21 AM EST
    Seems I've heard that figure mentioned in connection to some other recent news story, only that one didn't involve anyone subjecting a fellow human being to physical violence.

    The figure of 35 years imposed here (none / 0) (#8)
    by Peter G on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:58:29 AM EST
    is the actual sentence (less 13.7% for good conduct).  The "35 years" that has been "mentioned" in connection with Aaron Swartz's case, was a theoretical statutory maximum figure, not a predicted or even a threatened actual sentence that the judge would impose, assuming a conviction.  The highest sentence that I recall reading about as being actually threatened by the prosecutors (that is, as a sentence they might seek) against Swartz was seven years -- still outrageous, but not at all the same. Confusing the theoretical maximum with the actual or likely sentence is common in press accounts, but nonetheless ignorant.  Jeralyn pointed this out with care in a couple of posts, as I have before in comments.  

    And some places are saying... (none / 0) (#10)
    by unitron on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:39:38 PM EST
    ...he'd only have gotten 6 months, but no one would have known for sure until the judge ruled, regardless of any plea bargain.

    I just thought it was an interesting co-incidence that the same number of years sentence got mentioned in connection with both when the alleged crimes differed so greatly.


    Apples and oranges (none / 0) (#11)
    by Peter G on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:15:28 PM EST
    was my point. No more an "interesting coincidence" than pointing out that Star Wars was released 35 years ago.  Jeralyn and I both came up with six months as the top of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range for the Swartz case, properly computed, assuming (as I don't) that he would have been convicted.  And that didn't even depend on a guilty plea.  Yes, in the end, as you say, the sentencing decision would be in the hands of a judge, not of the DOJ.  (Unless Swartz chose to take a binding plea to, say, 4 months, as he was supposedly offered, to eliminate any upside risk.)

    I read somewhere, (none / 0) (#12)
    by Zorba on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:03:45 PM EST
    and I can't remember where, that part of his parole may well have required no Internet for the length of his parole, which might have been for several years.
    If this is true, this requirement may well have filled him with even more despair than a few months in prison.
    Do you know anything about the possibility of "no Internet during your parole period"?  Would this type of thing be usual?

    For a computer crime (none / 0) (#13)
    by Peter G on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 05:10:29 PM EST
    a condition of supervised release (nearest thing to "parole" in the federal system) could very well be a limitation on -- or more likely, surveillance of -- his internet use.  Total prohibition would be very extreme, but not impossible.  Again, this would have been in the discretion of the sentencing judge, unless specifically agreed to as part of a plea deal. And I agree that that risk probably weighed very heavily on Aaron Swartz.  As well as the fact that federal prisoners have no internet access during incarceration, only an indirect system for sending a limited amount of (monitored) e-mail.