THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT of the Northern District of Illinois is an enormous glass cube of a building that occupies an entire block in downtown Chicago. When I arrive there on a cold and wet afternoon in the middle of May, the lobby is scattered with bomb-sniffing dogs and dozens of US Marshals. A sign outside the building noting "heightened security levels" suggests this is no ordinary state of affairs, even though America seems these days to be in a perpetual state of heightened security. But in this case a little paranoia could be forgiven: the trial getting underway is one of the most significant terrorism cases to have taken place in the US.
The defendant, a 50-year-old Pakistani-Canadian businessman and Chicago resident named Tahawwur Hussein Rana, is accused of the uniquely American crime of "providing material support to terrorism" in three instances: to the 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai; to a plot against Jyllands-Posten, the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in 2005; and to the Pakistani terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). He is being tried in America, rather than India or Denmark, in part because of the six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks.
But the trial—which promises to linger in great detail on the workings of LeT and its relationship with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as well as the involvement of al Qaeda in the Danish plot—doesn't seem to be attracting much local attention. Judging from the headlines, Chicagoans are far more interested in the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the taping of Oprah Winfrey's final talk show, and the predictions of an octogenarian Christian evangelical that the world will end on 21 May.
Even among the few reporters who have been closely following the case, no one really cares much about Rana. The star attraction will be David Coleman Headley—formerly Daood Gilani—who is expected to take the stand as a key witness against Rana, his oldest and best friend. A handful of Headley-obsessed journalists are converging on the courthouse for a chance to hear the man whose bizarre life they have been investigating for more than a year.
Headley had been arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack on Jyllands-Posten, to which he has confessed; he has also admitted his role in the Mumbai attacks and his collaboration with LeT and with senior al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri. He is a valuable intelligence asset—too valuable, the Americans clearly believe, to hand over to India, though they did allow a team of Indian investigators to interrogate him in the US in June 2010. And while many aspects of Headley's terrorist activities will be recounted exactingly, the greater courtroom drama revolves around what the defence will try to portray as a kind of Shakespearean betrayal: the deal Headley has struck with US prosecutors to save his own skin by testifying against his best friend.
Before the trial, Rana's attorneys said that they would argue their client's only crime was his friendship with Headley, who they call a "master manipulator"—the quintessential unreliable witness. Headley's five days on the witness stand are packed with tantalising information about the ISI and its support for LeT and the Mumbai attacks, which in turn make for sensational headlines in India. But it would be unwise to take his testimony entirely at face value: one thing the trial makes abundantly clear is that Headley knows how to play to his audience.
In October 2009, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested David Headley at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Philadelphia. His intention, he later told interrogators, was to go from there to Pakistan and then on to Copenhagen to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. At the time, investigators had no idea Headley had been involved in the Mumbai attacks (a detail he offered up after he was in custody), but he had been fixated on the Denmark plan following the "success" of 26/11, and intended to carry it out on his own, if necessary.
Although he had been trained to use AK-47s and grenades, Headley had never killed anyone with his own hand. His contribution to the 26/11 attack was intelligence from Mumbai: he provided his LeT handlers with hours and hours of video footage and offered strategic suggestions based on his time living in and scouting out the city. He was impatient for more action, and now wanted to attack the West. But LeT was under intense scrutiny after the Mumbai attacks, and his handler—though initially enthusiastic—had told him to back off. So he turned to al Qaeda. And when the men in Europe whom al Qaeda said would carry out the Copenhagen job were unwilling to do so, he offered to do it himself.
The plan was to enter the newspaper's heavily secured office building with guns and knives, take hostages, shoot them, and then cut off their heads and throw them out the window into King's New Square. As in Mumbai, the attackers were not supposed to survive. So it seems that the FBI might have saved David Headley's life by arresting him—a courtesy they would extend again when he agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the US government in exchange for a promise that he would avoid the death penalty and extradition to Denmark, Pakistan or India. The latter was something Headley wanted to avoid at all costs.
I had been following the Headley saga since November 2009, when I happened to see a MiD DAY gossip column headlined "Did Headley Date Starlet?" The piece began: "Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind David Coleman Headley (49), whose reputation as a strikingly handsome charmer almost matches that of his terror history, may have dated starlet Aarti Chhabria." My first thought—reading the paper online from London—was "who the hell is David Headley?" Though he had been arrested in October, very little information about him had been released, and there had been almost no press coverage, apart from a few small items in Indian newspapers.
As Headley's story unfolded in ever more improbable detail over the next year and a half, it became stranger and stranger, half-soap opera and half-horror movie. This seducer-fundamentalist, the child of a beautiful and rebellious Philadelphia socialite and a charming Pakistani diplomat and poet, couldn't be invented. With one brown eye and one green, he embodied the cliché "torn between two worlds". He spent the first half of his adolescence at Pakistan's elite Cadet College Hassan Abdal, where he was a poor student, and the second in Philadelphia, where he managed his mother's bar and nightclub The Khyber Pass, and ran it into the ground. He then started a chain of video stores in New York (almost certainly a front), became a heroin addict and was arrested twice attempting to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan. Both times, he cooperated with the government in exchange for light sentences: after his first arrest, he set up a few other dealers, and after the second, he signed on as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which later sent him to Pakistan to spy on heroin traffickers.
In March 2010, Headley struck another bargain, pleading guilty to all charges, expressing sincere remorse and promising reams of valuable information on LeT, the ISI and al Qaeda. Of course, the last time Headley had been directed to provide information to the government, he used the opportunity to plot a spectacular terrorist attack from Pakistan, about which he didn't bother to warn the Feds;
so some might question the accuracy of the intelligence he has offered.
Which brings us back to Chicago. Though Headley's evidence led to the indictment of a half-dozen conspirators, including Ilyas Kashmiri and chief Mumbai plotter Sajid Mir, his friend Rana was the only one of the accused who wasn't in Pakistan. So Rana would be tried, and Headley would be the prosecution's star witness—in fact, practically their only witness.
When Headley was arrested on his second heroin smuggling charge, Rana put his house up as bond (a fact that should allow him to plead insanity). When Headley sold his video-rental business, he gave Rana $100,000 "to hold". When Headley brought his wife and young kids over from Pakistan, they stayed at the Ranas' house; and Rana was one of the few people in the US who knew that Headley was simultaneously married to a Moroccan woman in Lahore (a crime in the US). On first glance, it's hard not to conclude that it is precisely because he so frequently and unquestionably assisted Headley that Rana is in prison; even now, Rana's wife continues to pay the rent on the Chicago apartment where Headley's family lives. Rana has maintained that he had nothing to do with Headley's terrorist plots, and the defence strategy will revolve around Rana's ignorance and Headley's duplicity. The prosecution, on the other hand, will argue that Rana knew all about Headley's activities in India and Denmark, and deliberately allowed his business to be used as cover for Headley's reconnaissance missions.
THE FIRST WEEK OF THE TRIAL is devoted to selecting a jury: 12 jurors and 18 alternates, chosen from a random pool of 100 Chicagoans. The trial is on the 19th floor, where I pass through one more security check before entering the courtroom of Judge Harry D. Leinenweber. It's a red wood-paneled cube with high ceilings and dull navy-blue carpets, neither terribly large nor terribly full—contrary to a report in the next day's Hindustan Times that says: "Rana sat in a packed Chicago court." Inside, nine or 10 reporters jot down notes as jurors respond to questions from the judge. A few of the journalists are US correspondents for Indian wire services; a few work for local Chicago outlets. The international press has yet to arrive.
The potential jurors are given a questionnaire, apparently intended to eliminate anyone who knows anything about the case, anyone who might seek to learn anything about the case, anyone who doesn't trust law enforcement or the government, anyone who doesn't like Muslims, anyone who's ever been to India, Pakistan or Denmark, anyone who knows anyone from India or Pakistan, or anyone who knows anything about Islam. One of the questions is: "Are there any particular Islamic teachings that you find personally offensive?
One of Rana's attorneys, Charlie Swift, is a former Navy lawyer, well-known for successfully arguing before the Supreme Court that Osama bin Laden's driver should not be tried before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. (Two weeks after the Supreme Court decided in his client's favour, Swift was passed over for promotion, a decision which required him to retire from the military—he's been focused on terrorist defence ever since.) In response to a reporter's question about the defence's strategy, Swift replies that Rana "had the unfortunate fortune of being friends with a terrorist". "It's astonishing," Swift says, "that the government would call such a man as their key witness.
But perhaps the most astonishing element of Headley's story is just how frequently and willingly the US government has used him as a source. His first job as an informant involved the heroin trade, but after September 2001 the US had bigger concerns in Pakistan than drug smuggling. In November 2001 the government granted him an early release from his probation, apparently so he could go do additional work for the DEA in Pakistan. This was a year after he'd attended his first LeT meeting in Lahore, and only a month before his first stay in an LeT training camp.
Court has been adjourned for four days. Since the main accusation against Rana is that he allowed his business, First World Immigration Services, to be used as a cover for Headley's terrorist activities, I decide to go visit the office. It is on Devon Avenue, a long north-south boulevard on Chicago's Far North Side. The eastern end is largely South Asian, with Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living side by side. Many streets in Chicago have "honorary" second names, and on Devon they change every block or two. Outside the Adelphi Liquor Store ("we carry Indian beer & wine") is a sign for Mohammed Jinnah Avenue; a few blocks further down, by a statue of a soldier with a machine gun over his shoulder and a grenade in his hand called "The Spirit of the Fighting Yank", it becomes Gandhi Marg. A few blocks to the west, the demographic starts to change: a giant sign reads "QUEEN ESTHER POULTRY SINAI: NEW YORK KOSHER FACTORY TO YOU".
And just past the corner of Golda Meir Boulevard and Mother Teresa Avenue is the small, slightly dingy office of First World Immigration Services. There is an American flag in one window and a Canadian flag in the other, and the office is basically deserted, perhaps because it's Friday. Inside, two women are at work among many empty desks. The younger one, in a light blue headscarf, politely asks how she can help; I explain why I am there and she replies, very politely, that they have no comment. The older, scarfless woman won't look up from her desk, and I slink out, knowing I am neither the first nor the last journalist to come knocking: the press from India, Denmark, Washington and New York will be arriving that weekend.
WHEN I GET TO THE COURTHOUSE at 7:20 am the following Monday and head to the 25th floor to collect my press credentials, most of the other reporters seem to be waiting for the Blagojevich trial. Before long, however, a small contingent has arrived for Rana. A handful have come in from Delhi, and five from Denmark. There are about 40 of us altogether.
Inside the courtroom, Rana is in a grey suit, with a full head of white hair and a neatly trimmed beard, sitting at a table with his lawyers. His family, nine women and two young men, are in the front row of the gallery, and he keeps glancing round at them, smiling and nodding. It's touching, if he's innocent. He's been in custody for 19 months.
The prosecution opens with a statement from Assistant US District Attorney Sarah Streicker, a thin woman with long brown hair who stands squarely behind her podium in a navy pencil-skirt suit and heels so high they don't allow her to pace. "It's fall 2006," she begins. "A clean-cut looking man with an English sounding name arrives in Mumbai.... It looked like no big deal. David Headley looked like any white man with a camera. But it was a big deal. In fact, it would become an international nightmare."
Streicker runs through the gruesome details of the Mumbai attacks, bringing looks of dismay to the faces of the jurors, who must be shocked at what they've found themselves in the midst of. She moves on to the Copenhagen plot, a map of Denmark projected on a giant screen behind her. "They talked about beheading those people and throwing their heads out the window," Streicker spits, her voice cracking with indignation. The defendant, she tells us, knew and approved of these plans. "How are we gonna prove it? I'll tell you how."
Their star witness, David Headley, will provide a rare insider's account of these operations, proving without a doubt that Rana was part of the team. "And he has lied," she says of Headley, presumably in an attempt to pre-empt the opposition. "At first, he lied to investigators about the defendant. You will learn that he told those lies because he wanted to protect his friend."
After Streicker returns to her seat, Charlie Swift takes the floor for the defence. He's broad and stocky, with a round face, reddish hair and a stance that reveals his military past. He smiles at the jury, looking each of them in the eye, and moving away from the podium to be closer to his audience. The words "David Headley" are projected on the large screen behind him. He lets the room sit in silence for a minute.
Then he starts to speak, slowly. "David Headley is a master manipulator whose half truths, outright lies and charm made a fool out of Dr Rana." After a dramatic pause, he continues: "David Headley, also known as Daood Gilani, has been manipulating people for years. Dr Rana is by far and away not the first."
Swift launches into a whirlwind tour of Headley's criminal past, with an emphasis on his double- and triple-dealings with drug smugglers, the DEA, LeT, the ISI and even al Qaeda. It's a complex web, and the jurors look confused. "Not only did he manage three different agencies," Swift says, "he managed three different wives!" Eyebrows in the jury box go up.
"David Headley was living multiple lives with multiple people and he was very, very good at it"—until his arrest in 2009. For two weeks, Swift says, Headley poured out information to the FBI: he knew from previous encounters with the law that he needed to give them someone to save himself. "And as much as anything, he also knew..." Swift trails off. "Well, let's talk about Rana for a moment."
Rana, Swift tells the jury, is a great guy: a model cadet at military school, at the top of his class, while his best friend Daood was always in trouble. Rana served as a medical officer with coalition forces in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. He was later sent to a high-altitude location, where his health started failing, and when he couldn't get medical leave he went AWOL and left Pakistan. He secured Canadian citizenship, then moved to Chicago and opened his immigration business.
Sure, Headley told Rana stories about LeT, Swift says. But "Headley had been talking about this stuff for a very long time, and no one seemed to take him seriously"—including the FBI. In 2001, a friend of his mother reported to the FBI in Philadelphia that Headley was talking about wanting to train as a terrorist; in 2005, Headley's first wife, Portia, told the FBI in New York that her husband had made 21 trips to Pakistan and was training with LeT; and in 2008, his third wife, Faiza, reported to the American consulate in Lahore that her husband hated Indians and was planning an attack. None of these warnings led to anything more than Headley being summoned in for a brief chat.
Only one of Headley's three wives hadn't tried to get him arrested: Shazia, the mother of his four children. On the contrary, she sent him congratulatory emails from Chicago about the Mumbai attacks. After Headley's arrest, they spoke frequently on the phone. The calls were recorded. On 7 December 2009, in a conversation about Rana, Headley told her: "I acknowledge that I made a fool out of him." Swift stops for another dramatic pause. "The question, ladies and gentleman, is: will David Headley make a fool out of us?"
Swift concludes by acknowledging the horror of the Mumbai attacks. "The people who did this should be held accountable," he says. "The tragedy is, we made a deal with them." He sits down. Reporters around me start whispering to each other: "Who did he say we made a deal with? Was that a ‘him' or a ‘them'? Who is ‘them'?" It's an impressive performance.
We take a 15-minute break. One of the Danes says he's heard Headley will testify today, but that seems wildly optimistic; everyone expects the first witness to be law enforcement. When we return to the courtroom, there is a balding, well-built, gray-haired man in a Navy windbreaker and light-blue polo shirt sitting up very straight in the witness stand, looking calmly out over the crowd. He looks to me like an undercover FBI agent.
When he is sworn in as David Coleman Headley, quietly reciting the oath, everyone snaps to attention. His testimony will take up the next five days: first under the government's direct questioning, and then under cross-examination from the defence. Carefully guided by the lawyers, Headley will tell his story in painstaking detail, sometimes keeping reporters scribbling madly in our notebooks, and other times threatening to put us all to sleep.
The "direct" examination is conducted by US District Attorney Daniel Collins, the lead prosecutor. Swift is a hard act to follow, but Collins isn't even trying. Tall and thin, with a spatter of grey in his pooffy hair and not a tinge of expression in his voice or on his face, he miraculously manages to make one of the strangest stories of our time seem boring. Most of his "questions" are statements of fact, to which Headley usually replies "yes" or "correct". It's a rather disappointing beginning to the proceedings.
Collins makes quick work of Headley's childhood: we establish that students at his military school in Pakistan "disliked" India; Headley's own dislike was particularly intense because his junior high school had been bombed by the Indian military in 1971. In 1978, he left Pakistan to live with his mother in Philadelphia. In the 1980s, he was arrested for attempting to smuggle heroin into the US and "cooperated" with the government; in the late 1990s, the same thing happened again. And this brings us to 2001, when Headley sold his business (a video rental chain) and gave Rana $100,000 to "hold" for him. Collins asks Headley why. "I didn't need it then," he replies.
The story then shifts to Pakistan. Collins asks Headley to identify Lahore with a laser pointer on a large map. Headley says he was introduced to some LeT members in 2000, at a dinner in Lahore featuring speeches about jihad. Collins runs Headley through the five training courses he took between December 2001 and December 2003: Salafi studies, Quranic studies and light weapons training, a three-month course in military skills, basic intelligence studies and an anti-terrorism training course. "Why was it called that?" Collins asks about the last of these. "Because that's what the course was about." Headley seems bored, and has to be asked repeatedly to speak up.
After completing the courses, Headley says, he wanted to be "launched" in Kashmir—that was why he had joined, after all—but LeT's chief of military operations had other plans. He knew that Headley's American birthplace was invaluable, and instructed him to change his name from Daood Gilani and obtain a new US passport, so he could work for LeT in Mumbai. In the summer of 2005, Headley went to the US to initiate this process. At this point, he testifies, he told Rana about his Lashkar training and the name-change plan. Rana, Headley says, was "surprised".
When Headley returned to Pakistan, he met with a man named Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, known as Pasha, a former major who had left the Pakistani army because he refused to fight against the Taliban. Pasha was then working with LeT. As Headley recounts how he took Pasha into the North-West Frontier Province, in order to introduce him to someone, his frustration with the very literal Collins comes out:
Collins: Who was this person?
Headley: A drug smuggler.
Collins: How did you come to know him?
Headley: I just mentioned, he was a drug smuggler?
But before Headley and Pasha could meet the drug smuggler, they were arrested, and brought to a man named Major Ali. They told him that they were working for Lashkar, and explained Headley's US passport and recent name-change. Major Ali was "very pleased", and asked Headley if he would mind working for the ISI as well. Headley told him that he would not mind.
Filing off to the cafeteria for lunch, the journalists compare first impressions. We're all struck by Headley's quiet antagonism toward the prosecution, and by how few words he has uttered so far. There's a general sense of disappointment that he's not more ferocious, more dramatic, or more dashing; even his clothing seems inadequate to the part. "He looks like a 50-year-old mall rat," one American reporter quips. But I disagree: to me Headley comes off as a tough-guy who has bigger things on his mind than this nerdy lawyer, but is trying to be polite. I could almost see him being played on screen by Bruce Willis.
Headley stands to attention, hands folded and head raised, as first the judge and then the jury file back in. Collins reorients us: we'd reached 2006. Headley was now answering to both LeT and the ISI. His LeT handler, Sajid Mir, wanted to send him to Mumbai to conduct surveillance, for which he could pose as a Western tourist; but his ISI handler, the mysterious Major Iqbal, wanted him to "penetrate into higher levels of society", which required a more sophisticated cover. Headley proposed that he could pass as an immigration advisor, opening a Mumbai office for his old friend, Dr Rana. "Everyone thought it was an excellent idea," Headley recalls, with a slight smile.
After a somewhat puzzling digression into arguments Headley had with Rana over the tenets of jihad—the gist of which, contrary to what the prosecution presumably wishes to demonstrate, is that Rana didn't approve of targetting civilians—Headley says he told Rana that he had been "drafted, as it were, by the ISI" to conduct intelligence work in India, and asked if he could use Rana's office as a front. Headley says Rana agreed.
In September 2006, having secured a passport identifying him as David Headley, a multiple-entry Indian visa, and $25,000 from Major Iqbal, Headley went to Mumbai and opened an office for First World Immigration. He hired a secretary, placed ads in newspapers and even secured some clients—though the office had little luck getting any of them visas. He also went around town shooting surveillance video for Sajid Mir. And he attempted to befriend "important people" for the ISI, including a man called Rajaram Rege, whom Headley describes as a press officer for the Shiv Sena, and Rahul Bhatt, the son of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who he met at the gym.
Collins asks Headley what he'd told Dr Rana when he returned to Chicago in spring 2008, and Headley replies: "Whatever I had done in India, I explained to him." This included scouting a nuclear facility and taking boat trips to identify landing locations. Headley also offered Rana his critique of a Styrofoam mockup that Sajid Mir had made of the Taj ("it was terrible"). According to Headley, when he said this, Rana "listened and laughed, smiled"—just as many of us in the courtroom were doing, listening to Headley gently mocking the modelling skills of LeT.
We file out of the courtroom. The local Fox News reporter, a six-foot-tall blonde with pale pink nails, is unimpressed. "There's nothing explosive here," she complains. I ask her why she thinks there's been so little attention to the trial in Chicago, given that it's about the most spectacular terrorist attack since September 11. She shrugs. "We've got Blagojevich."
THE NEXT MORNING I ARRIVE very early to get a seat in the front row. There are fewer journalists here today, though the room is still pretty full. I end up next to a courtroom sketch artist, who is scrutinising her drawings from day one. She tells me Headley has a "fascinating face", which she thinks looks Slavic. She shows me one of her pictures: "I got him pretty evil," she says.
Meanwhile, a Chicago-based Indian journalist is explaining the American jury system to some colleagues from Delhi. "That's the fundamental reason they choose jurors," he says. "They're totally clueless. They can't tell me from a mango."
Headley is brought into the room. Again, he looks relaxed, gazing out at the audience with what seems to be mild curiosity. When he stands up as the jury files in, he folds his hands like a schoolboy. Collins picks up the story in May 2008. Headley was back in Chicago, attempting to arrange for Rajaram Rege to come to the US for a Shiv Sena fundraising tour. Headley had emailed Sajid Mir, who was skeptical about Rege's importance, explaining that he had asked Rege to bring Bal Thackeray or his son Uddhav to the US with him, so they could make "direct contact", and added: "We can even take care of them here if we want."
Collins: What did you mean by that last sentence?
Headley: I meant we could assassinate them over here.
Collins: Were you serious?
Headley: No, I was joking with him.
I think for a moment Headley is being sarcastic, but he is not. (His unusual sense of humour is lost on numerous Indian newspapers, which run stories stating that Headley was plotting to lure Thackeray to the US and kill him.)
My head starts swimming from the circular recounting of Headley's travels, scouts and reports, which are coming to feel terribly mundane. The judge calls a short morning recess. Headley stares at us from the witness box; we stare back at him. It's a bit creepy, especially as I'm sitting in his direct line of sight. Two reporters in from India discuss his appearance. "He looks like a genuine misanthrope," one says. "He's also wearing the same clothes from yesterday," the other replies.
Then we're back to work. In the summer of 2008, Headley says, Major Iqbal instructed him to close down the immigration office. The landlord, however, told Headley he would forfeit his deposit for breaking the lease. Jihad or no jihad, no one likes losing a deposit. The office stayed open.
Headley returned to Pakistan to await the attacks; it was during this time, Headley testifies, at his one and only meeting with both Mir and Major Iqbal, that Mir first mentioned the idea of attacking Jyllands-Posten—the plot to which Headley later gives the worryingly dim code name, "Mickey Mouse Project".
On 26 November 2008, Headley was in Lahore when he got an SMS from Mir telling him to turn on the television. He says he spent three days watching news of the Mumbai carnage. "What was your reaction?" Collins asks. "I was pleased," Headley says. He does not look pleased, exactly; but he certainly doesn't look contrite.
After the attacks, Headley returned to Chicago. The testimony finally circles back to Rana—it's easy to forget who's on trial here. Collins asks Headley what he told Rana about the attacks, and Headley says he told him everything he knew. "I said to him that we were even with Indians now," Headley says. "And Dr Rana said they deserved it."
I've spent most of my time watching Headley, but now I glance over at Rana. His jaw is twitching, and he looks angry. The two men haven't made eye contact since Headley started testifying. Once or twice I've caught Headley looking cautiously in Rana's direction during pauses in his testimony; Rana refuses to meet his gaze, but as soon as Headley looks away, Rana stares at him intensely. Some part of his body always seems to be shaking, in stark contrast to Headley, who can be eerily motionless.
Anyway, that's Mumbai taken care of: now we're on to Copenhagen. Headley says he told Rana he was going to Denmark to check out the Jyllands-Posten offices, and asked him for business cards to take with him on the trip—he wasn't sure of his plan, but he "might need to use that as cover" to go into the newspaper's offices. Rana, Headley says, "didn't object".
In January 2009 Headley emailed Rana from Copenhagen. "Dear Doc," he wrote. "I checked out business opportunities here. They seem quite promising." Headley tells Collins that this was a coded way of saying he had conducted surveillance at Jyllands-Posten and felt an attack was "doable". In the same message, Headley also wrote that he was going to "check the feasibility to open up an office here", but this isn't code for anything; Rana had apparently asked him to look into the prospects for an actual office in Denmark. "The costs were prohibitive," Headley says.
By this point in the afternoon, the judge and a few members of the jury have been observed nodding off.
From Copenhagen Headley went to Pakistan, where he showed his videos to Sajid Mir, and also to Pasha. The latter had by this time parted ways with the LeT, and urged Headley to do the same. "He said they were conducting the ISI's jihad," Headley says, "and we should conduct God's jihad"—a line that startles the journalists out of their torpor, though it seems to have little effect on the jurors.
Pasha took Headley to Waziristan to meet the notorious al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who praised Headley's work in Mumbai and admired his Danish videos. Kashmiri was keen on the Copenhagen plan but first wanted Headley to return to India, to scope out more Chabad houses and the National Defence College in Delhi. Worried about returning to India so soon after the attacks, Headley drew up a will and emailed it to Rana, with instructions for taking care of "M2", the second of Headley's two current wives, living in Pakistan, and "M1", his wife Shazia in Chicago.
Headley hadn't bothered to tell LeT about his trip to India for Kashmiri, and when he returned to Pakistan in March 2009, he was in trouble. Mir was angry that Headley had visited India without permission, particularly in light of the ongoing investigation of the Mumbai attacks; LeT was being watched closely, and he told Headley that the Denmark plan was "postponed indefinitely". Things were also rocky with the ISI: Major Iqbal told Headley to remove any material connected to LeT from his house, and not to contact him until further notice. Headley was to report to another ISI officer, Major Sameer Ali.
Headley was now free to pursue his plans with Pasha and Kashmiri. He traveled again to visit Kashmiri, who gave him money and instructed him to meet with some "associates" in England who could help carry out the attack, which Kashmiri envisioned as a Mumbai-style suicide commando raid.
When he returned to Chicago in June 2009, Headley says, he told Rana every detail of his meetings with Kashmiri, their plans for Copenhagen and the surveillance he conducted in India. "What was Mr Rana's reaction?" Collins asks. "He said good," Headley replies. "He agreed with it."
After a few months of silence, Headley heard from Mir, who seemed to have gotten nervous about Headley's freelance plans. He sent a series of emails, which Collins reads out in court. They are coy:
"how are you doing? what are you doing? why are you doing? sooooooooo many questions…………"
Mir told Headley they had urgent matters to discuss and asked him to return to Pakistan. He suggested there was new work to be done in India, and offered to send him a ticket; Headley strung Mir along, taking his time in replying and making excuses about why he couldn't return yet—which might have had something to do with the fact that he'd heard that Pasha had been arrested by the ISI. And if the ISI was unhappy with Pasha, they might also be unhappy with Headley. How quickly friends turn to enemies in this game. Mir's persistent attention starts to feel a tad sinister.
But this between-the-lines intrigue may have been lost on the court: the email reading seems to have lulled the judge into sleep again, and Collins suggests we adjourn for the day. The woman from Fox complains once more that this is all simply too dull to cover.
DAY THREE OF HEADLEY'S TESTIMONY finds even fewer journalists in attendance. The tall blonde woman from Fox has been replaced by a small blonde intern, who studies international relations and is thrilled to be here. Headley is wearing the same windbreaker, but has on a new polo shirt—with stripes.
The judge is chipper, and pauses before bringing in the jury to observe that the courtroom clock seems to be running two minutes slow. Collins picks up in July 2009, with Headley's European vacation to England, Sweden and Denmark. In England, Headley tells us, he met the men Kashmiri said could help with the Copenhagen attack, but their response was "lukewarm". (The meeting would turn out to be far more disastrous than he knew then: Kashmiri's contacts were being monitored by the British intelligence service, MI5, which tipped off the FBI about Headley—finally provoking the response that warnings from his wives had failed to elicit.)
In August 2009, Headley returned to Chicago, determined to carry out the Copenhagen attack as soon as possible—on his own, if necessary. Thanks to the intervention of MI5, the FBI started following Headley in August 2009. They had tapped his phone, and so the prosecution introduces a series of transcripts, most of them translated from Urdu. The gist of these seems to be that Headley was anxious about what to do next, particularly after the reported death of Kashmiri (which they referred to in code as having "gotten married"): as he and Collins act out some phone calls with Pasha, it's clear he's lost some confidence: "Our morale, our esprit de corps is screwed up."
By this time, Pasha is the only collaborator Headley trusts. In the phone intercepts with Pasha, he called his former ISI handler Iqbal "a coward", and complained that Lashkar "would never do business without Mister Bala's company"—a reference to the ISI—"because Mister Bala's people will beat them up".
The prosecution's final major piece of evidence is a recorded conversation between Rana and Headley in early September 2009, during a long car ride to Rana's farm outside Chicago (Rana must have been a suspect at this point, since his car was bugged). Headley and Collins perform the transcript, which consists of Headley carrying on about Pasha, Kashmiri, the guys he met in England and so on. Collins, reading the part of Rana, mostly says "Yes" and "Right" and "Hmmm". Headley also, bizarrely, chooses this moment to relive the glory of the Mumbai attacks—18 months after the fact. Rana laughs and goes along with it, echoing Headley's enthusiasm more than providing much of his own.
Collins: And why are you sharing this information with Mr. Rana on September 7th?
Headley: Just telling him what was going on.
Headley: It was general gossip that was going on in my life.
This can't be the answer Collins wanted.
Headley's saga is moving towards its conclusion, with his arrest at the airport in October 2009. In court, Headley recites his charges, and his guilty pleas, and explains that in exchange for leniency, and to avoid the death penalty and extradition, he has promised to be truthful with the court.
He says that when he was first arrested, he lied to the FBI about Rana's involvement and refused to answer questions about Rana. After he learned that Rana had been arrested, he says, he agreed to cooperate.
"Besides your wife, who is your closest friend in the world?" Collins asks.
"Dr Rana", Headley says. He almost sounds choked up. Rana is fuming.
Collins says that he's finished, and Swift's cross-examination begins. Everyone in the courtroom perks up immediately—Headley included.
Swift's first question is: "So how did you meet your best friend in the world?" Headley opens up, even smiles a bit, as we go on a whirlwind tour of their childhood: the "very good" student and the "very bad" student, forging an unlikely but tight bond, disrupted when Headley left for America in 1977 because he wasn't getting along with his stepmother ("she was a little—treated me unfairly," he says boyishly).
Because Headley was lonely in Philadelphia, his mother told Rana's parents she would pay for their son's schooling in the US if he came to join Daood. They didn't take up the offer, but Rana did come visit in the summer of 1978. By then Headley was working at his mother's bar, drinking, using drugs, dating girls. Swift establishes that Rana didn't partake of Headley's newly acquired vices, and moves on to 1984, when the two friends met again in Pakistan. Rana was in medical school; Headley was smuggling heroin. Headley asked Rana to come along with him to the tribal areas to pick up a shipment, without telling him the purpose of the trip, because Rana's military ID diminished the chance their car would be searched. Swift asks what would have happened to Rana if the police had searched the vehicle anyway.
Headley: That was not likely to happen.
Swift: Not likely. What happens if it happens?
Headley: That would have been terrible for him….
Swift: He is your best friend in the world?
The defence at least has a clear strategy.
The car wasn't searched in Pakistan, but Headley was caught en route back to the US and sent to prison (albeit only briefly, since he "cooperated" with the DEA by setting up his colleagues). Swift starts to ask about Headley's drug use, but Collins requests a "sidebar" (this will happen frequently throughout the cross-examination, signaling that Rana's attorneys are raising something that the government doesn't want revealed in open court) and Swift moves on to his second arrest, in 1994, when Rana posted his house as bond to get Headley out of jail. After Headley's second conviction, he cut another deal to do work for the DEA—but didn't tell Rana. Headley says he went to Pakistan on behalf of the DEA, but just "on one occasion".
Swift asks Headley whether he was still working with the DEA when he attended his first Lashkar meeting; Headley says yes, and Swift gets him to admit that he did not share this information with the DEA.
Swift then brings up a complaint made against Headley to the FBI in 2001, when a friend of his mother reported him for saying he wanted to "fight in the jihad" in Kashmir. Headley explains, under questioning, that he misled the FBI agents by claiming to have said these things in order to infiltrate mosques for the DEA—something, he is quick to point out, that the DEA had in fact asked him to do on one occasion.
As questioning progresses it becomes clear that Swift has two broad themes: Headley doesn't tell the truth—to anyone, including Rana—and he has repeatedly taken advantage of Rana's kindness and trust. Casting doubt on Headley's credibility isn't terribly difficult. But Swift also faces a pair of more serious challenges: explaining Rana's apparent participation in Headley's schemes—the office in Mumbai, the business cards for Copenhagen—and discrediting Headley's testimony about how much Rana knew in advance about his plots and collaborators. He attempts to portray Headley as a skilled operator, trained by a brilliant ISI handler to conceal and compartmentalise information; to show that Headley told Rana only what was necessary to secure favours, and nothing more.
Between 2001 and 2006, Headley and Rana hadn't seen much of each other. It wasn't until Headley came up with the idea of using First World Immigration Services as cover that he got back in touch. He told Rana he'd been talking to a Major Iqbal in Lahore, and that Iqbal was willing to give them $25,000 to open an office in Mumbai that Headley could use as cover while he did work for the ISI.
Swift: So basically, you are offering to Dr Rana a free office in India?
Headley: And also a chance to be, as I mentioned before, patriotic.
Swift: It's a win-win situation?
Rana introduced Headley to his American business partner, Ray Sanders, and said Headley would be opening offices in Asia. Headley says he thought he would see if he could actually make Rana some money.
Then Swift does a neat trick. He pulls up emails the prosecution had showed a few days ago, which detailed money Headley was requesting from Rana in Mumbai, and seem, in fact, to show that Rana, not Iqbal, was paying for the office. For the first time, Headley gets flustered.
Swift goes on to talk about how badly the office was doing, and how much Rana complained about this. Headley agrees, and says he felt bad about that. Swift suggests that Headley had Major Iqbal call Rana and offer to help him with his AWOL status in the Pakistani army as a way of stopping his complaining, making him see the whole thing "more patriotically". Headley says he thought Rana already saw it patriotically. Swift asks why, if that were the case, he should care if he was losing money? Headley says he wasn't losing money. They just weren't doing very well.
The prosecution had held up emails between Iqbal and Rana as evidence that Rana was part of the terrorist conspiracy, but Swift has just made the case that Headley introduced Iqbal and Rana so as to shut Rana up. Swift then moves on to Rajaram Rege. The prosecution had displayed a series of emails in which Headley had forwarded his correspondence with Rege, separately, to Iqbal, Mir and Rana, again implying that they were all in the plot together. But Swift gets Headley to agree that none of these three were aware that the information was being shared with the others. That Headley compartmentalised, and kept secrets. "The only person who knew everything was you." Headley agrees.
Swift moves on to Rana's role in the Rege plot. The idea had been to bring Rege over to do a fundraiser, along with someone more important from Shiv Sena. But Rana would have had to hide the fact that he was Muslim, which he refused to do—even though, Headley maintains, he knew the ISI wanted Rege to come over.
Swift shows the jury an outraged reply from Rana to Headley about Rege's request: "Either this guy is insane or he doesn't understand English. Someone needs to tell him Americans do not pay Jugga tax." Now you're saying, Swift asks, that Dr Rana fully understands the operation, and wants to help with it, and he sent this email? There is laughter. Headley smiles. I find myself wondering if he wants Rana to get off.
THE NEXT MORNING the judge is jolly again (he always starts the day off well, then rapidly fades). He tells us that the jurors, however, are not in a good mood, because "the Corner Bakery screwed up their order." After they have filed in and taken their seats, he apologizes to them, and blames his secretary.
Swift continues punching holes in Headley's stories, attempting to show that Rana's behavior was incompatible with Headley's claims to have told him every detail of his plots in Mumbai and Copenhagen, and to suggest that Headley, in fact, had concealed information from everyone he interacted with: Rana, Mir, Pasha and Iqbal.
Swift calls up a page of notes found among Headley's possessions—a to-do list, from July 2008, with tasks for the immigration office. At the top is written, in a tight scrawl, "Rana—don't come." Rana had been planning to visit Mumbai with his wife and possibly his partner, Ray Sanders, in a last-ditch attempt to save the business. "Now, you just briefed him that there's going to be an attack," Swift asks, referring to Headley's testimony that he had told Rana everything. "Did he not listen well?" Headley says he had told Rana there wouldn't be an attack over the summer, due to the weather. And in July, Swift asks, after writing this note, did he call Rana to tell him not to come? Headley says he did. "Did you say something like: don't come, you might get married?" There is general laughter, but Headley is not amused. He replies that he did not.
There follows a confusing and circular discussion about whether he warned Rana to stay away after that. Headley says that by autumn, Rana was still talking about visiting, but Headley didn't feel an attack was "imminent". Swift is incredulous: Iqbal had told Headley in May to close the office in preparation for an attack. By October, he knew there had been one failed attempt to launch an attack. All this time he was talking to Rana regularly about the office and knew of his plans to visit Mumbai. Why didn't he just tell Rana not to come? Headley is getting visibly frustrated. He contradicts himself a few times, fumbles with dates, and keeps saying he had a feeling LeT was putting the attack off.
In fact, Rana and his wife went to Mumbai in November 2008—just a week before the attacks, when Headley was safely in Pakistan. Despite Headley's tortuous efforts to explain it away, it's pretty strong evidence that Rana wasn't clued in.
Swift takes a simpler tack with Copenhagen. He calls up the emails Collins showed us from January 2009. An email to Rana that we've already seen is posted in its entirety, so I can see how it ends: "Girls here are really hot. Just the both of us should come here minus our girlfriends to have a good time. Take care, Dave." But that's not the part Swift reads out loud. He's interested in whether or not the "business opportunities" referred to were code. Headley says they were not.
Swift: He was interested in opening an office in Denmark.
Headley: Yes—not in Denmark. In the Scandinavia generally.
Swift: In Scandinavia generally he was looking for someplace.
Swift: So when you write to this, et cetera, so you're looking for an office for him, right? Among other things? Or are you lying to him, you're not really looking?
Headley: No, I did.
Swift: You're looking.
Headley: No, I didn't lie. I said I did look.
At this point it seems like Headley has gone completely off script and the prosecution argument is on the verge of falling apart—an impression that is amplified later that afternoon, when Patrick Blegen, Rana's second lawyer (who appears at first glance, balding and slightly slouched, more innocuous than Swift, but turns out to be a master of ironic understatement) plays a recorded phone call featuring Pasha and Headley laughing over Rana's suggestion that Headley bring Ray Sanders to Copenhagen with him in October.
By that time Headley's plan—which, Blegen reminds him, involved cutting the heads off of Jyllands-Posten staffers and tossing them out windows—was almost ready to go. Headley testified that he'd briefed Rana of this plan, beheadings and all, Blegen recalls. Headley agrees. And Rana approved? "I am not saying he was jumping with joy," Headley replies. "He didn't object."
"Let me see if I can picture this for you," Blegen says: "Sanders is 70, white, Christian, ex-military."
Blegen: That guy you were going to have—Rana wanted to go along with you on a terrorist mission to Denmark?
Headley: No. He was talking about the actual office, not terrorist mission.
Blegen: So he thought that this time when you went to Denmark, you would be a good boy and not scout places to kill people?
He and Pasha had laughed, Blegen says, because the idea of bringing Sanders was "absurd". Headley agrees. The obvious but unspoken implication is that Headley and Pasha know it's absurd, because they know the plan; Rana has no idea what they are doing. He doesn't get the joke.
The cross-examination continues along these mildly sarcastic lines, isolating inconsistencies in the narrative established by the prosecution, and returning repeatedly to evidence that demonstrates how Headley plays people off of each another, sharing information selectively. The only evidence we have of Rana's advance knowledge of the plots is Headley's word—there are no corroborating emails or recordings. Rana did have email exchanges with Pasha and Iqbal, but they appear to have been innocent. Blegen reminds the jury that Headley had introduced Rana and Pasha so they could open an immigration service together in Karachi, and that Iqbal was trying to sort out Rana's AWOL status so he could return to Pakistan.
Blegen reminds Headley that he has reviewed hundreds of emails, and that in his mails with Mir and Pasha and Iqbal, three of his alleged co-conspirators, he referred repeatedly to the ‘Mickey Mouse Project' (or MMP) and the ‘Northern project'. But he never used any of these terms in his emails with Rana. Headley agrees.
Blegen: So there are a group of conspirators who are planning to do something in Denmark, right?
Blegen: And according to you, one of them doesn't even know the name of the project, does he?
Headley: He does not.
The court adjourns for a long weekend. I start to think that Rana is likely to be acquitted: the defence has painted a perfectly plausible picture of a man with sincere business interests in Mumbai and Copenhagen, who appears unaware of the details of the plots being hatched by his alleged co-conspirators. And Headley is starting to lose his cool.
WHEN THE TRIAL RESUMES on Tuesday morning, Headley looks cheerful and ready to go. He smiles at the jury as they file into the room. They seem unsure whether or not to smile back. For most of what turns out to be Headley's final day in court, the defence hammers on variants of its two central strategies: depicting Headley as a liar and a manipulator, and arguing that Headley is fabricating Rana's involvement solely to save his own skin.
Blegen runs through Headley's law enforcement history. He was arrested by the DEA in Germany in 1988, and again in 1997. After the first arrest, Headley set up a bust on the guy who financed the drug run. Blegen starts to ask about his work with the DEA, but Collins intervenes, and another sidebar is called. The reporters are dismayed: this DEA stuff is the gaping black hole in Headley's past. And it seems that the government is determined to keep it that way.
Blegen gets Headley to agree that his experience cutting deals with the DEA has taught him that he must deliver information leading to arrests in order to have his sentence reduced, and walks through Headley's first few weeks of FBI interrogation after his arrest in October 2009. At first, Blegen asks, "you lied about a lot of stuff, correct?" Headley admits to lying about the extent of his relationship with Kashmiri, and about how much his wife Shazia, and his brother and cousin in Pakistan, knew about his terror activities. Headley offered up other information, but it didn't lead to anything much. He promised the FBI his training notes, the GPS he had used in Mumbai, as well as leads to all his conspirators in Pakistan—but couldn't deliver. He asked to be sent back to Pakistan and suggested that he could give Ilyas Kashmiri a fancy sword with a chip in it so that they could drone him. All this time the FBI kept asking him about Rana, and he kept insisting that Rana had nothing to do with any of it.
It wasn't until two weeks later, when Rana himself was arrested, that Headley began to tell the investigators about Rana's knowledge of the plots; Blegen suggests, quite forcefully, that Headley turned on Rana because he had run out of other options.
At this point Blegen moves on to various lies Headley has told since vowing, in his plea agreement, to tell the truth about everything: asking his wife to warn his brother Hamza in Pakistan that the FBI knew about Hamza's terror connections; telling the judge at his plea hearing that he had never been hospitalized or treated for a mental disorder (which he had, and for mixed personality disorder, appropriately enough).
After Headley's arrest, his wife Shazia (M1) accused him, in a recorded conversation from jail, of "making a fool of us and the whole world" with his lying, and he swore an oath on the Koran that he would never lie to her again. He then told her he'd not been with Faiza (M2) in 2008 and 2009, whereas in fact he had remarried M2 in 2008 (after a brief divorce, to appease M1) and been with her ever since. "You proceeded to lie to her, like moments later, right?" Blegen asks. Headley says that he didn't want to make a bad situation worse, and what he'd meant was he wouldn't lie to her in the future. The judge decides it's time to break for lunch. Headley's testimony is almost over. I find this strangely sad—we're just starting to get a sense of the man.
When we come back from lunch, there's not much more for Headley to say, just a few jousts between the opposing lawyers, who take turns with final rounds of clarifying follow-up questions. Blegen uses one of his last sets of questions to circle back to where Swift began in the opening statement five days earlier, referring to a phone call with Shazia taped after Headley's arrest, in which the two discussed a newspaper article on Rana:
Blegen: Do you remember saying, "I acknowledge that I made a fool of him"?
Headley: I did say that.
Blegen: And, "He should be released. The poor fellow is stuck in this thing for no reason"?
Blegen: "It was my fault"?
Headley is coughing. He seems nervous.
Blegen: You remember saying you acknowledge that you made a fool of him, correct?
Blegen: And the fool is Dr Rana, isn't it?
Blegen: You did make a fool of him, didn't you?
Headley: I did.
Blegen: You're making a fool of him over this past week, aren't you?
Headley: No. I meant making a fool of him to get him to assist me in what I did.
THE JURY DIDN'T TAKE LONG to deliberate—just a few days. They found Rana not guilty of providing material support to the attacks on Mumbai, but guilty of providing material support for the planned Copenhagen attacks and guilty of providing material support for LeT.
The not-guilty verdict on the Mumbai charge provoked both fury and disappointment from India; Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi went so far as to announce, via Twitter, that "US declaring Tahawwur Rana innocent in Mumbai attack has disgraced the sovereignty of India and it is a major foreign policy setback."
Other Indian officials have been quoted stating that Rana's acquittal will make it more difficult to prove the ISI's link to the Mumbai attacks, but this seems a needless lament, given that Headley has already admitted his own guilt and described the ISI's involvement in great detail. Even the US government's charges against Rana suggested he knew considerably less than Headley.
Charlie Swift described the verdict as "a draw". "Of course we will appeal," he said, but the nature of that appeal will depend on Rana's sentencing, which won't happen until the autumn. The defence is likely to argue that the two plots—Mumbai and Copenhagen—should have been tried separately, and that Rana has essentially been convicted twice for the same charge, conspiring in the planned Copenhagen attack. As it stands, Rana faces 15 years in prison for each of the two counts, enough to put him in jail for what might well be the rest of his life.
This may not diminish Indian outrage over the Mumbai acquittal—stoked by the enormity of the crime and the initial account of Rana's role offered by American prosecutors—but after watching the prosecution's desultory performance, it's hard to conclude that anyone really cared much about Rana.
The real outrage in India, of course, remains the American refusal to extradite Headley. But that was a near-impossibility to begin with: giving Headley a plea bargain gave him an incentive to talk, and an opportunity for the Americans to gather considerable intelligence. It also, as one lawyer told me, sends a signal to future terrorists taken into custody that they will be rewarded for turning on their comrades.
The US government also needed a public relations coup. That's where Rana came in: as the only defendant in custody (and the only defendant likely ever to be in custody), he was their one shot at trotting out all the great intelligence they'd gathered, and drawing the country's attention towards what they have presented as a victory in the war on terror. Of course it's impossible to judge the value of Headley's intelligence, because so much of it remains classified—including, of course, the details of the work he did for the DEA in Pakistan, which are now unlikely ever to be revealed. This fact hampered both sides of the case—the trial transcripts contain endless redactions where the lawyers argued over what was and wasn't admissible evidence.
Over the course of the trial, I oscillated between thinking Headley was a very clever man who had manipulated four of the world's most powerful organisations and was now pleasing his new bosses by spilling golden beans, and seeing him as a self-deluded charmer who was never allowed close to any real power and whose only value was his ability to pass. The Americans wanted to work with him because he was from a good Pakistani family—with all the connections, knowledge and skills that entailed—but in their minds, he was really an American, someone they could relate to. For LeT and the ISI, it was the reverse: his light skin and American passport let him pass as western, but he was bound closely enough to Pakistani society to seem like someone they felt they could control.
And that's where both sides slipped up. To quote an email Sajid Mir sent to Headley: "futile are my advices, coz you do what you feel like." (To which Headley immediately replied: "I dont do what i want. That's why i always tell you everything.")
Mir knew better by then, but it was too late. Headley had always been uncontrollable, as the LeT, ISI, DEA and FBI all learned the hard way. Like Rana, they all fell for David Headley's charms, his apparent insight into powerful, foreign worlds. Headley made a fool out of all of them.