Reporting from Washington — The wife of a U.S. citizen who has admitted scouting targets for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks had provided details to federal agents about the man's ties to Pakistani militant groups three years earlier, but the FBI determined the information was insufficient to legally justify opening an investigation, a federal official said.
The man, David Coleman Headley, was briefly arrested in New York City in 2005 after a domestic dispute, and his wife told the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force about his political leanings and associations, the official said. The wife's contact with the FBI was first reported by ProPublica on Oct. 15.
The FBI investigated the leads and determined that the information did not meet the legal threshold for opening an investigation of a U.S. citizen, according to the official. The FBI is prohibited by law from investigating the political beliefs of U.S. citizens who have not crossed the line into illegal, threatening or violent actions.
In the four years after the tip to the FBI, Headley traversed the globe, using his American passport to case locations in India and Denmark for future attacks by a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to court documents. He was arrested in Chicago last October.
Headley, who was born Daood Gilani in Washington, D.C., visited the offices of a Danish newspaper that published unflattering cartoons about the prophet Muhammad for a planned attack by Lashkar.
According to the court documents, the detailed street and building plans he provided Lashkar after his five visits to Mumbai aided the militants who launched the 2008 attacks and killed about 170 people, including six Americans. Headley pleaded guilty in federal court in March to 12 counts of conspiring to bomb places in India, to murder and maim people in Denmark and to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, among others. He has not been sentenced.
It is unclear whether Headley or his wife had information in 2005 that could have prevented the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Before the Mumbai assault, officials say, the U.S. government had issued warnings to India about possible attacks.
"The United States regularly provided threat information to Indian officials in 2008 before the attacks in Mumbai," said Michael Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council. "Had we known about the timing and other specifics related to the Mumbai attacks, we would have immediately shared those details with the government of India."
Headley had been an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1990s and was a part of an investigation to bring down a Pakistani drug ring. He reportedly has three wives.
A Moroccan wife told U.S. authorities in Pakistan in 2007 that Headley was planning an attack in Mumbai, and showed embassy officials a photo of Headley at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the targets, according to a report by the New York Times.
"U.S. authorities took seriously what Headley's former wives said," said a senior administration official. "Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot."
Headley is cooperating with federal authorities in the ongoing trial of his onetime Chicago business partner Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who is charged with aiding and abetting the attacks in Mumbai, as well as the plot against the newspaper offices in Denmark.