26/11 Mumbai Massacre 5 Year Anniversary: Exclusive Interview With Journalist Vicky Nanjappa
Vicky Nanjappa is a very colorful, exotic and outspoken person whom also happens to be one of India’s most prominent journalists’. Vicky has been described as very dedicated as well as a workaholic and spends most of his time researching and / or writing articles. He spends his free time on some of his hobbies which include working out vigorously, gaming as well as collecting tech gadgets particularly mobile phones.
Vicky Nanjappa has become known as one of India’s top journalists’ if not the number one, in covering intelligence, espionage, national security, counter-terrorism and terrorism related journalism. Vicky Nanjappa currently works with rediff.com as a special correspondent.
In lieu of the upcoming five year anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre that occurred on November 26, 2008, I have asked Vicky Nanjappa for an interview. He has covered this case from several different vantage points and angles. I felt confident that Vicky would answer my questions directly and honestly. Also, I am very interested in his perspective since he is from India, where the atrocious crime was committed.
For those of my readers that have not heard of the Mumbai Massacre, here is a very brief description of the events that occurred on November 26, 2008. The following excerpt was taken from Wikipedia:
The 2008 Mumbai attacks were twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India’s largest city by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT]. Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker who was captured alive, later confessed upon interrogation that the attacks were conducted with the support of Pakistan’s ISI. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on Wednesday, 26 November and lasted until Saturday, 29 November 2008, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308.
Ajmal Kasab [was captured and hanged on November 2012] disclosed that the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, considered a terrorist organisation by India, Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, among others. The Indian government said that the attackers came from Pakistan, and their controllers were in Pakistan.
David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani; 30 June 1960) is a Pakistani American terrorist and spy who conspired with the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist organization and Pakistani intelligence officers in plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks. On January 24, 2013 Headley was sentenced by the United States federal court in Chicago, Illinois for his part in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Based on the recommendation of the prosecutors in the case, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
It is worth noting that David Coleman Headley is not in the Bureau of Prison’s [BOP] inmate system and is in an undisclosed location.
David Headley and his alleged co-conspirator Tahawwur Rana have been sentenced in the U.S. and Ajmal Kasab has been hanged to death for his role in the fidayeen terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Do you feel satisfied that justice has been served and that the case is over?
To begin with I would like to point out that the entire David Headley episode looks like a sham to me. What I realized and noticed over the years regarding Headley is that he spoke exactly what the FBI wanted him to speak. The NIA team from India which had questioned him too had complained that he did not say anything new to them other than what he had already told the FBI during his confession while chalking out his plea bargain agreement. Although he has been sentenced, I still would not say that the ends of justice have been met since the US should have not rushed into a plea bargain agreement with Headley and instead should have let the Indian investigators extradite him to India where the crime was committed. He ought to have been sentenced by an Indian court and tried here too.
Tawwur Rana’s case is strange in many ways. He too has been sentenced, but despite the absence of any plea bargain arrangement it is surprising why he has not been questioned as yet by the Indian agencies. His sentencing is a merely symbolic and in reality nothing really regarding the attack of 26/11 has come out.
In the case of Ajmal Kasab, the sentencing was expected. I would say that in this case the ends of justice have been met since he was hanged in India for a crime that he committed on Indian soil.
From your sources in the intelligence field, what is the consensus about David Headley being a CIA and / or ISI agent?
What my sources tell me is that he was an agent of the CIA who turned rogue. He got associated with the drug mafia in Afghanistan which is directly connected to the terror networks which are controlled by the ISI. The Indian Intelligence officials say that despite Headley turning rogue, the CIA did nothing to stop him despite having every possible information on him. They let him get away with what he was doing in Af-Pak. In fact the CIA even knew when he began cozying up to the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and did nothing really to stop him. Over the years, he became a Lashkar operative which in turn would mean that he had the blessings of the ISI. Being an American national did help him a lot since even the ISI was aware that his entry and exit into India would be easier taking into account his nationality. India, until 26/11 did have an America fixation and never really did check on the antecedents of a person holding an American passport.
Do you feel that at some level, Indian intelligence was involved in the facilitation and or cover up of the Mumbai attacks?
I would not agree with this entirely. Although I do believe that they could have issued the alerts to the Bombay police with more seriousness. There was a specific alert that was given to the police in the month of September two months prior to the attack. The alert clearly stated that Bombay would be attacked from the seas. They had even gathered intelligence based on the statements of an operative known as Sabahuddin Ahmed. However the Bombay police chose to ignore the alert. What the Intelligence Bureau could have done is convince the Bombay police about the seriousness of this alert.
Do you honestly think that the India government and / or intelligence agencies will ever get to question Rana and to get another chance to question David Headley?
I highly doubt that. With regard to Rana there is a very small chance. However where Headley is concerned it is a closed chapter.
Assuming that it ever happens, do you feel that Indian intelligence agencies would gain any useful info from questioning Headley or do you think he would stonewall or evade the questions?
First of all another round of questioning would not take place. In case they do manage to get a second shot, there would be nothing new that would come out. He will stick to what ever he has told the FBI or the NIA in the past. It would be a wasted exercise.
First of all what are your thoughts to those that say that Ajmal Kasab was an innocent scapegoat that merely looked like one of the fidayeen terrorist soldiers?
There is always a conspiracy theory attached to such incidents. He was very much a part of the operation and was caught. He in fact was a saving grace for the investigators who would have gone nowhere in their probe had he not been caught.
Is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI protecting Hafiz Saeed?
There is a joke in the Intelligence circles in India. ISI may hand over the President of Pakistan to India, but not Hafiz Saeed. Jokes apart, Saeed is a strategic partner of the ISI. He in fact is the torch bearer of Pakistan’s agenda against India. Looking at Hafiz Saeed over the years, he has not once gone against the ISI. The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and its leaders have all gone against the ISI at some point in time. This was largely because they felt that the ISI was helping the CIA in fighting the battle in Afghanistan. Hafiz Saeed has always been a good soldier for the ISI. Even at the time of the Bombay attack, the ISI had hijacked the plan from Ilyas Kashmiri and handed it over to the Lashkar. There was growing discontent in the Lashkar and its fidayeens wanted to fight alongside the Taliban against the Americans. The ISI sensed this and had this happened there would have been chaos. Hence the plan which was originally conceived by Kashmiri was handed over to the Lashkar so that the fidayeens remained quiet.
Do you find it odd that America’s special forces can perform such intricate missions like Operation Geronimo to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, as well as special operations to capture and extract alleged al-Qaeda leader Abu Anas al Libi and bring him to U.S. Soil but can not catch the alleged orchestrator [Hafiz Saeed] of Mumbai’s Massacre?
It indeed is surprising. In fact it is easier to nab a Saeed compared to an Osama since the former is found out in the open. However thanks to the blessings of the ISI, Hafiz Saeed will never ever come under the radar of the US. He is of high utility value to the ISI and they would never ever give him up. Moreover he has not been a direct threat to the US and hence they are not interested. There was a time when members of the Lashkar had sought to go on an all out war against the US in Afghanistan. However after a talk between the ISI and Saeed the fidayeens were told not to go ahead with this. The ISI will ensure that Saeed does not spin out of control especially against the US. As long this is taken care of even the US will not touch Saeed.
[Here is an article titled, Hafiz Saeed Bounty: U.S. Offers $10 Million For Pakistani Militant Chief, for those interested in a little background info. Just to point out the obvious, $10 million is an astronomical amount of Pakistani rupees.]
Vicky as you know, I was at one-time India’s number one terror suspect due my relationship with David Headley’s third wife, Fazia Outalha. Headley and I were both American, I had a 10 year Indian visa, he had a five year visa as well as a common bond to the same woman. We also traveled to many of the exact same cities. Thus an investigation by India’s NIA.
Yes I am aware of this unfortunate coincidence. The NIA was desperate and were attempting to lay their hands on any small lead. The agency was new and the case was a massive one. What the NIA realised was that the probe where the international angle was concerned was very much Headley oriented. They wanted to do something on their own and hence grabbed any opportunity that was remotely associated with Headley.
Vicky, the NIA has faced many criticisms and has been accused of having many intelligence failures. How would you score the agency in general in their over-all performance?
I would not rate the agency very high, but would also like to point out some teething problems that this agency faces. At the outset it ought to have been an independent body, but then it is directly under the control of the Government of India. This has often led to some of the probes undertaken by it being politically motivated. Secondly, the complete lack of coordination between the police officers of the state and the NIA has led to cases taking a very long time to complete. When an incident occurs in a particular state, it is the local police who first probe the case. It is then that it is handed over to the NIA. In most cases the NIA has complained of an ego clash where the state police do not share the first information with them which in turn ensures that the case goes haywire. I guess the NIA needs a strong officer at the top who can coordinate well with the state police and also stand up to the government and call a spade a spade.
However, from what I have read and from all of my research, it is apparent that the FBI kept their cards very close to their vests. In other words, they gave the NIA bits and pieces of intelligence and withheld much more than they gave. I also wrote in 2010 that the FBI was told to stand down by the CIA, as Headley was working for them. [David Headley goes Viral: Is the FBI really that stupid?]
I agree with what you are saying. The FBI only fed the NIA with bits and pieces which suited them. The FBI at any cost did not want the NIA to pick up information about Headley being a CIA mole and hence the entire investigation and interrogation was stage managed. I have pointed this out earlier too in this interview about the problems the NIA faced where Headley was concerned.
Vicky, with that in mind, how do you feel the NIA has performed in solving and handling the 26/11 case?
I would not say it has done any great job. It had a lot of limitations and continues to have them. It is probing the international angle to the case. On the Headley front it has no option but to rely on what has already been told to the FBI. On the other hand it deals with those masterminds in Pakistan. Now questioning a Hafiz Saeed or a Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is impossible for the NIA since Pakistan would never give them up. Hence the NIA finds its hands tied up and the progress of their investigation is nothing to boast about.
Just under a year ago you wrote an article titled, Why was Operation Morocco aborted?, which you described as “a high level operation being planned by the Indian agencies to establish contact with Faiza Outalha, the estranged wife of David Headley. Towards the close of 2012, the mission known as Operation Morocco was aborted.”
Yes I recall this article. There was a lot that was being done by the Indians to establish contact with her and get an independent account on Headley from her. However the Americans did manage to prevail over her allegedly through Headley’s lawyer.
As you know I was at one time directly involved in the Mumbai case and was questioned and investigated both by India’s National Investigation Agency [NIA] and the FBI solely for my relationship with Faiza Outalha in Old Manali, India.
Yes I am aware of this.
My personal feelings on the matter is that if the US didn’t question or bother Faiza – they had good reason not too. Perhaps Headley said to his superiors that she is innocent and leave her out of it?
There appears to be more to this. Faiza was the one who knew most about Headley during the 26/11 operation. More than Headly I guess it was the FBI which did not want anyone to question Faiza.
Vicky, what is your consensus as to what the Indian people feel about the Mumbai Massacre? Was justice served and is the case resolved or do the people feel like the Indian government and intelligence agencies failed them?
Justice has been served partially. Kasab at the end of it was a remote controlled toy in the hands of the Lashkar. Real justice would be served once Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Sajid Mir, Major Iqbal and Major Sameer are brought to justice.
Finally Vicky, you have written about the Mumbai massacre in great length and detail over the past 5 years. What are your personal thoughts about the who, what, why, where and when in regards to the attacks that occurred on that unforgettable day?
Most of what I feel has already been written about. However what has surprised me the most is that none of the Indian agencies have really tried getting into the local help that was present at the time of the attack. It is just not possible for a set of 10 fidayeens to enter into a city for the first time and carry out an attack with such precision. What is also surprising is that despite Headley making so many visits, no one had raised a stink about this.
It is clear to me that this was an attack which was first planned by Ilyas Kashmiri. The ISI hijacked this and handed it over to the Lashkar which in turn carried out the attack with the help of the Pakistan establishment. The Lashkar was showing signs of breaking up since many in the network wanted to fight against the Americans and the ISI did not want this at any cost. Had the ISI let the Lashkar fight the Americans it would mean earning the wrath of the super power. Hence what was needed to keep the Lashkar quiet was a spectacular attack. Hence this attack was carried out.
Vicky, thank you very much for your time and cooperation in conducting this interview!