This story of David C. Headley, an American intelligence asset turned jihadist sympathizer and Mumbai terrorist has been bothering me for weeks since I read about it in Pro Publica, the not-for-profit online investigative journal. The more I read about this case, the more I believe something is fundamentally broken in our intelligence community. The the old boys culture of individual intelligence agencies mixed with the hubris of those who think they know everything will be their undoing, and ours.
In today's New York Times is a summary article on the investigation, and the significant lack of communication between intelligence agencies and the DEA. I am particularly struck by the fact that three people came forward independently to warn that Headley might be involved with terrorists, yet no one chose to act.
The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, Jr., began an investigation into Mr. Headley’s government connections after reports last month that two of the former drug dealer’s ex-wives had gone to American authorities between 2005 and 2008, before the Mumbai attacks, to say they feared he was plotting with terrorists. Combined with the earlier warning from the former girlfriend, three of the women in Mr. Headley’s life reported his ties to terrorists, only to have those warnings dismissed.
I cannot but help to think that had these been three golfing buddies, three guys from the neighborhood bar, or three members of a pick up basketball team, the intelligence officers might have given more weight to their concerns. Instead, it was three women (a girlfriend and two ex-wives) and the jilted lover theory was too cozy an explanation not to be embraced and the concerns dismissed. As a bare minimum, they should have sent it up the chain of command and shared the concerns with the DEA.
Our intelligence and security agencies, led by the Department of Homeland Security, will violate a citizen's right to privacy and kick down a door with little provocation, but act on a tip from three women about their terrorist husband/boyfriend and they fail to act.
Something is broken. Though I doubt the Director of National Intelligence's investigation can change anything, I wish him luck. Ultimately, I fear nothing will ever change, and because of that we are less safe than everyone wants to believe.