Washington: A US panel tasked with reviewing the FBI has said that one of the main lessons learnt from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack case was that "relevant intelligence may fall by the wayside" in the absence of an intelligence effort to understand the connections among cases.
A Congressionally mandated panel charged with reviewing the FBI's implementation of recommendations contained in the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 issued its findings yesterday and cited the 2008 Mumbai terror attack as one of five "significant terrorism events".
It said that the Pakistani-American Mumbai terror attack convict David Headley was an "even more elusive target" than Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American who was arrested in September, 2009 as part of the US Al Qaeda group accused of planning suicide bombings on the New York City Subway system.
"Headley conducted his activities with all the skills of a trained intelligence operative ? able to travel to and from the United States, Pakistan, and India with relative ease and eluding authorities," the report noted.
"Headley had previously come to the attention of US law enforcement authorities, but FBI officials repeatedly concluded that Headley did not pose a threat at the time," said the 120-page 'Report of the Congressionally-directed 9/11 Review Commission' released yesterday.
"One of the main lessons from the Headley case is that absent an intelligence effort across the USIC to understand the connections among cases and complaints across field offices, relevant intelligence may fall by the wayside," said the report that also suggested where the FBI can improve.
News outlets have reported, prior to his terrorist activities, Headley had worked as a DEA informant in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, following two heroin trafficking arrests.
"A single complaint may be more easily dismissed as a poison pen motive, but several unrelated complaints should not be dismissed as readily as the work of a malcontent," the report said.
It went on to add: "The Headley case raises the important question faced by all intelligence agencies ?? certainly important to the FBI ?? of how to scan and assess voluminous amounts of collected information strategically and identifying valuable intelligence leads.
"Still, more than a decade after 9/11, the FBI must prioritise empowering and equipping its analytic cadre to make these connections with cutting edge technology, to minimise the risk of the FBI missing important intelligence information."
Lashkar-e-Taiba militants launched a massive attack on India's commercial hub Mumbai in November, 2008 and killed 166 people, including six Americans.
"While reviewing materials and information gathered during the investigation, FBI analysts and staff operations specialists (SOS) formulated a tentative theory that the threat posed by Headley was somehow related to the published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
"After evaluating this case, it appears that Headley exhibited behaviour that the FBI, in collaboration with the USIC (United States Intelligence Community), should have identified under its domain intelligence programmes," the report.
It "strongly recommended that the Bureau must make it a high priority to further improve, refine, and strengthen its intelligence programme".
The report also identified the period from late 2008 to 2010 as a period of "intense challenge" for counterterrorism within the FBI and the USIC.
"Among the significant terrorism events that brought the FBI's counterterrorism capabilities into play were: the Mumbai attack of November 2008 and the eventual arrest of David Coleman Headley," it said.
The tracking and arrest of Zazi and his associates in late summer 2009; the attack on US military personnel at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hassan in November 2009; and the attempted Times Square bombing by Faisal Shahzad on May 1, 2010 and the Boston Marathon Bombing of April, 2013 were the other four cases selected.
"Headley was detained in Chicago after he had already played a pivotal role in the Mumbai attacks, but before he could return to Denmark to support another terrorist operation," it noted.
The report said that a "growing number of US citizens or permanent residents, including David Coleman Headley, were radicalised, in part, via the internet and/or emboldened by jihadist training and/or contacts abroad.
In the Headley and Shahzad cases, the plotters "exhibited distinct travel and behavioural patterns that might have provided the broader USIC with advance warning of potentially suspicious activities if the data had been known to or aggregated by the FBI and other USIC analysts as part of a comprehensive domain awareness programme".
The commission ? which included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Congressman and Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, and Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman ? began its review in 2013 at the FBI's request after Congress called for an appraisal of the Bureau's progress since the 9/11 Commission issued its recommendations in 2004.
A classified draft of the Review Commission's report was sent to the Congress and to other agencies mentioned in the report.