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CIA: Headley, others gave U.S. reputation of terror exporter

Narayan Lakshman

WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency harboured deep concerns at the possibility that America might be viewed as an exporter of terrorism, and the case of David Headley, prime accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, only substantiated such fears, according to a confidential memo released by the Wikileaks whistleblower website.

The latest in a string of controversial government documents revealed on the website was a paper titled, “What If Foreigners See the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terrorism'?,” reportedly authored by the CIA's Red Cell, a think tank set up after the 9/11 attacks to provide “out-of-the-box” analyses on “a full range of analytic issues.”

In the report, the CIA argued that the actions of Pakistani-American Headley, among others, might indeed have led to the view that the U.S. was a “terrorism exporter.” Headley, who was linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, pleaded guilty to undertaking surveillance prior to the 2008 attacks, is now in U.S. custody.

The CIA further remarked that even other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda must have been aware of how easily operatives such as Headley moved in and out of the U.S., Pakistan and India.

CIA spokesperson Marie Harf, however, downplayed the significance of the paper. “These sorts of analytic products... are designed simply to provoke thought and present different points of view,” she was quoted as saying.

Yet the Red Cell paper clearly noted that even as counterterrorism experts focussed on threats to the homeland, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups “may be increasingly looking for Americans to operate overseas.”

In this context, the CIA expressed concern that “if the U.S. were seen as an exporter of terrorism, foreign partners may be less willing to cooperate with the United States on extrajudicial activities... including detention, transfer, and interrogation of suspects in third party countries.”

In a candid admission, the CIA's paper concluded that the American export of terrorism or terrorists was not associated “only with Islamic radicals or people of Middle Eastern, African or South Asian ethnic origin.”

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