There were two separate warnings that an American businessman was plotting a terrorist attack in India with the Pakistani extremist group that carried out the Mumbai assault, NBC News confirmed Saturday.
The November 2008 attack in Mumbai left 166 people dead and severely frayed relations between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Three years before the attack, FBI agents in New York were told that an American was talking about buying night vision goggles and other equipment that could be used for terrorist purposes, U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed to NBC.
But the officials said the information, which came from the man's ex-wife, was "general" in nature and could not be linked to any specific terrorism plot. Nor was it sufficient to place the man, David Coleman Headley, on the "no fly" list or trigger a full-scale probe at the time.
After the FBI closed out its file on Headley, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad was visited in 2007 by another wife of Headley's who told officials that her husband was involved with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to U.S. law enforcement and national security officials. But that report was never passed back to the FBI in New York, one official told NBC.
That and other new information about Headley could raise new questions about information sharing among U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It could also create diplomatically sensitive issues for the White House, given that President Obama is scheduled to visit India next week and attend a ceremony commemorating the Mumbia attacks.
"U.S. authorities took seriously what Headley's former wives said," said senior administration official. "Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot."
Mike Hammer, a White House spokesman, also said Saturday that the U.S. "regularly provided threat information to Indian officials in 2008 before the attacks in Mumbai …. Had we known about the timing and other specifics related ot the Mumbai attacks, we would have immediately shared those details with the government of India."
Their original tip on Headley came from his ex-wife in New York who went to the police after he allegedly beat her. In the course of reporting what was described as a "domestic abuse" case, she mentioned his sympathy with Pakistani militants and his plans to purchase night vision goggles, prompting the police officers to call in FBI agents from its Joint Terrorism Task Force, one of the officials said.
Headley was arrested by the FBI in Chicago last year and later pleaded guilty to conducting multiple reconnaissance missions for the Mumbai attacks on behalf of Lashkar.
The information about the first warning about Headley to New York FBI agents was first reported by the news organization ProPublica. The information about the second warning from Headley's wife in Islamabad was first reported by the New York Times.