The wife of the Chicago businessman who scouted targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks gave details about his ties to Pakistani militant groups to federal agents in New York City three years before the assault.
The FBI chased down the leads but determined the information was insufficient to legally justify further investigation at that time.
David Coleman Headley was briefly arrested in New York City following a domestic dispute, Headley's wife told the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force about his political leanings, associations and other disparate pieces of information, according to a federal official. The wife's contact with the FBI was first reported Friday by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.
The FBI investigated the leads but said the information did not meet the minimum legal threshold for opening an investigation on a U.S. citizen like Headley, a federal official said.
In the subsequent four years after the tip to the FBI, Headley, who was born in Washington with the name Daood Gilani, traversed the globe, using his American passport to case locations in India and Denmark for future attacks by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Headley visited the offices of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad for a planned attack by Lashkar that would have involved decapitating hostages and throwing their heads out the office window.
The detailed street and building plans he provided Lashkar following his five visits to Mumbai aided the militants who launched the 2008 attacks and killed nearly 170 people, including six Americans, according to court documents. Headley pleaded guilty in federal court in March to 12 counts of conspiring to bomb places in India, to murder and maim people in Denmark and to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, among others.
It is unclear if Headley or his wife knew information in 2005 that could have prevented the Mumbai attacks.
In advance of the Mumbai assault, the U.S. government had issued warnings to India about possible attacks. "The United States regularly provided threat information to Indian officials in 2008 before the attacks in Mumbai," said Michael Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council.
His wife's report wasn't the first time Headley was known to the U.S. government. He had been a DEA informant in the 1990s and was a part of an investigation to bring down a Pakistani drug ring.
Also, a Moroccan wife of Headley -- he reportedly has three -- told U.S. authorities in Pakistan in 2007 that Headley was planning an attack in Mumbai and showed embassy officials a photo of Headley at the Taj Mahal Hotel, according to a report by the New York Times.
"U.S. authorities took seriously what Headley's former wives said. Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot," said a senior administration official.
Headley is cooperating against his Chicago business partner, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who is charged in the Mumbai. attack.