David Headley, an American of Pakistani descent who is accused of helping plan the Mumbai terrorist attacks, was also a DEA informant. American officials received repeated warnings that Headley was planning attacks, but ignored them because drugs are really bad.
The New York Times today has an update on the Headley saga, following up on reporting last week and last month from ProPublica and the Washington Post: Headley, the son of a Pakistani diplomat and American mother, is a boarding school grad, former bar manager, convicted heroin smuggler, and Islamic fanatic (odd mix!) who helped conduct surveillance for the 2008 Mumbai plot that killed more than 170 people.
He was also on the DEA payroll in the 1990s, acting as an informant for the agency and helping to crack the Pakistani heroin trade. He was a good informant! So good that after the 9/11 attacks, government lawyers rushed so quickly to federal court to secure his early release from probation so he could start informing again that they didn't even have time to prepare briefs, and his probation officer didn't have time to put on a coat and tie. The DEA sent him to Pakistan on several missions, and one source told the Times darkly that his portfolio "went beyond drugs."
Of course, at the same time, Headley was actively "learning to deal with explosives and small arms in terrorist training camps" in Pakistan. Not only that, but U.S. officials heard no less than five warnings—including from two of his wives—he was involved in terrorism. One of his wives told U.S. officials that he was on a "special mission," which turned out to be the Mumbai massacre.
But we ignored all those warnings, because drugs are bad! Well, we didn't totally ignore them: After an ex-girlfriend told the FBI in 2001 that Headley seemed to be an Al Qaeda sympathizer, the feds went to Headley to check him a thorough once-over:
[Officials] disclosed that the F.B.I. actually talked to Mr. Headley about the girlfriend, and he told them she was unreliable. They said that while he seemed to have a philosophical affinity for some groups, there was no evidence that he was plotting against the United States. Also influencing the handling of the case, they said, was that he had been a longtime informant.