Segments in this Video

American Terrorist: Introduction (00:19)


This segment orients viewers to the topic of NSA surveillance and David Coleman Headley. (Sponsors)

Headley's Recordings (03:15)

Headley tours Copenhagen with a video camera in July 2009; he wanted access to Jyllands-Posten. Sebastian Rotella retraces Headley's steps two years later; he speaks with Gitte Johansen.

Copenhagen Reconnaissance (02:01)

Headley cased the area around Jyllands-Posten and reported his findings to Ilyas Kashmiri. Experts reflect on their collaboration.

Investigating Headley (04:00)

A security service shadowed Headley during his time in Copenhagen. The U.S. placed Headley on surveillance when he returned to Chicago. The FBI arrested him at O'Hare International Airport in October 2009; he confessed to an active role in the attack on Mumbai.

Surveillance Programs (02:46)

Headley worked with Pakistani intelligence on the Mumbai attack; he became a witness for U.S. prosecutors. In 2013, Edward Snowden's revelations started a debate on privacy and security. NSA officials defended their practices citing Headley as an example of success in the war on terror; Rotella questions western intelligence.

Headley's Connection with the Ranas (01:52)

In 2011, Rotella questions Samraz Rana about the family's immigration service and Headley. Headley testified that Tahawwur Rana was his accomplice.

Headley's Youth (03:18)

Headley was born Daood Gilani. His family moved to Pakistan and his parents divorced; Headley attended a private military school. At 17, he returned to his mother in Philadelphia; Serill Headley was a local celebrity.

Headley's Drug Activities (02:38)

Gilani was arrested multiple times for drug possession and drug smuggling. Rotella reviews Gilani's draft memoir. Attorney Howard Leader worked to free Headley from jail.

Cooperating with the U.S. Government? (02:11)

Gilani traveled to Pakistan several times to set-up his sources; he made contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba. Rotella describes Gilani's fluctuating lifestyle.

Allegations of Extremism (03:09)

Gilani provided the DEA with information on terrorists after the 9/11 attacks, but shared other views with a girlfriend. Terry O'Donnell tipped off authorities and the FBI confronted Gilani Leader discusses Gilani's role in the war on terror.

Headley's Terrorist Activities (03:17)

By 2002, Gilani began military training courses at Lashkar-e-Taiba camps. Rotella found conflicting versions of when the DEA deactivated Gilani as an informer. Phyllis Keith recalls Serill Headley telling her she thought Gilani was involved with Pakistani training camps; she called the FBI.

Sajid Mir (02:21)

Mir wanted international jihad. Jean-Louis Bruguiere discusses Mir's role with Lashkar-e-Taiba. Investigators say that the ISI protects Mir.

Espionage Training (04:22)

By 2005, Gilani was a Lashkar operative and in training with the ISI. Gilani returns to the U.S. in 2005; his wife reported him to the FBI. Gilani legally changed his name to Headley; he was not detected despite communicating with Mir.

2006 Mumbai Plot (03:09)

Headley traveled between the U.S. and India at least eight times in 20 months. Rotella returns to Mumbai and finds clues that link Headley with the attack and Lashkar.

Digital Trail of Clues (02:44)

Rotella identifies further clues that link Headley with the 2006 attack in Mumbai. Rajaram Rege discusses working with Headley via email and realizing his intentions were bad.

Faiza Outalha (02:32)

Headley practiced polygamy; his third wife was fiercely independent. She warned the U.S. embassy about Headley's extremist activities; intelligence officials declined to investigate.

Attack Warnings (03:06)

In 2008, officials collected intelligence about a Lashkar threat in Mumbai. In September, Indian police issued a warning citing the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel as a possible target. Rotella discusses Headley's attack route.

Final Mumbai Reconnaissance Mission (02:20)

Headley scouted the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Chabad House. See cell phone footage and still images.

Documents on Mumbai (03:14)

Headley's memoirs outline the plan of attack on Mumbai. Rotella explains Zarar Shah's role in the attack and use of VoIP. He learns that evidence of Shah's activities is in Snowden's documents.

Mumbai Attacks (02:47)

Shah established the control room in Karachi, Pakistan. Lashkar leaders gathered in the room while attackers traveled to Mumbai; Headley was in Lahore. See news footage of the attacks on Mumbai.

Chabad House (04:48)

Rotella walks through the building with Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg three years after the attack. Hear two phone conversations Mir had with individuals inside the building; Indian commandos arrived. Snowden documents reveal that British intelligence could spy on the control attack room.

Mumbai Attack Intelligence (03:15)

Rotella discusses what British, U.S., and Indian intelligence knew about the Mumbai attack. Pakistan denied any role in the attacks. Lashkar leaders were arrested; Headley remained free despite his electronic trail.

Incriminating Communications go Undetected (03:48)

Headley returned to the U.S. two weeks after the Mumbai attacks. Experts consider why Headley went undetected despite his electronic trail. Officials received tip on Headley from a woman who knew his mother; they did not pursue it.

Headley Scouts Copenhagen (02:42)

Headley planned to take revenge on Jyllands-Posten. Rotella retraces Headley's steps in Copenhagen. Lashkar leaders tell Headley to put the attack on hold; Headley seeks the support of Kashmiri.

Support of Denmark Plot (02:10)

Kashmiri provided Headley with money and contacts. Headley's call to the contacts caught the attention of the FBI.

Denmark Preparations (02:41)

Headley met with contacts Simon and Bash in Derby, England; they do not want to participate in the attack. Danish intelligence followed Headley as he cased Copenhagen.

Capturing Headley (03:07)

Robert Holley discusses making the connection between Headley and Kashmiri. The FBI investigated Headley's communications and arrested him at O'Hare Airport on October 3, 2009.

Monitoring Overseas Communication (03:46)

U.S. Officials later proclaimed Headley a successful example of the war on terror using communication intelligence. A White House panel examined claims about terror investigations. See footage of Headley's interrogation and additional resources.

Credits: American Terrorist (02:01)

Credits: American Terrorist

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American Terrorist

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FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigate American-born terrorist David Coleman Headley, who played a key role in planning the deadly 2008 siege on Mumbai. In this film, Thomas Jennings and Sebastian Rotella update and expand upon their collaborative 2011 documentary, A Perfect Terrorist, to include new revelations that international intelligence agencies had technology in place to spy on one of the Mumbai masterminds, but failed to detect and stop the plot in a historic near-miss as reported in 2015 exclusively by The New York Times, ProPublica, and FRONTLINE based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. This film presents new analysis that raises questions about the efficacy of mass electronic surveillance programs, showing that spy agencies failed to detect Headley before and after the Mumbai attacks and challenging claims that NSA programs played a key role in his capture. Exclusive accounts from investigators demonstrate how the FBI finally identified, tracked and captured Headley, who became an important witness for the agency. This is a chilling, comprehensive portrait of an American terrorist— and a troubling case study of the limitations of even the most sophisticated electronic surveillance capabilities. Distributed by PBS Distribution.

Length: 87 minutes

Item#: BVL114683

Copyright date: ©2015

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