14 April, 2007

Amazing 911 story of Israeli Students

High-Fivers and Art Student Spies

What Did Israel Know in Advance of the 9/11 Attacks?


On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, an FBI bulletin known as a BOLO ­-
"be on lookout" — was issued with regard to three suspicious men who that
morning were seen leaving the New Jersey waterfront minutes after the
first plane hit World Trade Center 1. Law enforcement officers across the
New York-New Jersey area were warned in the radio dispatch to watch for a
"vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack":

A white, 2000 Chevrolet van with 'Urban Moving Systems' sign on back seen
at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, at the time of first impact of
jetliner into World Trade Center Three individuals with van were seen
celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark
Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and
detain individuals.

At 3:56 p.m., twenty-five minutes after the issuance of the FBI BOLO,
officers with the East Rutherford Police Department stopped the commercial
moving van through a trace on the plates. According to the police report,
Officer Scott DeCarlo and Sgt. Dennis Rivelli approached the stopped van,
demanding that the driver exit the vehicle. The driver, 23-year-old Sivan
Kurzberg, refused and "was asked several more times [but] appeared to be
fumbling with a black leather fanny pouch type of bag". With guns drawn,
the police then "physically removed" Kurzberg, while four other men ­- two
more men had apparently joined the group since the morning ­- were also
removed from the van, handcuffed, placed on the grass median and read
their Miranda rights.

They had not been told the reasons for their arrest. Yet, according to
DeCarlo's report, "this officer was told without question by the driver
[Sivan Kurzberg],'We are Israeli. We are not your problem.Your problems
are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.'" Another of the five
Israelis, again without prompting, told Officer DeCarlo ­- falsely ­- that
"we were on the West Side Highway in New York City during the incident".
From inside the vehicle the officers, who were quickly joined by agents
from the FBI, retrieved multiple passports and $4,700 in cash stuffed in a
sock. According to New Jersey's Bergen Record, which on September 12
reported the arrest of the five Israelis, an investigator high up in the
Bergen County law enforcement hierarchy stated that officers had also
discovered in the vehicle "maps of the city with certain places
highlighted. It looked like they're hooked in with this", the source told
the Record, referring to the 9/11 attacks. "It looked like they knew what
was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park."

The five men were indeed Israeli citizens. They claimed to be in the
country working as movers for Urban Moving Systems Inc., which maintained
a warehouse and office in Weehawken, New Jersey. They were held for 71
days in a federal detention center in Brooklyn, New York, during which
time they were repeatedly interrogated by FBI and CIA counterterrorism
teams, who referred to the men as the "high-fivers" for their celebratory
behavior on the New Jersey waterfront. Some were placed in solitary
confinement for at least forty days; some were given as many as seven
liedetector tests. One of the Israelis, Paul Kurzberg, brother of Sivan,
refused to take a lie-detector test for ten weeks. Then he failed it.

Meanwhile, two days after the men were picked up, the owner of Urban
Moving Systems, Dominik Suter, a 31- year-old Israeli national, abandoned
his business and fled the United States for Israel. Suter's departure was
abrupt, leaving behind coffee cups, sandwiches, cell phones and computers
strewn on office tables and thousands of dollars of goods in storage.
Suter was later placed on the same FBI suspect list as 9/11 lead hijacker
Mohammed Atta and other hijackers and suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers,
suggesting that U.S. authorities felt Suter may have known something about
the attacks. The suspicion, as the investigation unfolded, was that the
men working for Urban Moving Systems were spies. Who exactly was handling
them, and who or what they were targeting, was as yet uncertain.

It was New York's venerable Jewish weekly The Forward that broke this
story in the spring of 2002, after months of footwork. The Forward
reported that the FBI had finally concluded that at least two of the men
were agents working for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and
that Urban Moving Systems, the ostensible employer of the five Israelis,
was a front operation. Two former CIA officers confirmed this to me,
noting that movers' vans are a common intelligence cover. The Forward also
noted that the Israeli government itself admitted that the men were spies.
A "former high-ranking American intelligence official", who said he was
"regularly briefed on the investigation by two separate law enforcement
officials", told reporter Marc Perelman that after American authorities
confronted Jerusalem at the end of 2001, the Israeli government
"acknowledged the operation and apologized for not coordinating it with
Washington". Today, Perelman stands by his reporting. I asked him if his
sources in the Mossad denied the story. "Nobody stopped talking to me", he

In June 2002, ABC News' 20/20 followed up with its own investigation into
the matter, coming to the same conclusion as The Forward. Vincent
Cannistraro, former chief of operations for counterterrorism with the CIA,
told 20/20 that some of the names of the five men appeared as hits in
searches of an FBI national intelligence database. Cannistraro told me
that the question that most troubled FBI agents in the weeks and months
after 9/11 was whether the Israelis had arrived at the site of their
"celebration" with foreknowledge of the attack to come. From the
beginning, "the FBI investigation operated on the premise that the
Israelis had foreknowledge", according to Cannistraro. A second former CIA
counterterrorism officer who closely followed the case, but who spoke on
condition of anonymity, told me that investigators were pursuing two
theories. "One story was that [the Israelis] appeared at Liberty State
Park very quickly after the first plane hit. The other was that they were
at the park location already". Either way, investigators wanted to know
exactly what the men were expecting when they got there.

Before such issues had been fully explored, however, the investigation was
shut down. Following what ABC News reported were "high-level negotiations
between Israeli and U.S. government officials", a settlement was reached
in the case of the five Urban Moving Systems suspects. Intense political
pressure apparently had been brought to bear. The reputable Israeli daily
Ha'aretz reported that by the last week of October 2001, some six weeks
after the men had been detained, Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage and two unidentified "prominent New York congressmen" were
lobbying heavily for their release. According to a source at ABC News
close to the 20/20 report, high-profile criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz
also stepped in as a negotiator on behalf of the men to smooth out
differences with the U.S. government. (Dershowitz declined to comment for
this article.) And so, at the end of November 2001, for reasons that only
noted they had been working in the country illegally as movers, in
violation of their visas, the men were flown home to Israel.

Today, the crucial questions raised by this matter remain unanswered.
There is sufficient reason ­- from news reports, statements by former
intelligence officials, an array of circumstantial evidence, and the
reported acknowledgment by the Israeli government -­ to believe that in
the months before 9/11, Israel was running an active spy network inside
the United States, with Muslim extremists as the target. Given Israel's
concerns about Islamic terrorism as well as its long history of spying on
U.S. soil, this does not come entirely as a shock. What's incendiary is
the idea -­ supported, though not proven, by several pieces of evidence ­-
that the Israelis did learn something about 9/11 in advance but failed to
share all of what they knew with American officials. The questions are
disturbing enough to warrant a Congressional investigation.

Yet none of this information found its way into Congress's joint committee
report on the attacks, and it was not even tangentially referenced in the
nearly 600 pages of the 9/11 Commission's final report. Nor would a single
major media outlet track the revelations of The Forward and ABC News to
investigate further. "There weren't even stories saying it was bullshit",
says The Forward's Perelman. "Honestly, I was surprised". Instead, the
story disappeared into the welter of anti-Israel 9/11 conspiracy theories.

It's no small boon to the U.S. government that the story of 9/11-related
Israeli espionage has been thus relegated: the story doesn't fit in the
clean lines of the official narrative of the attacks. It brings up
concerns not only about Israel's obligation not to spy inside the borders
of the United States, its major benefactor, but about its possible failure
to have provided the U.S. adequate warning of an impending devastating
attack on American soil. Furthermore, the available evidence undermines
the carefully cultivated image of sanctity that defines the U.S.- Israel
relationship. These are all factors that help explain the story's
disappearance, and they are compelling reasons to revisit it now.

Torpedoing the FBI Probe

All five future hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which rammed the
Pentagon, maintained addresses or were active within a six-mile radius of
towns associated with the Israelis employed at Urban Moving Systems.
Hudson and Bergen counties, the areas where the Israelis were allegedly
conducting surveillance, were a central staging ground for the hijackers
of Flight 77 and their fellow al-Qaeda operatives. Mohammed Atta
maintained a mail-drop address and visited friends in northern New Jersey;
his contacts there included Hani Hanjour, the suicide pilot for Flight 77,
and Majed Moqed, one of the strongmen who backed Hanjour in the seizing of
the plane. Could the Israelis, with or without knowledge of the
terrorists' plans, have been tracking the men who were soon to hijack
Flight 77?

In public statements, both the Israeli government and the FBI have denied
that the Urban Moving Systems men were involved in an intelligence
operation in the United States. "No evidence recovered suggested any of
these Israelis had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attack, and these Israelis
are not suspected of working for Mossad", FBI spokesman Jim Margolin told
me. (The Israeli embassy did not respond to questions for this article.)
According to the source at ABC News, FBI investigators chafed at the
denials from their higher-ups. "There is a lot of frustration inside the
bureau about this case", the source told me. "They feel the higher
echelons torpedoed the investigation into the Israeli New Jersey cell.
Leads were not fully investigated". Among those lost leads was the figure
of Dominik Suter, whom the U.S. authorities apparently never attempted to
contact. Intelligence expert and author James Bamford told me there was
similar frustration within the CIA: "People I've talked to at the CIA were
outraged at what was going on. They thought it was outrageous that there
hadn't been a real investigation, that the facts were hanging out there
without any conclusion."

However, what was "absolutely certain", according to Vincent Cannistraro,
was that the five Israelis formed part of a surveillance network in the
New York- New Jersey area. The network's purpose was to track radical
Islamic extremists and/or supporters of militant Palestinian groups like
Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The former CIA counterterrorism officer who spoke
anonymously told me that FBI investigators determined that the suspect
Israelis were serving as Arabic-speaking linguists "running technical
operations" in northern New Jersey's extensive Muslim communities. The
former CIA officer said the operations included taps on telephones,
placement of microphones in rooms and mobile surveillance. The source at
ABC News agreed: "Our conclusion was that they were Arab linguists
involved in monitoring operations, i.e., electronic surveillance. People
at FBI concur with this". The ABC News source added, "What we heard was
that the Israelis may have picked up chatter that something was going to
happen on the morning of 9/11″.

The former CIA counterterrorism officer told me: "There was no question
but that [the order to close down the investigation] came from the White
House. It was immediately assumed at CIA headquarters that this basically
was going to be a cover-up so that the Israelis would not be implicated in
any way in 9/11. Bear in mind that this was a political issue, not a law
enforcement or intelligence issue. If somebody says we don't want the
Israelis implicated in this ­- we know that they've been spying the hell
out of us, we know that they possibly had information in advance of the
attacks, but this would be a political nightmare to deal with."

The Israeli "Art Student" Spies

There is a second piece of evidence that suggests Israeli operatives were
spying on al-Qaeda in the United States. It is writ in the peculiar tale
of the Israeli "art students", detailed by this reporter for Salon.com in
2002, following the leaking of an internal memo circulated by the Drug
Enforcement Administration's Office of Security Programs. The June 2001
memo, issued three months before the 9/11 attacks, reported that more than
120 young Israeli citizens, posing as art students and peddling cheap
paintings, had been repeatedly ­- and seemingly inexplicably -­ attempting
to penetrate DEA offices and other law enforcement and Defense Department
offices across the country. The DEA report stated that the Israelis may
have been engaged in "an organized intelligence gathering activity", but
to what end, U.S. investigators, in June 2001, could not determine. The
memo briefly floated the possibility that the Israelis were engaged in
trafficking the drug ecstasy. According to the memo, "the most activity
[was] reported in the state of Florida" during the first half of 2001,
where the town of Hollywood appeared to be "a central point for these
individuals with several having addresses in this area".

In retrospect, the fact that a large number of "art students" operated out
of Hollywood is intriguing, to say the least. During 2001, the city, just
north of Miami, was a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity and served as one of the
chief staging grounds for the hijacking of the World Trade Center planes
and the Pennsylvania plane; it was home to fifteen of the nineteen future
hijackers, nine in Hollywood and six in the surrounding area. Among the
120 suspected Israeli spies posing as art students, more than thirty lived
in the Hollywood area, ten in Hollywood proper. As noted in the DEA
report, many of these young men and women had training as intelligence and
electronic intercept officers in the Israeli military -­ training and
experience far beyond the compulsory service mandated by Israeli law.
Their "traveling in the U.S. selling art seem[ed] not to fit their
background", according to the DEA report.

One "art student" was a former Israeli military intelligence officer named
Hanan Serfaty, who rented two Hollywood apartments close to the mail drop
and apartment of Mohammed Atta and four other hijackers. Serfaty was
moving large amounts of cash: he carried bank slips showing more than
$100,000 deposited from December 2000 through the first quarter of 2001;
other bank slips showed withdrawals for about $80,000 during the same
period. Serfaty's apartments, serving as crash pads for at least two other
"art students", were located at 4220 Sheridan Street and 701 South 21st
Avenue. Lead hijacker Mohammed Atta's mail drop was at 3389 Sheridan
Street–approximately 2,700 feet from Serfaty's Sheridan Street apartment.
Both Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, the suicide pilot on United Airlines
Flight 175, which smashed into World Trade Center 2, lived in a rented
apartment at 1818 Jackson Street, some 1,800 feet from Serfaty's South
21st Avenue apartment.

In fact, an improbable series of coincidences emerges from a close reading
of the 2001 DEA memo, the 9/11 Commission's staff statements and final
report, FBI and Justice Department watch lists, hijacker timelines
compiled by major media and statements by local, state and federal law
enforcement personnel. In at least six urban centers, suspected Israeli
spies and 9/11 hijackers and/or al-Qaeda­connected suspects lived and
operated near one another, in some cases less than half a mile apart, for
various periods during 2000­01 in the run-up to the attacks. In addition
to northern New Jersey and Hollywood, Florida, these centers included
Arlington and Fredericksburg, Virginia; Atlanta; Oklahoma City; Los
Angeles; and San Diego.

Israeli "art students" also lived close to terror suspects in and around
Dallas, Texas. A 25-year-old "art student" named Michael Calmanovic,
arrested and questioned by Texas-based DEA officers in April 2001,
maintained a mail drop at 3575 North Beltline Road, less than a thousand
feet from the 4045 North Beltline Road apartment of Ahmed Khalefa, an FBI
terror suspect. Dallas and its environs, especially the town of
Richardson, Texas, throbbed with "art student" activity. Richardson is
notable as the home of the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity
designated as a terrorist funder by the European Union and U.S. government
in December 2001. Sources in 2002 told The Forward, in a report unrelated
to the question of the "art students", that "Israeli intelligence played a
key role in helping the Bush administration to crack down on Islamic
charities suspected of funneling money to terrorist groups, most notably
the Richardson, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, last December [2001]".
It's plausible that the intelligence prompting the shutdown of the Holy
Land Foundation came from "art student" spies in the Richardson area.

Others among the "art students" had specific backgrounds in electronic
surveillance or military intelligence, or were associated with Israeli
wiretapping and surveillance firms, which prompted further concerns among
U.S. investigators. DEA agents described Michael Calmanovic, for example,
as "a recently discharged electronic intercept operator for the Israeli
military". Lior Baram, questioned near Hollywood, Fla., in January 2001,
said he had served two years in Israeli intelligence "working with
classified information". Hanan Serfaty, who maintained the Hollywood
apartments near Atta and his cohorts, served in the Israeli military
between the ages of 18 and 21. Serfaty refused to disclose his activities
between the ages of 21 and 24, including his activities since arriving in
the U.S.A. in 2000. The French daily Le Monde meanwhile reported that six
"art students" were apparently using cell phones that had been purchased
by a former Israeli vice consul in the U.S.A.

Suspected Israeli spy Tomer Ben Dor, questioned at Dallas-Fort Worth
Airport in May 2001, worked for the Israeli wiretapping and electronic
eavesdropping company NICE Systems Ltd. (NICE Systems' American
subsidiary, NICE Systems Inc., is located in Rutherford, New Jersey, not
far from the East Rutherford site where the five Israeli "movers" were
arrested on the afternoon of September 11.) Ben Dor carried in his luggage
a print-out of a computer file that referred to "DEA Groups". How he
acquired information about so-called "DEA Groups" ­- via, for example, his
own employment with an Israeli wiretapping company -­ was never
determined, according to DEA documents.

"Art student" Michal Gal, arrested by DEA investigators in Irving, Texas,
in the spring of 2001, was released on a $10,000 cash bond posted by Ophir
Baer, an employee of the Israeli telecommunications software company
Amdocs Inc., which provides phone-billing technology to clients that
include some of the largest phone companies in the United States as well
as U.S. government agencies. Amdocs, whose executive board has been
heavily stocked with retired and current members of the Israeli government
and military, has been investigated at least twice in the last decade by
U.S. authorities on charges of espionage-related leaks of data that the
company assured was secure. (The company strenuously denies any

According to the former CIA counterterrorism officer with knowledge of
investigations into 9/11-related Israeli espionage, when law enforcement
officials examined the "art students" phenomenon, they came to the
tentative conclusion that "the Israelis likely had a huge spy operation in
the U.S. and that they had succeeded in identifying a number of the
hijackers". The German daily Die Zeit reached the same conclusion in 2002,
reporting that "Mossad agents in the U.S. were in all probability
surveilling at least four of the 19 hijackers". The Fox News Channel also
reported that U.S. investigators suspected that Israelis were spying on
Muslim militants in the United States. "There is no indication that the
Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that
the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance,
and not shared it", Fox correspondent Carl Cameron reported in a December
2001 series that was the first major exposé of allegations of 9/11-related
Israeli espionage. "A highly placed investigator said there are 'tie-ins'.
But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying,
'evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you
about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.'"

One element of the allegations has never been clearly understood: if the
"art students" were indeed spies targeting Muslim extremists that included
al-Qaeda, why would they also be surveilling DEA agents in such a
compromising manner? Why, in other words, would foreign spies bumble into
federal offices by the scores and risk exposing their operation? An
explanation is that a number of the art students were, in fact, young
Israelis engaged in a mere art scam and unknowingly provided cover for
real spies. Investigative journalist John Sugg, who as senior editor for
the Creative Loafing newspaper chain reported on the "art students" in
2002, told me that investigators he spoke to within FBI felt the "art
student" ring functioned as a wide-ranging cover that was counterintuitive
in its obviousness. DEA investigators, for example, uncovered evidence
connecting the Israeli "art students" to known ecstasy trafficking
operations in New York and Florida. This was, according to Sugg, planted
information. "The explanation was that when our FBI guys started getting
interested in these folks [the art students] ­- when they got too close to
what the real purpose was ­- the Israelis threw in an ecstasy angle", Sugg
told me. "The argument being that if our guys thought the Israelis were
involved in a smuggling ring, then they wouldn't see the real purpose of
the operation". Sugg, who is writing a book that explores the tale of the
"art students", told me that several sources within the FBI, and at least
one source formerly with Israeli intelligence, suggested that "the
bumbling aspect of the art student thing was intentional."

When I reported on the matter for Salon.com in 2002, a veteran U.S.
intelligence operative with experience subcontracting both for the CIA and
the NSA suggested a similar possibility. "It was a noisy operation", the
veteran intelligence operative said. The operative referred me to the film
Victor, Victoria. "It was about a woman playing a man playing a woman.
Perhaps you should think about this from that aspect and ask yourself if
you wanted to have something that was in your face, that didn't make
sense, that couldn't possibly be them". The intelligence operative added,
"Think of it this way: how could the experts think this could actually be
something of any value? Wouldn't they dismiss what they were seeing?" U.S.
and Israeli officials, dismissing charges of espionage as an "urban myth",
have publicly claimed that the Israeli "art students" were guilty only of
working on U.S. soil without proper credentials. The stern denials issued
by the Justice Department were widely publicized in the Washington Post
and elsewhere, and the endnote from officialdom and in establishment media
by the spring of 2002 was that the "art students" had been rounded up and
deported simply because of harmless visa violations. The FBI, for its
part, refused to confirm or deny the "art students" espionage story.
"Regarding FBI investigations into Israeli art students", spokesman Jim
Margolin told me, "the FBI cannot comment on any of those investigations."
As with the New Jersey Israelis, the investigation into the Israeli "art
students" appears to have been halted by orders from on high. The veteran
CIA/NSA intelligence operative told me in 2002 that there was "a great
press to discredit the story, discredit the connections, prevent
[investigators] from going any further. People were told to stand down.
You name the agency, they were told to stand down". The operative added,
"People who were perceived to be gumshoes on [this matter] suddenly found
themselves hammered from all different directions. The interest from the
middle bureaucracy was not that there had been a security breach but that
someone had bothered to investigate the breach. That was where the terror

Choking off the press coverage

There was similar pressure brought against the media venues that ventured
to report out the allegations of 9/11- related Israeli espionage. A former
ABC News employee high up in the network newsroom told me that when ABC
News ran its June 2002 exposé on the celebratory New Jersey Israelis,
"Enormous pressure was brought to bear by pro-Israeli organizations"–and
this pressure began months before the piece was even close to airing. The
source said that ABC News colleagues wondered, "how they [the pro-Israel
organizations] found out we were doing the story. Pro- Israeli people were
calling the president of ABC News. Barbara Walters was getting bombarded
by calls. The story was a hard sell but ABC News came through the
management insulated [reporters] from the pressure".

The experience of Carl Cameron, chief Washington correspondent at Fox News
Channel and the first mainstream U.S. reporter to present the allegations
of Israeli surveillance of the 9/11 hijackers, was perhaps more typical,
both in its particulars and aftermath. The attack against Cameron and Fox
News was spearheaded by a pro-Israel lobby group called the Committee for
Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which operated in
tandem with the two most highly visible powerhouse Israel lobbyists, the
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (itself currently embroiled in a spy scandal connected to the
Defense Department and Israeli Embassy). "CAMERA pep- pered the shit out
of us", Carl Cameron told me in 2002, referring to an e-mail bombardment
that eventually crashed the Fox News.com servers. Cameron himself received
700 pages of almost identical e-mail messages from hundreds of citizens
(though he suspected these were spam identities). CAMERA spokesman Alex
Safian later told me that Cameron's upbringing in Iran, where his father
traveled as an archeologist, had rendered the reporter "very sympathetic
to the Arab side". Safian added, "I think Cameron, personally, has a thing
about Israel"–coded language implying that Cameron was an anti-Semite.
Cameron was outraged at the accusation.

According to a source at Fox News Channel, the president of the ADL,
Abraham Foxman, telephoned executives at Fox News' parent, News Corp., to
demand a sit-down in the wake of the Cameron reportage. The source said
that Foxman told the News Corp. executives, "Look, you guys have generally
been pretty fair to Israel. What are you doing putting this stuff out
there? You're killing us". The Fox News source continued, "As good old
boys will do over coffee in Manhattan, it was like, well, what can we do
about this? Finally, Fox News said, 'Stop the e-mailing. Stop slamming us.
Stop being in our face, and we'll stop being in your face–by way of taking
our story down off the web. We will not retract it; we will not disavow
it; we stand by it. But we will at least take it off the web.'" Following
this meeting, within four days of the posting of Cameron's series on Fox
News.com, the transcripts disappeared, replaced by the message, "This
story no longer exists".

What did Mossad know and tell the U.S.?

Whether or not Israeli spies had detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11
attacks, the Israeli authorities knew enough to warn the U.S. government
in the summer of 2001 that an attack was on the horizon. The British
Sunday Telegraph reported on September 16, 2001, that two senior agents
with the Mossad were dispatched to Washington in August 2001 "to alert the
CIA and FBI to the existence of a cell of as many as 200 terrorists said
to be preparing a big operation". The Telegraph quoted a "senior Israeli
security official" as saying the Mossad experts had "no specific
information about what was being planned". Still, the official told the
Telegraph, the Mossad contacts had "linked the plot to Osama bin Laden".
Likewise, Die Zeit correspondent Oliver Schröm reported that on August 23,
2001, the Mossad "handed its American counterpart a list of names of
terrorists who were staying in the U.S. and were presumably planning to
launch an attack in the foreseeable future". Fox News' Carl Cameron, in
May 2002, also reported warnings by Israel: "Based on its own
intelligence, the Israeli government provided 'general' information to the
United States in the second week of August that an al-Qaeda attack was
imminent". The U.S. government later claimed these warnings were not
specific enough to allow any mitigating action to be taken. Mossad expert
Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon's Spies, says German intelligence sources
told him that as late as August 2001 Israeli spies in the United States
had made surveillance contacts with "known supporters of bin Laden in the
U.S.A. It was those surveillance contacts that later raised the question:
how much prior knowledge did Mossad have and at what stage?"

According to Die Zeit, the Mossad did provide the U.S. government with the
names of suspected terrorists Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who
would eventually hijack the Pentagon plane. It is worth noting that
Mihdhar and Hazmi were among the hijackers who operated in close proximity
to Israeli "art students" in Hollywood, Florida, and to the Urban Moving
Systems Israelis in northern New Jersey. Moreover, Hazmi and at least
three "art students" visited Oklahoma City on almost the same dates, from
April 1 through April 4, 2001. On August 24, 2001, a day after the
Mossad's briefing, Mihdhar and Hazmi were placed by the CIA on a terrorist
watch list; additionally, it was only after the Mossad warning, as
reported by Die Zeit, that the CIA, on August 27, informed the FBI of the
presence of the two terrorists. But by then the cell was already in
hiding, preparing for attack.

The CIA, along with the 9/11 Commission in its adoption of the CIA story,
claims that Mihdhar and Hazmi were placed on the watch list solely due to
the agency's own efforts, with no help from Mossad. Their explanation of
how the pair came to be placed on the watch list, however, is far from
credible and may have served as a cover story to obscure the Mossad
briefing [See Ketcham's sidebar story — "The Kuala Lumpur Deceit"]. This
brings up the possibility that the CIA may have known about the existence
of the alleged Israeli agents and their mission, but sought, naturally, to
keep it quiet. A second, more troubling scenario, is that the CIA may have
subcontracted to Mossad, given that the agency was both prohibited by law
from conducting intelligence operations on U.S. soil, and lacked a pool of
competent Arabic-fluent field officers. In such a scenario, the CIA would
either have worked actively with the Israelis or quietly abetted an
independent operation on U.S. soil. In his 9/11 investigative book, The
Looming Tower, author Lawrence Wright notes that FBI counterterrorism
agents, infuriated at the CIA's failure to fully share information about
Mihdhar and Hazmi, speculated that "the agency was shielding Mihdhar and
Hazmi because it hoped to recruit them". The two al-Qaeda men, Wright
notes, "must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they
entered the United States they were the province of the FBI…" Wright
further observes that the CIA's reticence to share its information was due
to a fear "that prosecutions resulting from specific intelligence might
compromise its relationship with foreign services". When in the spring of
2002 the scenario of CIA's domestic subcontracting to foreign intelligence
was posed to the veteran CIA/NSA intelligence operative, with whom I spoke
extensively, the operative didn't reject it out of hand. The operative
noted that in recent years the CIA's human intelligence assets, known as
"humint" ­- spooks on the ground who conduct surveillances, make contacts,
and infiltrate the enemy ­- had been "eviscerated" in favor of the NSA's
far less perilous "sigint", or signals intelligence program, the remote
interception of electronic communications. As a result, "U.S. intelligence
finds itself going back to sources that you may not necessarily like to go
back to, but are required to", the veteran intelligence operative said.
"We don't like the fact, but our humint structures are gone. Israeli
intel's humint is as strong as ever. If you have an intel gap, those gaps
are not closed overnight. It takes years and years of diligent work, a
high degree of security, talented and dedicated people, willing management
and a steady hand. It is not a fun business, and it's certainly not one
without its dangers. If you lose that capability, well organizations find
themselves having to make a pact with the devil. The problem [in U.S.
intel] is very great".

If such an understanding did exist between CIA and Mossad with regard to
al-Qaeda's U.S. operatives, the complicity would explain a number of
oddities: it would explain the CIA's nearly incoherent, and perhaps
purposely deceptive, reconstruction of events as to how Mihdhar and Hazmi
joined the watch list; it might even explain the apparent brazenness of
the Israeli New Jersey cell celebrating on the morning of 9/11 (protected
under the CIA wing, they were free to behave as they pleased). It would
also explain the assertion in one of the leading Israeli dailies, Yedioth
Ahronoth, that in the months prior to 9/11, when the Israeli "art
students" were being identified and rounded up, the CIA "actively promoted
their expulsion". The implication in the Yedioth Ahronoth article was that
the CIA was simply being careless, not trying to spirit the Israelis
safely out of the country. At this point we cannot be certain.

Israeli spying against the U.S. is of course hotly denied by both
governments. In 2002, responding to my own questions about the "art
students", Israeli embassy spokesman Mark Regev issued a blanket denial.
"Israel does not spy on the United States", Regev told me. The
pronouncements from officialdom are strictly pro forma, as it is no secret
that spying by Israel on the United States has been wide-ranging and
unabashed. A 1996 General Accounting Office report, for example, found
that Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the
United States of any U.S. ally". More recently, a former intelligence
official told the Los Angeles Times in 2004 that "[t]here is a huge,
aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United
States". It is also routine that Israeli spying is ignored or downplayed
by the U.S. government (the case of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard,
sentenced to life in prison in 1986, is a dramatic exception). According
to the American Prospect, over the last 20 years at least six sealed
indictments have been issued against individuals allegedly spying "on
Israel's behalf", but the cases were resolved "through diplomatic and
intelligence channels" rather than a public airing in the courts. Career
Justice Department and intelligence officials who track Israeli espionage
told the Prospect of "long-standing frustration among investigators and
prosecutors who feel that cases that could have been made successfully
against Israeli spies were never brought to trial, or that the
investigations were shut down prematurely".

The Questions That Await Answers

Remarkably, the Urban Moving Systems Israelis, when interrogated by the
FBI, explained their motives for "celebration" on the New Jersey
waterfront a celebration that consisted of cheering, smiling, shooting
film with still and video cameras and, according to the FBI, "high-fiving"
­- in the Machiavellian light of geopolitics. "Their explanation of why
they were happy", FBI spokesman Margolin told me, "was that the United
States would now have to commit itself to fighting [Middle East]
terrorism, that Americans would have an understanding and empathy for
Israel's circumstances, and that the attacks were ultimately a good thing
for Israel". When reporters on the morning of 9/11 asked former Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the effect the attacks would have
on Israeli- American relations, he responded with a similar gut analysis:
"It's very good", he remarked. Then he amended the statement: "Well, not
very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy [for Israel from

What is perhaps most damning is that the Israelis' celebration on the New
Jersey waterfront occurred in the first sixteen minutes after the initial
crash, when no one was aware this was a terrorist attack. In other words,
from the time the first plane hit the north tower, at 8:46 a.m., to the
time the second plane hit the south tower, at 9:02 a.m., the overwhelming
assumption of news outlets and government officials was that the plane's
impact was simply a terrible accident. It was only after the second plane
hit that suspicions were aroused. Yet if the men were cheering for
political reasons, as they reportedly told the FBI, they obviously
believed they were witnessing a terrorist act, and not an accident.

After returning safely to Israel in the late autumn of 2001, three of the
five New Jersey Israelis spoke on a national talk show that winter. Oded
Ellner, who on the afternoon of September 11 had, like his compatriots,
protested to arresting officer Sgt. Dennis Rivelli that "we're Israeli",
admitted to the interviewer: "We are coming from a country that
experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event". By his
own admission, then, Ellner stood on the New Jersey waterfront documenting
with film and video a terrorist act before anyone knew it was a terrorist

One obvious question among many comes to mind: If these men were trained
as professional spies, why did they exhibit such outright oafishness at
the moment of truth on the waterfront? The ABC network source close to the
20/20 report noted one of the more disturbing explanations proffered by
counterintelligence investigators at the FBI: "The Israelis felt that in
some way their intelligence had worked out ­- i.e., they were celebrating
their own acumen and ability as intelligence agents".

The questions abound: Did the Urban Moving Systems Israelis, ready to
"document the event", arrive at the waterfront before the first plane came
in from the north? And if they arrived right after, why did they believe
it was a terrorist attack? What about the strange tale of the "art
students"? Could they have been mere hustlers, as they claimed, who ended
up repeatedly crossing paths with federal agents and living next door to
most of the 9/11 hijackers by coincidence? Did the Israeli authorities
find out more about the impending attacks than they shared with their U.S.
counterparts? Or did the Israeli spies on the ground only intercept vague
chatter that, in their view, did not warrant breaking cover to share the
information? On the other hand, did the U.S. government receive more
advance information about the attacks from Israeli authorities than it is
willing to admit? What about the 9/11 Commission's eliding of reported
Israeli warnings that may have led to the watch- listing of Mihdhar and
Hazmi? Were the Israeli warnings purposely washed from the historical
record? Did the CIA know more about pre-9/11 Israeli spying than it has

The unfortunate fact is that the truth may never be uncovered, not by
officialdom, and certainly not by a passive press. James Bamford, who in a
coup of reporting during the 1980s revealed the inner workings of the NSA
in The Puzzle Palace, points to the "key problem": "The Israelis were all
sent out of the country", he says. "There's no nexus left. The FBI just
can't go knocking on doors in Israel. They need to work with the State
Department. They need letters rogatory, where you ask a government of a
foreign country to get answers from citizens in that country". The Israeli
government will not likely comply. So any investigation "is now that much
more complicated", says Bamford. He recalls a story he produced for ABC
News concerning two murder suspects — U.S. citizens ­- who fled to Israel
and fought extradition for ten years. "The Israelis did nothing about it
until I went to Israel, knocking on doors, and finally found the two
suspects. I think it'd be a great idea to go over and knock on their
doors", says Bamford.

The suspects are gone. The trail is cold. Yet many of the key facts and
promising leads sit freely on the web, in the archives, safe in the
news-morgues at 20/20 and The Forward and Die Zeit. An investigator close
to the matter says it reminds him of the Antonioni film "Blow-Up", a movie
about a photographer who discovers the evidence of a covered-up murder
hidden before his very eyes in the frame of an enlarged photograph. It's a
mystery that no one appears eager to solve.

See Also:

The Kuala Lumpur Deceit: a CIA Cover Up by Christopher Ketcham

Ketcham's Story: Coming in From the Cold by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey
St. Clair

Christopher Ketcham is a freelance journalist who has written for Harper's
and Salon. Many of his writings, including his groundbreaking story on the
Israeli art students, can be read on his website

www.christopherketcham.com. He can be reached at: cketcham99 ==at==

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posted by u2r2h at Saturday, April 14, 2007


Anonymous 911 student said...

The article posted (published) by u2r2h contained the following examples of govt-lie-hugging disinformation:

"9/11 lead hijacker (sic)
Mohammed Atta and other hijackers
(sic) and suspected al-Qaeda (sic) sympathizers"

"All five future hijackers (sic) of American Airlines Flight 77 (sic), which rammed the
(sic), maintained addresses or were active within a six-mile radius of
towns associated with the Israelis employed at Urban Moving Systems.
Hudson and Bergen counties, the areas where the Israelis were allegedly
conducting surveillance, were a central staging ground for the hijackers
of Flight 77
(sic) and their fellow al-Qaeda (sic) operatives. Mohammed Atta
maintained a mail-drop address and visited friends in northern New Jersey;
his contacts there included Hani Hanjour, the suicide pilot
(sic) for Flight 77 (sic),
and Majed Moqed, one of the strongmen who backed Hanjour
(sic) in the seizing of
the plane
(sic). Could the Israelis, with or without knowledge of the
terrorists' plans
(sic), have been tracking the men who were soon to hijack
Flight 77
(sic) ?"


So besides the article's ostensible task of casting aspersions on agents of Israel, it casts aspersions on the renegade U.S. government's 9/11 enemy du jour Muslims, even going so far as to blame Israel for not having warned poor stupid incompetent trusting defenseless USA about what those nasty Muslims were about to supposedly have done.

Why does u2r2h share/publish such 9/11-lie-supportive U.S.-govt-blame-shifting disinformation?

Tue Apr 24, 10:45:00 pm UTC  

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