In late November, the Washington Post ran a story that stopped me dead in my tracks: 60 Israelis on Tourist Visas Detained Since Sept. 11, but it was the subhead that really got my attention: "Government Calls Several Cases 'of Special Interest,' Meaning Related to Post-Attacks Investigation." In addition to the 1000-plus Middle Easterners of the Muslim persuasion swept up in Ashcroft's post-9/11 dragnet, it seems, some 60 Israelis were in custody. And these were no ordinary tourists: INS officials testified in immigration court hearings that this group was "of special interest to the government" – the same argument used to justify the detention of Arabs in connection with the investigation into 9/11. Shortly thereafter, in a column dated 11/28/01, I asked: "What, exactly, is the meaning of this?" Today, I am relieved to note, the rest of the media is finally catching up to Antiwar.com and asking the same question. THE ISRAELI ANGLE While my own answer has developed over at least half a dozen subsequent columns, the core of my thesis has remained essentially unchanged. As I put it: "As long as 60 Israeli citizens are being held – under conditions of great secrecy – in connection with the 9/11 investigation, it is no longer tenable to dismiss the possibility of an Israeli angle in this story." The Post story went on to describe the Israeli detainees as having served in special anti-terrorist and intelligence units. "Something tells me these guys are no ordinary tourists," I averred. While "we just don't know" because of the secrecy surrounding the government's actions, I thought that the whole point of the Ashcroft round-up was not only to sweep up potential suspects but to gather information that could lead them to Al Qaeda's underground network in the US. Therefore, I theorized, "It could be that the Israelis, or at least some of them, fall into this category: while not being directly involved, maybe they know something. Nothing else could account for the government's 'special interest.'" A TRAIL OF CLUES The suggestion of an Israeli connection to the events surrounding 9/11 did not spring, full blown, like Minerva from the head of Zeus. It had been hovering in the background, implied in odd accounts such as the one about the group of Israelis picked by the FBI after they were spotted in Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, laughing and giving each other high-fives as the World Trade Center burned on the other side of the river. In an astonishing story in the Bergen Record, we learn that 5 men described as "Israeli tourists," were picked up 8 hours after the WTC attack, "carrying maps linking them to the blasts." "Sources close to the investigation said they found other evidence linking the men to the bombing plot. "There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted," the source said. "It looked like they're hooked in with this. It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park."According to this account, the 5 "tourists" had been picked up by local police after receiving the following alert from the FBI: "Vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack. White, 2000 Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration 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." INSTANT MESSAGE Then there was the story about the two employees of the Odigo Company, an Israeli-based "instant-messaging" software company, with New York offices in the vicinity of the WTC, who received messages in the hours before disaster struck that the World Trade Center would be hit. I was so skeptical of this report, published in Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, that I wrote the author: he confirmed the contents of these mysterious missives and cited his sources. In this context, the Washington Post story fit into an eerie pattern: it was not the final but the definitive piece of the puzzle: the piece that, once found and put in place, evokes an exclamation of "so that's what it is!" I was alone, at the time, in raising the possibility of an Israeli angle to the story of 9/11 – but not for long. CAMERON'S BOMBSHELL On December 11, Fox News ran the first of a four-part series by Carl Cameron that offered yet more evidence to support my contention that the Israelis had some rather specific foreknowledge of the 9/11 atrocity. Citing sources in law enforcement, Cameron dropped a bombshell: "A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States. There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that they Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are -quote –'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, – quote – 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.' Fox News has learned that one group of Israelis, spotted in North Carolina recently, is suspected of keeping an apartment in California to spy on a group of Arabs who the United States is also investigating for links to terrorism." The detained Israelis, reported Cameron, had been part of a vast spy operation that had very possibly been tracking the hijackers, and had both the means and the opportunity to discover the terrorist plot. Over four nights, he detailed extensive Israeli penetration of US defense and government facilities revealed in the documents of a secret task force within the government that has been collecting evidence on this case since the early 1990s. ART FOR ART'S SAKE? Posing as "art students" selling cheap handicrafts and paintings, as many as 120 young Israelis – the majority of whom "stated they served in military intelligence, electronic surveillance intercept and or explosive ordinance units" in the Israeli army – made contact with US government officials and personnel in "hundreds of incidents and towns across the country." Indeed, there had been so many news reports in local media, concentrated especially in Texas and Florida, detailing this activity that the National Counterintellligence Center (a dot-gov site) issued the following alert: "In the past six weeks, employees in federal office buildings located throughout the United States have reported suspicious activities connected with individuals representing themselves as foreign students selling or delivering artwork. Employees have observed both males and females attempting to bypass facility security and enter federal buildings." WANNA SEE MY ETCHINGS? These "students," the NCC observed, who "have been described as aggressive," didn't seem too interested in selling anybody anything, and instead seemed intent on simply gaining access. Two were arrested (in Texas) and, lo and behold, it was discovered that their work visas and green cards were counterfeit. One particularly eerie aspect of all this is these "students" turning up at "the private residences of senior federal officials under the guise of selling art." On October 2, KHOU-TV of Houston, Texas, reported that, earlier in the year, these guys were caught sneaking into "federal buildings and defense sites," and, in Dallas, "The so-called students hit early this year at the city's FBI building, the Drug Enforcement Administration and at the Earle Cabell Federal building, where guards found one student wandering the halls with a floor plan of the building." THE MARRIAGE OF ART AND HI-TECH The Fox News exposй also reported on the near-total penetration of US communications facilities by Israel, through two "private" Israeli telecommunications companies, Amdocs, Ltd., and Comverse Infosys, which, together, handle virtually all the billing records and government wiretaps in the US. Indeed, many of the "art students" not only had "intelligence expertise," but also worked for Amdocs "or other companies in Israel that specialize in wiretapping." THE SOUND OF SILENCE Cameron's report, which was immediately denied by the Israelis, spread pandemonium throughout the government, and official spokesmen stonewalled. Ari Fleischer was unusually laconic, referring questions from reporters to an unresponsive Justice Department and other equally uncooperative government agencies. As for the rest of the American media – a stunning silence. You could hear a pin drop. As Cameron put it in an interview with CSPAN: "The biggest story of our time, of Israel spying on all branches of the government, on all our intelligence agencies – in the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], the DEA and the White House itself, is not picked up by the leading newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post." BREAKTHROUGH Ah, but the Post, at least, would eventually be forced to pick up the story, if only to serve as a conduit for official government denials. In the meantime, for months, the only place you could read about this story was on Antiwar.com, and specifically right here in this space: that is, here, and here, and here, and here – and also here, and here. Not to mention here. (And don't forget here.) Until, finally, the story was picked up overseas, by LeMonde, a major French newspaper, which based its story [go here for the French version] on a report published in the Online Intelligence newsletter. The editor of the newsletter, Guillaume Dasquiй – co-author of Bin Laden: The Hidden Truth – was recently taken to task in this space for positing the 9/11 conspiracy as being part of a plot by Saudi Arabia, which, after all, "since the 18th century … has been focused on conquering the world." I am glad to see, however, that the direction of his investigation has now taken a radically different turn…. STUMBLING ON A RATTLESNAKE This turn was helped along, it seems, by yet another "leak" from a US government agency, this time the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Dasquiй had somehow gotten his hands on a classified 61-page report drafted by an interagency task force charged with summarizing information gleaned from the nearly 120 Israelis rounded up in the wake of 9/11. The DEA, it seems, took the lead in the investigation because its Office of Security Programs – responsible for internal security – first stumbled on "unusual behavior of young Israeli nationals who had gained access to DEA circles." As it turned out, nearly all these "art students" belonged to a particular school of art – that is, if espionage and spying in general can be considered an art, albeit a black one. NAMING NAMES What I like best about Online Intelligence is that it names names, "A few of the operatives are well known in the Israeli intelligence community. The report cited the names of Peer Segalovitz (military registration number 5087989) and Aran Ofek, son of a renowned two-star general in the Israeli army. The network targeted some of the most sensitive sites in the U.S., such as Tanker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City. Indeed, the U.S. Air Force's Office of Special Investigation sent a letter to the Justice Department on May 16 of last year to ask for assistance in a case against four Israelis suspected of spying: Yaron Ohana, Ronen Kalfon, Zeev Cohen and Naor Topaz." ISRAEL'S UNDERGROUND ARMY According to the DEA, Israel's underground army in the US consisted of "around 20 units composed of between four and eight members each." More names are named: Michael Calmanovic headed up the team in Irving, Texas, while Florida was the domain of Hanan Serfaty. Legum Yochai had charge of the Miami operation. Online Intelligence also notes the Amdocs connection: it seems these "art students" "cultivated contacts with Israeli information technology companies based in the US and serving as regular suppliers to various U.S. federal agencies, such as Amdocs" and others. The Fox News series is cited, by Online Intelligence and Le Monde, and the former even provides a convenient map of the Texas chapter of the "art students" underground apparatus, complete with not only names, but arrival dates, corporate connections, when and where they were arrested, and their specific functions in the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus. How much more evidence do we need before the editorialists and the pundits start calling government officials on their lies – and Congress begins an investigation? TRUTH WILL OUT As I said in my first column on this subject, written before Fox News expanded on the story and introduced it to a wider public, "truth will out" in spite of government stonewalling and obsessive secrecy: "In these days of the Internet, and the instant dissemination of information, the gatekeepers have to resort to quasi-legal means to keep the truth from coming out. But it will come out, sooner rather than later – in which case, the question, 'Haven't we had enough of Israel?' may be definitively answered." This story was really too big to keep under wraps for long, which is why I kept flailing it week after week, certain that sooner or later it would find its way into the major media and have a decisive impact on the public debate over this war, and our relations with the rest of the world in general. It is a nice feeling to be vindicated, and, if you'll permit me to indulge myself for a moment, let me just remind my regular readers: you read it here first! AN 'URBAN MYTH' – MY EYE! As the embargo on the Israeli spy story began to break down, with reports from the British media filtering into the US and Canada, the Washington Post – the original source of the news that 60 Israelis had been detained – ran what is fated to become the prototypical denial coming from the US and Israeli governments: "'This seems to be an urban myth that has been circulating for months,' said Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden. 'The department has no information at this time to substantiate these widespread reports about Israeli art students involved in espionage.'" An "urban myth" – oh, that's rich! Confronted with the evidence, the denialists equate documented reports from reputable news sources with stories of alligators in the New York City sewer system. Faced with a leaked government document that reveals names, places, and military identification numbers, government spokesmen resort to characterizing the (so far unknown) leaker as a "disgruntled" DEA employee who single-handedly wrote the memo. We don't know what person or persons authored the DEA task force report on Israeli spook activity in the US prior to 9/11, but, in any case, what loyal American wouldn't be disgruntled at this administration's increasingly unsuccessful effort to bury this deeper than the lowest rung of Hell? SOPHISTRY, WASHINGTON-STYLE As the new revelations were met with a barrage of denials in Washington and Israeli consulates around the country, Dasquiй stuck by his story. The FBI was engaging in sophistry, he said, when it denied that the "art students" had been arrested for carrying out espionage on behalf of a foreign power in the US: all were expelled, the FBI piously averred, for routine visa violations. But that is precisely how a cover-up of spying by a "friendly" government would be accomplished, Dasquiй points out: especially by the Israel-friendly Bush administration, which is doing everything it can to tamp down the growing scandal. Haul them into immigration court, get them out of the country quick – and no one's the wiser. Except, for once, they are…. IF I LISTEN LONG ENOUGH TO YOU Ms. Dryden's smug arrogance in dismissing serious charges as "urban myth" may have backfired. Denigrating your opponent when he has the goods on you is not a smart strategy. As long as US and Israeli officials continue to lie straight-faced, while gullible journalists look to find a reason to believe government lies, Intelligence Online is threatening to publish the leaked DEA report in its entirety: "'It seems irresponsible for us to publish it, but if the denials go on, we could put the report on our Internet site and in so doing possibly blacken the names of the people most exposed,' the editor of the Intelligence Online site, Guillaume Dasquiй, said. … 'The document we have in our possession details not only the identities of the members of this network, but also their activities in the Israeli army, and even their serial numbers in the intelligence services, their passport numbers and their validity, and their visas and their validity." Au contraire, messieurs Dasquiй, et al, it would be irresponsible to refrain from publishing it. Don't we have a right to know the full context of the biggest terrorist attack in American history – an attack that signaled the start of a rapidly expanding war? As for "blackening the names of the people most exposed" – isn't that what we mean by justice? FUN, FUN, FUN! But of course the responsibility for all this goes much higher than the son of an Israeli general and a few high-ranking intelligence officers – including responsibility for the ongoing cover-up. That is why we are seeing both the US and Israeli governments going into full "spin" mode, the signal that a real panic is going on behind the scenes. This should provide us with plenty of entertainment for the next few weeks, and I see by this item in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the fun has already started…. KNOCK, KNOCK – WHO'S THERE? Reiterating the basic facts of the story – Israeli spies penetrating government facilities posing as "art students" – the Sun-Sentinel reports that, in South Florida, these suspicious characters were employed by an outfit known as "Universal Art," with addresses in South Miami and Southrise: "On Wednesday, there was no sign of a company called Universal Art Inc., at 10873 NW 52nd St. in Sunrise. The address in Florida incorporation documents came back to a light industrial complex next to the Sawgrass Expressway and south of Commercial Boulevard. No one answered the door, and several occupants had not heard of the company. The company's officers, Yitzchak Shish and Chava Sagi, are not listed. They were not among those who were deported…." Nobody answered the door, eh? Well, then we ought to be knocking a little harder. And if no one answers, then why not break down the door and see who or what is inside? After all, the authorities haven't hesitated to do this in the case of Arab-Americans and other non-Israeli Middle Eastern visitors and immigrants. Why the reluctance in this case? DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH As the hijackers were training for their deadly mission in South Florida, the resident Israeli cell, all of whom lived nearby, could have easily kept a close watch on their activities. If anyone ever catches up with Yitzchak Shish and Chava Sagi, perhaps we will learn more about what the Israelis knew about the events surrounding 9/11, and when they knew it. But if we're depending on the FBI and our own intelligence services to find these two, and make their story public, then I'm afraid we are in for a long wait indeed.
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