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The Terror Enigma: Israel and the September 11 Connection

by Justin Raimondo Friday, Sep. 26, 2003 at 5:48 PM

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.



From the August 2003 issue of Chronicles:

CHRONICLES INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT

The Terror Enigma: Israel and the September 11 Connection

by Justin Raimondo



“Remember 9/11!” is the rallying cry of the War Party; what we are remembering, however, is a half-truth. It is time to draw the curtain on the largely ignored prehistory of September 11. Although Bush-administration officials deny that they had even a hint of what was to come, government agencies were literally awash with warnings from the intelligence services of other nations—including the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Argentines, the Israelis, the Egyptians, the Moroccans, and the Jordanians.

The Israelis had warned us in August 2001, when they sent a delegation to Washington, handed over a list of 19 individuals in the United States whom they believed to be planning terrorist activities, and issued a nonspecific warning that a major terrorist attack was afoot. Yet there are indications that the Mossad knew about Muhammad Atta and his gang long before they let U.S. law enforcement in on the secret.

In the months before September 11, the Mossad had launched a major covert operation in the United States, involving hundreds of agents who not only kept a close watch on the terrorists but may have effectively blinded U.S. antiterrorism investigators to the activities of Al Qaeda in the United States. The evidence can be found in the U.S. government’s own documents, leaked by its own employees, and in its public pronouncements before the decision was made to quash this story at any cost.

In March 2001, the National Counterintelligence Center—whose mandate empowers it to identify and assess possible threats to U.S. national security—posted the following warning on its website:



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. If challenged, the individuals state that they are delivering artwork from a studio in Miami, Florida, called Universal Art, Inc, or that they are art students and are looking for opinions regarding their work. These individuals have been described as aggressive. They attempt to engage employees in conversation rather than giving a sales pitch.



The NCIC warned that “these individuals have also gone to the private residences of senior federal officials under the guise of selling art.” How they discovered the home addresses of these senior officials, the NCIC did not say. At that point, two of the “students” had been arrested for immigration violations: The suspects possessed counterfeit immigration papers and identification. Later, many more would be picked up—nearly 200—and summarily deported to their country of origin: Israel.

The NCIC alert was the earliest premonition, some six months before the event, of September 11. It was the first known instance—and possibly the last—in which the “antiterrorism” apparatus set up by the U.S. government actually worked, to some extent. The NCIC ended its warning with what turned out to be an accurate assessment of the threat:



Other reporting indicates that there may be two groups involved, and they refer to themselves as “Israeli art students.” One group has an apparently legitimate money-making goal while the second, perhaps a non-Israeli group, may have ties to a Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalist group. Federal employees observing any activity similar to that described above should report their observations to appropriate security officials.



And report they did. Indeed, so many accounts of Israeli “art student” sightings poured in, from such a wide variety of federal agencies, that they were compiled in a secret government dossier. Their mode of operation was always the same: They would enter a U.S. federal facility, even some that were unmarked, and make their pitch, aggressively seeking entry through back doors and generally acting as if they were casing the joint. Since the nation’s frontline fighters in the “War on Drugs” had, for some reason, attracted the particular attention of these “art students,” this document, which only came to light after September 11, seems to have been compiled and written up by the internal security unit of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in cooperation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, sometime in summer 2001. (See “Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students.”)

The incidents had occurred “since at least the beginning of 2000” and increased in November: After April 2001, “the number of reported incidents . . . declined[;] however, the geographic spread of the incidents” was extended “to Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles.” In addition to visiting DEA offices, these “art students” also descended on a number of other law-enforcement and Department of Defense facilities across the continental United States. The majority of recorded incidents, however, seem to have occurred in the southern half of the country, with the epicenter of activity located in southern Florida. Investigators associated with the DEA’s Office of Security Programs apparently became convinced that, as the report put it:



The nature of the individuals’ conduct, combined with intelligence information and historical information regarding past incidents involving Israeli Organized Crime, leads us to believe the incidents may well be an organized intelligence gathering activity.



These were no ordinary Israeli “tourists,” as they claimed when confronted. While all Israelis must serve some time in the military, an unusually high proportion of these “students” were deployed in elite units. The DEA report lists name, rank, and serial number: Itay Simon, Marina Glickman, and Dilka Borenstein are all described as former members of Israeli military intelligence. Zeev Miller is identified as a “combat engineer,” and Ofir Navron is a “bomb disposal expert.” Aran Ofek, the son of a two-star Israeli general, was apprehended in Dallas. Taken together, their credentials are impressive: “intelligence officer,” “electronic intercept operator,” “special forces,” “demolition/explosive ordnance expert.”

A group of Israelis was picked up by the FBI after being spotted in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, laughing and high-fiving one another as the World Trade Center burned on the other side of the river. A story by Paulo Lima in the Bergen, New Jersey, Record (September 12, 2002) describes how five men—“Israeli tourists”—were picked up eight hours after the WTC attack, “carrying maps linking them to the blasts”:



[S]ources 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.”



Lima reports that the five “tourists” had been picked up after local police received 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.



These reports attracted little if any notice. Not long after, however, the whole operation began to surface in major media. On November 23, 2001, the Washington Post ran a story by John Mintz detailing how, along with the 1,000 or so Muslim Middle Easterners jailed in the Ashcroft sweep, 60 Israelis had been picked up and held, not just for routine visa violations, but in connection with the September 11 investigation. The Post’s subhead read: “Government calls Several Cases ‘of Special Interest,’ Meaning Related to Post-Attacks Investigation.”

According to Mintz’s account, INS officials in Cleveland and St. Louis testified in court that these Israelis were “of special interest to the government”—putting them in the same category as hundreds of mostly Arab men rounded up by the feds since the attacks.

Over the next eight or nine months, the rest of the story would come out, though it would be obscured by denials and submerged by an oddly indifferent media. “It is rather strange,” remarked Jane’s Defense Intelligence Digest (March 13, 2002), “that the US media seems to be ignoring what may well be the most explosive story since the 11 September attacks—the alleged break-up of a major Israeli espionage operation in the USA.” (The Post’s story blandly assured readers that the Israeli detainees were “observing a time-honored tradition in their country—touring the world after their mandatory service in the Israeli military,” although Mintz did note that “a number of them had served in counterterrorist units in Israel.”)

On December 11, 2001, Fox News ran the first in a series of investigative reports that blew the whistle on a vast Israeli spy network operating on American soil—and openly posed the question of whether the Israelis had foreknowledge of September 11. According to Jane’s, what is striking about Fox News reporter Carl Cameron’s portrait of Israel’s spy network in the U.S. is the sheer vastness of his subject. The broad scope of the operation, with its many fronts and activities conducted from coast to coast, had all the aspects of a major military campaign. In the months leading up to 9/11, Cameron claimed, Israel was waging a covert war against its principal ally and benefactor, the United States.

Over four nights, Cameron reported the myriad details of Israel’s far-flung underground army in the United States. He noted that some of the 60 detainees arrested in the wake of September 11 were active Israeli military officers. Some had failed polygraph tests when they were asked about “surveillance activities against and in the United States.”

Cameron showed how the Mossad had thoroughly penetrated top-secret communications systems. He cited veteran law-enforcement agents afraid for their jobs if they questioned Israel’s role. What really caught the attention of viewers, however, was the following statement from his first broadcast:



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. 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.”



Cameron’s bombshell should have provoked a frenzy of media interest and calls for an official investigation. That no such call was ever made is a story in itself.

In the first part of his report, Cameron focuses on a single aspect of a multilayered Israeli intelligence operation that became increasingly visible in the months preceding September 11:



Numerous classified documents obtained by Fox News indicate that even prior to September 11, as many as 140 other Israelis had been detained or arrested in a secretive and sprawling investigation into suspected espionage by Israelis in the United States. Investigators from numerous government agencies are part of a working group that’s been compiling evidence since the mid-90s. These documents detail hundreds of incidents in cities and towns across the country that investigators say—quote—“may well be an organized intelligence gathering activity.”



These documents included a 60-page report compiled by a number of federal agencies. In the gray, matter-of-fact bureaucratese so typical of a government document, the “Israeli Art Student Papers”—leaked some months later—confirmed Cameron’s contention that a nationwide underground apparatus of Israeli agents, centered in Florida and Texas, carried out extensive operations in the months leading up to September 11. Their targets included the DEA; the INS; the Federal Protective Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; a host of state and federal courthouses and other buildings; and military bases.

The leaked document describes in excruciating detail the doggedly persistent efforts of Israelis claiming to be “art students” to get into the offices and even the homes of federal law-enforcement agents and government officials.

A March 5, 2002, article in Le Monde by Sylvain Cypel was more specific: “More than a third of these ‘students’ claimed residence in Florida,” and “at least five were intercepted in Hollywood [Florida], and two in Fort Lauderdale.” Cypel points out the proximity of the two cities and reminds us that “at least 10 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11 were residing in Florida.” Hollywood, a town of some 25,000 souls, north of Miami, was a major nexus of Israel’s spy network and the Muslim terrorist cell responsible for September 11:



Four of the five members of the group that diverted American Airlines flight number 11—Mohammed Atta, Abdulaziz Al-Omari, Walid and Waïl Al-Shehri, as well as one of the five terrorists of United flight 175, Marwan Al-Shehhi—resided all at various times in . . . Hollywood, Florida. As for Ahmed Fayez, Ahmed and Hamza Al-Ghamdi and Mohand Al-Shehri, who took over United flight 75, like Saïd Al-Ghamdi, Ahmed Al-Haznawi and Ahmed Al-Nami, of United flight 93 which crashed September 11 in Pennsylvania, and Nawaq Al-Hamzi, of AA flight 77 (crashed into the Pentagon), they all at one time resided at Delray Beach, in the north of Fort Lauderdale.



The most logical assumption is that the Israelis were engaged in a large-scale intelligence-gathering operation on Islamic terrorist cells in the United States.

Another important piece of the puzzle is found in an October 14, 2002, article by Oliver Schröm in the German weekly Die Zeit. Schröm writes:



Not until after the attacks of September 11 did the consequences of the spy ring become clear. Apparently the agents were not interested in military or industrial facilities, but were shadowing a number of suspects, who were later involved in the terrorist attacks against the U.S. According to a report of the French intelligence agency that Die Zeit examined, “according to the FBI, Arab terrorists and suspected terror cells lived in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in Miami and Hollywood, Florida from December 2000 to April 2001 in direct proximity to the Israeli spy cells.”



The Mossad was particularly interested in Muhammad Atta, the terrorist leader, and Marwan al-Shehi, who lived in Hollywood, Florida. Die Zeit reports that the Mossad was watching the terrorist leader and his chief accomplices very closely:



Everything indicates that the terrorists were constantly observed by the Israelis. The chief Israeli agent was staying right near the post office where the terrorists had a mailbox. The Mossad also had its sights on Atta’s accomplice Khalid al-Midhar, with whom the CIA was also familiar, but allowed to run free.



The title of the Die Zeit piece—“Next Door to Mohammed Atta”—may be a bit of an overstatement, however. As Schröm writes:



[Muhammad Atta and Marwan al-Shehi] lived in Hamburg before they settled in Hollywood, Florida[,] in order to plan the attacks. A Mossad team was also operating in the same town. The leader, Hanan Serfati, had rented several dwellings. “One of Serfati’s apartments was located on the corner of 701st St. and 21st Ave. [sic] in Hollywood, right near the apartment of Atta and al-Shehi,” French intelligence reported later.



There is just one problem: There is no 701st Street and 21stAvenue in Hollywood, Florida. Serfati’s rental was at 701 South 21st Street, about a half-mile from Atta’s 1818 Jackson Street address. Serfati rented several apartments in the area, however, and one could easily have been “next door to Mohammed Atta” and his confederates, who moved around quite a bit. In addition, the geographical congruity of the Israeli “art students” and the hijacking conspirators was not limited to South Florida, as John Sugg has pointed out in a March 20, 2002, piece for the Weekly Planet:



Many of the apparent operatives had set up shop at addresses only stones’ throws from Arabs in San Diego, Little Rock, Irving, Texas, and in South Florida. The Planet also has obtained a watch list of mostly Arabs under scrutiny by the U.S. government. The addresses of many correspond to the specific areas where the Israelis established bases.



While the Israelis were closely observing Atta and his friends, they did not inform the U.S. government what they were up to until August 2001: Der Spiegel reported (October 1, 2002) that they handed over a list of 19 terrorist suspects, with at least four of the hijackers on it, “a few weeks before” September 11, but the federal government says that the warning was for attacks “outside the United States.”

The warning was nonspecific, indicating only that these were potential terrorists. And there are other discrepancies thatcloud the picture of Israeli cooperation in this matter. If the Israelis had decided in August to come clean with the information they had, why were federal agents still arresting and detaining our “partners” in the “War on Terrorism” in late November and early December?

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright 2003, www.ChroniclesMagazine.org
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