The Israeli Art Students and Movers Story
by Wayne Madsen
June 26, 2007
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The presence in the United States of a number of young Israelis, most of whom had specialized military and intelligence backgrounds, in the months prior to 911 is a subject that has received inadequate attention from the major U.S. media and government investigators. The activities of the Israelis fell into two main areas: the casing of the offices and homes of Federal law enforcement officials, U.S. military bases, and other sensitive sites by Israeli “art students” during 2000 and 2001 and the unusual activities of Israeli “movers” around sensitive areas during and after 911. These incidents occurred in tandem with the suspicious activities of other former Israeli military and intelligence officials in neighboring countries, including Canada and Mexico, after 911. In addition, a number of Israeli intelligence agents were apprehended abroad for passport violations and other illegal activities.
The possibility that the suspicious Israeli activity was linked to the movements of Al Qaeda cells cannot be brushed aside as merely coincidental. For example, a number of the Israelis arrested for suspicious activities involving selling bogus Israeli art and driving moving vans were concentrated in some of the same neighborhoods where a number of the 911 Saudi and other Arab hijackers lived and trained at flight schools.
Two internal U.S. government documents revealed that among the 120 Israeli “art students” who attempted to penetrate the security of dozens of Federal office buildings and who visited the homes of scores of U.S. law enforcement personnel during 2000 and 2001 were some who used addresses and mail drops in southern Florida and Texas near those used by a number of the 911 hijackers. The information came from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Report drafted in June 2001 on the activities of the art students and a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of the hijackers and other terrorist suspects, accidentally released in early October 2001 on a Finnish government web site. The DEA memo specifically stated that the Israelis may have had ties to an “Islamic fundamentalist group.”
As a journalist, it has become increasingly difficult since the 911 terrorist attacks to cover the more secretive aspects of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities. Many government officials have readopted the famous World War II missive of “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” in refusing comment on anything deemed sensitive. Journalists who rely on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain copies of documents also face unprecedented challenges. After 911, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum that states his Justice Department will use its enormous legal might to defend any refusal by any government agencies to withhold information requested under the FOIA.
Coming into possession of a sensitive Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report on the activities of Israeli “art students” was, therefore, a welcome surprise. DEA, the chief agency that investigates drug cartels, dangerous work under any circumstance, is traditionally very secretive about its investigations. However, some members of the agency, frustrated that their concerns were not being taken seriously by senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Justice Department, apparently decided to leak the report. Their decision was supported by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), another agency involved with the DEA in the joint task force set up to investigate the Israeli “students.”
Being presented with a document such as the DEA report, titled “Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities,” posed unique problems in itself. For example, the document had to be verified as authentic and not a hoax. Many times, government agencies will merely state they “can neither confirm nor deny” the genuineness of leaked documents. However, in the case of the DEA report, confirmation of its genuineness came from the DEA in relatively quick fashion.
One amazing element of the story was the fact that a number of DEA, INS, and FBI agents had discovered, as had I, that several of the known addresses of the Israeli students were very close to those of the Al Qaeda terrorists and their supporters. These included addresses in Hollywood, Florida; Miami, Florida; and Irving, Texas. Speaking off-the-record, some of the agents told me that the fact that the Israelis and Al Qaeda were living in the same neighborhoods at the same time--January through May 2001--led the agents to believe the real mission of the Israelis was not to sell art at federal facilities but to spy on the Al Qaeda members.
As rock solid as the story about the true nature of the art students remains--it has had to face another, even more insurmountable problem than getting federal agents to talk. Immediately after the story appeared in Intelligence Online, Le Monde, and the Associated Press, the sizeable pro-Israeli lobby in the United States began to gear up for a counter punch. They had been through this in December 2001 when the Fox News Network, in a four part series by Carl Cameron, referred to Israelis being arrested and detained in the United States for espionage. Cameron also stated, “Evidence linking these Israelis to 911 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.” No sooner had Fox put the story on its web site it was pulled down without explanation. A similar story on Houston’s CBS affiliate, KHOU-TV, provided the following introduction:
“10/02/2001 - Fifteen People Arrested in March in Dallas, Suspected of Casing Federal Buildings. 11News reported how people claiming to be “Israeli art students” might be trying to sneak into federal buildings and defense sites, and even doing surveillance. 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.”
When trying to access the full story on the TV station’s web site, one receives the following message: “The page you requested could not be found.” However, Channel 11 News’ terrorism expert and former Defense Department analyst Ron Hatchett said the Israeli activity was “obvious surveillance” and “not a bunch of kids selling artwork.” A Federal Protective Service memo, obtained by KHOU after Israelis were seen casing the Leland Federal office building in Houston, stated, “Federal sites have experienced an inundation of art solicitations at office buildings by students claiming to be selling Israeli art.”
Federal agents in Dallas were also concerned that the Israeli art students had other intentions. The office manager for a Plano physician reported that after being told to leave, the Israelis kept returning to her building, which had a no soliciting policy. Channel 8 in Dallas reported that a number of Israelis were caught casing Federal buildings in Dallas and being involved in suspicious behavior in north Texas.
The author’s own colleagues reported that aggressive Israeli art students paid visits during late 2000 and early 2001 to the offices of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC and the headquarters of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) in Arlington, Virginia.
Other suspected Israeli intelligence activity surrounding 911, including the arrest by New Jersey police near Giants Stadium of five Israelis who were seen celebrating, high-fiving, jumping up and down, and videotaping the collapse of the World Trade Center, was reported by the media. A New Jersey apartment resident named Maria, who declined to give her last name, told ABC News about several Israelis she saw celebrating the attack on the Twin Towers in her parking lot. The Israelis were later linked to an Israeli-owned office moving company called Urban Moving Systems headquartered in Weehawken, New Jersey at 3 West 18th Street. Another Urban Moving office was located on West 50th Street in Manhattan. Urban Moving’s owner, Dominik Otto Suter, fled to Israel shortly before he was to be re-questioned by the FBI.  One of the five Israelis had a ticket for Bangkok and was due to fly out on September 13. The New York Department of Transportation revoked Urban Moving Systems’ license after it was discovered that its Manhattan business address was merely a post office box.
At 3:31 P.M. the FBI issued a nationwide alert called “Be On Lookout” or “BOLO” for the Israelis. Drafted by Special Agent Dave O’Brien, it read:
“Vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack. White, 2000 Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration (JYJ 13Y) with ‘Urban Moving Systems’ sign on back seen at Liberty State Park. Jersey City, NJ, at the time of the first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center.”
According to FBI sources, Urban Moving Systems and the activities of its employees on 911 did not sit too well with one member of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, Special Agent Michael Dick. He pursued the Israeli angle but soon found himself transferred to Karachi, Pakistan to help rescue Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who had been kidnapped by Al Qaeda functionaries. There was one hitch. The FBI was already aware that Pearl had been brutally murdered by his captors.
Urban Moving Systems Weehawken, NJ bomb making and anthrax storage warehouse.
Moments after Maria felt the ground shake from the impact of the first plane into the World Trade Center and she received a phone call from a neighbor to look out her window at the southern Manhattan skyline, she noticed a white Chevy van parked in the lower parking lot with three of the five men in the van jumping on the roof of the vehicle and videotaping each other with the carnage in the background. Maria was also shocked that the men were celebrating the horrific scenes across the Hudson River. After writing down the license plate number of the van, Maria and her husband Pat phoned the police.
Subsequently, Information Spectrum, Inc. (ISI) of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a subsidiary of the Fairfax, Virginia-based defense contractor, Anteon, took over the operation of the Jersey City police computer system that handled all incoming emergency phone calls on September 11. The system had been maintained by Larimore Associates, a company that specializes in archiving police emergency calls. However, Larimore’s contract was abruptly canceled by Jersey City authorities and awarded to Information Spectrum after the sudden death from a heart attack of Jersey City’s first African-American mayor, Democrat, Glenn D. Cunningham, himself a former Jersey City police officer. According to Jersey City Police officials, after the emergency call system was changed from a Wang to a Windows environment, 8000 emergency 911 system calls registered on September 11 were scrubbed from the archives. In fact, archives dating back to 1989, including those dealing with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, were similarly affected. Information Spectrum’s running of the computer system resulted in a number of server crashes. When Larimore volunteered to help recover the lost data, there was no response from the police department. Some Jersey City police sources speculated the change from Larimore to ISI/Anteon was prompted by orders from Trenton and the administration of Governor James McGreevey. They termed the changeover as “political.” Governor McGreevey resigned in 2004 after it was discovered he had an alleged gay relationship with his chief of Homeland Security, Golan Cipel. An Israeli citizen, Cipel, a former diplomat assigned to Israel’s Consulate General in New York City, was thought by many intelligence experts to be a junior Mossad case officer who lured McGreevey into a “honey trap.”
Jersey City was a major base of operations for the 1993 World Trade Center attack. The Ryder van used in that attack was rented from a Jersey City rental agency. As for the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center, there were no records of a call by Maria or any other witness to the Israeli activity in Maria’s building parking lot or at Liberty State Park. The only call remaining in the system was a late night call on September 11 about a suspicious vagrant in a south Jersey City neighborhood.
However, there was a call placed to the Jersey City Police Department that claimed “Palestinians” in Arab clothes were seen celebrating the attacks. Although the Jersey City Police discovered their 911 system tapes on September 11, 2001 disappeared from their servers and achives after ISI took over the contract, some tapes implicating “Arabs” found their way into the hands of WNBC-TV in New York in June 2002. WNBC played transcripts of 911 calls from the Jersey City Police:
Dispatcher: Jersey City police.
Caller: Yes, we have a white van, 2 or 3 guys in there, they look like Palestinians and going around a building.
Caller: There’s a minivan heading toward the Holland tunnel, I see the guy by Newark Airport mixing some junk and he has those sheikh uniform.
Dispatcher: He has what?
Caller: He’s dressed like an Arab.
It is clear that the Jersey City Police Department’s 911 call tapes were manipulated to delete any calls that might implicate the Israelis. The one call provided to WNBC was cleatly an attempt at a “false flag” operation implicating “Palestinians” wearing “sheik uniforms” as the culprits in at least one of the white vans driven by Israeli “movers” on the morning of September 11.
After the van was traced to the Israeli moving company, the BOLO went out for the arrest of the vehicle’s driver and passengers. An East Rutherford policeman directing traffic away from the closed Lincoln Tunnel on Route 3 East noticed the van was driving slowly on the service road towards the tunnel. The tag of the vehicle was only off by one letter from what was contained in the BOLO (JRJ 13Y) and the front New Jersey plate had been removed. It is very possible that to confuse the police, the Israelis were using NJ plate JRJ 13Y as the rear tag on two white vans – the one sighted in Liberty State Park and the other in Maria’s apartment building parking lot. In fact, local police reported a number of white van sightings during September 11, with a number of them phoned into the police. Maria told ABC News she phoned tag number JRJ 13Y to the Jersey City Police after seeing the Israelis driving in a white van celebrating the first plane’s impact, while Liberty State Park witnesses said the same tag number -- JRJ 13Y -- had been passed to the police and FBI after a white van with “celebrating Arabs” had been chased from the park by the park’s chief ranger after the first plane impact. It was clear that officials of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton, which has authority over the state’s parks, ordered Liberty State Park officials not to talk to the media about September 11 and the Israeli van.
The East Rutherford Police report on the Israeli van states:
“Officer assigned to Special Detail on Route 3 was rerouting traffic on Highway 3 East to Hwy 120 and 3 West. Lincoln Tunnel was shut down and officer was diverting traffic. Officer notified by dispatch of a National Broadcast to be on lookout for 2000 Chevy Van White, NJ tag JYJ 13Y. 3 to 4 occupants. Officer noticed van traveling at slow speed east towards Lincoln Tunnel on the Service Road with 2 occupants visible. Officer informed sergeant of possible match. No front license plate but JRJ 13Y tag may have one letter off from National Broadcast. Sergeant told officer to stop vehicle because van seen in Liberty State Park at time of first impact. Driver did not exit vehicle. He fumbled with a black “fanny pack.” Officer removed driver and van was searched. County bomb squad and FBI notified. FBI Newark ordered occupants to be held for prints because occupants were seen in Liberty State Park at time of first impact. 5 individuals were detained. Vehicle registration and insurance card were obtained. Officer spoke to FBI Special Agents Robert F. Taylor, Jr., Bill Lloyd, and Dave O’Brien. Prior to transportation to NJ State Police Barracks at Giants Stadium, driver said, “We are Israelis, we are not your problem. Your problems are our problem. Palestinians are the problem.” 
After the Israelis were arrested they misrepresented their location to one of the arresting police officers, Scott DeCarlo, claiming they were driving on West Side Highway in Manhattan when the planes struck the Trade Center. Dogs provided by the Bergen County Police K-9 unit alerted to the presence of explosives in the van. The nearby Homestead Studio Suites Hotel was evacuated for several hours. Asked about the Israelis in the van being present at Liberty State Park at the time of the first World Trade Center impact, one East Rutherford officer responded, “sure they were there.” Another confidential source told the Bergen County Record, “There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted . . . 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 several Weehawken neighbors of the Urban Moving Systems warehouse, the FBI, upon searching the the warehouse, discovered fertilizer, other chemicals for making explosives, pipes, caps, and traces of anthrax. After anthrax was discovered, investigators wearing hazardous material suits went through the warehouse. Residents around Urban Moving Systems who had connections to the local police also reported that helicopters with infrared radar swooped in over the warehouse on several occasions.
According to the ABC 20/20 report and echoing the East Rutherford police report, the van’s driver, Sivan Kurzburg, told DeCarlo, “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” The Israelis also reportedly told police they were tourists. When the FBI developed the photos taken by the Israelis of the World Trade Center carnage, one photo depicted Kurzburg flicking a cigarette lighter in a celebratory manner with the burning buildings in the background.
The Liberty State Park vantage point the five Urban Moving Systems celebrants had of lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11.
On the morning of September 12, the FBI canvassed the residents of the Israelis’ apartment building, The Doric, in Union City. They asked the residents if they could identify photographs of the five Israelis. The three Newark-based FBI agents on the case were Robert F. Taylor, Jr., Bill Lloyd and Dave O’Brien, the same agents who questioned the van drivers arrested in East Rutherford. All have subsequently been transferred from the Newark Field Office. A Union City off-duty policemen, saw three suspicious people at Union Park next to the Doric Temple at the corner of 9th Street and Palisades Avenue in Union City. The three, who matched the description of other Israeli “false flag” teams, were filming New York City’s skyline before the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The officer also witnessed the three high-fiving each other. The officer chased the celebrants on foot but was unable to apprehend them. The officer later reported the three headed into Jersey City by car.
Another van carrying explosives was stopped by police on an approach ramp to the George Washington Bridge from the New Jersey side. Police suspected the perpetrators were trying to blow up the bridge.
According to Jersey City police sources, another FBI agent, Monica Patton, investigated the activities of Israeli “movers” and four of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, and two Saudi brothers – Waleed M. and Wail Al-Shehri -- at the same video rental store in Jersey City. One of the videos the Saudi brothers rented was an HBO documentary on the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Another video they rented was “The Towering Inferno.” The video storeowner said his video rental records were later stolen after the FBI interviewed him and he told them about the Saudis’ rental history. The Al Shehri brothers also purchased phone cards from the video store for special use in calling Dubai. The Jersey City intrigue does not stop with the Saudis and Israelis. Jersey City Police also reported that the business card of a Jersey City municipal government social worker had been found on Timothy McVeigh after his arrest for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
After serving two and a half months in prison and after a barrage of official complaints from the Israeli government, the five Israeli “movers” (Kurzberg, his brother Paul Kurzberg, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Elner, and Omer Marmari) were released over the objections of the CIA and permitted to return home. However, when Jersey City police checked the Israelis’ van they found $4,700 hidden in a sock, two foreign passports and a Stanley-knife box cutter (the same brand used by the 911 hijackers). Paul Kurzberg, refused for ten weeks to take a polygraph and then flunked it when he did. His lawyer said his client once worked for Israeli intelligence in “another country.” Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert interceded twice with his good friend New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to have the Israelis released. On September 14, 2004, the five “dancing Israelis” filed suit against the United States in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn for wrongful arrest and imprisonment.
In their complaint, Silvan Kurzberg, Paul Kurzberg, Yaron Shmuel, Omer Gavriel Marmari, and Oded Oz Elner cited the following defendants:
JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General of the United States; JAMES W. ZIGLAR (Former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service); MICHAEL ZENK (Warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center); DENNIS HASTY (former Warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center) KATHLEEN HAWK SAWYER (former Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LINDA THOMAS (former Associate Warden of Programs of the Metropolitan Detention Center); ROBERT MUELLER (Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation); KEVIN LOPEZ (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); S. CHASE (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); “JORDAN” (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, whose true first and last names are unknown to the plaintiffs, who believe they heard him being called “Jordan”) MARIO MACHADO (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); WILLIAM BECK (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); RICHARD DIAZ (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); C. SHACKS (first name unknown first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); SALVATORE LOPRESTI (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); STEVEN BARRERE (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); JON OSTEEN (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); J. MIELES (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); MICHAEL DEFRANCISCO (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); F. JOHNSON (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); CHRISTPHOR WITSCHEL (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); MOSCHELLO (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); NORMAN (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); HOSAIN (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); MOUNBO (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); M. ROBINSON (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); TORRES (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons) COUNSELOR RAYMOND COTTON (believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); DR. LORENZO (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT BIRAR (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT BUCK (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT T. CUSH (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT GUSS (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT D. ORTIZ (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); LIEUTENANT J. PEREZ (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); UNIT MANAGER C. SHACKS (first name unknown, believed to be an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons); JOHN DOES 1-30, Metropolitan Detention Center Corrections Officers, “John Doe” being fictional first and last names, intended to be the corrections officers at the Metropolitan Detention Center who abused the plaintiffs and violated their rights, and whose identities are known to the defendants but at this time unknown to the plaintiffs; JOHN ROES 1-30, Federal Bureau of Investigation and/or Immigration and Naturalization Service Agents, “John Roe” being fictional first and last names, intended to be the corrections officers at the Metropolitan Detention Center who abused the plaintiffs and violated their rights, and whose identities are known to the defendants but at this time unknown to the plaintiffs.
A number of interesting facts are stated in the Israelis’ complaint. It states that some of the Israelis were classified as being “of high interest” to the government’s terrorism investigation, “Witness Security” and/or “Management Interest Group 155.” They were “housed in one of the most highly restrictive prison settings possible, the Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (“ADMAX SHU”) of the Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”).” The government was also interested in the Israelis’ possessions. The complaint states the government “confiscated personal identification, money, and valuable personal items” from the Israelis. In addition, the government searched the homes of the Israelis and confiscated additional personal items.
One intriguing complaint was that the U.S. government detained the Israelis precisely because they were Jewish Israelis. The court filing states: “Defendants and others have also engaged in racial, religious, ethnic, and/or national origin profiling. Plaintiffs’ race, religion, ethnicity, and/or national origin played a determinative role in Defendants’ decision to detain them initially, to subject them to a blanket non-bond policy, to subject them to punishing and dangerous conditions of confinement, and then to keep them detained beyond the point at which removal or voluntary departure could have been effectuated . . .”
Silvan Kurzberg was required to provide a blood sample while in prison, an indication that federal authorities may have had some DNA evidence they wanted to match. At the time of their arrest, all the Israelis had plane tickets back to Israel. When they were first detained, the Israelis were not permitted to meet with a Rabbi. Later access to a Rabbi was granted under “severely limited” circumstances. Prayer books and a bible given to the Israelis by the Rabbi were inspected by prison guards. During their first two weeks of detention, the FBI prohibited the Israeli Consul in New York from meeting with the Israelis.
One of the most astounding claims of the Israelis was that the FBI, Bureau of Prisons, and Immigration and Naturalization Service did not umderstand the difference between Arab Muslims and Jewish Israelis. The complaint states: “The plaintiffs are Jewish Israelis, not Moslems, but due to the similarity of language and the geographical location of Israel in the Middle East, and the ignorance or lack of understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the fact that Israel is an ally of the United States, the defendants mentally placed the plaintiffs in the same category as Moslems, and discriminated against them the same way.”
At around noon on September 12, 2001, Roy Barak, a former Israeli paratrooper, and Motti Butbul, both employed by Urban Moving Systems as drivers, were stopped by police near York, Pennsylvania. They were en route from Chicago to New York City. Police discovered Barak had an expired visa and Butbul had no work permit. FBI agents were soon on the scene and grew suspicious when a box cutter was found inside the truck. The FBI polygraphed Barak and showed him a picture of his five colleagues arrested in New Jersey and asked him why they were smiling. Barak responded that they were not smiling. The FBI thought Barak was a possible terrorist and a Mossad spy. The FBI was particularly interested if someone sent Barak to the United States and if, at the time, he held a security clearance in the Israeli army. Barak spent his second week in solitary confinement without a television, radio, or any books.
Vince Cannistraro, the former operations chief for counter-terrorism for the CIA, said that a search of the CIA’s national intelligence database turned up some of the names of Israelis arrested in New Jersey. He said a number of people in the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Urban Moving was a Mossad operation and the Israelis were pursuing Islamist radicals in the New Jersey-New York area and particularly in Patterson, New Jersey. Pauline Stepkovich, who lived across the street from Urban Moving, told ABC News that FBI agents removed about a dozen boxes and computers, enough to fill up two SUVs. Cannistraro told ABC News that the FBI was concerned that the Israeli movers had some advanced knowledge of the 911 attacks but failed to warn the United States. “The fear of some of the FBI investigators in this particular case was that this group had some advanced knowledge of what was going to happen on 911. And once they understood there was an Israeli connection--an Israeli intelligence connection--they became very disturbed, because the implication was that the Israelis may have had some advanced knowledge of the events of 911 and hadn’t told us,” Cannistraro said. Israeli intelligence foreknowledge about the 911 attacks was confirmed by two senior-level intelligence officials at the CIA and FBI.
In Washington, Israeli embassy spokesman, Mark Regev, dismissed the espionage charges, claiming the excitement of the Israelis seeing the World Trade Center collapse was due to “youthful foolishness.” A lawyer for one of the Israelis said his client denied celebrating the terrorist attack on the Trade Center, however, after the FBI developed their film it clearly showed three of the Israelis on top of the van “smiling and clowning around” with the buildings burning in the background. The evidence bolstered what Maria and Pat told the police and proved that the Israelis lied to the police when they claimed they were in Manhattan during the attack.
The Jewish weekly newspaper, The Forward, reported that a top U.S. government official told it, “The assessment was that Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad and operatives employed by it… the conclusion of the FBI was that they were spying on local Arabs.” ABC 20/20 host Barbara Walters commented on how the story of the Israeli movers was received in the Arab world, “The story is that Israel knew more than it would like to admit about the terrorist attack in this country. It's a rumor, but in some Arab countries--including Saudi Arabia, which I visited earlier this year--even educated people told me that they believe it is absolutely true.”
Perhaps the young Israelis were only mirroring the feelings of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who when asked how the 911 attacks would affect U.S.-Israeli relations, said, “It’s very good… Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy for Israel from Americans.” Bergen County Police Chief John Schmidig was not as serene. He said, “We got an alert to be on the lookout for a white Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration and writing on the side. Three individuals were seen celebrating in Liberty State Park after the impact. They said three people were jumping up and down.”
It is no coincidence that both Fox News and KHOU-TV had to pull down their web stories on the Israeli art students (based on the exposés in Intelligence Online and Le Monde, Fox began referring to its original December 2001 story on its web site). According to a number of Washington journalists, any time an article critical of Israel appears in the U.S. press, reporters and editors can expect to hear from a Boston-based group called the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America or “CAMERA.” The Kafkaesque group makes no secret of its aggressive intimidation methods. Its web site states: “CAMERA systematically monitors, documents, reviews and archives Middle East coverage. Staffers directly contact journalists and publishers concerning distorted or inaccurate coverage… CAMERA members are encouraged to write letters both to the publication or network, and to the sponsors or advertisers… If corrections and improved coverage are not forthcoming, we publicize the faulty reporting and the journalist’s refusal to admit error.”
As an example, CAMERA cited a Washington Post story that refuted the legitimacy of the DEA’s investigation and report on the Israeli art students. The story by reporters John Mintz and Dan Eggen questioned the motive behind the DEA’s report by claiming, without offering any proof, that the agent who wrote it was disgruntled. Moreover, there was more than one author of the report. Apparently, CAMERA’s “fact checkers” were only interested in checking out stories with which they disagreed or found embarrassing.
Neither the Washington Post or CAMERA seemed all that much interested in a warning about the Israeli “art students” and their “aggressive” visits to the offices and homes of U.S. federal agents that was circulated in March, 2001 by the White House Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive. The warning stated:
“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.
Federal police officers have arrested two of these individuals for trespassing and discovered that the suspects possessed counterfeit work visasand green cards. These individuals have also gone to the private residences of senior federal officials under the guise of selling art.”
The nature of reporting on Israeli espionage in the United States can result in sources drying up rapidly. In the case of the DEA, the spokesman who originally confirmed the veracity and validity of the DEA Report was suddenly sent away on “vacation.” Other DEA agents and employees of other Justice Department agencies began to seal their lips. Attorney General John Ashcroft refused on two occasions to comment on the DEA investigation. Congress was also unwilling to look into the matter. Asked why, a senior congressional staffer replied, “You’ve got to be kidding… This is an election year!” He was referring to the 2002 congressional elections.
Ashcroft was portrayed as “disinterested” in counterterrorism during the summer of 2001, according to internal FBI memos written by Acting Director of the FBI Thomas Pickard. Ashcroft’s “disinterest” in terrorism did not affect his looking out for his own safety. At the end of July 2001, Ashcroft broke with precedence and flew in a private G-3 Gulfstream to go on a fishing trip to Missouri. Ashcroft had previously flown on commercial planes. When asked why Ashcroft did not fly commercial, the Justice Department said that because of a “threat assessment” by the FBI, Ashcroft would “travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.” Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it. However, the FBI security detail for Ashcroft determined that the threat was critical enough for Ashcroft not to fly on commercial aircraft.
The FBI ignored both the warnings about Israeli art students and Arab hijackers. The two groups’ paths crossed in a number of U.S. cities in 2000.
After the DEA Report was leaked, I met with a journalist colleague who was also covering the art student story and had high level contacts within the Justice Department and FBI. During our meeting at the Navy Memorial just across the street from the National Archives, he summed up the problem: the cover-up went right to the top and the primary culprits were John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The Israelis were described in the DEA Report and other security advisories as being part of an “organized intelligence gathering activity.” According to the FBI list, the Arab terrorist and suspect cells lived in the same neighborhoods as the Israeli cells in Irving, Texas and Hollywood and Miami, Florida from Dec. 2000 to April 2001. In the case of Irving, the Israeli cell used a rental mailbox in a shopping center just one block away from an Arab suspect’s apartment. In Hollywood, the terrorists, including lead hijacker Mohammad Atta, the Egyptian who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, used a rental mailbox drop two blocks from an apartment rented by an Israeli “art student” team leader.
If the Israelis were stalking the hijackers, they would have also likely known about their interest in the World Trade Center. Speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC on March 22, 2004, William Rodriguez, the President of the Hispanic Victims Group and a 20-year veteran employee of the World Trade Center, revealed that he spotted Mohand Al-Shehri (alias Mohammed al Shehhi), one of the terrorist hijackers of United Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, two and a half months before September 11. Rodriguez said he saw Al-Shehri, a Saudi citizen, casing the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Rodriguez’s comments were part of the press conference partly organized by family members of 911 victims. The family members were calling for a full accounting by members of both the Clinton and Bush administrations about what they knew about the Al Qaeda threat to hijack planes prior to 911.
Rodriguez was a building manager for the World Trade Center and he held the master key for the North Tower. He was the last survivor pulled by rescue workers from the rubble of the building after it collapsed.
Rodriguez said Al-Shehri asked him how many public bathrooms were in the building and, in retrospect, Rodriguez believed the terrorist was looking for ways to place additional explosives in the building prior to the airplane attack. Rodriguez also said as he was climbing the stairs to help rescue people after American Airlines Flight 11 struck his building he heard heavy equipment being moved around on the 34th floor, which was closed and locked for renovation. In the chaos, Rodriguez did not have time to open the doors to the 34th floor to find out who was there but he believed there might have been additional explosives placed inside the building. Rodriguez also claimed that while assisting evacuees he heard non-aircraft-related explosions coming from floors below his location on the 33rd floor. The former chief economist for the Bush Labor Department, Morgan Reynolds, believed the Bush administration’s story about the World Trade Center collapse was “bogus.” Reynolds, who was the director of the Criminal Justice Center at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas and later professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, opined that “if demolition destroyed three steel skyscrapers [the Twin Towers and Building 7] at the World Trade Center on 9/11, then the case for an ‘inside job’ and a government attack on America would be compelling.” Reynolds added, “The government’s collapse theory is highly vulnerable on its own terms. Only professional demolition appears to account for the full range of facts associated with the collapse of the three buildings.”
Moreover, Rodriguez passed along several of his tips about pre-911 surveillance of the World Trade Center to the FBI but he said the agency never bothered to talk to him. However, according to the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief, the FBI was aware that suspected terrorists were conducting surveillance of buildings in New York. The White House revealed that prior to 911, the FBI interviewed two Yemenis it detained for taking photographs of buildings in Federal Plaza in New York City. The FBI released them after determining the Yemenis were “tourists.” Yemen is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and a number of Al Qaeda operatives hail from Yemen.
Of course, not everyone within the FBI was asleep at the wheel. Minneapolis Special Agent Coleen Rowley tried in vain to get a wiretap on Zacarias Moussaoui. Phoenix Special Agent Kenneth J. Williams reported flight training by Arab students connected to Bin Laden. John P. O’Neill, the FBI’s top counterterrorism agent, constantly raised the problem of Saudi support for Al Qaeda, only to be rebuffed, and eventually, hounded out of the bureau by his superiors.
The internal DEA report from June 2001 dealt with attempts by teams of Israeli “art students” to penetrate the security of various Federal buildings and offices throughout the United States. The DEA refused to officially comment on the report but a high-level source within the agency reports that it was the product of a larger investigation conducted jointly by a DEA and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Operational Task Force set up in 2000 specifically to investigate the Israelis.
A number of the art students, who claimed they were from either Bezalel University in Jerusalem or the University of Jerusalem, said they answered ads in Israeli newspapers but could not give details of the identities of their bosses when interviewed by Federal agents. A number of the male and female art students, who were mainly in their early to mid 20s, had recently served in Israeli military and intelligence service, according to the report. Their activities were concentrated during the February-March 2001 time frame. More important, there was no University of Jerusalem and Bezalel said it had no record of any of the students having ever been enrolled there.
The DEA compiled an extensive list of the Israeli art students as an appendix (Indexing Section) to its report [LNU means “last name unknown”]: