(Cont'd) What Did Israel Know in Advance of the 9/11 AttackThu Mar 8, 2007 16:16By CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM
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 ". 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 wrong-doing.)
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 was".
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/
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