of the strangest American stories after September 11 is that of an
Israeli spy ring posing as art students. It is peculiar not only as
the largest Israeli spy scandal in the USA,
but also in the way it is being hushed up in the media and by
March 2001, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
(NCIX), a branch of the CIA, issued a heads-up to federal employees
about "suspicious visitors to federal facilities." The
warning noted that "employees have observed both males and
females attempting to bypass facility security and enter federal
buildings." Federal agents, the warning stated, had
"arrested two of these individuals for trespassing and
discovered that the suspects possessed counterfeit work visas and
the wake of the NCIX bulletin, federal officials raised several
other red flags, including an Air Force alert, a Federal Protective
Services alert, an Office of National Drug Control Policy security
alert and a request that the Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS) investigate a specific case. Officials began dealing more
aggressively with the "art students." According to one
account, some 140 Israeli nationals were detained or arrested
between March 2001 and Sept. 11, 2001.
of them were deported. According to the INS, the deportations
resulted from violations of student visas that forbade the Israelis
from working in the United States.
the Sept. 11 attacks, many more young Israelis - 60, according to
one AP dispatch and other reports - were detained and deported.
some cases, the Israelis visited locations not known to the public -
areas without street addresses, for example, or DEA offices not
identified as such leading authorities to suspect that information
had been gathered from prior surveillance or perhaps electronically,
from credit cards and other sources. One Israeli was discovered
holding banking receipts for substantial sums of money, close to
$180,000 in withdrawals and deposits over a two-month period.
to the reports, young Israelis claiming to be art students and
offering artwork for sale had been attempting to penetrate DEA
offices for over a year.
Israelis had also attempted to penetrate the offices of other law
enforcement and Department of Defense agencies. Strangest of all,
the "students" had visited the homes of numerous DEA
officers and other senior federal officials.
of the mysterious Israelis with an inexplicable interest in peddling
art to G-men came in from more than 40 U.S. cities and continued
throughout the first six months of 2001. Agents of the DEA, ATF, Air
Force, Secret Service, FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service documented
some 130 separate incidents of "art student" encounters.
Some of the Israelis were observed diagramming the inside of federal
buildings. Some were found carrying photographs they had taken of
federal agents. One was discovered with a computer printout in his
luggage that referred to "DEA groups".
document detailing most of this information was an internal DEA
memo: a 60‑page report drawn up in June 2001 by the DEA's
Office of Security Programs. The document was meant only for the
eyes of senior officials at the Justice Department (of which the DEA
is adjunct), but it was leaked to the press as early as December
2001 and by mid‑March had been made widely available to the
are some examples of its contents:
March 1, 2001, a DEA special agent in the Tampa division offices
"responded to a knock at one of the fifth floor offices. At the
door was a young female who immediately identified herself as an
Israeli art student who had beautiful art to sell. She was carrying
a crudely made portfolio of unframed pictures." Aware of the
"art student" alert, the agent invited the girl to an
interview room, where he was joined by a colleague to listen to the
girl's presentation. "She had approximately 15 paintings of
different styles, some copies of famous works, and others similar in
style to famous artists. When asked hername, she identified herself
as Bella Pollcson, and pointed out one of the paintings was signed
by that name." Then things got interesting: In the middle of
her presentation, she changed her story and claimed that the
paintings were not for sale, but "that she was there to promote
an art show in Sarasota, Fla., and asked for the agents' business
cards so that information regarding the show could be mailed to
them." Well, where's the show? asked the agents. When's it
going up? Pollcson couldn't say: didn't know when or where - or even
who was running it. Later it was determined that she had lied about
her name as well.
Oct. 20, 2000, in the Houston offices of the DEA, a "male
Israeli art student was observed by the Security Officers [entering]
an elevator from a secure area. [The officers] were able to
apprehend the art student before he could enter a secure area on the
second floor." Three months later, in January 2001, a
"male Israeli" was apprehended attempting to enter the
same building from a back door in a "secured parking lot
area." He claimed "he wanted to gain access to the
building to sell artwork."
April 30, 2001, an Air Force alert was issued from Tinker Air Force
Base in Oklahoma City concerning "possible intelligence
collection being conducted by Israeli Art Students." Tinker AFB
houses AWACS surveillance craft and Stealth bombers. The report does
not elaborate on what kind of intelligence was being sought.
May 19, 2001, two Israeli nationals "requested permission to
visit a museum" at Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Camp
Douglas, Wis. "Approximately ten minutes after being allowed on
the base, the two were seen on an active runway, taking
photographs." The men, charged with misdemeanor trespass, were
identified as 26-year old Gal Kantor 8 and 22-year old Tsvi
Watermann, and were released after paying a $210 fine. According to
the Air Force security officer on duty, "Both were asked if
they were involved in the selling of art while in the U.S. Kantor
became very upset over this, and questioned why they were being
asked about that ... Kantor's whole demeanor changed, and he then
it went week after week, month after month, for more than a year and
a half. In addition to the locations mentioned above, there were
"art student" encounters in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver,
Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, New Orleans, Phoenix,
San Diego, Little Rock, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Texas,
Albuquerque, and dozens of other small cities and towns.
stories," the DEA report states, "were remarkable only in
their consistency. At first, they will state that they are art
students, either from the University of Jerusalem or the Bezalel
Academy of Arts in Jerusalem. Other times they will purport to be
promoting a new art studio in the area. When pressed for details as
to the location of the art studio or why they are selling the
paintings, they become evasive."
had reason to be nervous, because they were lying. None of the
students was registered at the Bezalel Academy of Arts, either as
current student or as a graduate of the past 10 years (nor had any
of the "students" tried to apply to Bezalel in the last
ten years). As for the University of Jerusalem, there is no such
entity. There is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but it is
commonly referred to as Hebrew University, not the University of
story first broke in the media when on 1st October 2001 Texas
newswoman Anna Werner, of KHOU-TV in Houston, told viewers about a
"curious pattern of behavior" by people with "Middle
Eastern looks" claiming to be Israeli art students.
"Government guards have found those
so-called students," reported Werner, "trying to get
into [secure federal facilities in Houston] in ways they're not
supposed to - through back doors and parking garages." Federal
agents, she said, were extremely "concerned." The
possibility was mentioned that such activity suggested a terrorist
organization "scouting out potential targets and ... looking
for targets that would be vulnerable."
Cameron of the Fox News Channel also investigated the art students
as a possible arm of Israeli espionage operations tracking al-Qaida
operatives in the United States, trailing al-Qaida members in the
weeks and months before September 11. He suggested that they may
have known about the preparations for the September 11 attacks but
failed to share this knowledge with U.S. intelligence. However, the
story did not attract the sort of attention one would normally
expect to be given to such explosive news suggesting a possible link
to the dramatic events which shook America at the time.
when the French publication Intelligence Online drew attention to
the events and its story was picked up by the French Daily Le Monde,
which claimed that a major Israeli spy ring orchestrated by the
Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had been operating in the United
States, did Reuters and other news agencies pick up the story. Le
Monde had unearthed a connection between some of the art students
and a former Israeli vice consul to the United States who had put
substantial resources at their disposal. Many of them also had a
background in Israeli military intelligence or electronics
surveillance; some had high ranking positions in the Israeli army.
The Washington Post, however, dismissed the story as a widespread
myth circulating for months but without substance.
is more, only after Cameron had broadcast his investigation, all
traces of his report transcripts, Web links, headlines disappeared
from the Foxnews.com archives. When Le Monde contacted Fox in March
for a copy of the original tapes, Fox News spokesmen said the
request posed a problem but would not elaborate; they now say the
request had never been made. Asked why the Cameron piece
disappeared, spokesman Robert Zimmerman said it had been moved to
the archives because of bandwidth restrictions, but when told that
it could not be found in the archives either, he replied: "I
don't know where it is."
a further twist, it has just been announced that Israeli "spy-phone"
company Comverse Infosys is now buying into the Instant Messaging
business through Odigo, the largest Instant Messaging company. Odigo
is the Israeli-owned company whose employees received a two-hour
advance warning to leave their offices on September 11.
the increased recruitment campaigns for the Israeli intelligence
service Mossad in the United States during the months prior to
September 11 (in fact there is an ongoing Mossad recruitment for
operatives with foreign languages like Arabic and Urdu), the most
benign explanation for the art students' saga may be that it has
been a training exercise for new recruits.
Party of Britain
|Date Published: June
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