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Update: The spies who came in from the art sale 

Creative Loafing has obtained a report detailing alleged Israeli spy activity in the United States.

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The specific incidents are richly chronicled, down to names, drivers' license numbers, addresses and phone numbers of the Israelis.

Perhaps most intriguing, the Israelis' military and intelligence specialties are listed: "special forces," "intelligence officer," "demolition/explosive ordnance specialist," "bodyguard to head of Israeli army," "electronic intercept operator" -- even "son of a two-star (Israeli) army general."

"The activities of these Israeli art students raised the suspicion of (the DEA's Office of Security Programs) and other field offices when attempts were made to circumvent the access control systems at DEA offices, and when these individuals began to solicit their paintings at the homes of DEA employees," the document states. "The nature of the individuals' conduct, combined with intelligence information and historical information regarding past incidents (involving Israelis leads the DEA) to believe the incidents may well be an organized intelligence gathering activity."

The document also links the Israelis to possible drug investigations. The report states: "DEA Orlando has developed the first drug nexus to this group. Telephone numbers obtained from an Israeli Art Student encountered at the Orlando (district office) have been linked to several ongoing DEA MDMA (Ecstasy) investigations in Florida, California, Texas, and New York."

Much of the Israeli activity, according to the report, centered on Florida. In addition to attempting to gain access to government installations, the document states that the Israelis approached many intelligence agents, prosecutors and federal marshals at their homes -- including one incident on Davis Islands.

In researching this story, the CL has learned of other encounters not included in the 60-page report. For example, a member of Congress from Georgia recounted to CL of being targeted by the art students on two occasions. A Tampa state court judge was also approached. Neither the member of Congress nor the judge wanted to be named.

In an era where CNN CEO Walter Issacson says it would be "perverse" to televise Afghan babies killed by U.S. bombs, it's not surprising some stories go unnoticed by a press that embraces "patriotism" by ignoring sacred cows.

One such sacred cow is what's happening in Israel and Palestine. Reporters know that to criticize Israel -- to point out, for example, that wanton killing of innocents is equally devilish, whether committed by Ariel Sharon's soldiers flying U.S.-made helicopters, or by a Hamas suicide bomber who pushes the button -- is to risk being called an anti-Semite. It's a tired canard meant to bludgeon debate into silence, but it's often effective.

Even with that background, however, it's a little hard to understand the media's avoidance of the spy story. In 1999, word began spreading among intelligence agencies about bands of Israeli "students" doing very strange things, such as popping up around federal buildings and military establishments marketing artwork.

According to CL intelligence sources, low-level alerts began being flashed around to offices of the FBI, DEA, federal prosecutors and others. By March 23, 2001, counterintelligence officials had issued a bulletin to be on the watch for Israelis masquerading as "art students." The alert stated that there was an "ongoing 'security threat' in the form of individuals who are purportedly 'Israeli National Art Students' that are targeting government offices selling 'artwork.'"

At the same time, American intelligence services were increasingly worried by the dominance of many highly sensitive areas of telecommunications by Israeli companies. Comverse Infosys (now called Verint) provides U.S. lawmen with computer equipment for wiretapping. Speculation is that "catch gates" in the system allowed listeners to be listened to. Software made by another Israeli outfit, Amdocs, provided extensive records of virtually all calls placed by the 25 largest U.S. telephone companies. The relationship of those companies to the detained Israelis is detailed in the 60-page document.

The DEA's intense interest in the case stems from its 1997 purchase of $25-million in interception equipment from Israeli companies, according to a March 14 report by Intelligence Online, a French Web-based service that first revealed the existence of the 60-page document.

"In assigning so many resources to the inquiry (all DEA offices were asked to contribute)," Intelligence Online stated. "The agency was clearly worried that its own systems might have been compromised."

Often the Israeli "students" sold their artwork on street locations near federal buildings. In Tampa on March 1, 2001, a DEA agent heard a knock on his office door. According to the government report: "At the door was a young female who immediately identified herself as an Israeli art student who had beautiful art to sell." Knowing about the security alert, the agent began questioning the "student." After several contradictory statements, the agent concluded "her responses were evasive at best."

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