March 22, 2002

Leaked gov't report exposes Israeli spy ring

In the gray, matter-of-fact bureaucratese so typical of a government document, the leaked "Israeli Art Student Papers" – posted on yesterday – confirm what we have been saying in this space all along: that an underground apparatus of Israeli covert agents, centered in the southwestern US but extending nationwide, carried out extensive operations in the months prior to 9/11. Their targets were US government offices, including not only the Drug Enforcement Administration (as previously reported), but the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Protective Service, the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a host of state and federal courthouses and other buildings, as well as military bases. There is no longer any doubt about whether the spy ring existed. Now we are left with the nagging question: what was its purpose?


The leaked document – provided to us by the heroic John Sugg, of Creative Loafing (Atlanta) and the Weekly Planet (Tampa) -- 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. In this 60-odd page report, incident is piled on incident until, at a certain point, even the most mentally challenged reader -- even one who wants to give the Israelis the benefit of every doubt -- is forced to conclude that our friends, the Israelis, were up to no good: and, perhaps, far worse than that….


We are given, first, a broad overview of this covert operation, where the reader learns about:

  • The timeframe: these Israeli covert ops have been going on, we are told, "since at least the beginning of 2000," right up until the weeks before 9/11.
  • The geography: the operation extended from California to Florida, and, although concentrated in the southwest and Florida, included at least 40 states. According to the report:

"The Hollywood, Florida, area seems to be a central point for these individuals, with several having addresses in this area."

  • The personnel: a majority of Israeli agents intercepted and interrogated by US law enforcement agencies, including but not limited to the DEA, the INS, and the FBI, served in intelligence, electronic intercept, and explosive ordnance units of the Israeli army.


DEA Internal Security became aware of a systematic effort to bypass security at their various offices in January of 2001, and the next month an official Security Alert was issued, instructing agents to watch for and detain these "art students" as they tried to talk their way into the offices and homes of DEA personnel. Just how these "students" found the home addresses of a large number of government employees is what apparently shocked somnolent federal agencies into action.


By the end of March, 2001, several law enforcement agencies were on the lookout for these students of Israeli "art," and 13 were busted in Irving, Texas, on immigration charges, and detained. The detainees were interrogated, revealing that the two principals of the operation were Itay Simon and Michael Calmanovic (pp. 12-13, paragraphs 39-41). The former was identified as in charge of the overall operation by an unidentified Israeli, while the latter was tagged as the leader of the Texas operation. Calmanovic had rented a number of apartments at two apartment complexes, and the landlady at one of them said that the approximately 25 Israelis in five different apartments had hurriedly abandoned the place right after the first 13 were busted.


Calmanovic and Simon were tracked down to another apartment complex, Hidden Ridge Apartments, also in Irving, where they were interrupted in the process of making their escape (p. 15, paragraph 49). Simon told his interrogators that he "did ‘classified work for the Israeli army.’" According to the report, "Simon refused to answer questions about his military service" As for Calmanovic, he stated that he was a recently discharged "electronic intercept operator for the Israeli military" (p. 15, paragraph 50).


Both were arrested on immigration charges, and held on $50,000 bond. "This bond was immediately posted," the report says, but we are not told by whom. In another case of arrested "art students" of the Israeli persuasion, we are told who posted bail: one Ophir Baer, an employee of AMDOCS (p. 13, paragraph 42), an Israeli-based company that has a virtual monopoly on phone-billing in the US, and is mentioned prominently both by Carl Cameron of Fox News and Paul Rodriguez of Insight magazine in their respective exposés of Israeli penetration of US communications systems. The octopus, once rattled, began to surface….


Reading the leaked document is a strange experience. The cumulative effect of these dry-as-sand descriptions of incident after incident of attempted penetration of US government offices and officials’ homes is to instill, in the reader, an ominous sense of growing urgency. The plot-line, as it slowly develops, is clear by the time we get to page 17, paragraph 54: this section describes an encounter with yet more "discharged" Israeli special operations officers at Dallas Fort Worth airport, on their way to join their fellow "art students." One of them has a printed-out "read-me" file in his luggage with a reference to a file named "DEA Groups." Something tells me these are no ordinary "art students"…


According to the report, on March 23, 2001, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) issued a National Security Alert that described "the apparent attempts by Israeli nationals to learn about government personnel and office layouts." In St. Louis, they were caught "diagramming" the DEA building (p. 23, paragraph 71). At the Tampa District Office of the DEA, in March 2001, a group of these "students" were apprehended trying to enter a locked, unmarked office on the fifth floor of the building, which no ordinary member of the public would even realize is a DEA office. Included in the haul was one Hanan Serfaty, 24, who told his interrogators that he had served in the Israeli army between the ages of 18-21:

"When questioned as to what he did between the ages of 21-24, he refused to answer" (p. 27, paragraph 80).

An interesting guy, made even more fascinating by a number of documents in his possession: 51 deposit and withdrawal slips from various Florida banks, totaling $107,502 in deposits, and $86,000 in withdrawals. Pretty good money for a poor Israeli "art student" trying to sell enough paintings to get by.


One particularly telling incident took place on May 3, 2001. When Peer Segalovitz, 27, showed up at the DEA Orlando District Office, peddling his line about being an "Israeli art student," federal agents pounced on him, detaining and interrogating him for four hours. According to the report:

"[He] was untruthful about his reasoning to be in the US for approximately the first three hours. Segalovitz finally admitted that he was one of approximately 30 Israeli art students who are currently in Florida. [He] would not admit what their purpose was in Florida, but did state that they were not here for legitimate means" (p. 31, paragraph 96).

This innocent "art student" had been a platoon leader in the Israeli army; he and his men, Segalovitz told his interrogators, "specialized in demolition." He also begged the federal agents "not to divulge this information to Israel, because it would lead to his arrest in Israel." To add a real cloak-and-dagger note to this affair, a car that had been parked outside the Orlando office as Segalovitz was being interviewed "sped away" when approached.


Other highlights of this amazing document: the wife of a member of the DEA’s Office of Investigative Technology related an incident during which one of the "students" tried to gain entry into her home – no doubt, I am told, in order to plant a bugging device – and was shown "the photographs of the individuals who have been included in the Security Alert Bulletin." So we know that at this point – mid-March, 2001 -- the investigation was active and ongoing: an investigation that the US government now denies.


In Richmond, Virginia, one of the Israeli "students" tried to break into DEA District Office, and was apprehended. Tinker Air Force Base, in Oklahoma City, was also targeted: after an alert was issued, four spies were nabbed in the vicinity, and arrested. Volk Field Air National Guard Base, in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, saw an incursion by two young Israeli nationals, who were observed photographing the facilities and subsequently taken into custody. Both were asked if they had been involved in selling artwork in this country, and one, Gal Cantor,

"Became very up over this, and questioned [why] they were being asked about that…. Sgt. Kurt Moore of Volk Field stated that when asked about the art sales, Kantor’s whole demeanor changed, and he became uncooperative."

Yeah, I’ll just bet his demeanor changed: perhaps the color ran out of his face, as he realized the jig was up. Naturally, both "students" asked to telephone the Israeli embassy, no doubt to receive further orders. But what were their original orders?


To begin with, the primary mission of any spook is surveillance – and the persistent attempts to enter offices and residences of US government employees clearly point to an effort to plant bugging devices, as well as provide photographic and other intelligence on the physical layout of federal and military facilities. Another purpose, however, was more specific and limited to the peculiar circumstances of this particular operation, which, you’ll remember, took place in the months leading up to 9/11. As John Sugg points out in his excellent (and recently updated) article published in the Weekly Planet:

"Many of the apparent [Israeli] 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.

"For example, an address for the Sept. 11 hijacking leader, Mohammad Atta, is 3389 Sheridan St. in Hollywood, Fla., only a few blocks and a few hundred feet from the address of some of the Israelis, at 4220 Sheridan."


Let’s see: a nest of Israeli "ex"-special forces, electronic interception and explosives experts are holed up blocks away from Mohammed Atta and his fellow hijackers. Is it even credible that the former didn’t know about the existence of the latter? Certainly not. And, just as certainly, the Israelis – let’s just call them what they are: spies -- had the means at their disposal to not only detect the presence of Al Qaeda operatives, but to find out what they were up to. And that, my friends, is the very least we can surmise….


One striking fact stands out, and that is the large number of "art students" who were experts in the art of handling explosives. What were these guys doing during their stay in this country before it was so rudely interrupted by the feds – or, rather, what were they preparing to do?


When I first began reporting on this story, in November of last year, mine was a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Now, we have everyone from Jane’s Intelligence Digest to Le Monde horning in on the action. The release of the "’Israeli Art Student’ Papers" ensures that this story is not going to go away. But, amid all the voluminous details – incident reports strewn with names, license plate numbers, telephone numbers, and a bewildering array of personal and corporate interconnections -- what is this story about, anyway?


It is, in short, about complicity: some degree of Israeli complicity with Atta and his fellow monsters. At the very least, the mechanics of what is obviously a covert operation directed by Israel imply a certain degree of foreknowledge. At worst, the details of this complex and by-no-means completely uncovered spy ring may wind up pointing to active (albeit one-sided) Israeli collusion with the mass murderers of 9/11. While the first conclusion is a virtual certainty, the second is, admittedly, speculation. What’s scary is that such theorizing is not without a certain basis in fact.


Who was responsible for the horror of 9/11? That’s what this case is all about, and the question it raises is the one that was on everyone’s lips in the hours and days following the terrorist attacks. How could a small band of Arab terrorists have pulled off such a feat of coordination and organization without state aid: this had to be an act of state-sponsored terrorism. Yet none of the alleged links to Iraq, Iran, or any of the other the usual suspects panned out….


Meanwhile, news of the Israeli spy operation had been effectively – if temporarily – stifled, and so we were left with the theory that the hijackers had acted alone, patiently boring into American society and making their plans, which they carried out with deadly precision on the appointed day. This aura of ruthlessly efficient evil, single-minded and deadly, covered the hijackers with a kind of malevolent glory, and made them seem a formidable enemy against which the whole might of the US had to be mobilized. This set the stage for a perpetual "war on terrorism." But what if this air of mystery and power also covered up the trail of the other half of the terrorist conspiracy, coming from a quarter that no one in the West would ever suspect? What if….?


I include myself among the unsuspecting. My first reaction to statements coming from the Arab world that "the Zionists" were really behind the terrorist attacks was to dismiss them as authored by certifiable nutballs: I devoutly wished they would shut up. Little did I know, or want to know, that our best friend, valiant little Israel, was involved in any way, shape, or form. While a frequent critic of Israeli government policies, I am not hostile to Zionism per se, and my opinion of the current regime was never that low. It wasn’t until the end of November, when the first reports of detained Israelis began to be widely circulated, that I even suspected there was an Israeli angle.


As the story developed, however, one thing became all too clear: the Israelis could well have had foreknowledge of 9/11, and, as Carl Cameron averred, failed to inform the US. With the publication of "the ‘Israeli Art Student’ Papers," however, we are faced with only two possible explanations:

  1. The Israelis knew, but didn’t tell us, and Cameron’s surmise is confirmed, or:
  2. The Israelis knew and did tell us, but the incompetence of the US government got in the way of effective preventive action.


Given what we now know, either explanation is possible. We won’t know for sure, of course, until a thorough investigation is undertaken. But that won’t happen until and unless the media takes up this story, and starts reporting it to the American people. Then and only then will Congress be moved, perhaps, to awaken from its post-9/11 trance and come to life, awakened, perhaps, by the prospect of political gain, or the suspicion that the wool is being pulled over their eyes – maybe both. Whatever the motive, the results of such an investigation can only lead to the shedding of more light on a very dark subject.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.