May 10, 2002

– and the effort to derail it

This headline should set your alarm bells ringing: "Inquiry of Intelligence Failures Hits Obstacles." The effort to ferret out the truth from government officials is, predictably, like pulling teeth. But, in this case, the natural bureaucratic resistance to oversight is augmented by the reluctance of our legislators to probe too deeply. The much-vaunted congressional investigation of the 9/11 intelligence meltdown was defanged from the beginning, and merely provided a platform for CIA chief George Tenet to absolve himself and his agency of any responsibility, basically saying: Hey, it could've happened to anybody!


Although that has got to be one very unsurprising headline – gee, you mean US government employees are obstructing an investigation into their incompetence? – the implications are really much more ominous than a bunch of self-serving fools covering their own asses. For what it means is that we will never unravel the mystery surrounding the genesis of this perpetual "war on terrorism."

For the big question of the post-9/11 era has so far gone unanswered. After the expenditure of multi-billions of tax dollars for "anti-terrorist" programs, how is it that a terrorist network could exist in this country over a stretch of years – perhaps longer than five years – and remain completely unknown to US law enforcement and intelligence agencies? After all those "anti-terrorist task forces," studies, warnings, premonitions – remember the Great Terrorist Scare of New Year's 2000? – you mean to tell me they missed it completely?

Oh sure, there's that guff about the famous "20th hijacker," the pursuit of whom had them supposedly hot on the trail of Mohammed Atta & Co., but, tragically, too late. This detail merely underscores the criminal incompetence of the authorities, and points to the need for a thorough and public investigation. Some, however, say it wasn't incompetence, but something more ominous: deliberate criminal neglect…


The question of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack has been the subject of several unfortunate conspiracy theories – unfortunate in the sense that they discredit any real challenge to the "official" non-story. The most infamous is the one advanced by Representative Cynthia McKinney, who seems to believe that George W. Bush knew all about it in advance, and deliberately let 9/11 happen because "persons close to this administration are poised to make huge profits off America's new war." She offers no evidence for her claim, but, still, she insists, we need to have a congressional investigation in order to validate her ideological prejudices and kneejerk lefty mindset.

Everybody is using 9/11 to promote their own smelly little orthodoxies, as Orwell described the mindset of the ideologues of his time. Just as Bill Kristol and the neocons are using 9/11 to promote their program of war, and yet more war, the loony left is seizing the moment to demonstrate, to its own satisfaction if no one else's, that money is the root of all evil, and America – not just the government, but America – comes in a close second.


The neocons, naturally, are far more dangerous, because their hands are on the levers of power, or close enough. But the danger posed by McKinney is, in its way, worse, because it closes off the possibility of the public ever discovering the whole truth about 9/11. She is clearly not in possession of any proof for her fantastic and easily ridiculed charges, but then again, the zealot doesn't require all that much in the way of proof. There is a very thin line between political and religious ideology, especially at the extremes, and McKinney seems to exemplify the deforming effects of ideology on the human mind. But the truth can be blurted out unthinkingly and in passing by a madwoman as much as a seer. In an interview with a Berkeley radio station, she said something – a few sentences – that made sense:

"We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11th. . . . What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? . . . What do they have to hide?"

She is like an unguided missile, veering off opportunistically in several directions at once, but her scattershot technique manages to strike one real target – a direct hit obscured in the uproar over her other, admittedly outrageous remarks. She asks: "Who else knew…?"


Who else, indeed. Longtime readers of this column know that I have been pursuing, since November of last year, the question of whether a foreign intelligence agency renown for its ruthless efficiency had foreknowledge of 9/11. (Indeed, I have written so many columns on the subject that we've had to set up a separate page for them, along with ancillary material from outside sources.) Alerted to the implications of a story in the Washington Post about the arrest of 60 Israelis in the wake of 9/11, I was onto the Israeli-9/11 connection early – but I wasn't alone for long. You read about it here first even as the story was percolating over at Fox News.


Fox reporter Carl Cameron broke the stunning news in December, with a four-part series detailing an extensive Israeli covert action in the US months prior to the events of 9/11. His shocking report depicted what seemed to be an all-out intelligence offensive directed at US government offices and installations, including military bases. In the guise of "art students" promoting their "artwork" – cheap paintings and geegaws made in China – young Israelis with extensive experience in intelligence, explosives, and electronic interception approached government offices, including FBI stations with no identifying outward insignia, in what was clearly a massive and systematic attempt to gather crucial intelligence. In addition, as Cameron put it:

"There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks ,but investigators suspect that they Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are -quote – 'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, – quote – 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.'"

Supporters of Israel were horrified by this story, and Cameron and Fox were bombarded with criticism. The Israelis naturally denied it, and put out the line that this was yet another "urban myth" – a really ingenious way to discount an uncomfortably persistent truth. The great problem for the denialists, however, was that a lot of documents – government documents – were being fed to reporters. Cameron referred to:

"Numerous classified documents obtained by Fox News indicate that even prior to September 11,as many as 140 other Israelis had been detained or arrested in a secretive and sprawling investigation into suspected espionage by Israelis in the United States."

These documents turned out to be various drafts of a 60-page compendium of over 180 separate reports of attempted Israeli penetration of US government and defense facilities in the US, complete with the names of the apprehending US agents involved and the names, military indentification, and immigration information on the Israeli "art"-spooks. LeMonde broke the story in Europe, and the Online Intelligence news service published a useful map detailing the strange congruence of two underground networks in the US, operating seemingly side-by-side, one affiliated with Al Qaeda and the other the other with the Mossad. Both Online Intelligence and John Sugg of Creative Loafing, the Southern "alternative" newspaper chain, reported that one branch of the Israeli spy coven operated out of 4220 Sheridan Street, in Hollywood, Florida, while Mohammed Atta and his suicide squad lived down the block at 3389 Sheridan Street. Florida, the scene of the hijackers' training program, was apparently the center of Israel's cozy little spy nest: more than a third of the alleged "art students" arrested and subsequently deported were based in Florida.


The story took off, for a while, but then the furor died down. The US government was stonewalling, and journalists working on the story, including Cameron, reported a lot of pressure to lay off. And we haven't heard a word about it, lately, until now. Surprisingly, at this late date, Salon has finally stumbled on the story, and finds it… inexplicable.

The theme of the piece, by one Christopher Ketcham, is that the whole thing is a "mystery" not easily unraveled, and the author floats several contradictory theories of just what's behind it all. But aside from contributing nothing original except obfuscation, Ketcham's depiction of how the story unfolded explains much about why our crusading journalists failed to stumble on it until months after others had broken the news:

"Despite such obvious holes in the official story, neither the Post nor any other mainstream media organization ran follow-up articles. The New York Times has not yet deemed it worth covering – in fact, the paper of record has not written about the art student mystery even once, not even to pooh-pooh it. One or two minor media players did some braying – Israel had been caught spying, etc. – and the bonko conspiracy fringe had a field day, but the rest of the media, taking a cue from the big boys, decided it was a nonstarter: the Post's "debunking" and the Times' silence had effectively killed the story."

I'll leave it to you to separate the "minor media players" from the "bonko conspiracy fringe," but, coming from Salon, this is a jibe worth less than a share of their stock. And now Salon is having a field day with this story: does that make them part of the Bonko Conspiracy Fringe?

Gee, it makes me wonder: what was David Talbot's fat-assed overpaid staff doing in those fancy downtown San Francisco offices while our little operation was reporting the story of the century? Not-a-lotta, by any account: that, at least, was the verdict of the markets, and their bloated staff has since been slimmed down to near anorexic proportions. So, now a leaner, meaner Salon is – finally! – catching on to a big story, all the while – typically – denigrating those who had it first. Well, uh, not exactly….


The great bulk of Ketcham's piece is devoted to reiterating what others have written and reported, often without attribution or acknowledging the source. But Ketcham does introduce a new element, one that seems to reduce the whole thing to some sort of cheap spy thriller. Indeed, Ketcham explicitly compares the Israeli "art student" mystery to a novel by Tom Clancy, and, furthermore, introduces a character with all the earmarks of a fictional device – and yet we are expected to accept it as fact.

According to Ketcham, as he was working on his piece he was contacted by a government agent of some unspecified sort who goes by the "codename" "Stability," and who poured out his heart to our intrepid reporter.

Yeah – right!

Ketcham writes:

"The extreme sensitivity of the Israeli art student story in government circles was made clear to this reporter when, in the midst of my inquiries at DEA and elsewhere, I was told by a source that some unknown party had checked my records and background. He proved it by mentioning a job I had briefly held many years ago that virtually no one outside my family knew about. Shortly after this, I received a call from an individual who identified himself only by the code name Stability. Stability said he was referred to me from 'someone in Washington.' That someone turned out to be a veteran D.C. correspondent who has close sources in the CIA and the FBI and who verified that Stability was a high-level intelligence agent who had been following the art student matter from the inside."

How could someone fall for this transparent ruse? After all, it doesn't take a James Angleton to figure out that this guy's story is nonsensical. Any half-decent private investigator could easily follow the trail of Ketcham's employment history. So, what gives?


Ketcham tells us that, although "guarded" at first, "Stability" became more voluble, and was soon babbling about "patriots" who "have taken a lot of heat on this." Our mystery man gives his story a melodramatic twist by adding: "Typically, patriots are dead." Ketcham's tall tale has everything but spooky music in the background, adding to the general air of incredulity.

The government, says "Stability," is retaliating against DEA agents and others responsible for leaking the Israeli spy memo: "Half a dozen agents have been polygraphed several times over, computers have been seized, desks have been searched." According to Ketcham's source, the existence of an Israeli covert operation prior to the horrific events of 9/11 is "indisputable." Ah, "but to what end?" asks Ketcham. "What was the value? What was to be gained?" "Stability" has no answer:

"'Unknown, unknown,' Stability said. 'You could be anywhere from D.C. to daylight on that one. Even on our side, you have to take all the stuff and draw it all out and clean out all the chaff. I will tell you that from those who are working ground zero [of this case], it is a difficult puzzle to put together, and it is not complete by any means.' Even the spooks are baffled; they have no answers."


Ketcham then lists four possible scenarios,

1) It was a drug operation, since the bulk of the effort seemed to be directed at penetrating the DEA. Although Ketcham seems to be disdaining this possibility, his method of doing so is curious indeed. He lists a panoply of perfectly credible motivations for a drug gang to pull off such an operation:

"In the annals of crime chutzpah, for drug dealers to brazenly approach drug agents in their homes and offices may represent the all-time world record. And what conceivable useful intelligence could they gather that would be worth the risk? Were the tee-heeing tight-sweatered Israeli babes pulling some kind of Mata Hari stunt, seducing paunchy middle-aged DEA boys and beguiling them into loose-lipped info sharing?"

Sounds perfectly plausible to me, except for a few things not mentioned by Ketcham. For example: why would a drug gang be interested in monitoring military facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base? And why is the possibility of an alliance of Israeli intelligence and the Israeli Mafia in this country never broached? Intelligence agencies often deal with people whose moral sense is not highly developed, and certainly this can't be ruled out in the case of the Mossad, which is well-known for its unscrupulous methods.

2) They really were art students. This is dismissed as unlikely, considering that the "art schools" they claimed to be from either did not exist, or else had no record of their attendance.

3) It was espionage – but "this doesn't make much sense," according to Ketcham. Why, after all, would the Mossad go barging into US government offices and sensitive defense facilities in such an obvious way?

4) It was a covert operation designed to throw off our own intelligence agencies: This appears to answer the above question. If the operation was conspicuous, then that was the whole point. "Stability" pontificates:

"It was a noisy operation. Did you ever see '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. …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?"

Oh, now we're entering "truly dark territory," warns Ketcham. But what's so dark about it? This is never explained. Instead, we are told that Stability's theory "has major problems," yet we are asked to "roll with it for a moment." Ketcham writes:

"According to this theory – Stability's "Victor/Victoria" scenario – Israeli agents wanted, let's say, to monitor al-Qaida members in Florida and other states. But they feared detection. So to provide cover, and also to create a dizzyingly Byzantine story that would confuse the situation, Israeli intel flooded areas of real operations with these bumbling "art students" – who were told to deliberately stake out DEA agents."

"… I nudged Stability on the obvious implication of the 'Victor/Victoria' scenario: If this was a ruse, a decoy to conceal another operation, what was that other operation? 'Unknown,' Stability said."

Unknown? Give me a break! Ketcham never states any definitive conclusion, yet leaves the door open for the worst, and that is the whole point of this article. Early on, the author relates how "Stability" tells him that people in the intelligence community believe Ketcham is being "used." Well, he's being used alright, but, the question is, by whom?


Ketcham doesn't connect the dots, fully expecting that others will – in a way that will completely discredit them, and divert us away from the real story. He has left the door open for nutball anti-Semites to barge through, declaring that, at last, here is proof the "Jewish conspiracy" was really behind the horrific events of 9/11. It wasn't Al Qaeda – these wackos will cry – who drove those planes into the World Trade Center, it was the Mossad! The available evidence supports no such conclusion, but that won't stop the purveyors of this theory, who are motivated by ideology – i.e. a form of religion – and could care less about the facts. And, of course, that suits the Israelis just fine….


Spreading such an improbable story – and in a respectable rag like Salon! – can have only one purpose: to discredit the real story, which is not too far removed from this lie. For what Cameron, and others, including myself, have always maintained is not that the Israelis were responsible for 9/11 in the sense that they directly aided and abetted the terrorists, but that they were watching the conspirators and were in a position to have had foreknowledge.

By overstating the case, "Stability" and Ketcham cast a dubious air over the story even as they purport to reveal its vast dimensions and ominous implications. Let's apply the "Victor/Victoria" scenario to Ketcham's own work. Ask yourself what is the purpose of telling us the following:

"I asked Stability how hotly the matter was now being pursued in intel and law enforcement. 'Depends on who you speak to,' he told me. 'Some people say that it's a dead issue, a fantasy. Most of the investigations are happening at an ad hoc level. There are people out there that you couldn't sway off some of the cases, because that's how dedicated they are.'"

Dedicated, yes, one might even say fanatical. Oh, and they're "ad hoc," doing this on their own: free-lance conspiracy theorists, in other words, real whack-jobs who've gone off the deep end. Ketcham couldn't have done a better job of discrediting them if he'd come out openly deriding them.


Intriguingly, we are told that that "the subject may not be officially dead yet. The art student matter may be taken up by the congressional committees investigating intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to another source."

Like h*ll. The same congress that overwhelmingly voted to support Israel unconditionally as Sharon bulldozed the Palestinians into the blood-soaked earth is not about to investigate or even acknowledge this explosive story. Period.

"Stability," if he exists – and I'm giving Ketcham the benefit of a doubt in assuming this to be true – is certainly doing his damnedest to divert our gaze and obscure the truth about the Israeli connection to 9/11. The Salon piece is nothing but an incitement aimed at anti-Semites, who will do the work of those who want this story discredited.

So, "Stability" is "a high-level intelligence agent," eh? For which country?

The answer to this question should be clear enough to anyone who has been following this story, or takes the time to think about its implications. For if and when the Israeli underground in the US is flushed out into the open, what will this burgeoning spy scandal say about the US government and its own law enforcement and intelligence apparatus? If even half of what Fox News revealed about the Mossad's pre-9/11 operation turns out to be true, the cover-up alone is enough to sink this administration: it implies, at least, a tragi-comic incompetence – and, at worst, outright treason on the part of some sections of our own government.


With the President butting heads with Ariel Sharon, and the US-Israeli conflict of interest now coming out into the open, perhaps this is payback time for George W. Bush. Perhaps the Israelis themselves are leaking the story, acknowledging that the broad outlines of the "Israeli art student" story are true, while downplaying or obscuring its real purpose – and damaging Bush politically in the process.

For now is the time for the above-ground Israeli agents, both paid and volunteer, to go into action against a White House that has suddenly seemed to turn on Israel. A political offensive is now being launched by Israel's partisans in this country to reverse the President's Middle East policy, which they (rightly) see as hostile, and it is all-too-appropriate that Salon, which has always served as a house organ of the Democratic party's Clintonian wing, should be the instrument of their retaliation.


I am told that an informal network of journalists has developed over this story, and, via the grapevine, I hear that the interest of the big media in this story persists. Pat Buchanan predicted a few weeks ago on The McLaughlin Group that the Israeli spy story was about to blow, and he may be right. The Salon story could be a pre-emptive strike: if the facts are coming out anyway, better to see their distorted reflection in the Mossad's fun-house mirror.

At one point, "Stability" exhorts Ketcham to imagine that "Almost nothing is wrong in this particular instance, Mr. Ketcham. In this particular situation, right is wrong, left is right, up is down, day is night." Goodness gracious, I feel dizzy now, and my head is spinning – so can we please forget this Israeli spy mystery stuff and start bombing Iraq already?

It's the story of the century, and still the "major" media – with one exception – have failed to seriously investigate it beyond soliciting the bland denials of government officials, who write it off as an "urban myth." "Stability" says that this debunking article, published in the Washington Post, was "a plant" – yeah, but who planted it? "Stability" blames the FBI. But, hey, wait a minute – not so fast. The Israelis seem like a more logical candidate, given their strong interest in this matter. That they are now in a position to deny the veracity of the lie they spread to begin with should surprise no one familiar with the art of "black propaganda." Remember the official motto of the Mossad – "By way of deception, thou shalt do war." With this latest development in the ongoing saga of the Israeli "art students" spy scandal, they are certainly living up to it.

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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.