June 24, 2002

Israeli spies cheer as WTC burns – not that there's anything wrong with that, says Barbara Walters

It was eerie to actually see the scene of a story I have written about on more than one occasion, to see and hear the people I had only read about and, vaguely, imagined. On Friday night, the ABC News program 20/20 broadcast "The White Van," which told the story of 5 young Israeli men apprehended in New Jersey hours after the World Trade Center was hit. They had been observed on 9/11 watching the burning of the World Trade Center from their vantage point in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, photographing each other as they rejoiced against the backdrop of the WTC aflame in the distance. Writing on March 15, I envisioned the scene, described in news stories and conjured in my mind's eye:

"As smoke billowed up into the pellucid sky, obscuring the sun, they laughed and joked and took pictures of each other against a backdrop of unspeakable horror. Outraged witnesses called the cops, who swooped down and picked them up. These Middle Eastern-looking men,' as witnesses described them, turned out to be Israelis: they were found with box cutters in their van, $4,000 in cash, and multiple passports. The van was registered as the property of 'Urban Moving Systems.' Police interrogated them for hours, and transferred them to a maximum security facility. A raid on the Urban Moving Systems warehouse (whose owner, Dominik Suter, has since fled to Israel) yielded computers, documents, and other evidence – of what?"

That's why a shiver of deja-vu passed through me as I watched the 20/20 news report. Listening to the New Jersey housewife who spotted the cheering Israelis from her highrise apartment, watching the baffled look on her face as she described the young Israelis:

"They were like happy, you know … They didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange,"

It was like seeing a made-for-tv movie adaptation of a novel I'd read many times. Familiar but strangely truncated in certain key areas, abbreviated to conform to the supposedly short attention span of its audience, and, in true Hollywood style, not only bowdlerized but completely vulgarized. The result is a fairly interesting story studded with nuggets of new information, and saddled with a tacked-on – indeed, downright counterintuitive – moral at the end, as intoned by Baba Wawa:

"I hope we've put all these woomers to west."

Much of the ABC report confirms my basic contention, and the contention of many others, that there was indeed, as Fox News reporter Carl Cameron puts it, a "vast Israeli spy operation" in the US in full operational mode prior to 9/11, engaged in watching the pro-Arab support network that operates in many major American cities.

What the 20/20 report amounts to is the Israelis' second line of defense, which basically boils down to this: well, yeah, they were Israeli spies, but they were just here defending Israel's interests and had no pre-knowledge of 9/11. In the process of spinning this new rationale, however, we have a series of damning admissions, as spun by ABC terrorism "expert" Vince Cannistraro, a "former chief of operations for counterterrorism with the CIA."

The arrested men's names were found in a search of a national intelligence database. We are also told by Cannistraro – as if we don't already know – that Urban Moving Systems was probably a Mossad front. Duh-uh! Gee, I guess that's why, shortly after the cops raided their New Jersey office, the Urban Movers got a move on, with owner Dominick Suter fleeing the country. The purpose of this spy nest, we are told in a reassuring tone, was

"Launching an intelligence operation against radical Islamists in the area, particularly in the New Jersey-New York area."

20/20 runs this "sure they were spies, but…" explanation up the flagpole in the hope that, awed by Cannistraro's "expertise" and connections, everyone will salute:

"Under this scenario, the alleged spying operation was not aimed against the United States, but at penetrating or monitoring radical fund-raising and support networks in Muslim communities like Paterson, N.J., which was one of the places where several of the hijackers lived in the months prior to Sept. 11."

The problem with this fallback story is that penetrating or monitoring New Jersey Muslims and having foreknowledge of 9/11 are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, such surveillance – to the degree it was successful – would have increased the likelihood that the Israelis would gain some knowledge of the 9/11 plot. If not all the details, at least a strong indication that 9/11 was bound to be a special day – one they would celebrate, shamelessly and carelessly, in full sight of others, unable to restrain their joy at the sight of the WTC emitting a black cloud over Manhattan.

A September 14 New York Times round-up of the nationwide investigation into the terrorist attacks seemed to imply not just foreknowledge, in the case of the 5 Israelis, but some form of collaboration:

"In New Jersey, where officials believe that the hijackers received assistance from accomplices, Sherri Evanina, a spokeswoman for the FBI. in Newark, said that five men were detained late Tuesday after the van in which they were driving was stopped on Route 3 in East Rutherford. She said witnesses had reported seeing the men celebrating the attack on the World Trade Center earlier in the day in Union City. 'They were seen leaving the location after they were celebrating,' Agent Evanina said. 'They were watching the entire event from their location.'"

If the best comedy is unintentional, then "The White Van" is chock full of yucks. The following had me rolling on the floor:

"For the FBI, deciphering the truth from the five Israelis proved to be difficult. One of them, Paul Kurzberg, refused to take a lie-detector test for 10 weeks — then failed it, according to his awyer. Another of his lawyers told us Kurzberg had been reluctant to take the test because he had once worked for Israeli intelligence in another country."

For the FBI, it seems, deciphering anything that isn't completely spelled out for them is well nigh impossible. So he wouldn't take the test for weeks, then took it and failed and then denied working for the Mossad – in this country, at any rate. As John Stossel, Barbara Walters' 20/20 colleague, ceaselessly reiterates: "Gimme a break!"

Why, in this case, is it so hard for the FBI to discover the truth – when they're being practically hit over the head with it? It's pathetic, really, to contemplate the utter cluelessness of our chief federal law enforcement agency, and the reporters who take their denials seriously. As 20/20 reports:

"Despite the denials, sources tell ABC News there is still debate within the FBI over whether or not the young men were spies."

No wonder Mohamed Atta and his fellow ghouls managed to sidestep our Keystone Kops so easily. If these jokers are still "debating" the obvious, then our government officials are right when they tell us that another massive terrorist attack is "inevitable." With these retards on guard duty, I'm surprised it hasn't happened already.

Our tone-deaf 20/20 reporter, John Miller, blathers on, oddly oblivious to the jarring effect of a conclusion that seems to contradict much of what came before. Okay, so "many U.S. government officials" concede the Urban Movers were Mossad spies, in the area on a specific mission, but don't worry, folks, because the FBI is telling us "To date, this investigation has not identified anybody who in this country had pre-knowledge of the events of 9/11." Note the curiously tentative nature of this disclaimer: to date, indeed….

The 20/20 technique is merely to drag Cannistraro out, who references mysterious "sources" to conclude that those lost little Israelis were just having some good clean fun that day, protecting Israel against terrorism (in New Jersey!):

"The investigation, at the end of the day, after all the polygraphs, all of the field work, all the cross-checking, the intelligence work, concluded that they probably did not have advance knowledge of 9/11."

Move along. Nothing to see here. Take it from me, the Expert. After all, would I lie to you?

The tale of the White Van, as told by 20/20, raises more questions than it settles. For what about those polygraphs? We are told that some of the Israeli detainees "were given as many as seven lie-detector tests." Why so many? The five were detained for over two months, 40 days of it in solitary confinement, time and opportunity enough for an awful lot of questions. Perhaps some of the answers contain a clue to help unravel the central unsolved mystery of 9/11, which is this:

How in Gehenna did a rag-tag bunch of Islamist nutballs, who were hoping to finance their terrorist plot with a US government loan, manage to pull off the biggest, deadliest, most spectacularly coordinated act of super-sabotage in modern history – without state support, all on their own?

The recent revelations by ex-FBI wiretap translator Sibel Edmonds of an unnamed "Middle Eastern country" with agents inside the FBI obstructing, mistranslating, and misdirecting official investigations make the question of "foreknowledge," "pre-knowledge," or whatever you want to call it moot. As I pointed out in my last column, the Edmonds allegations raise the ante considerably, from passive foreknowledge of 9/11 to the sinister possibility of Israel's active facilitation. As Edmonds wrote in a March letter to the inspector general's office:

"Investigations are being compromised. Incorrect or misleading translations are being sent to agents in the field. Translations are being blocked and circumvented."

It will take more than Baba Wawa and her babbling yes-man to circumvent the facts and "spin" the Israelis out of this one. For what 20/20 conveniently left out was the entire context of the larger Israeli spy story, as uncovered by Carl Cameron in his 4-part series on Fox News, and since widely discussed both here and abroad.

We are supposed to look at five guys in a van, dancing for joy in the shadow of the burning WTC, in isolation, apart from the hundreds of Israeli "art students" who took such an ardent interest in entering government buildings in the months and weeks prior to 9/11.

Most absurdly, we are supposed to ignore a Federal Bureau of Investigation riddled with spies who owe their allegiance to a certain "Middle Eastern" country with an interest in compromising investigations, circulating misleading translations of wiretaps, and blocking what can't be botched. If all that is true today, then it was even truer prior to 9/11 – and now are you beginning to solve the central mystery of 9/11?

The intrepid reporters over at 20/20 look like they went to a lot of trouble to check out this story. They tracked down one of the original witnesses, went all the way to Israel to hear the young Israelis' denials, and hauled out ABC's highly-paid pet "expert" to spin away the obvious. But, somehow, they failed to do the elementary sort of research that would've mandated only a trip to their local library. There they might have read this astonishing story that appeared in the [September 12, 2001] Bergen Record, which describes the 5 Israeli detainees picked up 8 hours after the WTC attack as "carrying maps linking them to the blasts":

"[S]ources close to the investigation said they found other evidence linking the men to the bombing plot. 'There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted,' the source said. 'It looked like they're hooked in with this. It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park.'"

Baba Wawa's whitewash won't wash. Those "woomers" are still circulating – and with good reason. We won't know what really happened that fateful day until and unless Congress takes seriously its responsibility to investigate. For starters, let's take a look at those highlighted maps – and then drag the rest of Israel's spy operation out into the full light of day. Then and only then can we answer an increasingly important question about the background to 9/11: What did the Israelis know – and how did they know it?

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. 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.