The ‘Urban Myth’ Gambit

There is growing evidence that, prior to 9/11, a rather impressive Israeli spy network in the US went into overdrive and launched a concerted effort to penetrate US law enforcement and military facilities: a recent flurry of news stories on the subject provoked an angry reaction from Israel’s apologists, who are loudly and insistently denying it. The denialists range from the Justice Department, whose spokesperson derided the widely-reported story as “an urban myth,” to Daniel Pipes, the chief ideologue of anti-Arabism in the US, whose op ed for the New York Post this morning [March 11] is, er, rather odd…. DO YOU HAVE TO ASK?

To begin with, the title asks a question the obvious answer to which contradicts the article’s thesis: “An Israeli spy network in the United States?” After Jonathan Pollard’s arrest and imprisonment, is this a question that even needs to be asked? Only the terminally naïve believe that our wonderful allies don’t spy on us – and, in the case of the Israelis, you can bet they’re doing a good job of it.


The official response of the Israeli consulate to the allegations – “Israel does not spy on the United States of America” – must’ve provoked gales of bitter laughter from the federal prison in Butner, N.C., where Pollard is serving a life sentence, and yet Pipes expects us to believe just that. His piece merely reiterates the allegations without refuting them – and without acknowledging the accumulating body of evidence. A disparaging tone is enough, he apparently believes, to dispel the cloud of suspicion that has hung over Israel since the first stories about a massive round-up of Israelis in the US began to appear last year. “American journalists,” Pipes avers, “found not a shred of evidence to support the claim. More important, it met with wall-to-wall derision from the U.S. and Israeli governments.”

More important, that is, as far as Mr. Pipes is concerned. After all, governments don’t lie, especially about intelligence matters – right? Discounted by Pipes as legitimate evidence is a four-part series broadcast by Fox News last December that cited law enforcement sources – albeit anonymous – testifying to the existence of “a vast Israeli spy operation in the US.” Also discounted is Le Monde, France’s leading daily:

Le Monde‘s account – with its crazy-quilt of unsourced allegations, drive-by innuendoes, and incoherent obscurities, but no hard facts – is nonsense.”


Here are a few of the facts that Pipes cannot be bothered to mention:
  • that the US government’s National Counterintelligence Center put out an alert in March 2001 warning of persistent attempts by individuals identifying themselves as “art students” from Israel to penetrate US government facilities,
  • that as many as 200 were arrested in the months prior to and after 9/11,
  • that the majority of these were members of the Israeli army’s intelligence and counter-terrorism unit,
  • that some failed polygraph tests when asked if they were engaged in surveillance activities against the US,
  • and that fully one-third lived within shouting distance of Hollywood, Florida, the 9/11 hijackers’ base.


But none of the above will satisfy or even interest Pipes. He doesn’t deign to address any of these issues, and instead spends a lot of space changing the subject. He mentions Gary Sick’s “October surprise” allegations about Ronald Reagan, attacks CNN’s controversial “Valley of Death” documentary, and rattles on about authors Gordon Thomas and Victor Ostrovsky – none of which have anything to do with the charge that the Israelis, as Carl Cameron of Fox News put it, “may have gathered intelligence about the [9/11] attacks in advance, and not shared it.” When it comes to the issue of Israeli undercover activities in the US, that country’s legions of professional apologists automatically go into their “deny, deny, deny” mode, and smear anyone who dares to ask a few questions.


Certainly these people will be unimpressed by the latest revelations, detailed in an article written by Paul Rodriguez for Insight – a magazine published by the Washington Times, editorially a staunch supporter of Israel. For the rest of us, however, Rodriguez’s effort to get at the truth, regardless of politics, provides yet another fascinating window into the underground world of Israeli covert action in America. He provides us with a few more “hard facts” – hard enough so that Pipes and his compadres will soon have to come up with a better “spin” than the “urban myth” gambit.


Citing internal DEA documents and unnamed senior federal officials, Rodriguez basically confirms the thesis first pursued in this space [11/28/01], and also (a few weeks later) by Carl Cameron: that, starting last year, organized teams of young Israelis who described themselves as “art students” descended on federal facilities, including military bases, ostensibly selling their paintings, and aggressively seeking access – not only to public buildings, but to the private homes of senior officials. Rodriguez writes that the students “claimed to be from either the University of Jerusalem or the Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem.” However, an Associated Press account which otherwise pooh-poohs the whole affair as “murky” at best, and sprinkles the story liberally with denials from Abe Foxman and several government officials, nonetheless informs us that:

“Several of those questioned by investigators said they were students from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. But Pnina Calpen, spokeswoman for the Israeli school, said no one named in the report was a student there in the last 10 years.”


Although these earnest young artists were supposedly peddling their own art, “information has been received which indicates the art is actually produced in China,” Rodriguez says, citing the DEA’s summary of the investigation. A shady bunch, for sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re spies, fer chrissake – except that Rodriguez and Insight have gotten their hands on a nice little cache of government documents that blows the lid off the whole operation:

“One report, Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities, lists more than 180 documented-incident cases. Analysts tell Insight they appear to be attempts ‘to circumvent the access-control systems at DEA offices’ and to capture personal information about private lives of DEA law-enforcement officers, such as where they live, what cars they drive and how they behave outside of their official offices. This was concluded, in part, based on photographs made of U.S. law officers and other materials seized by a variety of federal and local law-enforcement officers during searches.”


Searches – of what, and whom? On September 14, New Jersey police moved in on Urban Moving Systems, and the residences of some of its employees, most of them Israelis. The raid was made in connection with the arrest of three men, all Israelis, eight hours after the World Trade Center was hit: they had been spotted cheering and jumping up and down in Liberty State Park as smoke from the burning WTC obscured the horizon. Witnesses reported them to the police, and identified their van with the logo of “Urban Moving Systems”: they were picked up on Route 3, in East Rutherford, and detained. In an apparent follow-up raid, a dozen plainclothes cops, accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs, entered the Urban Moving Systems warehouse “and began snapping pictures”:

“A few hours later, agents emerged from the building with more than 12 computer hard drives and files, piling them into the rear of a black Chevy Suburban….”


If this doesn’t imply some sort of Israeli connection to 9/11, then it’s hard to say what else would at least provoke suspicion. Ah, but what about motive? After all, Israel is our loyal ally: surely they wouldn’t withhold knowledge of a devastating terrorist attack from their prime benefactors – would they? The [New Jersey] Bergen Record [11/15/01], in an account of the Weehawken raid, reports the following:

"An employee of Urban Moving Systems, who would not give his name, said the majority of his co-workers are Israelis and were joking on the day of the attacks.

"‘I was in tears,’ the man said. ‘These guys were joking and that bothered me. These guys were like, ‘Now America knows what we go through.’"

There’s your motive.


The feds had picked up 60 Israeli “art students” in the months prior to 9/11: they rounded up 120 more before the dust had settled, searching residences and interrogating the detainees – and this information is what is now leaking out, in dribs and drabs. Rodriguez, however, unleashes a veritable torrent:

“Besides federal law-enforcement incidents, DEA’s I[nternal] S[ecurity] unit found that several military bases also had experienced unauthorized entries by some of the students, including two bases from which Stealth aircraft and other supersecret military units operate. Unauthorized photographing of military sites and civilian industrial complexes, such as petroleum-storage facilities, also was reported to the DEA, the documents show and interviews confirm.


Now these are “art students” of a certain caliber, apparently involved in an “art project” that includes photographing supersecret military installations. While Rodriguez is careful to say there is no evidence that this pattern of suspicious activity was “state-sponsored,” I would be willing to bet these are graduates of the Mossad School of Art (summa cum laude). Certainly they seemed to be very well-organized, and quite single-minded. As Rodriguez puts it:

“In virtually every incident of the many reported by the entire DEA field-office structure the pattern was similar: Students would attempt to enter secure buildings, take photographs, follow federal agents when they left buildings, show up at their homes, take pictures of their cars and circle their neighborhoods, visiting only their houses and then departing.”


Behind the bland denials, federal law enforcement officials are in a panic. Rodriguez quotes one high-ranking official who exclaims “it is a very alarming set of documents. This shows how serious DEA and Justice consider this activity.” A Justice Department official tells Rodriguez:

“We think there is something quite sinister here but are unable at this time to put our finger on it.”

Another fed tells him:

“The higher-ups don’t want to deal with this and neither does the FBI because it involves Israel.”

They can’t quite put their finger on it, so let me do it for them. These were a bunch of artists, alright – practicing the art of spying. If we put together the various aspects of this story as reported by Fox News, LeMonde,, and Insight, as well as what we can glean from local news sources, the picture that emerges gives us the vital context in which the horrific events of 9/11 occurred: in the midst of a secret war waged by Israel against the US, right here on our own soil.


The Bush administration, for reasons of its own, is trying to hush it up: perhaps because exposure would compromise their ongoing investigation of 9/11, although I am bound to be taken to task by some of my readers for letting the Bushies off the hook so easily. In any event, skeptics should note that the administration has recently – and not coincidentally – taken measures to exclude Israeli nationals from access to sensitive information, – a big blow to those who say there is nothing to this story. So now naysayers like Pipes are trying to impugn the story’s sources without bothering to dispute – or even refer to – the known facts.

The same day the Pipes piece came out saw the Wall Street Journal‘s resident online “blogger,” James Taranto, weigh in with his own spin on “the weird story of those Israeli ‘art students.'” As it turns out, there’s nothing to see here, so we should all just move along:

“The 61-page DEA report suggests the Israelis’ wanderings ‘may well be an organized intelligence-gathering activity.’ Yet it mostly chronicles people selling overpriced paintings door to door.”

Taranto quotes government officials denying all and cites a few items from the DEA report selectively leaked to the Associated Press, “most of which sound utterly harmless.” We are then treated to a two sentence description of a Dallas sighting torn out of a 61-page report:

“Five people were selling art out of a van behind a small office complex that was closed for the holidays. A Euless, Texas, police officer found 40 to 50 pieces of art. ‘Neither the frames nor the artwork appeared to be high quality, per the officer.'”

It seems Taranto and Rodriguez are reading from two very different DEA reports, but the former’s dishonesty is painfully apparent as we follow the link he provides. For even in this sanitized version of what the internal security task force discovered, we get the following item from St. Louis:

“Suspected Palestinian or Middle Eastern art sellers were thought to be ‘diagramming’ the inside of a DEA building. Also, an agent said two people came to his house trying to sell art. ‘What was unusual is that he watched them and they did not visit any other houses in the area,’ the security alert said.”


More than a dozen Israeli “students” were rounded up in Kansas and Missouri in the wake of 9/11, and more than 50 throughout the Midwest. In one Texas government building, they caught one of these phony “art students” wandering the halls with a floor plan of the building in hand.


Oh, but we needn’t worry about any of that, because everybody knows our good friend Israel would never spy on us or conduct covert operations of any sort on our territory. No need to bother Taranto with the facts, because he has all the information he needs, to wit:

“The best evidence that there’s nothing to this spy story, though, is that Justin Raimondo, who runs the crackpot Web site, has seized upon it as proof of ‘Israel’s 9/11 connection.'”


Gee, I was under the impression – mistaken, as it turns out – that the old grey WSJ was a newspaper for adults. Yet Taranto’s lame idea of wit is strictly of the “Nyaah! Nyaah!” variety. Besides that, a good two-thirds of his copy consists of quotes, and for this they pay him – proof positive that the recession never really hit Wall Street.


It’s absurd, really, that the WSJ‘s “Best of the Web” online column has been turned over to some kid who intersperses spasms of adolescent name-calling with items largely gleaned from his “warblogger” friends and plugs for Jonah Goldberg’s column. But, then again, perhaps this sad literary decline is not all that surprising. War propaganda always has a certain crudeness about it, a quality exemplified by Taranto’s pedestrian prose and perfectly suited to the WSJ‘s editorial stance. To the War Street Journal, as Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., of the Ludwig von Mises Institute aptly dubbed it, being antiwar is "crackpot" by definition – whereas it is perfectly normal for WSJ editorial features editor Max Boot to write a piece bemoaning the lack of casualties in the Afghan war: “This is not a war being won with blood and guts,” he complained, perhaps a bit prematurely.

The idea that this growing scandal is going to go away, that cold hard facts can be dispersed or ignored with childish taunts and half-baked smears, is naïve in the extreme: this story is too big, and too solid, to be airily dismissed by the would-be gate-keepers of journalistic correctness. In taking the media to task for discussing it even to a limited extent, Pipes calls down an imprecation on their heads:

“Shame, then, on those media outlets that contributed to this dangerous falsehood.”


What gall! The real shame is that the story of Israel’s spy nest in the US wentunreported for so long – and that it was first taken up, not in the “mainstream” media, but by a alternative news source such as It is telling that the networks won’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole, but Fox, the brash young kid on the block, dared to break the embargo. The news, no longer centrally-planned and directed by a few self-appointed “gate-keepers,” has been liberated, not only by the internet, but by the mindset that accompanies this technological breakthrough: one that challenges the conventional wisdom instead of enforcing it. The truth will come out, not after fifty years of government cover-up, but in a matter of months, if not weeks. And when it does – watch out. For then the whole context of this rotten war – which is fast escalating into a horribly dangerous world war – will be seen in its entirety.


Our President has solemnly proclaimed “You’re either with us, or against us” – but on which side, then, do we place the Israelis, who, right up until 9/11, were busily penetrating our defenses, spying on our military bases, and keeping a close watch on our terrorist adversaries without filling us in on the essential details?

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].