Spinning a Spy Scandal

Israel’s internet amen corner is going ape-sh*t this morning [May 12], with James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s "Best of the Web" and his blogger-clone, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, both taking out after the Israeli "art students" story – and, of course, poor little me.

Oh, what fun – it’s a hoot seeing these two scrambling desperately to spin their way out of this one. Taranto, you’ll remember, originally said he knew there was nothing to this story "because Justin Raimondo, of the crackpot antiwar.com website," thinks there is. Now that Ha’aretz and Salon [Warning – link for pay!] have published articles giving the story credence, Taranto is in a perfect snit: will this bloated windbag, with all the mighty resources of Dow Jones & Company behind him, be shown up for the arrogant fool that he is?

Why, the poor thing must be terrified, and it shows. Tellingly, Taranto ignores the Ha’aretz story, which gives a concise summary of the essential facts, providing only a link, and instead gets into an extended analysis of the muddled Salon article by Christopher Ketcham. See, I told you it was written just to blow smoke! Taranto notes that the Ketcham piece "ends up totally inconclusive," although, he chuckles condescendingly, "it has some amusing moments along the way." What’s really amusing – if you like slapstick – is Taranto turning mental somersaults in an effort to spin the biggest spy story ever into a matter of no consequence. The fool falls flat on his face.

His problem, of course, is that it’s painfully obvious he hasn’t done any research. For example, he goes off on Ketcham for "breathlessly" reporting that "many of the students… had backgrounds in Israeli military intelligence and/or electronics surveillance." Taranto’s witless answer: "Apparently it doesn’t occur to him that this isn’t all that unusual in a country with universal conscription."

But how many ordinary conscripts are attached to highly specialized military units, like intelligence, and why were such a high proportion characterized in the DEA report as having exotic job descriptions like "electronic interception expert," and "demolition/explosive ordnance specialist"? Taranto’s facile analysis doesn’t go this deep: he doesn’t want to know too many bothersome details. This is how ideology turns people into idiotarians – people, like Taranto, so blinded by their fixations (in his case, unconditional support for Israel) that they think they don’t need to know the facts.

Taranto then takes me on, or tries to, and reveals his utter cluelessness in the process:

"The Salon piece prompted another rant by Justin Raimondo of the crackpot Antiwar.com Web site; he declares the spy rumors ‘the story of the century.’ To be sure, the century is still young, but we would venture to say the destruction of the World Trade Center was a somewhat bigger story."

Taranto clearly is not paying attention. He hasn’t even consulted the four-part Fox News series, let alone read what I’ve written. Because if he had he’d realize that, in my view, it’s all the same story. Israel didn’t launch the biggest spy operation in the US since the cold war in the months prior to 9/11 just for the heck of it. The central point made by Carl Cameron of Fox News, and by me, is that Israel was watching the hijackers, had at least some foreknowledge of 9/11 – and somehow neglected to inform us. This key aspect of the story was central to the reports in Online Intelligence and LeMonde, and was repeated in virtually all of the news reports on the matter. Yet Taranto appears not to know this. Question: is he playing dumb, or did the dog eat his homework?

I would tend to think his air of utter ignorance is an act, but on reading further along I’m not so sure. For here is his explanation of why he’s so smugly certain there’s nothing to this story:

"Because we’ve heard from so many people who had encounters with ‘Israeli art students’ who plainly weren’t spying. We published some readers’ accounts in March, here and here. InstaPundit.com’s Glenn Reynolds tells his own story."

It’s truly pathetic to see this typical neocon-blogger "shout out" technique at work: one member of the hive cites another, and the echo effect is utilized to maximum effect – which, in this case, isn’t very much. For Reynolds relates a lame and rambling story of how his household was visited by some Israeli art students, he bought a painting, and it’s hanging on his wall. He goes on for paragraphs about this – bloggers just loooove to talk about their boring little lives – but there’s a point to it, this time:

"The girl left her gloves behind, which a spy probably wouldn’t do–unless they contained sophisticated undetectable listening devices. I didn’t detect any, but then I wouldn’t detect an undetectable listening device, now would I? (‘More proof that they’re spies!’ shouts Justin Raimondo)."

It’s funny how "satire" gives a writer license to put quote marks around a statement never made, but never mind. The point is: Reynolds (and hundreds of others) bought paintings from young Israelis claiming to be art students, who seemed sincere and genuine – so what? It’s only natural that the Israelis would utilize an existing business operation – or a scam – as a cover. It’s so much easier than setting up one from scratch. No one has claimed that every single Israeli art student going door-to-door was an agent of the Mossad: a covert operation is, by definition, buried within the larger context of a quasi-legitimate operation. Another point is that it’s useful, after all, for these sorts of activities to be self-financing, to some extent. Didn’t Iran-Contra teach us that much?

In any case, there’s only one way to settle this. The Florida Sun-Sentinel did some old-fashioned sleuthing and reported [March 7] that, in South Florida, the suspicious Israelis were employed by an outfit known as "Universal Art," with addresses in South Miami and Sunrise:

"On Wednesday, there was no sign of a company called Universal Art Inc., at 10873 NW 52nd St. in Sunrise. The address in Florida incorporation documents came back to a light industrial complex next to the Sawgrass Expressway and south of Commercial Boulevard. No one answered the door, and several occupants had not heard of the company. The company’s officers, Yitzchak Shish and Chava Sagi, are not listed. They were not among those who were deported…."

They, of course, are long gone. Gee, I wonder why….

It isn’t just phony "art students." Israeli front companies come in different shapes and sizes. For example, hours after the World Trade Center was hit, 5 Israelis employed by Urban Moving Systems of New Jersey were picked up by police: they had been spotted in New Jersey’s Liberty Park jumping for joy at the sight of the WTC burning on the other side of the river – and took turns having their picture taken against that ghastly backdrop. Bystanders called the cops. They were arrested, interrogated at length, mysteriously held for months – and eventually deported to Israel. The Forward clearly believes that Urban Moving Systems was undoubtedly a spy operation:

"A group of five Israelis arrested in New Jersey shortly after the September 11 attacks and held for more than two months was subjected to an unusual number of polygraph tests and interrogated by a series of government agencies including the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which by some reports remains convinced that Israel was conducting an intelligence operation. The five Israelis worked for a moving company with few discernable assets that closed up shop immediately afterward and whose owner fled to Israel."

Gone. Vanished. Just like "Universal Art" of South Florida. So, what’s up with that, eh?

Don’t ask Taranto or Reynolds. They’d rather not know.

It looks like Pat Buchanan’s prediction on The McLaughlin Group last month is coming true – the Israeli "art students" espionage story is breaking hard, and soon the real fun will begin.

Because that’s when all the vipers will come out of the grass, hissing and snapping at anyone who gives credence to this story. They’re already starting to slither out into the open. But I take heart in the story of St. Patrick, who drove the snakes out of Ireland: perhaps the blessed truth, when it does come out, will have a similar effect on our own country.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, 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].