10/02/2005

The Times Herald - News - 08/29/2005 - Sept. 11 riddles remain

08/29/2005
Sept. 11 riddles remain
By: KEITH PHUCAS , Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN - Accusations that the 9/11 Commission ignored information about a defense intelligence operation "Able Danger" that targeted al-Qaida in 2000 has renewed criticism that the panel may have passed up other intriguing leads gathered in the months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
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A memorandum sent to the 9/11 Commission, and Senate and House intelligence committees in September 2004, suggests that young Israelis who canvassed dozens of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) offices in 2000 and 2001 trying to sell paintings to federal workers, may have been spying not only on the DEA, but also on Arab extremists in the United States - including the Sept. 11 hijackers who were living in Florida and New Jersey.
The Israeli "art student" story, which first surfaced in 2001 in news reports, has yet to be explained by U.S. authorities. Curiously, the 9/11 Commission did not venture to connect the myriad of dots to solve the mystery.
Did you get the memo?
The 53-page memorandum, compiled by former corporate attorney Gerald Shea cites a lengthy report from the DEA's Office of Security that describe groups of Israeli men and women. Nearly all were in their 20s, who peddled artwork at DEA, and other federal government offices, in the months leading up to the terrorist attacks.
Many reports describe incidents of government employees spotting individuals in office hallways or elevators carrying large art portfolio cases. The art sellers would typically make a pitch to sell paintings, but if they were told that soliciting in government offices was prohibited, some replied that the art wasn't actually for sale but was promoting a future art show, the DEA report said.
During the first five months of 2001, according to Shea's memorandum, the "Israeli DEA Groups" visited a total of 57 DEA locations - 28 offices and 29 private residences.
Other individuals that Shea calls the "Israeli New Jersey Group" were based in Bergen and Hudson counties, in New Jersey, according to the well-annotated memorandum that also cites the 9/11 Commission report, the 2002 congressional intelligence committees' joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks, newspaper and magazine reports, Fox News telecasts, 9/11 hijacker timelines, FBI suspect lists, and an East Rutherford (New Jersey) Police Department report.
According to the June 2001 DEA report headed "Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities" the art-selling activities occurred in many U.S. cities, with "most activity reported in the state of Florida."
The individuals peddling art work, many of whom claimed they were art students, were observed at DEA division offices in Montgomery, Ala. Dallas and Houston; Los Angeles and San Diego; Oklahoma City; Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers and Miami, Fla., among other cities. The art sellers also showed up on the doorsteps of federal workers.
Dozens of the more than 100 Israelis were stopped and questioned by DEA agents, and other federal government authorities. The individuals were vague about why they were in the U.S. or what their purpose was for being here. Dozens were arrested for visa violations and deported, according to the memorandum.
Many in the groups had served in the military, which is compulsory for Israeli citizens, and group leaders had been in intelligence and electronic communications units. With such expertise, it strikes many as odd that the Israelis would be hawking inexpensive artwork. In the report, the DEA concluded that the agency was being spied on by the Israelis.
In 2001, a Fox News report by Carl Cameron laid out the Israeli spy scenario, however, the story was short-lived, and Shea was told by a representative at the news organization that there was outside pressure to kill the story.

The Times Herald - News - 08/29/2005 - Sept. 11 riddles remain

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