9-11/Israel did it/Israeli art scam

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A method of spying that was notably carried out by Israelis in USA in the run-up to 9/11. It is unclear exactly what their purpose was.

The Israeli Art Scam is a fraud carried out by people who identify themselves as art students and pass off fraudulent "art-work" from door to door. The original form has been seen in many places but the new and much better known form of the scam, wherein the fraudsters claim to be Israeli, is linked to a number of high-profile espionage allegations during the run-up to the 9-11 event. Spying allegations linked to the fraud have also been made in Canada.

Art Scam a known Confidence trick

The "Israeli art student scam" was a new version of a known confidence trick in which scammers, claiming to be artists or "art students", approach people in their homes or on the street and attempt to sell them oil paintings and frames for excessive prices. The paintings are represented as original and valuable art by up-and-coming talents but are in fact cheap, mass-produced works bought wholesale from China. The scammers explain that they are directly approaching people with offers because properly exhibiting the work in an art gallery is needlessly and prohibitively expensive. [1][2][3] Framing is often provided at a later date by mobile vans (giving access to phone numbers of willing "marks" and perhaps helping extract more money).

The scam has been reported in Canada[1], Australia[2], New Zealand[4] and Seattle [3].

Israeli Spying by "Art Scam"

From 2000 through to 2002 there were reports of hundreds of young Israelis posing as art students spying on US federal buildings and employees.

In January 2001 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) field offices around the country reported that the "art students" had been attempting to penetrate offices for over a year, as well as other law enforcement and Department of Defence agencies. They had also visited the homes of many DEA officers and senior federal officials and attempted to sell art. Suspicious agents observed that when the "art students" departed they did not approach their neighbours. DEA Agents reported on 130 incidents involving "art students". Some "art students" were caught diagramming the architecture of federal buildings. Some were found to have photographed federal officials.[5]

According to Jane's Intelligence Digest, US officials admitted to reporters that the entire investigation had become "too hot to handle", but declined to give further details. In 2002 FBI officials confirmed that the Israelis were "running a major eavesdropping operation that had penetrated into the highest echelons of the US administration".[6]

Drug Enforcement Administration report

In March 2001, the Office of Security of the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a 61-page report describing in some detail the attempts of approximately 125 or more nationals of a foreign country, most posing as art students, "to penetrate several DEA Field Offices in the continental United States." Many of these individuals also visited the residences of numerous DEA officials and "other agencies’ facilities and the residences of their employees." The DEA Report states that "these incidents have occurred since at least the beginning of 2000, and have continued to the present." These were ongoing activities in the summer of 2001 and by the date of 911, 140 Israelis had been arrested.[7]

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report was later disowned and removed from www.ncix.gov. However, the contents of it are available, see Exhibit A of the "MEMORANDUM TO THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE", where there are maps of the residences and other details.[8]

Virtually all of the scores of individuals questioned or detained by the DEA and other federal and local law enforcement authorities were citizens of the State of Israel. They were generally organized in groups of eight to 10 people, with a single team leader. They worked individually or in pairs, carrying makeshift art portfolios. They visited scores of DEA offices, laboratories and houses or apartments, ostensibly to offer or show the paintings or prints in the portfolios for sale or promotion to DEA personnel.

While Israel has compulsory military service (and hence most young Israelis will have served) many of those questioned by U.S. authorities had actually served in the military intelligence services or in electronic or communications units of the Israeli army. Thus, for example, Lior Baram of Plantation (near Hollywood), Florida, questioned by the DEA on January 22, 2001, had served two years in Israeli intelligence working with classified information; Dilka Borenstein, questioned by INS at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport ("DFW Airport") on March 27, 2001, was a "recently discharged" military intelligence officer; Marina Glikman,5 questioned at DFW Airport on or about May 1, 2001, worked for an Israeli software company with expertise in hand-held computer technology and had been an Israeli military intelligence officer; Tomer Ben Dor, also questioned at DFW Airport on that day, worked for an Israeli wiretapping company and had served in an Israeli military unit that was "responsible for" Patriot missile defense.

The DEA’s Office of Security concluded that the Israelis "may well be engaged in organized intelligence gathering." A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the "INS") stated that dozens of these Israelis were expelled from the United States (from California, the Midwest, Florida and other states). "No one has tallied the total," he said. The expulsions were usually for visa violations.[8]

The leaders of the Israeli DEA Groups included Itay Simon (arrested on April 14, 2001 in Irving, Texas), recently discharged from the Israeli army where he had done classified work for the Israeli military. Mr. Simon coordinated recruiting for the groups and was an intermediary between five individuals in Israel and the U.S. operation. Another leader was Michael Calmanovic (also arrested in Irving on that day), who rented a number of apartments in Irving, Texas occupied by 25 Israelis. Mr. Calmanovic was a recently discharged electronic intercept operator for the Israeli military. As stated in the DEA Report, traveling about the U.S. to sell paintings "seem[ed] not to fit [the] background" of many of the individuals in question. A third principal was Hanan Serfaty (or Sarfati), a team leader residing in Hollywood, Florida. When questioned by the DEA in Tampa, Florida, on March 1, 2001, he had in his possession bank deposit slips amounting to more than $100,000 from December 2000 through the first quarter of 2001, and withdrawal slips for slightly less than that amount during the period. Mr. Serfaty served in the Israeli military between the ages of 18 and 21, but refused to disclose to the DEA his activities between the ages of 21 and 24, including his activities since his U.S. arrival at age 23 in 2000. Another was Peer Segalovitz of Tamarac, Florida (about 20 miles west of Hollywood), an active officer in an Israeli special forces battalion who commanded 80 men in the Golan Heights. He was detained in Orlando on May 3, 2001.[8]

Mr. Ben Dor was apparently not an "art salesmen", but possessed a document relating to these groups. Ms. Glikman was an associate of Mr. Ben Dor. As stated in paragraph 50, Mr. Calmanovic also had an address and telephone number in Studio City, California, related to other DEA case files. Paragraph 66 of the Indexing Section lists Segalovitz as a former officer in the Israeli Special Forces. Paragraph 97 in the body of the text states that he "has the rank of Lieutenant" and specifies his military ID number. One member of the Israeli DEA Groups, Michal Gal, who was arrested in Irving, Texas, was released on a $10,000 cash bond posted by Ophir Baer, an employee of Amdocs, Inc. an Israeli telecommunications firm with operations in the United States. The Amdocs employee described Mr. Gal as a "relative". Messrs. Calmanovic and Simon (above) were arrested by the INS for their role in the Israelis’ art-selling activities without the necessary visas. They were held on $50,000 bond, which was subsequently posted, though the DEA Report does not say by whom.[9] Six members of the Israeli DEA Groups appear to have been using cell telephones that were purchased by a former Israeli vice consul in the United States.[10]

When the DEA report was leaked in 2002 it was also revealed that up to 200 young Israelis had been arrested in America in the previous year, about 140 of them before the September 11 attacks. The remaining 60 were arrested on October 31, 2002 by the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Diego, Kansas City, Cleveland, Houston and St. Louis, Missouri. Rather than selling art, these Israelis were working in kiosks in shopping centres across America selling toys. The FBI was investigating the kiosks as a front operation for espionage activities. The report said that most of the Israelis interrogated by Americans reported having served in the Israeli Defence Force in military intelligence, electronic signals interception and explosive ordnance units. One of the detainees was an Israeli general's son, another was a former bodyguard to the chief of the IDF, and another had operated Patriot missiles.[7][11] In 2002 several officials dismissed reports of a spy ring and said the allegations were made by a Drug Enforcement Administration who was angry his theories had been dismissed.[12]

The DEA report also claims that Israeli companies that had provided telephony services for U.S. businesses and U.S. federal organizations were connected to the "art students" and advised that Israeli telephony companies should be investigated. It raised the possibility that "back doors" had been installed in communications equipment to assist Israeli espionage. [13]

DEA report is leaked

The story appears to have then died until March 2002, when "Online Intelligence" was quoted in Le Monde as claiming a "61-page review" of June 2001 had been given to the American justice department by a "task force" made up of agents of the DEA and some INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) agents. Le Monde questioned Will Glaspy, of the Public Affairs department of the DEA, who authenticated this report, and said that the DEA "holds a copy." Chief editor of Online Intelligence, Guillaume Dasquié, said that this "vast network of Israeli intelligence agents was neutralized by the counter-espionage services of the Department of Justice." The Americans "would have apprehended or expelled close to 120 Israeli nationals."

National Counterintelligence Executive warning

At the same times as the DEA report (March 2001) the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) issued a warning about people identifying themselves as "Israeli art students" attempting to bypass security and gain entry to federal buildings, and even to the private residences of senior federal officials under the guise of selling art.[14] Note - this alert has since been removed, but the link goes to the web archive "Wayback Machine" proving that it was once an official document.

Subsequent to the NCIX bulletin, officials raised other red flags, including an United States Air Force, a Federal Protective Service (United States), an Office of National Drug Control Policy security alert and a request that the Immigration and Naturalization Service investigate a specific case. The "art students" were subsequently treated with more caution by officials.[5]

September 11 allegations

It has been suggested that operatives in this "art student spy ring" were tracking the 9/11 hijackers and knew that the attacks were going to take place, although the Drug Enforcement Administration memo was primarily concerned with the students' efforts to foil investigations into unrelated Israeli organized crime.[15]

German weekly Die Zeit published two articles regarding September 11, one of which, titled "Next Door to Mohammed Atta" claimed that Israeli intelligence had been tailing the 9/11 hijackers before the attack. [16] [17]

Some of the Israeli "art students" lived for a period of time in Hollywood, Florida, the same small city where Mohammed Atta and fellow terrorists had lived before September 11. [5] Michael Ruppert in his book Crossing the Rubicon claimed that the ring had "heavy operations in some areas connected with 9/11". Ruppert and Alexander Cockburn have also argued that there was disproportionate media silence about the issue[18][19].

[[Justin Raimondo] of anti-war.com claims to have been the only person to query what was published in the Washington Post on 23rd Nov 2001 viz that in addition to 1000-plus Muslims swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet, some 60 Israelis were in custody. INS officials testified in immigration court hearings that this group was "of special interest to the government" (ie were potentially linked to "terrorism"). This article is still present at the Washington Post, but has been blanked[20] and the Wayback machine says that the "Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt". Raimondo claims "The Post story went on to describe the Israeli detainees as having served in special anti-terrorist and intelligence units".

Official Israeli response

The Israeli government has denied the espionage allegations, calling them nonsense. [13] Mark Regev, then spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington (and in 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman) categorically stated, "Israel does not spy on the United States". Israeli sympathizers and propagandists in the U.S. called it all "an urban myth".[21]

Denial of spy ring in US

In 2002 several officials dismissed reports of a spy ring and said the allegations were made by a Drug Enforcement Administration who was angry his theories had been dismissed. Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden describe the claims as an "urban myth" [12]

Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz also published an article on the spying allegations, noting that most of the allegations were based upon a single internal report from the DEA. It noted that the U.S. administration was "desperate to keep the affair quiet" [13].

Spying allegation more than "some conspiracy theory"

In response to criticism that the idea of an Israeli spy ring was an "urban myth" or conspiracy theory, veteran journalist Christopher Ketcham commented, "the Washington Post's[12] apparent debunking was far from convincing, even to the casual reader ... To someone not familiar with the 60-page DEA memo, or to reporters who didn't bother to obtain it, the fact that a disgruntled employee leaked a memo he wrote himself might seem like decisive proof that the whole "art student" tale was a canard. In reality, the nature of the memo makes its authorship irrelevant. The memo is a compilation of field reports by dozens of named agents and officials from DEA offices across America. It contains the names, passport numbers, addresses, and in some cases the military ID numbers of the Israelis who were questioned by federal authorities. Pointing a finger at the author is like blaming a bank robbery on the desk sergeant who took down the names of the robbers."[5]

Israel recruited workers in US

Advertisement recruiting Israeli students for espionage work in the United States. Source: Covert Action Information Bulletin, Dec. 1980

In Summer 1979 and the beginning of 1980, Israel was recruiting students already studying in the US and/or planning to go there. To be eligible, they must have completed military service in a combat unit, in a command position. The advertisement stated that no questions would be answered from persons not qualified to apply for these positions.[21]

This conflicts with the claims of the Israeli "art students" and mall kiosk vendors, who have always maintained they were merely Israelis who wanted to travel and "see the world" after completing their military service and working illegally.[21]

In translation, the advertisement shown on the right reads:


Necessary qualifications:

1) Completion of military service in a combat unit (command position)

2) Good health, profile 82 at least.

3) Must be studying in the United States and/or planning to go there in Summer 1979 or beginning of 1980. Candidates must have been accepted at an educational institution in the United States.

Candidate must pay travel expenses. Those interested should write and enclose a personal biography, personal information, identity card number.
In Israel: P.O. Box 39351, Tel Aviv (Attn: M.M.)
In U.S.A.: General Consulate/Israel in New York
800 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017

- Only Qualified Persons Will Be Answered -[21]

The Israeli Consulate General in New York is the largest Mossad station in the United States (Washington, DC and Houston being in second and third place).

Canadian espionage rumors

In August 2004, a number of Israeli "art students" in Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Toronto and Ottawa were deported from Canada for working in the country illegally. The Calgary Herald wrote that the deportations "raised the specter of international espionage". However, claims that a spy ring was operating in Canada that were raised by newspapers were dismissed by Canadian officials. Officials noted that the Canadian art scammers did not target government officials or offices but instead focused on wealthy neighbourhoods.[22]

Wikipedia bias

Wikipedia ignores the professionals at the DEA

The DEA report on this matter is obviously a prime source of material. Nevertheless, the Wikipedia mentions it once in reference to an article in an Israeli newspaper, providing no link to the material. The article says only that "several dozen" Israelis were deported, in obvious conflict with various source material available (eg the Telegraph report) which claims 140 were arrested before 911 and up to 60 afterwards.

Wikipedia systemic bias

The current current Wikipedia article on the art scam (Mar 2012) has been completely re-written to almost entirely remove the spying allegation and to heavily downplay the fact that all the scam-artists claimed to be Israeli[1][2][3][4] and indeed (at least in the US in 2001), all of them were Israeli.

The day after the original version of the article (from which this article was developed) was uploaded (4th March 2010) it was effectively vandalised by a different, hugely experienced editor who added "The Great Arab Refugee Scam", an ancient and entirely discredited Zionist myth, along with a new myth "Palestinian population scam on US taxpayers" increasingly popular at Wikipedia. No action was taken by administrators against this very experienced (over 25,000 edits) editor who vandalised the article, despite the well-recognised and immensely disruptive effect of irrelevant edits to an article in development.

On the same day (ie less than 24 hours from creation), the article was nominated for deletion, another common and highly disruptive way of preventing an article ever being developed to a respectable standard. As so often before, the creator was forced to stop development while defending his creation. However, on this occasion, another editor arrived and made very major modifications, high-lighting the scam nature of the affair with particular reference to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and down-playing the very considerable spying scare that had been triggered in 2001 (200 Israeli "students" were arrested, 140 before and 60 after 911, and some commmentators thought the proportion of military communication specialists amongst them was unusually high).

As a result of the re-write, the Wikipedia deletion (known in the jargon as an AfD, 'Article for deletion') failed. The price for this survival was to have the article changed to minimise and white-wash the affair almost to invisibility.

Wikipedia can be a help

The Wikipedia article on this topic entitled "Israeli art students" was created in 2006 and deleted according to this discussion. Much of Wikipedia is maintained on its servers as a permanent visible record, but the contents of deleted articles is lost to public view.

A new and likely independent attempt to document the affair was started on 3rd March 2010 and brought up to a reasonable basic standard (size c. 11,000 characters) in a single day by a single good-faith editor. This is the basis of the version seen here.

Wikipedia white-wash

More information on systemic Zionist bias and cover-up at Wikipedia can be found at:

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  1. a b c "Israeli art scam" preying on people's kindness Calgary Sun (Canada) 2009-08-19.
  2. a b c Oil painting scam hits the Border Border Mail (Australia) 2009-04-22.
  3. a b c Information On An Israeli Art Scam Komo News (Seattle) 2006-08-30.
  4. a b "Door slammed on ‘original’ art scam" Star News Group of New Zealand, 2006-01-18.
  5. a b c d The Israeli "art student" mystery Salon Media Group May 7, 2002.
  6. Allies and Espionage Jane's Intelligence Digest in web archive. 15th Mar 2002.
  7. a b US arrests 200 young Israelis in spying investigation Telegraph. 7th March 2002.
  8. a b c www.antiwar.com "MEMORANDUM TO THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE" includes the March 2001 DEA report as Exhibit A. antiwar.com. September 15, 2004.
  9. Ibid., p.1, 2, 12, 14-15, 16-17, 20, 24-25, 29-30, 48, 50, 53, 56, 16-17, 57
  10. Un Réseau d’Espionnage Israélien a été Démantelé aux Etats-Unis, by Sylvain Cypel, Le Monde, March 2, 2002.
  11. Were they part of a massive spy ring which shadowed the 9/11 hijackers and knew that al-Qaeda planned a devastating terrorist attack on the USA? Sunday Herald (UK) via Internet Archive
  12. a b c U.S. officials dismiss report of Israeli spies Seattle Times re-printed from the Washington Post March 7, 2002.
  13. a b c Spies, or students? Were the Israelis just trying to sell their paintings, or agents in a massive espionage ring? Haaretz, 2002-05-07.
  14. Suspicious Visitors to Federal Facilities Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (archived at the web archive "Wayback Machine")
  15. An Enigma: Vast Israeli Spy Network Dismantled in the US. Le Monde March 5, 2002. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
  16. Deadly Mistakes Die Zeit, 2002-10-02.
  17. Next Door to Mohammed Atta Die Zeit 2002-10-02.
  18. "Crossing the Rubicon" Michael E. Ruppert, New Society Publishers 2004 p.263.
  19. "The Politics of Anti-Semitism" Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair, AK Press p.124 ISBN 1902593774, 9781902593777.
  20. 60 Israelis on Tourist Visas Detained Since Sept. 11 Government Calls Several Cases 'of Special Interest,' Meaning Related to Post-Attacks Investigation. Washington Post but has been blanked 23rd Nov 2001.
  21. a b c d Israeli Students And Their Vision Of The World Wayne Madsen blog. 27th Feb 2011.
  22. Espionage Ruled Out in Case of Bad Art Is it espionage or - worse - bad art? Forward Magazine 3rd Sept 2004.