2009-08-26 15:24:57 UTC
Following Zakheim and Pentagon trillions to Israel and 9-11
Five Israelis were seen filming as jet liners ploughed into the Twin
Towers on September 11, 2001 ...
By Neil Mackay
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?
THERE WAS ruin and terror in Manhattan, but, over the Hudson River in
New Jersey, a handful of men were dancing. As the World Trade Centre
burned and crumpled, the five men celebrated and filmed the worst
atrocity ever committed on American soil as it played out before their eyes.
Who do you think they were? Palestinians? Saudis? Iraqis, even?
Al-Qaeda, surely? Wrong on all counts. They were Israelis - and at least
two of them were Israeli intelligence agents, working for Mossad, the
equivalent of MI6 or the CIA.
Their discovery and arrest that morning is a matter of indisputable
fact. To those who have investigated just what the Israelis were up to
that day, the case raises one dreadful possibility: that Israeli
intelligence had been shadowing the al-Qaeda hijackers as they moved
from the Middle East through Europe and into America where they trained
as pilots and prepared to suicide-bomb the symbolic heart of the United
States. And the motive? To bind America in blood and mutual suffering to
the Israeli cause.
After the attacks on New York and Washington, the former Israeli Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was asked what the terrorist strikes would
mean for US-Israeli relations. He said: "It's very good." Then he
corrected himself, adding: "Well, it's not good, but it will generate
immediate sympathy for Israel from Americans."
If Israel's closest ally felt the collective pain of mass civilian
deaths at the hands of terrorists, then Israel would have an unbreakable
bond with the world's only hyperpower and an effective free hand in
dealing with the Palestinian terrorists who had been murdering its
innocent civilians as the second intifada dragged on throughout 2001.
It's not surprising that the New Jersey housewife who first spotted the
five Israelis and their white van wants to preserve her anonymity. She's
insisted that she only be identified as Maria. A neighbour in her
apartment building had called her just after the first strike on the
Twin Towers. Maria grabbed a pair of binoculars and, like millions
across the world, she watched the horror of the day unfold.
As she gazed at the burning towers, she noticed a group of men kneeling
on the roof of a white van in her parking lot. Here's her recollection:
"They seemed to be taking a movie. They were like happy, you know ...
they didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was strange."
Maria jotted down the van's registration and called the police. The FBI
was alerted and soon there was a statewide all points bulletin put out
for the apprehension of the van and its occupants. The cops traced the
number, establishing that it belonged to a company called Urban Moving.
Police Chief John Schmidig said: "We got an alert to be on the lookout
for a white Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration and writing on
the side. Three individuals were seen celebrating in Liberty State Park
after the impact. They said three people were jumping up and down."
By 4pm on the afternoon of September 11, the van was spotted near New
Jersey's Giants stadium. A squad car pulled it over and inside were five
men in their 20s. They were hustled out of the car with guns levelled at
their heads and handcuffed.
In the car was $4700 in cash, a couple of foreign passports and a pair
of box cutters - the concealed Stanley Knife-type blades used by the 19
hijackers who'd flown jetliners into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon
just hours before. There were also fresh pictures of the men standing
with the smouldering wreckage of the Twin Towers in the background. One
image showed a hand flicking a lighter in front of the devastated
buildings, like a fan at a pop concert. The driver of the van then told
the arresting officers: "We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your
problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem."
His name was Sivan Kurzberg. The other four passengers were Kurzberg's
brother Paul, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Ellner and Omer Marmari. The men were
dragged off to prison and transferred out of the custody of the FBI's
Criminal Division and into the hands of their Foreign
Counterintelligence Section - the bureau's anti-espionage squad.
A warrant was issued for a search of the Urban Moving premises in
Weehawken in New Jersey. Boxes of papers and computers were removed. The
FBI questioned the firm's Israeli owner, Dominik Otto Suter, but when
agents returned to re-interview him a few days later, he was gone. An
employee of Urban Moving said his co-workers had laughed about the
Manhattan attacks the day they happened. "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.'"
Vince Cannistraro, former chief of operations for counter-terrorism with
the CIA, says the red flag went up among investigators when it was
discovered that some of the Israelis' names were found in a search of
the national intelligence database. Cannistraro says many in the US
intelligence community believed that some of the Israelis were working
for Mossad and there was speculation over whether Urban Moving had been
"set up or exploited for the purpose of launching an intelligence
operation against radical Islamists".
This makes it clear that there was no suggestion whatsoever from within
American intelligence that the Israelis were colluding with the 9/11
hijackers - simply that the possibility remains that they knew the
attacks were going to happen, but effectively did nothing to help stop them.
After the owner vanished, the offices of Urban Moving looked as if
they'd been closed down in a big hurry. Mobile phones were littered
about, the office phones were still connected and the property of at
least a dozen clients were stacked up in the warehouse. The owner had
cleared out his family home in New Jersey and returned to Israel.
Two weeks after their arrest, the Israelis were still in detention, held
on immigration charges. Then a judge ruled that they should be deported.
But the CIA scuppered the deal and the five remained in custody for
another two months. Some went into solitary confinement, all underwent
two polygraph tests and at least one underwent up to seven lie detector
sessions before they were eventually deported at the end of November
2001. Paul Kurzberg refused to take a lie detector test for 10 weeks,
but then failed it. His lawyer said he was reluctant to take the test as
he had once worked for Israeli intelligence in another country.
Nevertheless, their lawyer, Ram Horvitz, dismissed the allegations as
"stupid and ridiculous". Yet US government sources still maintained that
the Israelis were collecting information on the fundraising activities
of groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Mark Regev, of the Israeli
embassy in Washington, would have none of that and he said the
allegations were "simply false". The men themselves claimed they'd read
about the World Trade Centre attacks on the internet, couldn't see it
from their office and went to the parking lot for a better view. Their
lawyers and the embassy say their ghoulish and sinister celebrations as
the Twin Towers blazed and thousands died were due to youthful foolishness.
The respected New York Jewish newspaper, The Forward, reported in March
2002, however, that it had received a briefing on the case of the five
Israelis from a US official who was regularly updated by law enforcement
agencies. This is what he told The Forward: "The assessment was that
Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad and operatives employed
by it." He added that "the conclusion of the FBI was that they were
spying on local Arabs", but the men were released because they "did not
know anything about 9/11".
Back in Israel, several of the men discussed what happened on an Israeli
talk show. One of them made this remarkable comment: "The fact of the
matter is we are coming from a country that experiences terror daily.
Our purpose was to document the event." But how can you document an
event unless you know it is going to happen?
We are now deep in conspiracy theory territory. But there is more than a
little circumstantial evidence to show that Mossad - whose motto is "By
way of deception, thou shalt do war" - was spying on Arab extremists in
the USA and may have known that September 11 was in the offing, yet
decided to withhold vital information from their American counterparts
which could have prevented the terror attacks.
Following September 11, 2001, more than 60 Israelis were taken into
custody under the Patriot Act and immigration laws. One highly placed
investigator told Carl Cameron of Fox News that there were "tie-ins"
between the Israelis and September 11; the hint was clearly that they'd
gathered intelligence on the planned attacks but kept it to themselves.
The Fox News source refused to give details, saying: "Evidence linking
these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence
that has been gathered. It's classified information." Fox News is not
noted for its condemnation of Israel; it's a ruggedly patriotic news
channel owned by Rupert Murdoch and was President Bush's main
cheerleader in the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.
Another group of around 140 Israelis were detained prior to September
11, 2001, in the USA as part of a widespread investigation into a
suspected espionage ring run by Israel inside the USA. Government
documents refer to the spy ring as an "organised intelligence-gathering
operation" designed to "penetrate government facilities". Most of those
arrested had served in the Israeli armed forces - but military service
is compulsory in Israel. Nevertheless, a number had an intelligence
The first glimmerings of an Israeli spying exercise in the USA came to
light in spring 2001, when the FBI sent a warning to other federal
agencies alerting them to be wary of visitors calling themselves
"Israeli art students" and attempting to bypass security at federal
buildings in order to sell paintings. A Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) report suggested the Israeli calls "may well be an organised
intelligence-gathering activity". Law enforcement documents say that the
Israelis "targeted and penetrated military bases" as well as the DEA,
FBI and dozens of government facilities, including secret offices and
the unlisted private homes of law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
A number of Israelis questioned by the authorities said they were
students from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, but Pnina Calpen, a
spokeswoman for the Israeli school, did not recognise the names of any
Israelis mentioned as studying there in the past 10 years. A federal
report into the so-called art students said many had served in
intelligence and electronic signal intercept units during their military
According to a 61-page report, drafted after an investigation by the DEA
and the US immigration service, the Israelis were organised into cells
of four to six people. The significance of what the Israelis were doing
didn't emerge until after September 11, 2001, when a report by a French
intelligence agency noted "according to the FBI, Arab terrorists and
suspected terror cells lived in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in Miami
and Hollywood, Florida, from December 2000 to April 2001 in direct
proximity to the Israeli spy cells".
The report contended that Mossad agents were spying on Mohammed Atta and
Marwan al-Shehi, two of leaders of the 9/11 hijack teams. The pair had
settled in Hollywood, Florida, along with three other hijackers, after
leaving Hamburg - where another Mossad team was operating close by.
Hollywood in Florida is a town of just 25,000 souls. The French
intelligence report says the leader of the Mossad cell in Florida rented
apartments "right near the apartment of Atta and al-Shehi". More than a
third of the Israeli "art students" claimed residence in Florida. Two
other Israelis connected to the art ring showed up in Fort Lauderdale.
At one time, eight of the hijackers lived just north of the town.
Put together, the facts do appear to indicate that Israel knew that
9/11, or at least a large-scale terror attack, was about to take place
on American soil, but did nothing to warn the USA. But that's not quite
true. In August 2001, the Israelis handed over a list of terrorist
suspects - on it were the names of four of the September 11 hijackers.
Significantly, however, the warning said the terrorists were planning an
attack "outside the United States".
The Israeli embassy in Washington has dismissed claims about the spying
ring as "simply untrue". The same denials have been issued repeatedly by
the five Israelis seen high-fiving each other as the World Trade Centre
burned in front of them.
Their lawyer, Ram Horwitz, insisted his clients were not intelligence
officers. Irit Stoffer, the Israeli foreign minister, said the
allegations were "completely untrue". She said the men were arrested
because of "visa violations", adding: "The FBI investigated those cases
because of 9/11."
Jim Margolin, an FBI spokesman in New York, implied that the public
would never know the truth, saying: "If we found evidence of
unauthorised intelligence operations that would be classified material."
Yet, Israel has long been known, according to US administration sources,
for "conducting the most aggressive espionage operations against the US
of any US ally". Seventeen years ago, Jonathan Pollard, a civilian
working for the American Navy, was jailed for life for passing secrets
to Israel. At first, Israel claimed Pollard was part of a rogue
operation, but the government later took responsibility for his work.
It has always been a long-accepted agreement among allies - such as
Britain and America or America and Israel - that neither country will
jail a "friendly spy" nor shame the allied country for espionage. Chip
Berlet, a senior analyst at Boston's Political Research Associates and
an expert in intelligence, says: "It's a backdoor agreement between
allies that says that if one of your spies gets caught and didn't do too
much harm, he goes home. It goes on all the time. The official reason is
always visa violation."
What we are left with, then, is fact sullied by innuendo. Certainly, it
seems, Israel was spying within the borders of the United States and it
is equally certain that the targets were Islamic extremists probably
linked to September 11. But did Israel know in advance that the Twin
Towers would be hit and the world plunged into a war without end; a war
which would give Israel the power to strike its enemies almost without
limit? That's a conspiracy theory too far, perhaps. But the unpleasant
feeling that, in this age of spin and secrets, we do not know the full
and unadulterated truth won't go away. Maybe we can guess, but it's for
the history books to discover and decide.