The spy story is even more touchy because it isn't Saddam, Fidel, Osama or even what passes nowadays for the KGB that's spying on America -- it's our "friend" in the war against "evil," Israel.
The basis of the spy allegations is a 60-page document -- a compilation of field reports by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and other US law enforcement officials.
Creative Loafing obtained a copy of the report from intelligence sources with long-term contacts among both Israeli and American agencies. The government has attempted to deflect attention from earlier leaks about the spy scandal. However, while declining to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, a spokesman for the DEA, William Glaspy, did acknowledge that the agency had received many reports of the nature described in the 60 pages.
A source familiar with the creation of the document has told CL that the 60-page memo was a draft intended as the base for a 250-page report. The larger report has not been produced because of the volatile nature of suggesting that Israel spies on America's deepest secrets.
Another DEA spokesperson, Rogene Waite, told Associated Press a draft document had been compiled and forwarded to other agencies.
The nation's most prominent Jewish newspaper, the New York-based Forward, also has confirmed portions of the vast spying network -- although stating that the Israelis were monitoring Arabs in the United States, not trying to access US secrets. Referring to the arrest of five Israeli employees of a New Jersey moving company who were arrested and held for two months after the September 11 attack, Forward on March 15 stated: "According to one former high-ranking American intelligence official, who asked not to be named, the FBI came to the conclusion at the end of its investigation that the five Israelis ... were conducting a Mossad surveillance mission and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems of Weehawken, NJ, served as a front." Forward also reported that a counterintelligence probe concluded two of the men were operatives of Mossad, Israel's spy service.
Reports of the spying were first made public in December broadcasts by Fox News reporter Carl Cameron. It isn't clear whether he had the 60-page document or was only told its contents. A French online news service has obtained the report, and Le Monde in Paris has advanced the story. However, in the United States, the media generally ignored the original Fox broadcast. The Charlotte Observer, for example, hasn't reported the story.
The absence of reporting hasn't gone unnoticed. The authoritative British intelligence and military analysis service, Jane's Information Group, on March 13 chided: "It is rather strange that the US media ... seem to be ignoring what may well prove to be the most explosive story since the 11 September attack, the alleged breakup of a major Israeli espionage operation in the United States which aimed to infiltrate both the Justice and Defense departments and which may also have been tracking al-Qaida terrorists before the aircraft hijackings took place."
The document relates scores of encounters between federal agents and Israelis describing themselves as art students. The implication is that the seemingly innocuous cover was used to gain access to sensitive US offices and military installations.
CL has contacted some of the named agents, and three federal employees have confirmed the incidents described in the report. None disputed the authenticity of the report. One senior DEA official, when read paragraphs that mentioned him, said: "Absolutely, that's my report," adding, however, that he didn't think the incidents were sufficient to prove an ongoing spy operation.
Perhaps most intriguing in the report, the Israelis' military and intelligence specialties are listed: "special forces," "intelligence officer," "demolition/explosive ordnance specialist," "bodyguard to head of Israeli army," "electronic intercept operator" -- even "son of a two-star (Israeli) army general."
"The activities of these Israeli art students raised the suspicion of (the DEA's Office of Security Programs) and other field offices when attempts were made to circumvent the access control systems at DEA offices, and when these individuals began to solicit their paintings at the homes of DEA employees," the document states. "The nature of the individuals' conduct, combined with intelligence information and historical information regarding past incidents (involving Israelis leads the DEA) to believe the incidents may well be an organized intelligence gathering activity."
Much of the Israeli activity, according to the report, centered on Florida. In addition to attempting to gain access to government installations, the document states that the Israelis approached many intelligence agents, prosecutors and federal marshals at their homes.
In researching this story, CL has learned of other encounters not included in the 60-page report. For example, a member of Congress from Georgia recounted to CL of being targeted by the art students on two occasions. A Tampa state court judge was also approached. Neither the member of Congress nor the judge wanted to be named.
In an era where CNN CEO Walter Issacson says it would be "perverse" to televise Afghan babies killed by US bombs, it's not surprising some stories go unnoticed by a press that embraces "patriotism" by ignoring sacred cows.
One such sacred cow is what's happening in Israel and Palestine. Reporters know that to criticize Israel -- to point out, for example, that wanton killing of innocents is equally devilish, whether committed by Ariel Sharon's soldiers flying US-made helicopters, or by a Hamas suicide bomber who pushes the button -- is to risk being called an anti-Semite. It's a tired canard meant to bludgeon debate into silence, but it's often effective.
Even with that background, however, it's a little hard to understand the media's avoidance of the spy story.
In 1999, word began spreading among intelligence agencies about bands of Israeli "students" doing very strange things, such as popping up around federal buildings and military establishments marketing artwork.
According to CL intelligence sources, low-level alerts began being flashed around to offices of the FBI, DEA, federal prosecutors and others. By March 23, 2001, counterintelligence officials had issued a bulletin to be on the watch for Israelis masquerading as "art students." The alert stated that there was an "ongoing 'security threat' in the form of individuals who are purportedly 'Israeli National Art Students' that are targeting government offices selling 'artwork.'"
At the same time, American intelligence services were increasingly worried by the dominance of many highly sensitive areas of telecommunications by Israeli companies. Comverse Infosys (now called Verint) provides US lawmen with computer equipment for wiretapping. Speculation is that "catch gates" in the system allowed listeners to be listened to. Software made by another Israeli outfit, Amdocs, provided extensive records of virtually all calls placed by the 25 largest US telephone companies. The relationship of those companies to the detained Israelis is detailed in the 60-page document.
The DEA's intense interest in the case stems from its 1997 purchase of $25-million in interception equipment from Israeli companies, according to a March 14 report by Intelligence Online, a French Web-based service that first revealed the existence of the 60-page document.
"In assigning so many resources to the inquiry (all DEA offices were asked to contribute)," Intelligence Online stated. "The agency was clearly worried that its own systems might have been compromised."
Often the Israeli "students" sold their artwork on street locations near federal buildings. In Tampa on March 1, 2001, a DEA agent heard a knock on his office door. According to the government report: "At the door was a young female who immediately identified herself as an Israeli art student who had beautiful art to sell." Knowing about the security alert, the agent began questioning the "student." After several contradictory statements, the agent concluded "her responses were evasive at best."
Elsewhere, the document notes that the students were "persistent" in trying to gain access to the homes of law enforcement personnel.
On other occasions, the "students" showed up at homes of intelligence agents, judges and other government employees. The report describes a December 2000 incident when a man and a woman knocked on the door of an Atlanta DEA agent. "Both subjects claimed to be Israeli art students," the document states. "The Special Agent examined some of the artwork, but became suspicious when the students would not provide him with a contact telephone number....Subsequently, the Special Agent saw some of the exact same artwork for sale at [a] kiosk in the Mall of Georgia."
Many of the apparent operatives had set up shop at addresses only stones' throws from Arabs in San Diego, Little Rock, Irving, TX, and in South Florida. CL also has obtained a watch list of mostly Arabs under scrutiny by the US government. The addresses of many correspond to the specific areas where the Israelis established bases. For example, an address for the September 11 hijacking leader, Mohammad Atta, in Hollywood, FL is only a few hundred feet from the address of some of the Israelis.
A dozen Israelis, including the alleged surveillance leader, had been based in Hollywood, FL, between January and June last year -- quite possibly watching Arabs living nearby who are suspected of providing logistical support to Osama bin Laden's network. Especially in Florida, where 10 of the 19 September 11 terrorists lived, the revelations about the Israeli activities bolster speculation, reported by a Fox news reporter, that the students/spies might have gained advance knowledge of aspects of the September 11 terrorists -- and not passed on that critical intelligence to the United States. CL sources with Israeli connections suggest that the information might have been relayed to US agencies, but might have been ignored or overlooked.
Despite the highly suspect behavior of the Israelis, the media hadn't picked up on the story.
Then came September 11. While America was mesmerized by the "War on Terrorism," the media went out to a four-martini lunch when it came to skeptical reporting.
With a few commendable exceptions. One of those is Carl Cameron, a gutsy reporter for Fox News. On December 12, Cameron broke the blockbuster spy story. He said at the time: "Since September 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new PATRIOT anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations. A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States."
Fox also reported the Israeli "students" "targeted" US military bases -- which is bolstered by the report obtained by CL.
In the rest of the world -- Europe, Arab countries and Israel, especially -- the story made headlines. Even the official Chinese news agency perked up. Not in our well-defended (against disturbing news) homeland, however.
Cameron, in an interview, said he doesn't believe the conspiracy theories about why the story was ignored here. An honest scribe, he points to a shortcoming in his own work -- one hammered on by Israeli critics at the time -- conceding "there were no (on the record) interviews. I didn't tell other reporters where to find the documents. They couldn't do instant journalism."
Others at Fox confirm there was intense pressure on the network by pro-Israeli lobbying groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the misnamed Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA).
"These charges are arrant nonsense unworthy of the usually reliable Fox News," CAMERA huffed in a December 12 release.
Cameron reported December 13 that federal agents were afraid to criticize Israel. "Investigators within the DEA, INS and FBI have all told Fox News that to pursue or even suggest Israeli spying ... is considered career suicide."
Cameron told me in similar language that's what journalists also can face. And, what's clear is that Fox quickly removed the story from its Web site. (It was reposted this month by Fox after other media began showing interest in the story.)
After Cameron's initial reports, the story pretty much evaporated in the United States before Christmas. Then, all hell broke loose in the last few weeks. Intelligence Online in France obtained the same 60-page June 2001 federal report that CL has. The French Web site reported that 120 Israelis had by now been detained or deported by US authorities.
Let's repeat that: 120 potential spies. This isn't worth press curiosity?
Few papers have given the story significant space. Many, like the Observer, haven't uttered a peep.
Bush administration shills were quick to try to spin the story -- perhaps to minimize damage should it turn out the government did have information in advance about the people or activities that led to the September 11 attack. A Justice Department spokesperson, Susan Dryden, called the spy report an "urban myth," and other federal flacks trumpeted that no Israeli had been charged with or deported for spying. Of course, in the Great Game, "friendly" spies are seldom embarrassed by being called by their true colors. The Israelis who have been deported have been given the boot because of supposed visa expirations and other minor violations.
Predictably, Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Reguev derided the Intelligence Online report as "nonsense."
And, pro-Israel apologists such as anti-Arab ideologue Daniel Pipes quickly took the field with strident polemics. Pipes, who makes no claim of having seen the 60-page document, nonetheless claimed in a March 11 column that the story was a "dangerous falsehood" and that "US journalists found not a shred of evidence to support" it. The fact that reporters were beginning to piece together real shreds was blithely ignored by Pipes.
Historically, Israel has denied wrongdoing until long after the truth was obvious. Israel claimed Jonathan Pollard -- a super spy who did horrendous, deadly damage to the United States until arrested in 1985 - wasn't an agent. And, Israel has stubbornly contended its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, in which 35 American sailors were slaughtered, was an accident -- a lie exposed in recent reports including one last fall on the History Channel. A recent authoritative book, Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, concludes that National Security Agency officials "were virtually unanimous in their belief that the attack was deliberate."
With the purported art students, it's likely that denial will reach screeching levels. The Bush administration would find it difficult to explain why it either ignored or discounted such a large espionage operation. *
John Sugg is Senior Editor at Creative Loafing in Atlanta.
Life's Looking Up For Skateboarders
By Sam Boykin
Things are looking up for Charlotte-area skaters with the advent of a new local website and a park that's scheduled to be completed by the end of summer. This comes as welcome news to the thousands of in-line and skateboard enthusiasts who have long been complaining that the Queen City is sorely lacking in decent facilities.
Dave Collier is the guy behind the new website. It's a great resource for local skaters, as it contains trick tips, news about the local scene, hot spots, upcoming events, product information, profiles of some of the area's best skaters, and even mini-movies showing skaters in action.
Collier started designing the site last year while on the mend from shoulder surgery -- a result of his years spent as a pro snowboarder. Collier grew up in Banner Elk, NC and was an avid snowboarder growing up and all through high school. After graduation he decided to forego college, and moved to Colorado to focus on snowboarding. He turned pro in 1990, went on photo-shoots, appeared in snowboarding videos, magazines, and even traveled to Japan where he competed in a pro series.
While life as a pro snowboarder was pretty sweet, there were some drawbacks. "The sport was so young back then you couldn't really make any money." Collier said.
Collier eventually decided to commit himself full-time to college. In '98 he hung up his spurs, moved to Charlotte, and got married. He also landed a job doing website development and project management, which gave him the skills to start his own skateboarding website.
"I had some hard-core skateboarder friends in Charlotte, and I just started taking pictures of them skating with my digital camera, and they turned out really good," Collier said.
The pictures were so good, in fact, Collier started posting them on the Internet. He then started posting good spots to skate, trick tips, and by last November had developed his own website (www.skatecharlotte.com.) which he says is continuing to grow in popularity. "It's a great way to promote the sport and keep people informed," he says.
One thing Collier plans to keep people informed about is news of a skateboard park that's in the works for Grayson Park off Eastway. Tyrelle Evans, of County Parks and Rec Department, says the 8,000-square-foot concrete park is tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer. The project came together after a nine-member skateboard park committee consisting of skaters, parents and park officials was organized last year.
"The committee is going to be very involved in the design and planning of the skateboard park," Evans said. "We figured the best people to provide input are the ones who are going to be using it."
Planners and developers say the new park will be bigger and more challenging than Charlotte's other skate park, located off Shamrock Dr.
"It's an exciting time to be a skateboarder in Charlotte," Collier said. "There's a thriving scene going on that people are just starting to find out about, and I believe it's only going to get better." *What Rabbit?
By Sam Boykin
"You can't catch me 'cuz the rabbit done died."
I'd be willing to bet if you asked Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler, the scribe of this immortal phrase, why the rabbit died, the big-lipped singer wouldn't have an answer. Fear not, we're here to soothe your curious mind. What the rascally Mr. Tyler was referring to in the toe-tapper "Sweet Emotion" was the "rabbit test," an old practice that used a rabbit to determine if a woman was pregnant. If the rabbit died, it meant there was a bun the oven. So why a rabbit? And why did it have to die?
As it turns out, the rabbit test -- which two German doctors originated in the 1920s -- originally used mice. Urine from the patient was injected into several infantile mice (more than one mouse was used because some died from the injection, and not all animals reacted alike). The patient was deemed pregnant if the reaction was positive in only one mouse and negative in the others.
Eventually rabbits were used for this test instead of mice because of their unique breeding habits. Most mammals have "heat" cycles, during which time the female ovulates, and is then receptive to the male for breeding. The rabbit doesn't ovulate until it has been mated with a buck, a difference which gave scientists easy and usually reliable access to virgin does. This was important because virgin does have smooth ovaries. If the test results were negative, the ovaries would remain smooth and unmarked. If the test results were positive, and the patient was indeed pregnant, follicles that look like blisters would appear on the rabbit's ovaries -- which were easier to detect using on the pristine ovaries of a virgin doe.
But why did a pregnant woman's urine kill the rabbits? Actually, it didn't; the rabbits were simply euthanized after they had been inoculated and their ovaries examined. Through trial and error, researchers later found that it wasn't necessary to kill the rabbit at all, and one rabbit was used for several tests, after allowing the ovaries to regress after a positive result. Eventually, more sophisticated tests were developed that didn't use animals at all. But even today's modern laboratories and home pregnancy kits measure the same hormone levels as the tests carried out in the 1920s.