Israeli art student spying

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Israeli Art Students refers to a group of individuals arrested by federal law enforcement authorities prior to the terrorist attacks on America September 11, 2001. There is some controversy as to whether the Israelis posed any threat to national security. Some believe the art students were young tourists visiting America, attempting to sell their art work as a way to defer expenses. Others claim the Israeli art student phenomenon was an elaborate intelligence operation designed to circumvent federal drug investigations. It has also been suggested that some of the Israelis may have been monitoring the Arab hijackers that came to America prior to 9/11.

Targeting the DEA and defense locations

In January 2001 persons claiming to be Israeli art students began appearing at the offices of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) wanting to sell art work.[1]They were divided into teams of eight to ten individuals with a designated team leader. Art student teams appeared in 42 towns and cities across the United States, mostly the southeast and southwest parts of the country. The art they were selling appears to have been made in China. [2]

Many of them claimed to be students at Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem or the University of Jerusalem. Their enrollment at Bezalen Academy was never confirmed and the University of Jerusalem doesn't exist. Their sales pitch would at times involve promoting a new art exhibit and they would ask for business cards so information on the upcoming exhibit could be mailed to the interested buyer.

The Israelis appeared to be targeting the offices and homes of individuals working at the Drug Enforcement Agency. In addition, they were reports of them at 36 Department of Defense locations.[3] Around 140 Israelis were arrested or detained between March 2001 and September 11, 2001.[4] Although suspected of espionage, many were deported on visa and work violations. After 9/11 an additional 60 Israelis (most working a shopping mall kiosks) were arrested and deported after intensive interrogations. It was determined some of these were on active duty serving the in Israeli military.

DEA Report

Officials at the Drug Enforcement Agency began assembling a report on activities of Israeli art students appearing at the homes and offices of DEA officials. Reports came from various parts of the country indicating a similar pattern. The report is quite detailed and provides the names, dates of birth and other identifying information on the Israelis that were stop and interrogated by the FBI and other security officials.[5]

The report revealed a majority of the Israelis interviewed by US investigators had military backgrounds with expertise in intelligence, electronic surveillance and explosives. One “art student” was the son of a two-star Israeli general while another had provided security to the head of the Israeli Army. The report concluded, “That these people are now traveling in the U.S. selling art seems not to fit their background.”[6]

The report was leaked to the media and placed up on the Internet.

Media coverage and government denials

In December 2001, Carl Cameron with Fox News did a series of reports on Israeli espionage, with a focus on the Israeli Art Students.[7] In his reporting he hinted that the Israelis were part of an espionage ring that was also monitoring the al Qaeda cells responsible for 9/11. One government official told Cameron, "evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information."[8]

After the Israeli espionage report aired, Jewish groups began a campaign of intimidation against Fox News expressing their concern over Cameron’s reporting. They argued Fox News had always been fair to Israel in the past, but suggested Cameron may be sympathetic to the Arabs since his family lived in the Middle East–his father being an archaeologist in the area. Within a week Fox News yielded to the Jewish pressure and removed all references of Cameron’s reporting from their web site.[9] The story however, was copied and saved at other Internet sites.

Two months later reporting on the Israeli Art Students hits Europe. The Paris based Internet source Intelligence Online reported, "a huge Israeli spy ring operating in the United States was rolled up." A week later Le Monde labels the "vast Israeli spy network" as being the "largest case of Israeli spying" since the 1985 arrest of Jonathan Pollard.[10] Pollard was an American Jew convicted on espionage charges and spying for Israel.

In an attempt to kill the story circulating in Europe concerning an Israeli spy ring in America, officials in the US government began issuing denials. Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden was reported in the Washington Post as saying, "This seems to be an urban myth that has been circulating for months." At the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Russell Bergeon said dozens of Israelis were arrested during the first half of 2001 on normal routine cases involving improper INS paperwork and added he had no knowledge of any Israeli espionage. With the official government denials, mainstream reporters for the most part stopped covering the story.

Ecstasy trafficking investigations

One exception was Paul Rodriguez with Insight magazine: a publication associated with the conservative Washington Times. Insight had been working on the story before the denials and obtained a Justice Department official’s comment saying, "We think there is something quite sinister here but are unable at this time to put our finger on it." and added, "The higher-ups don't want to deal with this and neither does the FBI because it involves Israel."[11]

Rodriguez’ spin on the story involved the “art students” focus on the DEA personnel and ongoing “Ecstasy” drug investigations. The “students” were appearing at the homes of DEA agents as well as their offices. It was suggested in the article this might be an attempt to derail DEA investigations into Ecstasy trafficking since Israel is a major supplier of the synthetic drug.[12]

Israel / al Qaeda connection

The two French reports added new information to the story. It was revealed six of the ‘art students’ had special phones for communication that were purchased by a former Israeli vice consul to the United States. Also, two of the Israelis had traveled from Hamburg, Germany (the base of the al Qaeda cell in Europe) to Miami, Florida and apparently reported to an agent in the FBI. That same day the two Israelis traveled to Chicago, Illinois and visited the home of a Justice Department official and later that evening flew directly to Toronto, Canada.[13]

According to Intelligence Online more that one third of the Israelis were located in Florida: many in the city of Hollywood where the Hamburg al Qaeda cell made their new home. The addresses of the Israelis and the terrorists were at times blocks away indicating a surveillance operation. For example, some Israelis lived at 4220 Sheridan Street while Mohammed Atta and three others were in an apartment at 3389 Sheridan Street. The DEA report indicated several of the Israelis arrested had backgrounds in military intelligence and electronic surveillance. [14]


  • March 2001: The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a branch of the CIA, issued an alert urging federal agencies to report any activities or appearances of individuals claiming to be Israeli art students.
  • June 2001: US Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA ) compiles a report on the suspicious activities of Israeli Art Students appearing at DEA offices. In December 2001 the report is leaked to the media. [15]
  • October 2, 2001: Anna Werner of channel 11, KHOU-TV news in Houston, Texas is the first reporter to discuss the appearance of Israeli Art Students at government offices. In her reporting she reveals 15 individuals claiming to be art students were arrested in Dallas, Texas back in March 2001. They seemed to be targeting the Drug Enforcement Administration and had floor plans of the building. Some of those arrested had home addresses of federal employees. All 15 were deported. [16]
  • December 12, 2001. Carl Cameron (Fox News) begins his first report of a four-part series on Israeli spying. Cameron reports on the Israel Art Students arrested before 9/11 and 60 other Israelis later arrested and held for interrogation. [17]
  • December 13, 2001, Carl Cameron presents his second report on the Israeli Spies. [18]
  • December 14, 2001, Carl Cameron third report. [19]
  • December 17, 2001. Carl Cameron final report on Israeli spying. [20]
  • February 28, 2002: The Paris based Intelligence Online reports on the Israeli Art Students. Their reporting appears to be based on the leaked DEA Report.
  • March 5, 2002: An article appears in the French magazine Le Monde.
  • March 5, 2002: News agency Reuters reports, "U.S. Busts Big Israeli Spy Ring."
  • March 6, 2002: "U.S. Deports Dozens of Israelis," by Ted Bridis, Associated Press[21]
  • March 6, 2002: The Washington Post attempts to kill the story with the article, "Reports of Israeli Spy Ring Dismissed."
  • March 8, 2002: CAMERA (a news watch group concerned with presenting Israel in a positive light) claims the recent reports on Israeli espionage activities are false. [22]
  • March 9, 2002: "Government Tracks Israeli Art Students," by Connie Cass (AP) [23]
  • March 11, 2002: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on Israeli Art Students suspected of spying in south Florida. [24]
  • March 20, 2002: “The spies who came in from the art sale,” by John Sugg, Creative Loafing. [25]
  • March 27, 2002: "Urban myth, my ass!" by John Sugg, Creative Loafing. [26]
  • April 1, 2002: Paul Rodriquez with Insight magazine writes the article “Intelligence agents or art students?” [27]
  • May 7, 2002: The first comprehensive article on the Israeli Art Students appears online at [28]
  • May 13, 2002: the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports on the Israeli Art Students arrested in America. [29]
  • September 19, 2003: The Ottawa Sun reports nine Israeli art students are arrested and face deportation with the suspicion that they may be foreign agents. [30]
  • March 7, 2007: CounterPunch a Internet web site publishes an updated article on the Israeli Art Students. [31]

See also


  1. "Intelligence agents or art students?" by Paul M. Rodriquez, Insight on the News, April 1, 2002.[1]
  2. "Intelligence agents or art students?" by Paul M. Rodriquez, Insight on the News, April 1, 2002. [2]
  3. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [3]
  4. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [4]
  5. "Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities"[5]
  6. "U.S. Deports Dozens of Israelis," by Ted Bridis, March 6, 2002, Associated Press[6]
  7. Israeli espionage, reporting by Carl Cameron, Fox News, December 18, 2001.[7]
  8. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [8]
  9. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [9]
  10. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [10]
  11. "Intelligence agents or art students?" by Paul M. Rodriquez, Insight on the News, April 1, 2002. [11]
  12. "Intelligence agents or art students?" by Paul M. Rodriquez, Insight on the News, April 1, 2002. [12]
  13. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [13]
  14. “The Israeli ‘Art Student’ Mystery,” by Christopher Ketcham, May 8, 2002, [14]

External links