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>From http://www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.03.15/news2.html

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MARCH 15, 2002
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Spy Rumors Fly on Gusts of Truth

Americans Probing Reports of Israeli Espionage


Despite angry denials by Israel and its American supporters, reports that Israel was
conducting spying activities in the United States may have a grain of truth, the
Forward has learned.

However, far from pointing to Israeli spying against U.S. government and military
facilities, as reported in Europe last week, the incidents in question appear to
represent a case of Israelis in the United States spying on a common enemy, radical
Islamic networks suspected of links to Middle East terrorism.

In particular, a group of five Israelis arrested in New Jersey shortly after the
September 11 attacks and held for more than two months was subjected to an
unusual number of polygraph tests and interrogated by a series of government
agencies including the FBI's counterintelligence division, which by some reports
remains convinced that Israel was conducting an intelligence operation. The five
Israelis worked for a moving company with few discernable assets that closed up
shop immediately afterward and whose owner fled to Israel.

Other allegations involved Israelis claiming to be art students who had backgrounds
in signal interception and ordnance. (See related story, Page 8.)

Sources emphasized that the release of all the Israelis under investigation indicates
that they were cleared of any suspicion that they had prior knowledge of the
September 11 attacks, as some anti-Israel media outlets have suggested.

The resulting tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, sources told the
Forward, arose not because of the operations' targets but because Israel reportedly
violated a secret gentlemen's agreement between the two countries under which
espionage on each other's soil is to be coordinated in advance.

Most experts and former officials interviewed for this article said that such so-called
unilateral or uncoordinated Israeli monitoring of radical Muslims in America would not
be surprising.

In fact, they said, Israeli intelligence played a key role in helping the Bush
administration to crack down on Islamic charities suspected of funneling money to
terrorist groups, most notably the Richardson, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation
last December.

"I have no doubt Israel has an interest in spying on those groups," said Peter
Unsinger, an intelligence expert who teaches justice administration at San Jose
University. "The Israelis give us good stuff, like on the Hamas charities."

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 arrested in New Jersey last September were conducting a Mossad
surveillance mission and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems of Weehawken,
N.J., served as a front.

After their arrest, the men were held in detention for two-and-a-half months and were
deported at the end of November, officially for visa violations.

However, a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI concluded that at least two of
them were in fact Mossad operatives, according to the former American official, who
said he was regularly briefed on the investigation by two separate law enforcement

"The assessment was that Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad and
operatives employed by it," he said. "The conclusion of the FBI was that they were
spying on local Arabs but that they could leave because they did not know anything
about 9/11."

However, he added, the bureau was "very irritated because it was a case of so-
called unilateral espionage, meaning they didn't know about it."

Spokesmen for the FBI, the Justice Department and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service refused to discuss the case. Israeli officials flatly dismissed
the allegations as untrue.

However, the former American official said that after American authorities confronted
Jerusalem on the issue at the end of last year, the Israeli government acknowledged
the operation and apologized for not coordinating it with Washington.

The five men — Sivan and Paul Kurzberg, Oded Ellner, Omer Marmari and Yaron
Shmuel — were arrested eight hours after the attacks by the Bergen County, N.J.,
police while driving in an Urban Moving Systems van. The police acted on an FBI
alert after the men allegedly were seen acting strangely while watching the events
from the roof of their warehouse and the roof of their van.

In addition to their strange behavior and their Middle Eastern looks, the suspicions
were compounded when a box cutter and $4,000 in cash were found in the van.
Moreover, one man carried two passports and another had fresh pictures of the men
standing with the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center in the background.

The Bergen County police immediately handed the suspects to the INS, which turned
them over to a joint police-FBI terrorism task force set up after September 11 to deal
with all possible links with the attacks.

The five Israelis were detained in the high-security Metropolitan Detention Center in
Brooklyn in solitary confinement until mid-October. On September 25, they all signed
papers acknowledging violations of U

However, the former official said, this is just the official story.

In fact, he said, the nature of the investigation changed after the names of two of the
five Israelis showed up on a CIA-FBI database of foreign intelligence operatives, he
said. At that point, he said, the bureau took control of the investigation and launched
a Foreign Counterintelligence Investigation, or FCI.

FBI investigations into possible links to the September 11 attacks are usually carried
by the bureau's counterterrorism division, not its counterintelligence division.

"An FCI means not only that it was serious but also that it was handled at a very high
level and very tightly," the former official said. That view was echoed by several
former FBI officials interviewed.

Steven Gordon, an American lawyer hired by the families to help secure their
release, said he could not confirm which FBI division was in charge of the
investigation. However, he acknowledged that "there were a lot of people involved,
including counterintelligence officials from the FBI."

The men all underwent at least two polygraph tests each, the lawyer added. He said
one of the Israelis took the test seven times, a very unusual total according to 
polygraph experts interviewed by the Forward.

After the men were arrested, FBI agents searched the warehouse of Urban Moving
Systems in Weehawken, N.J., seizing computer hard drives and documents. The
warehouse was closed on September 14, said Ron George, a spokesman for the
New Jersey State Division of Consumer Affairs.

On December 7, a New Jersey judge ruled that the state could seize the goods
remaining inside the warehouse. The state also has a lawsuit pending against Urban
Moving Systems and its owner, Dominik Otto Suter, an Israeli citizen.

The FBI questioned Mr. Suter once. However, he left the country afterward and went
back to Israel before further questioning. Mr. Suter declined through his lawyer to be
interviewed for this article.

Earlier this year, the New York State Department of Transportation revoked Urban
Moving System's license after discovering that the company's midtown Manhattan
base was only a mailing address.

After they returned to Israel at the end of November, the five men told local media
that they were kept in solitary confinement, beaten, deprived of food and questioned
while blindfolded and in their underwear.

Mr. Ellner, one of the five Israelis, said on two occasions in recent weeks that the 
men had decided not to grant any interviews right now "because we went through a
very difficult period and we are not ready for this."

Their Israeli lawyer, Ram Horwitz, told the Forward he was still waiting for the 
of the medical tests undertaken by the men in Israel to make a decision on an
eventual lawsuit in the United States for mistreatment.

Mr. Horwitz insisted the men were not intelligence officers.

Irit Stoffer, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the allegations were
"completely untrue" and that there were "only visa violations."

"The FBI investigated those cases because of 9/11," Ms. Stoffer said.

Charlene Eban, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Washington, and Don Nelson, a
Justice Department spokesman, said they had no knowledge of an Israeli spying

"If we found evidence of unauthorized intelligence operations, that would be
classified material," added Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI in New York.

One leading expert in American intelligence operations, Chip Berlet, a senior analyst
at the Boston-based Political Research Associates, explained that there "is 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 a visa violation."

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new landscapes but in having new eyes. -Marcel Proust
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"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe
simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not
believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do
not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not
believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men.
Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it
agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all.
Then accept it and live up to it."
The Buddha on Belief, from the Kalama Sutta
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A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled
one is truly vanquished. -Johann Christoph Schiller,
                                     German Writer (1759-1805)
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It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that
prevents us from living freely and nobly. -Bertrand Russell
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"Everyone has the right...to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless
of frontiers."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will
teach you to keep your mouth shut."
--- Ernest Hemingway

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