In a sidebar introduction to Ketcham’s piece, the editors write:
Yes, when it comes to Israel and the U.S. press we are familiar with obstructions to raising edgy topics. That’s why we’re glad we have CounterPunch, to welcome good reporters like Ketcham in from the cold.
But more importantly, Christopher Ketcham has put together a phenomenal synthesis of the highly suspicious Israeli intelligence activities in the U.S. on and before 9/11. An enormous network of “art students”, many of whom were located just blocks from the (alleged) 9/11 hijackers; and a small group of five or six Israeli intelligence operatives who were witnessed by many celebrating on a rooftop, with surveillance equipment, very soon after the first plane hit the Trade Center.
Ketcham goes beyond previous coverage especially by framing out questions with little fear of the implications:
The questions abound: Did the Urban Moving Systems Israelis, ready to “document the event”, arrive at the waterfront before the first plane came in from the north? And if they arrived right after, why did they believe it was a terrorist attack? . . . Did the U.S. government receive more advance information about the attacks from Israeli authorities than it is willing to admit? What about the 9/11 Commission’s eliding of reported Israeli warnings that may have led to the watchlisting of Mihdhar and Hazmi? Were the Israeli warnings purposely washed from the historical record? Did the CIA know more about pre-9/11 Israeli spying than it has admitted?
The stories are not new — The Israeli magazine Forward covered the “art student” spy ring story, as did Fox News, and there were numerous small reports about the “high-fivers” posing as movers in New Jersey. But Ketcham has deepened the reporting of both stories significantly, and has shown them in relation to eachother. Importantly, he has cultivated important sources within the U.S. intelligence community who could confirm how significant these spying activities were:
According to the former CIA counterterrorism officer with knowledge of investigations into 9/11-related Israeli espionage, when law enforcement officials examined the “art students” phenomenon, they came to the tentative conclusion that “the Israelis likely had a huge spy operation in the U.S. and that they had succeeded in identifying a number of the hijackers”.
The veteran CIA/NSA intelligence operative told me in 2002 that there was “a great press to discredit the story, discredit the connections, prevent [investigators] from going any further. People were told to stand down. You name the agency, they were told to stand down”.
Thanks to a fine network of sources, Ketcham sheds light on the sort of complexity which may have been behind the operation:
Investigative journalist John Sugg . . . told me that investigators he spoke to within FBI felt the “art student” ring functioned as a wide-ranging cover that was counterintuitive in its obviousness. DEA investigators, for example, uncovered evidence connecting the Israeli “art students” to known ecstasy trafficking operations in New York and Florida. This was, according to Sugg, planted information. “The explanation was that when our FBI guys started getting interested in these folks [the art students] — when they got too close to what the real purpose was — the Israelis threw in an ecstasy angle”, Sugg told me. “The argument being that if our guys thought the Israelis were involved in a smuggling ring, then they wouldn’t see the real purpose of the operation”. Sugg, who is writing a book that explores the tale of the “art students”, told me that several sources within the FBI, and at least one source formerly with Israeli intelligence, suggested that “the bumbling aspect of the art student thing was intentional.”
There is an additional little bonus article in this issue, called “The Kuala Lumpur Deceit”, in which Ketcham, having analysed a very fascinating, in-depth home-brew intelligence document created by Gerald Shea (“The Gerald Shea Memo” — Make sure to look at the maps at the end of this document.) shows how the CIA and FBI could not have on their own come to the conclusion that Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar should be watchlisted: Instead, he concludes, the information about these two, who had been in a meeting in Kuala Lampur with other al Qaeda planners, almost certainly came from Israeli sources.
The media component of this story, of which Ketcham is the latest chapter — is almost as fascinating as the spying itself. With the saga of Salon.com and The Nation rejecting this story in knee-jerk last minutes, and the other media incidents that Ketcham reports, we can measure the exact length of the mainstream media’s leash:
A former ABC News employee high up in the network newsroom told me that when ABC News ran its June 2002 exposé on the celebratory New Jersey Israelis, “Enormous pressure was brought to bear by pro-Israeli organizations” — and this pressure began months before the piece was even close to airing. The source said that ABC News colleagues wondered, “how they [the pro-Israel organizations] found out we were doing the story. Pro- Israeli people were calling the president of ABC News. Barbara Walters was getting bombarded by calls. The story was a hard sell but ABC News came through — the management insulated [reporters] from the pressure”.
Fox News, to its credit, ran an initial series of pieces about the art student spy ring, but, in a meeting with “good old boys” from the Israeli lobby, they caved, feeling they had to end to a barrage of hate mail and negative punditry. Afterward, they even removed the story from the Fox News web archives (Though it is archived here). Ketcham writes that, “Following this meeting, within four days of the posting of Cameron’s series on Fox News.com, the transcripts disappeared, replaced by the message, ‘This story no longer exists'”.
Amy Goodman had Ketcham and Cockburn on “Democracy Now,” on February 8, and did a decent interview with them about the story. But amazingly, she failed to ask Cockburn how running this article squared with how he has been spitting acid at the 9/11 truth movement for years. One would hope that this article will provide Cockburn cover so that he can broaden CounterPunch’s (and some day The Nation’s?) consideration of 9/11.
This caliber of reporting will be important to maintaining an even keel as the truth emerges on higher and higher levels of public consciousness. Make sure to read this phenomenal piece and let Ketcham know how much it is appreciated, especially so that his talents and sources can continue to bear fruit in the broad inquiry for truth about September 11. Perhaps sending appreciative notes to Mr. Cockburn could continue a thawing process somewhere in there.