about the attacks. The suspicion, as theinvestigation unfolded, was that the menworking for Urban Moving Systemswere spies. Who exactly was handlingthem, and who or what they were target-ing, was as yet uncertain.It was New York’s venerable Jew-ish weekly
that broke thisstory in the spring of 2002, after monthsof footwork.
reported thatthe FBI had finally concluded that atleast two of the men were agents work-ing for the Mossad, the Israeli intel-ligence agency, and that Urban MovingSystems, the ostensible employer of thefive Israelis, was a front operation. Twoformer CIA officers confirmed this tome, noting that movers’ vans are a com-mon intelligence cover.
also noted that the Israeli governmentitself admitted that the men were spies.A “former high-ranking American in-telligence official”, who said he was“regularly briefed on the investigationedge”, according to Cannistraro.A second former CIA counterter-rorism officer who closely followedthe case, but who spoke on conditionof anonymity, told me that investiga-tors were pursuing two theories. “Onestory was that [the Israelis] appeared atLiberty State Park very quickly after thefirst plane hit. The other was that theywere at the park location already”. Ei-ther way, investigators wanted to knowexactly what the men were expectingwhen they got there.Before such issues had been fullyexplored, however, the investigation wasshut down. Following what ABC Newsreported were “high-level negotiations between Israeli and U.S. government of-ficials”, a settlement was reached in thecase of the five Urban Moving Systemssuspects. Intense political pressure ap- parently had been brought to bear. Thereputable Israeli daily
reportedthat by the last week of October 2001,about Islamic terrorism as well as itslong history of spying on U.S. soil,this does not come entirely as a shock.What’s incendiary is the idea – sup- ported, though not proven, by several pieces of evidence – that the Israelis didlearn something about 9/11 in advance but failed to share all of what they knewwith American officials. The questionsare disturbing enough to warrant a Con-gressional investigation.Yet none of this information foundits way into Congress’s joint committeereport on the attacks, and it was not eventangentially referenced in the nearly600 pages of the 9/11 Commission’sfinal report. Nor would a single major media outlet track the revelations of
and ABC News to investigatefurther. “There weren’t even stories say-ing it was bullshit”, says
’sPerelman. “Honestly, I was surprised”.Instead, the story disappeared into thewelter of anti-Israel 9/11 conspiracytheories.It’s no small boon to the U.S. govern-ment that the story of 9/11-related Israeliespionage has been thus relegated: thestory doesn’t fit in the clean lines of theofficial narrative of the attacks. It bringsup concerns not only about Israel’s ob-ligation not to spy inside the borders of the United States, its major benefactor, but about its possible failure to have provided the U.S. adequate warningof an impending devastating attack onAmerican soil.Furthermore, the available evidenceundermines the carefully cultivatedimage of sanctity that defines the U.S.-Israel relationship. These are all factorsthat help explain the story’s disappear-ance – and they are compelling reasonsto revisit it now.
All five future hijackers of AmericanAirlines Flight 77, which rammed thePentagon, maintained addresses or wereactive within a six-mile radius of townsassociated with the Israelis employedat Urban Moving Systems. Hudson andBergen counties, the areas where theIsraelis were allegedly conducting sur-veillance, were a central staging groundfor the hijackers of Flight 77 and their fellow al-Qaeda operatives. MohammedAtta maintained a mail-drop address
In the months before 9/11, Israel was running an active spy network in- side the United States, with Muslim extremists as the target.
some six weeks after the men had beendetained, Deputy Secretary of StateRichard Armitage and two unidentified“prominent New York congressmen”were lobbying heavily for their release.According to a source at ABC Newsclose to the
report, high-profilecriminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz alsostepped in as a negotiator on behalf of the men to smooth out differences withthe U.S. government. (Dershowitz de-clined to comment for this article.) Andso, at the end of November 2001, for reasons that only noted they had beenworking in the country illegally as mov-ers, in violation of their visas, the menwere flown home to Israel.Today, the crucial questions raised by this matter remain unanswered. Thereis sufficient reason – from news reports,statements by former intelligence of-ficials, an array of circumstantial evi-dence, and the reported acknowledgment by the Israeli government – to believethat in the months before 9/11, Israel wasrunning an active spy network inside theUnited States, with Muslim extremistsas the target. Given Israel’s concerns by two separate law enforcement offi-cials”, told reporter Marc Perelman thatafter American authorities confrontedJerusalem at the end of 2001, the Israeligovernment “acknowledged the opera-tion and apologized for not coordinatingit with Washington”. Today, Perelmanstands by his reporting. I asked him if his sources in the Mossad denied thestory. “Nobody stopped talking to me”,he said.In June 2002, ABC News’
followed up with its own investigationinto the matter, coming to the sameconclusion as
. VincentCannistraro, former chief of operationsfor counterterrorism with the CIA, told
that some of the names of the fivemen appeared as hits in searches of anFBI national intelligence database. Can-nistraro told me that the question thatmost troubled FBI agents in the weeksand months after 9/11 was whether theIsraelis had arrived at the site of their “celebration” with foreknowledge of the attack to come. From the beginning,“the FBI investigation operated on the premise that the Israelis had foreknowl-