Tuesday, October 15

Israeli art students spying again

A local ABC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah has caused a 

stir online with a report suggesting that self-proclaimed 

Israeli art students, peddling their artwork from door to 

door, have been asking disturbing questions about plans to 

build an NSA data center in the area.

"These salespeople say they're Israeli students," ABC4 

reporter Brent Hunsaker explained. "They even produce 

Israeli passports. They say they're selling their own artwork 

to raise money to open a gallery. So why would the Israeli 

art students want to know about the National Security 


According to Hunsaker, warnings about the students are 

being spread through blogs and church bulletins. One 

bulletin sent out to Mormon women even claimed that 

"federal law enforcement groups are actually investigating 

their ties to organized crime and terrorist groups."

The basis for the suspicions goes back to 2002, when a 

lengthy article at Salon described how Drug Enforcement 

Agency field offices were reporting that "young Israelis 

claiming to be art students and offering artwork for sale 

had been attempting to penetrate DEA offices for over a 

year. The Israelis had also attempted to penetrate the 

offices of other law enforcement and Department of 

Defense agencies."

According to author Christopher Ketcham, "Some of the 

Israelis were observed diagramming the inside of federal 

buildings. Some were found carrying photographs they had 

taken of federal agents. One was discovered with a 

computer printout in his luggage that referred to 'DEA 

groups.' In some cases, the Israelis visited locations not 

known to the public -- areas without street addresses, for 

example, or DEA offices not identified as such."

These reports were summarized in a June 2001 internal 

DEA memo, but what brought the story to public notice 


a Fox News special in December of that year. It suggested 

that the "art students" might have been Israeli spies who 

had trailed al-Qaeda members across the United States but 

had never shared any information they might have gained 

on the plans for September 11 with US authorities.

Ultimately, the more conspiratorial aspects of the story 

proved impossible to confirm, and it became one more 

unsolved 9/11 mystery. Since then, self-proclaimed "Israeli 

art students" have continued to show up from time to time, 

but most of them are clearly running a scam.

Police in Ontario, Canada, for example, are currently 

issuing warnings about individuals going door to door and 

asking hundreds of dollars for "one of a kind" artworks that 

are "actually mass-produced oil paintings from China worth 

about $15."

The situation is somewhat different in Utah, however, 

where the sudden appearance of the art students is being 

tied to recent news reports that "the Army has awarded a 

$1.2 billion contract to a construction consortium to build 

spacious new data center in Utah for the National 

Security Agency's (NSA's) cybersecurity effort."

The facility is part of the Comprehensive National Security 

Initiative, launched in 2008, whose aim is to protect 

military computer networks from cyber-threats and provide 

assistance to the Department of Homeland Security in 

securing the federal government's civilian networks.

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