A major international espionage saga is unfolding across the United States, with some of its roots right here in the Atlanta area. It's been pretty hush-hush so far, largely because the implications could be a major embarrassment for the government.
The spy story is even more touchy because it isn't Saddam, Fidel, Osama or even what passes nowadays for the KGB spying on America -- but our "friend" in the war against "evil," Israel.
The basis of the spy allegations is a 60-page document -- a compilation of field reports by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and other U.S. law enforcement officials.
Creative Loafing last week obtained a copy of the report from intelligence sources with long-term contacts among both Israeli and American agencies. The government has attempted to deflect attention from earlier leaks about the spy scandal. However, while declining to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, a spokesman for the DEA, William Glaspy, did acknowledge that the agency had received many reports of the nature described in the 60 pages.
A source familiar with the creation of the document has told CL that the 60-page memo was a draft intended as the base for a 250-page report. The larger report has not been produced because of the volatile nature of suggesting that Israel spies on America's deepest secrets.
Another DEA spokesperson, Rogene Waite, told Associated Press a draft document had been compiled and forwarded to other agencies.
The validity of the scenarios described in the document is attested to in at least one official mention. The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, in a March 2001 summary, reported on "suspicious visitors to federal facilities" and noted the type of "aggressive" activity recounted in the document obtained by the Planet.
The nation's most prominent Jewish newspaper, the New York-based Forward, also has confirmed portions of the vast spying network -- although stating that the Israelis were monitoring Arabs in the United States, not trying to access U.S. secrets. Referring to the arrest of five Israeli employees of a New Jersey moving company who were arrested and held for two months after the Sept. 11 attack, Forward on March 15 stated: "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 ... were conducting a Mossad surveillance mission and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems of Weehawken, N.J., served as a front."
Forward also reported that a counterintelligence probe concluded two of the men were operatives of Mossad, Israel's spy service.
Reports of the spying were first made public in December broadcasts by Fox News reporter Carl Cameron. It isn't clear whether he had the 60-page document or was only told its contents. A French online news service has obtained the report, and Le Monde in Paris has advanced the story. However, in the United States, the media ignored the original Fox broadcast, and only a handful of publications. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution hasn't reported the story although another Cox-owned paper, The Palm Beach Post has.
The absence of reporting hasn't gone unnoticed. The authoritative British intelligence and military analysis service, Jane's Information Group, on March 13 chided: "It is rather strange that the U.S. media ... seem to be ignoring what may well prove to be the most explosive story since the 11 September attack, the alleged breakup of a major Israeli espionage operation in the United States which aimed to infiltrate both the Justice and Defense departments and which may also have been tracking al-Qaida terrorists before the aircraft hijackings took place."
In flat language and sometimes excruciating bureaucratic detail, the document relates scores of encounters between federal agents and Israelis describing themselves as art students. The implication is that the seemingly innocuous cover was used to gain access to sensitive U.S. offices and military installations. For example, Paragraph 82 of the document states that MacDill Air Force Base intelligence officers were warned in March 2001 of the art students' efforts. A month later, a special alert was issued about a "possible intelligence collection effort" at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Among other activities, the base houses AWACS surveillance planes and repairs B-1 bombers.
The author of the document is not identified. However, many DEA and other law enforcement agents are named. CL has contacted some of the named agents, and three federal employees have confirmed the incidents described in the report. None disputed the authenticity of the report. One senior DEA official, when read paragraphs that mentioned him, said: "Absolutely, that's my report," adding, however, that he didn't think the incidents were sufficient to prove an ongoing spy operation. All of the federal employees said they could not be quoted by name.