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Few papers have given the story significant space. Many, like the AJC, haven't uttered a peep.
Some of what has seeped out is disturbing. The Oklahoman, prompted by the French articles, reported last week that 10 months ago four Israelis peddling artwork (but carrying military IDs) were detained near sensitive Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Le Monde in Paris recounted that six intercepted "students" had cell phones purchased by an Israeli vice consul in the United States. Sources told me that many of the phones had a walkie-talkie feature that was virtually impossible to intercept.
Bush administration shills were quick to try to spin the story -- perhaps to minimize damage should it turn out the government did have information in advance about the people or activities that led to the Sept. 11 attack. A Justice Department spokesperson, Susan Dryden, called the spy report an "urban myth," and other federal flacks trumpeted that no Israeli had been charged with or deported for spying. Of course, in the Great Game, "friendly" spies are seldom embarrassed by being called by their true colors. The Israelis who have been deported have been given the boot because of visa expirations and other minor violations.
The Washington Post, which apparently doesn't have the 60-page document, nonetheless reported March 6 that unnamed law enforcement officials had told the paper that a "disgruntled" DEA agent had compiled the report after other federal agencies didn't react to the Israelis' suspicious behavior. The Post, however, also quoted a DEA spokesman who acknowledged that the large number of incident reports had been combined into a draft memo. As with CL's inquiry, the DEA spokesman wouldn't confirm for the Post whether the memo was the 60-page document.
Predictably, Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Reguev derided the Intelligence Online report as "nonsense."
And, pro-Israeli apologists such as anti-Arab ideologue Daniel Pipes quickly took the field with strident polemics. Pipes, who makes no claim of having seen the 60-page document, nonetheless claimed in a March 11 column that the story was a "dangerous falsehood" and that "U.S. journalists found not a shred of evidence to support" it.
The fact that reporters were beginning to piece together real shreds was blithely ignored by Pipes.
Israel in the past has belligerently denied wrongdoing until long after the truth was obvious. Israel claimed Jonathan Pollard -- a super spy who did horrendous, deadly damage to the United States until arrested in 1985 - wasn't an agent. And, Israel has stubbornly contended its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, in which 35 American sailors were slaughtered, was an accident -- a lie exposed in recent reports including one last fall on the History Channel. A recent authoritative book, Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, concludes that National Security Agency officials "were virtually unanimous in their belief that the attack was deliberate."
With the purported art students, it's likely that denial will reach screeching levels. The Bush administration would find it difficult to explain why it either ignored or discounted such a large espionage operation.
Senior Editor John Sugg can be reached at 404-614-1241.