By Philip Giraldi
The tale of 9/11 will just not go away, largely because it is clear to anyone who reads the lengthy 9/11 Commission Report that many issues that should have been subject to inquiry were ignored for what would appear to be political reasons. The George W. Bush Administration quite obviously did not want to assume any blame for what had happened and that bias also extended to providing cover for U.S. “allies,” most particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel. Those who have sought the truth about 9/11 have been persistent in their attempts to find out information that was suppressed but they have been blocked repeatedly in spite of numerous FOIA requests.
Now, eighteen years after the event, there has been something like a breakthrough, penetrating the wall of silence erected by the government. FBI reports on the possible Israeli role in 9/11 were released on May 7th and they serve to support speculation by myself and other former intelligence officers that Israel, at a minimum, had detailed prior knowledge of what was to take place. More than that, Israeli intelligence officers working in the United States might well have enabled certain aspects of the conspiracy.
To recount some of what is already known and suspected, one should first examine the 2016 release of a heavily edited and redacted 28 pages long annex to the 9/11 Commission Report that explored the Saudi Arabian role in the terrorist attack . The section concluded that the Saudi government may have played a direct role in 9/11 by assisting two of the hijackers, including a dry run exercise intended to learn how to get into a plane’s cockpit. There was also considerable evidence suggesting that wealthy Saudis and even members of the Royal Family had been supporting and funding al-Qaeda.
But far exceeding the Saudi role is the involvement of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, which was not subject to any serious inquiry or investigation by U.S. intelligence or police agencies. Israel, in spite of obvious involvement in 9/11, was not included in the 9/11 Commission Report despite the existence of an enormous Israeli intelligence operation freely working in the United States that was known to the FBI. Some of those Mossad officers were notably filmed celebrating as the Twin Towers were burning and collapsing.
In the year 2001 Israel was running a massive spying operation through a number of cover companies in New Jersey, Florida and also on the west coast that served as spying mechanisms for Mossad officers. The effort was supported by the Mossad Station in Washington D.C. and included a large number of volunteers, the so-called “art students” who traveled around the U.S. selling various products at malls and outdoor markets. The FBI was aware of the numerous Israeli students who were routinely overstaying their visas and some in the Bureau certainly believed that they were assisting their country’s intelligence service in some way, but it proved difficult to actually link the students to undercover operations, so they were regarded as a minor nuisance and were normally left to the tender mercies of the inspectors at the Bureau of Customs and Immigration.
American law enforcement was also painfully aware that the Israelis were running more sophisticated intelligence operations inside the United States, many of which were focused on Washington’s military capabilities and intentions. Some specialized intelligence units concentrated on obtaining military and dual use technology. It was also known that Israeli spies had penetrated the phone systems of the U.S. government, to include those at the White House.
In its annual classified counterespionage review, the FBI invariably places Israel at the top for “friendly” countries that spy on the U.S. In fact, the pre-9/11 Bureau did its best to stay on top of the problem, but it rarely received any political support from the Justice Department and White House if an espionage case involved Israelis. By one estimate, more than 100 such cases were not prosecuted for political reasons. Any Israeli caught in flagrante would most often be quietly deported and most Americans who were helping Israel were let off with a slap on the wrist.
But the hands-off attitude towards Israel shifted dramatically when, on September 11, 2001, a New Jersey housewife saw something from the window of her apartment building, which overlooked the World Trade Center. She watched as the buildings burned and crumbled but also noted something strange. Three young men were kneeling on the roof of a white transit van parked by the water’s edge, making a movie in which they featured themselves high fiving and laughing in front of the catastrophic scene unfolding behind them. The woman wrote down the license plate number of the van and called the police, who responded quickly and soon both the local force and the FBI began looking for the vehicle, which was subsequently seen by other witnesses in various locations along the New Jersey waterfront, its occupants “celebrating and filming.”
The license plate number revealed that the van belonged to a New Jersey registered company called Urban Moving Systems. At 4 p.m. the vehicle was spotted and pulled over. Five men between the ages of 22 and 27 years old emerged and were detained at gunpoint and handcuffed. They were all Israelis. One of them had $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock and another had two foreign passports. Bomb sniffing dogs reacted to the smell of explosives in the van, which had very little actual moving equipment inside.
According to the initial police report, the driver identified as Sivan Kurzberg, stated “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” The four other passengers were Sivan’s brother Paul, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Ellner and Omer Marmari. The men were detained at the Bergen County jail in New Jersey before being transferred the FBI’s Foreign Counterintelligence Section, which handles allegations of spying.
After the arrest, the FBI obtained a warrant to search Urban Moving System’s Weehawken, N.J., offices. Papers and computers were seized. The company owner Dominick Suter, also an Israeli, answered FBI questions but when a follow-up interview was set up a few days later it was learned that he had fled the country for Israel, putting both his business and home up for sale. The office space and warehouse were abandoned. It was later learned that Suter has been associated with at least fourteen businesses in the United States, mostly in New Jersey and New York but also in Florida. Suter and his wife Omit Levinson Suter were the owners of 1 Stop Cleaner located in Wellington Florida and Dominick was also associated with Basia McDonnell, described as a Polish “holocaust survivor,” as a business partner in yet another business called Value Ad. Florida was a main focus for the Israeli intelligence operation in the U.S. that was directed against Arabs.
The five Israelis were among 140 Israelis arrested after 9/11, most of whom had military backgrounds, including some who were trained in “intelligence.” The five were held in Brooklyn, initially on charges relating to visa fraud. FBI interrogators questioned them for more than two months. Several were held in solitary confinement so they could not communicate with each other and two of them were given repeated polygraph exams, which they failed when claiming that they were nothing more than students working summer jobs. The two men that the FBI focused on most intensively were believed to be Mossad staff officers and the other three were volunteers helping with surveillance.
The Israelis were not exactly cooperative, but the FBI concluded from documents obtained at their office in Weehawken that they were targeting Arabs in New York and New Jersey, most particularly in the Paterson N.J. area, which has the second largest Muslim population in the U.S. They were particularly interested in local groups possibly linked to Hamas and Hezbollah as well as in charities that might be used for fund raising. The FBI also concluded that the Israelis had actually monitored the activities of at least two of the 9/11 hijackers.
To be sure, working on an intelligence operation does not necessarily imply participation in either the planning or execution of something like 9/11, but there are Israeli fingerprints all over the place, with cover companies and intelligence personnel often intersecting with locations frequented by the hijackers.
Apart from the interrogations of the five men from Weehawken, the U.S. government has apparently never sought to find out what else the Israelis might have known or were up to in September 2011. There are a lot of dots that might well have been connected once upon a time, but the trail has grown cold. Police records in New Jersey and New York where the men were held have disappeared and FBI interrogation reports have been inaccessible. Media coverage of the case also died, though the five were referred to in the press as the “dancing Israelis” and by some, more disparagingly, as the “dancing Shlomos.”
Inevitably, the George W. Bush White House intervened. After 71 days in detention, the five Israelis were released from prison by Attorney General John Ashcroft, put on a plane, and deported. Two of the men later spoke about their unpleasant experience in America on an Israeli talk show, one explaining that their filming the fall of the Twin Towers was to “document the event.” In 2004 the five men sued the United States government for damages, alleging “that their detention was illegal and that their civil rights were violated, suffering racial slurs, physical violence, religious discrimination, rough interrogations, deprivation of sleep, and many other offenses.” They were represented by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who in the previous year had founded the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center which seeks to bankrupt groups that Israel considers to be “terrorists.” Shurat HaDin is closely tied to the Israeli government.
Now it is just possible that the Urban Moving Israelis were indeed uninvolved in 9/11 but nevertheless working for Mossad, which the Israeli government even subsequently admitted, but the new evidence suggests that the Israelis almost certainly had considerable prior knowledge and were likely involved in what developed. The new information reveals that minutes after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, five Israelis had taken up position in the parking lot of the Doric Apartment Complex in Union City, New Jersey, where they took pictures and filmed the attacks while also celebrating the fall of the towers and “high fiving.” One eyewitness interviewed by the Bureau had seen the Israelis’ van circling the building parking at 8:00 a.m. that day, more than 40 minutes prior to the attack, indicating prior knowledge of what was about to happen.
The eyewitness testimony is supported by copies of photos taken by the men that the FBI seized. The photo reproductions were obtained via a FOIA request made by a private citizen and are of poor quality, deliberately made so by the FBI to conceal faces and other details. They constitute only 14 of over seventy photos taken by the Israelis. Nevertheless, they clearly demonstrate that a celebration was going on. One photo, intriguingly, shows Sivan Kurzberg holding a lit lighter in front of the Manhattan Skyline on September 10th, one day before 9/11. It was apparently taken at the Doric Complex on a reconnoitering visit made on that day and suggests that Kurzberg was simulating the attack on the towers on the following day.
Why would the Israelis do it? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described 9/11 initially as “a good thing.” He was later quoted as saying somewhat more expansively “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq.” To be sure, 9/11 was a gift to Israel and it is a gift that keeps on giving. America is at war in a number of Muslim countries and its troops blanket the Middle East, to include a base in Israel dedicated to the defense of that country. It is all a result of the Global War on Terror and the GWOT started with 9/11. And just maybe it was a fire that was ignited by Israel.
Philip M. Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served nineteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. He was the CIA Chief of Base for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and was one of the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in December 2001. Phil is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group that seeks to encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values and interests.