Israeli Surveillance of the Future
Hijackers and FBI Suspects in the
September 11 Attacks and Their
Failure to Give Us Adequate Warning:
The Need for a Public Inquiry
. . .
Northeastern New Jersey—Another Vital Center of Operations for Both Sides
a. Hudson and Bergen Counties: The Operating Base of the Israeli New Jersey Group
While the Israeli DEA groups were active in Hollywood and elsewhere in the United States, another group of Israelis (the “Israeli New Jersey Group” and, collectively with the Israeli DEA Groups, the “Israeli Groups”) was operating in Hudson and Bergen Counties in northeastern New Jersey. The Israeli New Jersey Group appears to have been unknown to federal and state
law enforcement authorities until September 11, 2001.
On that day, immediately after the first aircraft, the North Tower Plane, crashed into the World Trade Center, a resident of
Bergen County, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, became alarmed when she saw a group of men
celebrating “on the roof of a white van in the parking lot of her apartment building.”77 She wrote down the license number of the van and called the police. The police were told that the men were “posing, dancing and laughing against the background ”78 of the disaster, which could be plainly seen across the river. The men were “smiling and exchanging high-fives.”79 An FBI alert was promptly issued:
76 Spy Rumors Fly on Gusts of Truth, Americans Probing Reports of Israeli Espionage, by Marc Perelman and Forward Staff, the
Forward March 15, 2002.
“Vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack. White, 2000 Chevrolet van80 with New Jersey registration with ‘Urban Moving Systems’ sign on back seen . . . at the time of first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center. Three individuals with van were seen celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and detain individuals.”81
The men were five Israeli citizens, Sivan Kurzberg (the driver of the van), Paul Kurzberg, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Ellner and Omer
Marmari. The van was finally stopped in East Rutherford, New Jersey at 3:56 P.M. The driver and passengers were arrested by
Sergeant Rivelli and Officers DeCarlo and Yannacone of the East Rutherford Police Department.
77 Transcript of ABC News telecast, June 21, 2002.
78 Statement of Steven N. Gordon, Esq., counsel for the five members of the group, as reported in Yediot America on November 2, 2001.
80 Vans of various makes were also, of course, the common means of transportation for the Israeli DEA Groups, and Chevrolet vans were used by Israeli DEA Groups in New York, Dallas, Chicago and San Diego. DEA Report, paragraph 113, p. 33, paragraph 26, p. 9; paragraph 21, p. 8; and paragraph 119, p. 35, respectively.
81 As quoted in the Bergen (New Jersey) Record, September 12, 2001. The men may have been witnessed celebrating twice, in
separate locations, once at the time of the impact of the North Tower Plane and a second time when both towers were burning. Compare the FBI statement with the ABC transcript, supra, n. 72, and the statements of the Israelis’ counsel in Yediot America, November 2, 2001.
The local police were soon joined by other law enforcement authorities. Sivan Kurzberg was asked several times to come out of
the van but, fumbling with a black leather pouch, refused to do so. Officer DeCarlo then forcibly removed him. The FBI agents who arrived on the scene or were otherwise involved included Kevin Donovan, Daniel O’Brien and Robert F. Taylor, Jr. The FBI ultimately took control of the individuals, the evidence in the van, and the investigation.
Sources close to the investigation said they found in the van “maps of the city . . . with certain places highlighted,” adding that “it looked like . . . they knew what was going to happen.”82
Yaron Shmuel lied to the police as to where the men were at the time of the World Trade Center attacks, saying that they were on the West Side Highway in New York (not celebrating across the Hudson in New Jersey). He gave his address as 1345 Drexel Avenue in Miami Beach, Florida (not far from Hollywood). Mr. Ellner was carrying $4,700 in a sock-like sack. Sivan Kurzberg told the police at the time of his arrest–
“We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are [now?] our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.”83
82 Bergen (New Jersey) Record, September 12, 2001.
83 The question in brackets is my own. The quotation, and the above related details of the arrest of the five members of the Israeli New Jersey Group, are all as set forth in greater detail in the Preliminary and Supplemental Police Reports of the arresting officers of the East Rutherford, New Jersey Polic Department, dated September 11, 2001.
All of the men were handcuffed, placed on the grass and given Miranda warnings. A sixth member of the Group, Dominik Suter of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, also an Israeli national and the owner of Urban Moving, was later questioned by the FBI at the company’s offices in Weehawken. The FBI searched Urban Moving’s premises for several hours, and removed boxes of documents and a dozen computer hard drives.84
b. The Leader of the Israeli New Jersey Group Flees to Israel and Becomes an FBI Suspect
When the FBI attempted to interview Mr. Suter once more a few days later, he had fled the United States for Israel along with his family.85 According to the New Jersey State Division of Consumer Affairs, Urban Moving’s premises were closed on September 14, 2001. On December 7, 2001 a New Jersey judge allowed the state to seize its property. Early in 2002, the New York Department of Transportation revoked Urban Moving’s license to do business in that state.86
Dominik Suter is included on the May 2002 FBI Suspect List, along with Mohamed Atta and the other hijackers and suspects, under that name and two others he has apparently used, Omit Suter and Omit Levinson.87 He is given two addresses in New Jersey, his apparent residence in Fair Lawn and an address in Jersey City, very close to that of a number of other FBI suspects.88 Though he had fled, Mr. Suter’s name did not appear on the October 2001 FBI Suspect List. This may be because in early October 2001 the FBI was unaware that Urban Moving was operating in the same area as the future hijackers of the Pentagon Plane and visiting hijackers from Florida including Mohamed Atta (see below).
84 NJ Locations Searched In Connection With Terror Attacks, Associated Press, September 14, 2001.
85 Transcript of ABC News telecast, June 21, 2002; the Forward, March 15, 2002, op. cit., note 76.
87 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, pages 17 and 21.
c. Hudson and Bergen Counties: The Staging Ground for the Future Hijackers of the Pentagon Plane
It soon became apparent, however, that Hudson and Bergen Counties were the second most important locus of the future hijackers’ U.S. operation and was the staging ground for the hijacking of the Pentagon Plane. The May 2002 FBI Suspect List shows, unlike its October 2001 predecessor, that all five future hijackers of the Pentagon Plane, Khaled al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, Salem al Hazmi, Majed Moqed89 and Hani Hanjour (the pilot) lived or had mailing addresses or were otherwise active in towns closely interspersed, within about a four-mile radius, with the towns of the Israeli New Jersey Group (Weehawken, Jersey City, Fair Lawn and Rutherford). The future hijackers’ towns included Paterson,90 Fort Lee,91 Totowa,92 Hoboken93 and Elmwood Park.94 There were also FBI Suspects in Jersey City,95 Harrison,96 Seacaucus and Hackensack.97 See MAP 3.
88 See MAP 3.
89 No address is given on the October 2001 FBI Suspect List for Majed Moqed and his name is omitted, presumably in error, from the May 2002 FBI Suspect List. But Moqed appears to have been known by May 2002 to have lived in the hijackers’ Paterson apartment.
90 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, pp. 3, 4, 6, 7, 14. Hijacker Timeline, pp. 22, 27, 30, 41.
91 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, pp. 3, 4, 5, 7, 14. Hijacker Timeline, pp. 22, 39.
92 Hijacker Timeline, p. 41
93 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, p. 9.
Atta, al Omari, and Ahmed al Ghamdi, though based in Hollywood and (al Ghamdi) Delray Beach, Florida, were among the
hijackers who had addresses in Paterson, Fort Lee and Elmwood Park as well as in South Wayne. Up to six or more of the hijackers appear to have lived on Union Avenue in Paterson at one time or another between March and August 31, 2001.98
d. The FBI’s Conclusion: The Israeli New Jersey Group
were Mossad Intelligence Operatives Spying on Local
Arabs in Hudson and Bergen_Counties
There have been a number of press reports in the United States on the Israeli New Jersey Group, most notably in the Forward. In the same article that reported on the Israeli DEA Groups, the Forward states that the nature of the FBI’s review of the case changed after the names of two of the five Israelis appeared on a CIA-FBI database of foreign intelligence operatives. This has been confirmed by a former chief of operations for counter-terrorism with the CIA.99 At that point, the FBI launched a foreign counter-intelligence investigation. All five of the men underwent polygraph tests, one of them seven times. At the end of that investigation, the FBI concluded that the Israeli New Jersey Group had been conducting a surveillance mission for Mossad, and that Urban Moving served as a Mossad front.100 They further concluded that the Israelis were “spying on local
94 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, pp. 5, 7.
95 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, pp. 10, 15, 16, 17, 19. Hijacker Timeline, p. 53.
96 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, p. 10.
97 May 2002 FBI Suspect List, p. 7.
98 Hijacker Timeline, p. 22. Commission Final Report, p. 230. The May 2002 FBI Suspect List provides a variety of Union Avenue addresses, including the address specified in the Hijacker Timeline. The Commission’s Final Report (p. 230) does not place any Pentagon Plane hijackers in Paterson until May. Other sources place them there in March, when Hanjour and Salem al Hazmi are said to have signed the lease for the Paterson apartment. Hijacker Timeline, p. 22; Connecticut Post (Bridgeport), March 6, 2002 (preparatory hijacker meeting in March in Fairfield, Connecticut just before the move to Paterson).
8. Inadequate Israeli Warnings in August 2001
As noted above, almost immediately after September 11, reports emerged of Israeli warnings, in August, that major terrorist attacks were imminent. On September 16, 2001 the Daily Telegraph (London) reported that Israeli intelligence officials said
that they– “warned their counterparts in the United States last month that large-scale terrorist attacks on highly visible targets on the American mainland were imminent. . . .
99 See transcript of ABC News telecast, June 21, 2002.
100 Marc Perelman, op. cit., March 15, 2002. The Forward’s source was a former American intelligence official who said he was regularly briefed on the investigation by two law enforcement officials acting independently.
101 The Forward’s source in the March article also said the five men were released (Suter had fled to Israel) because “they did not know anything about 9/11.” But this statement needs to be weighed in the light of the men’s demeanor and statements, and the statements of local law enforcement officials, on September 11, 2001, the inclusion of Mr. Suter on the May 2002 FBI Suspect List, and the revelations on that List that Hudson and Bergen Counties were a critical center of operations for the future hijackers and FBI suspects as noted above. The FBI was also under pressure from U.S. political figures to release the members of the Israeli New Jersey Group, including Richard Armitage of the State Department and two New York Congressmen. Senior U.S. Officials Join Effort To Free 5 Israelis Held in Brooklyn, Ha’aretz News, October 29, 2001.
. . . (T)wo senior experts with Mossad, the Israeli military intelligence service, were sent to Washington in August to alert the CIA and FBI to the existence of a cell of as many of 200 terrorists said to be preparing a big operation.
They had no specific information about what was being planned but linked the plot to Osama bin Laden and told the Americans that there were strong grounds for suspecting Iraqi involvement.”102
The Los Angeles Times reported on September 20, 2001 that a “high-ranking U.S. law enforcement official” confirmed that–
“FBI and CIA officials were advised in August that as many as 200 terrorists were slipping into the United States and planning ‘a major assault on the United States . . . .’
The advisory was passed on by the Mossad. . . . It cautioned that it had picked up indications of a ‘large-scale target’ in the United States and that Americans would be ‘very vulnerable’, the official said. It is not known whether US authorities thought the warning to be credible, or whether it contained enough details to allow counter-terrorism teams to come up with a response. But the official said the advisory linked the information ‘back to Afghanistan and [exiled Saudi militant] Osama bin Laden.’”103
102 Israeli security issues urgent warning to CIA of large-scale terror attacks, by David Wastell in Washington and Philip Jacobson in Jerusalem, Daily Telegraph, September 16, 2001.
103 Officials Told of ‘Major Assault’ Plans, By Richard A. Serrano and John-Thor Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2001. The L.A. Times retracted its story the next day, reporting that the CIA (not the source of the story) later flatly denied the statements, and that the Times’s source, the “high-ranking law enforcement official,” had based his account solely on what he read in the newspapers! The L.A. Times retraction referred to a “British newspaper account,” presumably the Daily Telegraph article. The U.S. law enforcement official’s account, however, as quoted above, said that Mossad had warned of a single “large-scale target” and had warned that the Americans would be “very vulnerable.” Neither statement was included in the Daily Telegraph article. The U.S. official’s account also made no specific mention of an “imminent” attack, and none at all of any “strong grounds for suspecting Iraqi involvement,” both reported by the Daily Telegraph.
Fox News also reported on May 17, 2002 (and apparently also on September 14, 2001)104 that— “based on its own intelligence, the Israeli government provided ‘general’ information to the United States in the second week of August that an al Qaeda attack was imminent.”
Neither the Commission in its Final Report or in its Staff Statements nor the Joint Committee Report specifically mentions any such warning from the Israeli government. These Statements and Reports do, however, defer to our intelligence community’s desire to safeguard and maintain the secrecy of its “sources and methods”. These are likely to have included Israeli warnings and the Israelis’ own sources. But in view of the dramatic questions raised by the Israeli Groups’ activities in the United States in the months leading up to September 11, these sources and methods now need to be disclosed.
As shown in the tabular comparison in Exhibit E, the accounts of Mossad’s warnings in August bear the unmistakable imprints of authenticity. Mossad’s warnings were reported by the Daily Telegraph and others right after September 11, well over two years before the Joint Committee’s report and the publication of the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) of August 6, 2001. Yet they bear a remarkable similarity to both the Joint Committee’s description of “all-source reporting” and the PDB’s account of “clandestine, foreign government and media reports and recent FBI information.” The key differences, as shown in Exhibit E, are Mossad’s warning that (a) the attacks were imminent, (b) they were to take place on the U.S. mainland, and (c) 200 terrorists were in the United States to carry them out. Mossad also alone warned of “suspected Iraqi involvement,” though
this of course has never been established and is generally considered to be untrue.
104 Fox did not specify its source, and I have not been able to locate its piece of the “14th” to which Fox referred in a telecast of December 12, 2001.
That we did receive warnings of this general nature from Mossad seems more than likely. But the real issue, again, is, given the extensive surveillance by the Israeli Groups of U.S. Arab groups and, in all likelihood, of the future hijackers in their central bases of operation and elsewhere in the United States, were not the Israeli Groups, or some of their members, aware of what was going to happen in advance? Is this not dramatically shown by the behavior of the Israeli New Jersey Group the morning of September 11? And if so, did the Israeli government decide not to provide us with enough information to stop them?
As noted in the next section, the Israelis may have given us warning in late August 2001 of the presence in the United States of Khaled al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, resulting in the CIA’s having them placed on the State Department’s Tipoff Watchlist.105 Or this may have been part of the Israeli warnings earlier in August. In either case, the CIA’s and the Commission’s explanation of how these two future hijackers came to be Watchlisted, which makes no mention of Israeli warnings, is highly confusing and, as we shall see, in the end difficult to believe. Even so, the Israeli warning as to the two men would have come too late, for we now know that they were then or soon hiding in an obscure motel in Maryland, from which they did not emerge until September 11.106
105 As the Commission has noted, this would not in any event have prevented Mihdhar and Hazmi from flying, but would have precluded them from obtaining visas, which they already had (they were both here). Staff Statement No. 2, p. 8.
One television documentary cited above (which did not have access to or study in any detail the documents, lists, reports and other information set forth herein, or even any knowledge of the existence of the Israeli New Jersey Group), has put the relevant question bluntly, in the form of a question, an answer and a rhetorical question
“What about this question of advanced knowledge of what was going to happen on September 11? How clear are investigators that some Israeli agents may have known something?”
“It’s very explosive information, obviously, and there’s a great deal of evidence that they say they have collected none of it necessarily conclusive. It’s more when they put it all together. A bigger question, they say, is how could they not have known?” [Emphasis supplied.]107
. . .
MEMORANDUM TO THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES
THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
THE HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
Israeli Surveillance of the Future Hijackers and FBI Suspects in the September 11 Attacks and Their Failure to Give Us Adequate Warning: The Need for a Public Inquiry
September 15, 2004