Reports of Israeli Spy Ring Dismissed

by John Mintz and Dan Eggen
The Washington Post
March 6, 2002

A wide array of U.S. officials yesterday dismissed reports that the U.S. government had broken up an Israeli espionage ring that consisted of young Israelis attempting to penetrate U.S. agencies by selling artwork in federal buildings.

"This seems to be an urban myth that has been circulating for months," said Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden. "The department has no information at this time to substantiate these widespread reports about Israeli art students involved in espionage."

Several officials said the allegations -- first reported by a French online publication and later by other news organizations -- of a massive U.S. probe of Israeli spies appear to have been circulated by a single employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration who is angry that his theories have not gained currency.

This week, the Paris-based "Intelligence Online" service quoted from what it said was a 61-page report by a federal task force, led by the DEA, which said that 120 Israelis posing as art students had been deported as part of an espionage crackdown and that the spy scandal had been hushed up.

But two law enforcement officials said the disgruntled DEA agent, who disagreed with the conclusion of FBI and CIA intelligence experts that no spying was taking place, appears to be leaking a memo that he himself wrote.

Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Russell Bergeron said several dozen Israelis in their twenties were arrested and deported in the first nine months of 2001 for being employed without proper INS work papers. A law enforcement official said some were investigated for possible fraud charges.

"These were routine, normal cases," Bergeron said. "I have no knowledge of any espionage-related issues with these people."

DEA spokesman Thomas Hinojosa said that multiple reports of suspicious activity on the part of young Israelis had come into the agency's Washington headquarters from agents in the field. The reports were summarized in a draft memo last year, but Hinojosa said he did not have a copy and could not vouch for the accuracy of media reports describing its contents.


2002 The Washington Post Company

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