The strange story of the “Israeli art student” spies

In January 2001, the security branch of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency began to receive a number of peculiar reports from DEA field offices across the country. According to the reports, young Israelis claiming to be art students and offering artwork for sale had been attempting to penetrate DEA offices for over a year. The Israelis had also attempted to penetrate the offices of other law enforcement and Department of Defense agencies. Strangest of all, the “students” had visited the homes of numerous DEA officers and other senior federal officials.

As a pattern slowly emerged, the DEA appeared to have been targeted in what it called an “organized intelligence gathering activity.” But to what end, and for whom, no one knew.

Full Story: Salon

(via Honky Tonk Dragon)

It’s a long story, but here’s the take-away: no one knows what was going. There’s various speculation, and this sounds most likely to me (for what little my opinion is worth):

Theory No. 3, the Art Student as Agent as Art Student Smoke Screen. It has major problems, but let’s roll with it for a moment. This theory contends that the art student ring was a smoke screen intended to create confusion and allow actual spies — who were also posing as art students — to be lumped together with the rest and escape detection. In other words, the operation is an elaborate double fake-out, a hiding-in-plain-sight scam. Whoever dreamed it up thought ahead to the endgame and knew that the DEA-stakeout aspect was so bizarre that it would throw off American intelligence. According to this theory — Stability’s “Victor/Victoria” scenario — Israeli agents wanted, let’s say, to monitor al-Qaida members in Florida and other states. But they feared detection. So to provide cover, and also to create a dizzyingly Byzantine story that would confuse the situation, Israeli intel flooded areas of real operations with these bumbling “art students” — who were told to deliberately stake out DEA agents.

Here’s another possibility: they were part of some sort of well organized, well funded prank. (Or, like Honky Tonk Dragon said – “Life imitates Illuminatus”)


  1. They ain’t no spies man , they’re trained to lie that they’re art students when those are fakey chinese replicas they sell blockwise , they don’t care about address they just get designated areas to cover.

    I know at least two people over here who must’ve participated.

  2. Val – that would seem plausible except for this bit:

    “Six of the ‘students’ were apparently carrying cell phones purchased by a former Israeli vice consul to the United States. According to Le Monde, two of the ‘students’ had traveled from Hamburg to Miami to visit an FBI agent in his home, then boarded a flight to Chicago and visited the home of a Justice Dept. agent, then hopped a direct flight to Toronto — all in one day.”

  3. Defiantly Klintron; no mention in the Hebrew media about this yet I could find.

    btw that , here’s a photo of a bible rescued from Mumbai Chabad building on an orthodox site i got referred to:
    Bullet has wiped “????? ?’ ?? ??? ???? ??? ??? ??? ????”
    “and god spoke to Moses after the death of two sons of Aaron.” which happens to be the number of Jewish casualties in that building alone during the event perhaps.

    Alas there are local cases of pareidolia; that might be of interest, hereby after cleaning a wall from Sabbath candle soot the image of their saint has been revealed:

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