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.
(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”)