stir online with a report suggesting that self-proclaimed
Israeli art students, peddling their artwork from door to
door, have been asking disturbing questions about plans to
build an NSA data center in the area.
"These salespeople say they're Israeli students," ABC4
reporter Brent Hunsaker explained. "They even produce
Israeli passports. They say they're selling their own artwork
to raise money to open a gallery. So why would the Israeli
art students want to know about the National Security
According to Hunsaker, warnings about the students are
being spread through blogs and church bulletins. One
bulletin sent out to Mormon women even claimed that
"federal law enforcement groups are actually investigating
their ties to organized crime and terrorist groups."
The basis for the suspicions goes back to 2002, when a
lengthy article at Salon described how Drug Enforcement
Agency field offices were reporting that "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
According to author Christopher Ketcham, "Some of the
Israelis were observed diagramming the inside of federal
buildings. Some were found carrying photographs they had
taken of federal agents. One was discovered with a
computer printout in his luggage that referred to 'DEA
groups.' In some cases, the Israelis visited locations not
known to the public -- areas without street addresses, for
example, or DEA offices not identified as such."
These reports were summarized in a June 2001 internal
DEA memo, but what brought the story to public notice
a Fox News special in December of that year. It suggested
that the "art students" might have been Israeli spies who
had trailed al-Qaeda members across the United States but
had never shared any information they might have gained
on the plans for September 11 with US authorities.
Ultimately, the more conspiratorial aspects of the story
proved impossible to confirm, and it became one more
unsolved 9/11 mystery. Since then, self-proclaimed "Israeli
art students" have continued to show up from time to time,
but most of them are clearly running a scam.
Police in Ontario, Canada, for example, are currently
issuing warnings about individuals going door to door and
asking hundreds of dollars for "one of a kind" artworks that
are "actually mass-produced oil paintings from China worth
The situation is somewhat different in Utah, however,
where the sudden appearance of the art students is being
tied to recent news reports that "the Army has awarded a
$1.2 billion contract to a construction consortium to build
a spacious new data center in Utah for the National
Security Agency's (NSA's) cybersecurity effort."
The facility is part of the Comprehensive National Security
Initiative, launched in 2008, whose aim is to protect
military computer networks from cyber-threats and provide
assistance to the Department of Homeland Security in
securing the federal government's civilian networks.