By overwhelming margins the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted on September 28th to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Obama had noted that the Act would have negative consequences for U.S. officials overseas as it establishes the principle that governments can be held accountable in the courts for what they do. Prior to this legislation Washington generally respected the principle of sovereign immunity, which means in practice that governments resolve issues between themselves by negotiation, not through litigation.
With Congress now demanding foreign government accountability it is reasonable to assume that other countries might respond in kind by establishing reciprocity based on the language in JASTA, which would mean that serving or former American officials might be detained and tried for criminal actions undertaken by the U.S. in its war on terror. It might also lead to other suits against the United States government that would result in demands for what is already being described as “intrusive discovery” of documents relating to clandestine American operations overseas. In a letter President Obama has described JASTA as allowing foreign litigants to “second-guess our counterterrorism operations and other actions that we take every day” while Secretary of Defense Ash Carter assailed the “ability of foreign litigants to seek classified intelligence and analysis.” CIA Director John Brennan denounced the “associated risks to our national security,” adding that the bill harbored “grave implications” for national security with a “downside [that is] potentially huge.”
So-called State Sponsors of terrorism Syria, Iran and Sudan can already be sued in American courts but JASTA considerably broadens the playing field to permit additional litigation. Supporters of the Act insist that their intention is only to enable suits directed against Saudi Arabia, which might have been either complicit or negligent in its dealings with the alleged terrorists who carried out 9/11, 15 of whom were Saudis, but the language is actually much broader than that. The actual text, which does not specifically name Saudi Arabia, reads: “A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by an act of international terrorism in the United States.”
The Act reproduces the U.S. Code definition of “international terrorism” which “means activities that (A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, and the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.”
I am all for the United States and Saudi Arabia (and others) being held accountable for war crimes and other unlawful behavior to include drones, renditions, torture and target assassinations but it will almost certainly be difficult to prove “knowing or reckless” criminal intent in court even with the new legislation. Also the Act opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities that I am sure the Congressmen were not thinking of when they cast their votes. While the bill was drafted in such a fashion as to make an unnamed Saudi Arabia the actual target it also can be used against Pakistan, which may have funded the hijackers, and even Germany, where some of those involved in 9/11 lived for a time. It can plausibly be claimed that Islamabad and Berlin had some prior knowledge of the attack which they chose not to share, making them complicit, and the respective governments would have to appear in a U.S. court to demonstrate their innocence. In so doing, they might even demand in their defense that the United States government produce documentary evidence regarding what really did occur on 9/11, something the White House would surely want to avoid.
But the potentially biggest secondary target of the new legislation would without a doubt be Israel. The Israeli role in 9/11, insofar as can be determined, has never been seriously investigated at all and any suppositions or conclusions regarding its activities were never included in the final 9/11 Commission Report.
In 2001 Israel was running a massive spying operation directed against Muslims either resident or traveling in the United States. The operation included the creation of a number of cover companies in New Jersey, Florida and also on the west coast that served as spying mechanisms for Mossad officers. The effort was supported by the Mossad Station in Washington D.C. and included a large number of volunteers, the so-called “art students” who traveled around the U.S. selling various products at malls and outdoor markets. The FBI was aware of the numerous Israeli students who were routinely overstaying their visas and some in the Bureau certainly believed that they were assisting their country’s intelligence service in some way, but it proved difficult to link the students to actual undercover operations, so they were regarded as a minor nuisance.
But the hands-off attitude towards Israeli spying shifted dramatically when, on September 11, 2001, a New Jersey housewife saw something from the window of her apartment building, which overlooked the World Trade Center. She watched as the buildings burned and crumbled but also noted something strange. Three young men were kneeling on the roof of a white transit van parked by the water’s edge, making a movie in which they featured themselves high fiving and laughing in front of the catastrophic scene unfolding behind them. The woman wrote down the license plate number of the van and called the police, who responded quickly and soon both the local force and the FBI began looking for the vehicle, which was subsequently seen by other witnesses in various locations along the New Jersey waterfront, its occupants “celebrating and filming.”
The license plate number revealed that the van belonged to a New Jersey registered company called Urban Moving Systems. At 4 p.m. the vehicle was spotted and pulled over. Five men between the ages of 22 and 27 years old emerged. They were detained at gunpoint and handcuffed. They were all Israelis. One of them had $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock and another had two foreign passports. Bomb sniffing dogs reacted to the smell of explosives in the van. The driver told the police “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” The men were detained at the Bergen County jail in New Jersey before being transferred the FBI’s Foreign Counterintelligence Section, which handles allegations of spying.
After the arrest, the FBI obtained a warrant to search the offices of the van’s registered owner, Urban Moving System of Weehawken, N.J. Papers and computers were seized. The company owner Dominick Suter, also an Israeli, answered FBI questions but when a follow-up interview was set up a few days later it was learned that he had fled the country for Israel, putting both his business and home up for sale. The office space and warehouse were abandoned. It was later learned that Suter has been associated with at least fourteen businesses in the United States, mostly in New Jersey and New York but also in Florida, which was determined to be a main focus for the Israeli intelligence operation in the U.S. that was directed against Arabs.
The five Israelis were held in Brooklyn, initially on charges relating to visa fraud. FBI interrogators questioned them for more than two months. Several were held in solitary confinement so they could not communicate with each other and two of them were given repeated polygraph exams, which they failed. The two men that the FBI focused on most intensively were believed to be Mossad staff officers and the other three were volunteers helping with surveillance. Even though the Israelis were not exactly cooperative, the FBI concluded from documents obtained at their office in Weehawken that they were targeting Arabs in New York and New Jersey, including at least two of the 9/11 hijackers.
There are a lot a dots all leading back to Israel that might well have been connected once upon a time, but the trail has grown cold. Police records in New Jersey and New York where the men were held have disappeared and FBI interrogation reports are inaccessible. Media coverage of the case also died, though the five were referred to in the press as the “dancing Israelis” and by some, more disparagingly, as the “dancing Shlomos.”
Inevitably, the George W. Bush White House intervened. After 71 days in detention, the five Israelis were released from prison, put on a plane, and deported. Now it is just possible that Mossad affiliated Urban Moving was indeed uninvolved in 9/11 but it also must be recognized that Israel had the means, ability and access required to bring down the World Trade Center using controlled pancake explosions. More than fifteen years later it is perhaps past time to reveal what exactly the FBI knew and currently knows about both the scale and modus operandi of Israeli espionage in the United States. Did Israel have critical intelligence either in broad outline or possibly in specific detail about 9/11 and let it happen to bind Washington more closely to it in a “global war on terror?”
Questions about just what happened on 9/11 will not go away. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has called for a new “independent investigation” because the Bush administration’s initial 9/11 inquiry was “dominated by members with an interest in protecting the reputation and careers of foreign affairs and intelligence communities.” It “was not given enough money, time, or access to relevant classified information.” That “classified information” could well include the role of Israel.
I am no lawyer, but it would seem to me that both Israel and Saudi Arabia might well be pretty good places to start in using litigation to determine just who could have been involved in what was to become the 9/11 terrorist attack. It would indeed be ironic if an Israel-loving Congress has, through its passage of JASTA to squeeze money out of the Saudis, also inadvertently opened the door to finding out just what the Mossad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were up to back in 2001.