Thousands of young Israelis wander about the US selling products in malls, manning moving trucks, or peddling more or less fake paintings from door to door. But this weekend the ABC television network noted claims that some such Israelis hadn't gone to the US to make money, but to garner security information as part of their work in the intelligence services. Nothing has been proven, but in Utah, the panic is spreading.
In Saratoga Springs, in northern Utah, there were complains that these art peddlers were asking strange questions that had nothing to do with their sales pitch. Some residents said they were asked about the new National Security Agency's data center being built at Camp Williams.
The sellers claimed they were Israeli art students selling their work to raise money for a gallery. Some even presented legitimate Israeli passports.
Blogs and even church newsletters were rife with speculation, refuting the assertions of the "art students." One even claimed that state law enforcement agencies had already begun investigating the students for links to organized crime or terror groups.
Gail Black from Eagle Mountain bought one of the paintings, knowing the price was too high but "feeling sorry" for the door-to-door seller. He didn't look like a Mossad agent, she said – he looked like just a poor kid, and the NSA center didn't come up in the conversation.
Residents of Saratoga Springs complained to the police and Officer Mat Schauerhamer located one group at a local restaurant. He didn't know whether they were spies, he said, but they certainly weren't artists. When challenged to draw something to prove their credentials, they produced a picture worthy of a kindergarten-aged child, he said. Furthermore, they had no city business license.
ABC contacted other networks about the affair. A spokesperson for national security in Utah said they had no information on the Israeli art sellers. The FBI declined to comment.
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