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SITE Institute

Israeli media operation


Rita Katz of SITE


The SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) Institute founded in 2002 was described as “a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, that provides information related to terrorist networks to the government, news media, and general public,” but had a rather suspicious history. “The listed staff consists of two individuals, and the website seems to be an aggregator of publicly-available data on the internet, mostly consisting of current news items,” noted the SourceWatch wiki. SITE’s “Terrorism Library, on cursory investigation, looks to be a straight data scrape from the U.S. Department of State’s Patterns of Global Terrorism - 2003, Appendix B.”

Not surprisingly, SITE was connected to Israeli intelligence. “Rita Katz is Director and co-founder of the SITE Institute. Born in Iraq, her father was tried and executed as an Israeli spy, whereupon her family moved to Israel [the move has been described as both an escape and immigration in different sources]. She received a degree from the Middle Eastern Studies program at Tel Aviv University, and is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. She emigrated to the US in 1997.” Katz’s partner, Josh Devon, was less colorful. “Devon is Senior Analyst and co-founder of the SITE Institute. He has a BA from University of Pennsylvania (English) and a BS from Wharton College (Economics). Devon is currently attending the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University with the intentions of receiving an International Studies Degree with a focus on the Middle East,” that is to say a globalist perspective on the Middle East.

SITE was at its height of fame regularly cited on NationalReview Online, Fox News, Newsmax.

 

SITE Institute´s Zionist founders were 'consultants' to the Bush administration, and were associated with the School for Advanced International Studies, SAIS. The Dean of SAIS was Zionist hawk Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's Deputy Secretary of Defense and a member of PNAC.
SITE lies

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is a neo-conservative think tank with strong ties to the American Enterprise Institute. PNAC's web site says it was "established in the spring of 1997" as "a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership." Its founders are the two Zionist Jews William Kristol and Robert Kagan. Among PNAC:s members are the cream of "neo-con" Jews like Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Norman Podhoretz and Paul Wolfowitz. Among non-Jewish members are Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Bolton.

It was PNAC that in September 2000 produced a defense strategy document (Rebuilding America's Defenses). The report that concludes that the global order "must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence." and struck a prescient note when it observed that "the process of transformation is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event--like a new Pearl Harbor." Then came the September 2001 attacks and many of PNAC's conclusions and recommendations were reflected in the White House's National Security Strategy document of September 2002, which reflects the "peace through strength" credo that shapes PNAC strategic thinking.

 

The New Yorker ran a long piece on SITE, May 29, 2006, Private Jihad - How Rita Katz got into the spying business, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. We here quote selected excerpts:

Everybody who works in intelligence calls her Rita, even people who don’t know her well. She sometimes telephones people she hasn’t met—important people in the government—to tell them things that she thinks they ought to know. She keeps copies of letters from officials whose investigations into terrorism she has assisted. “You and your staff . . . were invaluable additions to the investigative team,” the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Salt Lake City Division wrote; the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boise said, “You are a rare and extraordinary gem that has appeared too infrequently throughout the course of history.” The letters come in handy, she told me, when she meets with skepticism or lack of interest; they are her establishment bona fides.
[...]
Traditionally, intelligence has been filtered through government agencies, such as the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., which gather raw data and analyze it, and the government decides who sees the product of their work and when. Katz, who is the head of an organization called the Search for International Terrorist Entities, or SITE Institute, has made it her business to upset that monopoly. She and her researchers mine online sources for intelligence, which her staff translates and sends out by e-mail to a list of about a hundred subscribers.

Katz’s client list includes people in the government who are presumably frustrated by how long it takes to get information through official channels; it also includes people in corporate security and in the media, who rarely get much useful material from the C.I.A. She has worked with prosecutors on more than a dozen terrorism investigations, and many American officers in Iraq rely on Katz’s e-mails to, for example, brief their troops on the designs for explosives that are passed around terrorist Web sites.
[...]
Because many reporters rebroadcast her information, it can reach the public before people in the government have had a chance to evaluate it; her organization’s work is cited in the Times and the Washington Post about twice a month.

Katz has many critics, who believe that she is giving terrorists a bigger platform than they would otherwise have, and that the certainty and obsession that make her a dedicated archivist also make her too eager to find plots where they don’t exist; she publicized a manual for using botulinum in terror attacks, for example, which experts later concluded was not linked to any serious threat. It’s possible that her immersion in the world of terrorism has removed whatever skepticism or doubts she may have had. “Much as Al Jazeera underplays terrorist threats, the SITE Institute at times overhypes them,” Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A.’s bin Laden unit, said.
[...]
In March, I visited Katz at her office, on the seventh floor of an old building in a Northeastern city that she refuses to allow reporters to identify in print. She told me to take a train to the city’s main terminal, and then call the office for further directions. By the time I got to SITE’s locked door, which has a black security camera and a plaque bearing the name of a nonexistent business, I half expected to walk into a center full of high-tech equipment, with flashing maps and screens.

The SITE Institute’s office looked like a college newspaper’s. There were three rooms: Katz’s office, dominated by a large conference table; a small room for two translators (more work part time, from home); and what’s called the pit, where several researchers and interns, all in their twenties, sat under a long, eye-level row of mug shots of wanted terrorists—mostly bearded Arab men, with grim, unsmiling glares. There was an air of intense isolation, with everyone focussed on his own projects. It was hard to ignore the office’s youth; Katz told me of a new service she had added that scanned French-language terrorist sites, and that depended on an undergraduate intern who spoke fluent French (Katz has since hired another French-speaker for the service).

Each day, Katz finds about a half-dozen items on the Arabic message boards that are worth distributing. Her researchers, who monitor English-language jihadist Web sites, often find a few more.
[...]
But Katz also believes that terrorists are more sophisticated and resilient than most Americans realize, that the war against radical Islam is likely to last for decades, and that the outcome is far from clear. Her project is, in large measure, to convince Americans of the seriousness of the threat by building a direct conduit to the terrorist mind.
[...]
Katz did her military service in the Israel Defense Forces after high school, and studied politics and history at Tel Aviv University.
[...]
“I would have to think about that,” she said, when I asked her if her early life had made her particularly sensitive to the terrorist threat. Later, she told me, “I know that the people who killed my father aren’t the same as the jihadis, but obviously I would never have got interested in the politics of this part of the world if it weren’t for his execution.” (She also said, “When you grow up in a place like Iraq, you understand maybe a little bit about how Arabs think, and also what they are capable of.”)
[...]
Kohlmann and Josh Devon, who left the Investigative Project with Katz and helped set up SITE, have been friends since middle school. They finished college in 2001. Kohlmann has long hair and a beard and is aided in his work, he said, “by looking like the kind of grad-school, hippie American that Islamic terrorists think they can recruit”;
[...]
(Kohlmann now runs his own Web-based consultancy, globalterroralert.com.)
[...]
In May, 2003, Katz published, anonymously, a memoir about her work, called “Terrorist Hunter.” (She was exposed as its author soon afterward.) The book is as psychologically blunt as she is, and the tone, at times, verges on smugness; the F.B.I., she writes, didn’t “possess one-thousandth of my knowledge on the relevant issues.” It is also an account, in almost religious terms, of her revelation about the threat and reach of global Islamic terrorism.
[...]
The invasion of Iraq opened up new opportunities for small, private groups like SITE, and as the war went on, and the insurgency continued to grow, SITE provided instantaneous bits of information to keep up with the news cycle. “It’s like when CNN came on the scene in the Gulf War, with twenty-four-hour news—it forever changed the field,” Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at RAND told me. “SITE sends out six, seven e-mails a day, and the stuff is good, and it forces everyone else to play catch-up.”

SITE’s detractors have also questioned the quality, or, rather, the possible slant, of SITE’s translations—an especially troubling issue given the shortage of alternatives. “An Arabic word can have four or five different meanings in translation,” Michael Scheuer, the former C.I.A. analyst, said. SITE, in his view, always picks the “most warlike translation.”
[...]
Katz conceded that her group doesn’t check the scientific accuracy of each manual, or the legitimacy of every threat—although she tries to make sure that the Web site that a particular item appears on has produced credible threats in the past, and that the threat seems serious. And, she said, vetting isn’t her role. “I’m telling people what terrorists are thinking,” Katz says.
[...]
But, by creating a shortcut around government agencies, she may also be contributing to the tendency that the media (and at times the government) has displayed since 9/11 to dramatize even the flimsiest threat.
[...]

 

In early 2008 SITE ceased its operations, and some its staff formed the SITE Intelligence Group, a for-profit entity, to continue some of its activities. The SITE Intelligence Group presently describe their work as:

SITE Intelligence Group Monitoring Service

"By monitoring terrorist and extremist websites and penetrating password-protected Al Qaeda linked sites, SITE provides a state-of-the-art intelligence service to both practitioners and analysts to understand the adversary." - Rohan Gunaratna, Author, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (Columbia University Press)

Studying the primary source propaganda, training manuals, and chatter of terrorists offers insight into terrorists and their activities that can not be obtained anywhere else. Failing to monitor terrorist propaganda is a failure in intelligence. To fulfill this need, the SITE Intelligence Group offers its Monitoring Service, which provides numerous daily translations of terrorist propaganda and multimedia from primary source terrorist websites.

 

 

The Women's Zionist Organization of America - Hadassah - has a journal, Hadassah Magazine, that in November 2003, Vol. 85, No.3, ran a lengthy article about Rita Katz. We reproduce the article in its entirety:

Profile:
Rita Katz

By Rahel Musleah

Her father’s execution in Baghdad left a legacy of grief and determination. Now, this master terrorist hunter wants to educate an anxious public about the threat of extremism.

Rita Gabbay was six years old when her father disappeared. She and her two siblings were at home in Basra when he was suddenly taken away. “I remember every detail of that ghastly scene, when the knock on the door robbed me of my innocence,” she says.

Her mother, Salima, cried endlessly, crushed in spirit. A few months later, Rita’s grandmother, mistaken for Salima, was murdered in a car “accident.” Salima gathered her strength and escaped with her family to Israel. Traveling by train, car and truck, they eventually made it to northern Iraq where they walked in deep snow for 18 days to reach Iran. To ensure the children’s silence, Salima covered their mouths with duct tape.

For years Rita didn’t know what happened to her father. Her mother couldn’t speak of it to her children. Rita even dreamt her father might still be alive. Only when she was about 17, when she started searching for the truth, did she accept that he was dead. An old newspaper account of the hanging of nine men in Baghdad included a photograph. In the caption identifying the bodies, she found her father’s name: Fuad Gabbay.

“Everything turned upside down,” says Rita. “At that moment I came to be what I am.”

Today, 23 years later, Rita Katz (she married a Russian Israeli) hunts terrorists, ferreting out cover organizations that siphon money to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Al Qaeda. She honed her skills while working at the Investigative Project think tank run by counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson. She has studied, tracked, analyzed and outed terrorists and their financial operations, and more than a year ago, founded the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (SITE) in Washington, D.C., to educate the public about the threat, sources and prevention of terrorism. “My vocation,” she says, “is the legacy of my father.”

Until recently, much of Katz’s work has been done undercover. When 60 Minutes profiled her in a segment, aired May 2003, they fitted her with a prosthetic nose, squared her jaw with extra “skin,” changed her eye color with blue contact lenses, covered her hair with a red wig, altered her voice and called her “Sarah.” Two days later, HarperCollins released a new book, Terrorist Hunter—author, “Anonymous.” Three organizations identified Katz as the writer. The Heritage Education Trust and the Safa Foundation—two Virginia-based charities under investigation for possible terrorism links—sued her and CBS for $80 million for libel and trespassing (she rummaged in their garbage on “private property” for documents). Mar-Jac Poultry, a chicken farm in Georgia, has sued for unspecified damages, countering the assertion the company laundered money for terrorist groups.

Katz is anonymous no longer. “They want to shut me up and shut me down,” she says. “That is not going to happen, I am more enthusiastic about my fight against terror than ever before.” Katz’s goal is to “clean the U.S. of terrorists. People think Islamic terrorism is something far away. This is wrong. Some American mosques are educating a new generation for jihad.”

Her knowledge comes firsthand. Armed with fluent Arabic, Iraqi roots, a degree in Middle Eastern studies from Tel Aviv University, a feisty determination and brutal passion for truth, she decided to penetrate mosques and Islamic fund-raisers. Katz passed herself off as a Muslim woman in a long robe, hijab (veil), glasses, false identity—and concealed recording equipment. When the imam at the Dar al-Hijra Mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, switched from English to Arabic, she was shocked at his words.

“In Arabic he said, ‘Allah will rain his curse on the Americans and the British. The curse of Allah will become true on the infidel Jews. All of us have to be ready for jihad with our money and our souls.... Dar al-Hijra will be the greatest example of loyalty, liberation and of bringing forth the jihad which Allah calls for,’” Katz relays from her recordings. She explains: “Muslim scholars are issuing fatwas [religious rulings]. It is as if they are wielding the knife. The Koran does not include these extremist interpretations.”

The Saudis, Katz stresses, are the major sources of terrorist funding and radicalizing education—yet the United States blocks investigations of Saudi citizens and businesses. “I obtained Saudi textbooks that are distributed in the U.S. to Islamic schools, she says. “By fourth grade they learn that the sword on the Saudi flag ‘stands for the jihad for the sake of Allah.’ Terrorism needs to be uprooted, not just by stopping specific attacks, but by choking the ideology behind them.”

Aware of the danger she faced in the mosques had she been discovered, Katz always took precautions—but she remained undeterred. Her work brought her into contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and other United States agencies. Their territorialism and lack of cooperation, she says, is astounding. “The American public is under the impression that these agencies have learned their lessons from the failure of 9/11 and are working together now in close collaboration. Well, they aren’t,” she says. “That’s why I had no choice but to write about it [in Terrorist Hunter]. My information about the FBI is similar to the new 9/11 Congressional report.”

A government official who has worked with Katz closely in the last two years, but did not want to be identified, admits that prior to September 11, “I had no real knowledge or work experience in the field of counterterrorism. From my very first meeting with Rita, I realized immediately her wealth of knowledge and vast accessibility to multiple sources of information. I recall leaving meetings with [her] and my head spinning.”

Other government workers feel the same. “Rita has a great deal of courage and boldness,” says Barry Carmody, a former FBI agent in Tampa, Florida. “She is willing to take chances to protect all of us in the war against terrorism.” According to Carmody, Katz was not hampered by regulations that prevented government agents from going into synagogues, mosques or churches and recording what was taking place. The Frank Church Committee, which in 1975 began investigating alleged abuses of power by the FBI and CIA, had concluded some of their activities threatened constitutional rights, and limited their powers. “The FBI was fighting the war against terrorism with one hand,” Carmody says. “That has changed after 9/11.”

Even as a child, Katz had a flair for the dramatic. She was constantly getting in trouble and was a frequent visitor to the emergency room, and was always—and still is—the center of attention. “I was what people called ‘active,’ and any other number of euphemistic adjectives: a special handful, mischievous, daring, busy, curious, imaginative, bold, cheeky. None of the traits that 1960’s Iraqi society would wish for in a cute little girl with black pigtails,” she writes in her book.

Though most of the Jews left Iraq in the 1950’s, relinquishing their assets, “our families did not want to pay that price,” Katz says. “The price we ended up paying was far more horrible.” Her mother’s family had been one of the wealthiest in Iraq for generations. Salima lived with her 10 brothers and sisters and 30 half siblings in a large mansion in Basra (her father had married four times). When Salima turned 18, she married her next-door neighbor, who was “young, rich and respected.”

Katz has tried to reconstruct what happened to her father from her personal memories and from conversations with relatives. Though her mother never talked to the children about what happened, Katz heard her talking to others—and to herself. “When we got to Israel, she used to sew clothes for factories and talk to herself a lot, complaining and remembering the things she had,” Katz recalls. “We lived in a one-room apartment at the beginning so I heard her. But I wanted to know more. I went to the newspapers to learn what happened. That’s when I saw his picture.”

Salima, who did not know her daughter was writing a book until it was almost published, is reading it in Hebrew (it has also been translated into German, Dutch, Spanish, French and Japanese). “From time to time she calls and says, ‘This wasn’t exactly like that,’” Katz says. “It doesn’t matter. These are my memories.”

The story, as she has reconstructed it, is as follows: After her father was arrested, he was transferred to a Baghdad prison; a few months later, the family was taken to a small hut in Baghdad, where they were placed under house arrest. Salima, pregnant with her fourth child, tried to save her husband, but on numerous occasions she was summoned to the prison where she was beaten, tortured and violated. Gabbay was behind a thin wall every time she was given “special treatment.”

At his trial, he was accused of having sophisticated radio transmitters—ironically, they were part of the air conditioning in their modern house. He continued to maintain his innocence until he was told that if he did not confess, his wife’s belly would be cut open and the unborn child brought to him on a tray. Later, on television, he declared in an unwavering voice that he was an Israeli spy.

The family finally tasted freedom in Israel. After Katz married, she began marketing the clothes her mother designed and sewed. She knew the ultra-Orthodox market was a “gold mine,” with numerous children who often needed new holiday outfits. She also knew the women would only buy from one of their own. In their neighborhoods, she traded her tight jeans and T-shirt for long dresses with long sleeves. “Here is where I learned to camouflage, to mingle, to blend, to accommodate, to assume a personality,” she writes.

Business boomed, but her dreams of peace were shattered after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. When her husband was offered a job in Washington, D.C., the family decided to move to the United States. “The first few weeks after we moved I cried, ‘I want Mama. I want kibba [a semolina dumpling stuffed with ground meat]. More than anything I missed Friday night dinners with the family.”

Bored, she looked for a job, and happened on a newspaper ad for a position at a nonprofit “Middle East research institute.” She had no idea what it was. At the job interview, in a room strewn with Arabic periodicals and posters, she says she felt like she had arrived at Hamas headquarters. She got the job. The institute was the private counterterrorism think tank headed by Emerson. As she leafed through English-Arabic brochures for Islamic charities, she noticed that the Arabic list included groups that were omitted from the English list. “Who reads Arabic but the Arabs?” she says. Katz did, eventually uncovering that the organizations were Hamas fronts.

She even paid $50 a month to “sponsor” the child of a suicide bomber, a donation that put her on the mailing list of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. A subsequent newsletter announced that the charity had been approved for matching funds from the United States government. Katz contacted the White House, which in turn contacted the State Department. The funds were stopped.

Katz urges political and economic pressure against countries that sponsor terrorism. “I am not living in the past,” she says. “If I don’t speak up we might face more 9/11 attacks. I am not taking revenge for something Saddam did to me. The only thing I’m trying to achieve is to stop the killing.”

Katz hopes to return to Iraq to visit her old neighborhood and to bring back to Israel her father’s remains and those of the other eight who were hanged. “That will make us all very happy, to be able to go to his grave.” Though she treasures her Iraqi heritage, Katz admits that she cannot find compassion in her heart for Iraq today. “I’m glad to see Saddam’s time in Iraq is over,” she says. “For me it is poetic justice.”

One of her four children (ages 16, 13, 11 and 3) is named for his grandfather. And because there is no literal translation of Fuad, which means “when your heart is happy,” she chose the name Lev, Hebrew for heart. Her children know their grandfather’s story and what their mother does for a living; the oldest has read the book. Are they scared? “Sometimes, yes,” she says, adding that she has taken security measures to protect the family. “I explain to them that we are the good guys. Sometimes we have to do things that are scary because there is no other way.”

Has destiny propelled Katz to where she is? “Nothing is coincidental,” she says. “My Arabic, my knowledge of the Middle East, my decision to leave Israel, the ad for the research institute. It all had a purpose. The bottom line is that I am here for a reason. History just wouldn’t let go.” 

 

 




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