Revealed: Australian spy agency offered to share data about ordinary citizens

• Secret 5-Eyes document shows surveillance partners discussing what information they can pool about their citizens

• DSD indicated it could provide material without some privacy restraints imposed by other countries such as Canada

• Medical, legal or religious information ‘not automatically limited’

• Concern that intelligence agency could be ‘operating outside its legal mandate’

The secret document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share citizens’ “medical, legal or religious information”. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Australia’s surveillance agency offered to share information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its major intelligence partners, according to a secret 2008 document leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share “medical, legal or religious information”, and increases concern that the agency could be operating outside its legal mandate, according to the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.

The Australian intelligence agency, then known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), indicated it could share bulk material without some of the privacy restraints imposed by other countries, such as Canada.

“DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national,” notes from an intelligence conference say. “Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue.”

The agency acknowledged that more substantial interrogation of the material would, however, require a warrant.

Metadata is the information we all generate whenever we use technology, from the date and time of a phone call to the location from which an email is sent.

“Bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata” means that this data is in its raw state, and nothing has been deleted or redacted in order to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens who might have been caught in the dragnet. Metadata can present a very complete picture of someone’s life.

The working document, marked secret, sheds new light on the extent to which intelligence agencies at that time were considering sharing information with foreign surveillance partners, and it provides further confirmation that, to some extent at least, there is warrantless surveillance of Australians’ personal metadata.

The DSD joined its four intelligence-sharing partners – the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, collectively known as 5-Eyes – to discuss what could and what could not be shared under the different jurisdictions at a meeting hosted by Britain’s GCHQ at its headquarters in Cheltenham on 22-23 April, 2008.

The notes, published today by Guardian Australia, suggest that Australia was open to pooling bulk data that almost certainly includes information about Australian citizens.

Clearly indicating the different attitudes between the intelligence partners, the Canadians insisted that bulk collection could only be shared if information about its citizens was first “minimised”, meaning deleted or removed. The various techniques used in “minimisation” help protect citizens’ privacy.

The GCHQ memo taker, reporting on this, said that “bulk, unselected metadata presents too high a risk to share with second parties at this time because of the requirement to ensure that the identities of Canadians or persons in Canada are minimised, but re-evaluation of this stance is ongoing”.

By contrast, DSD, now renamed the Australian Signals Directorate, offered a broader sweep of material to its partners.

DSD offered to share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata – although there were specific caveats. The note taker at the meeting writes: “However, if a ‘pattern of life’ search detects an Australian then there would be a need to contact DSD and ask them to obtain a ministerial warrant to continue.”

A “pattern of life” search is more detailed one – joining the dots to build up a portrait of an individual’s daily activities.

It is technically possible to strip out the metadata of Australian nationals from bulk collection methods used by the 5-Eyes countries, such as cable taps – ensuring the information is not stored, and so could not be pulled in to searches and investigations by agents.

The Snowden documents reveal Australia’s intelligence services instead offered to leave the data in its raw state.

Australian politicians have insisted that all surveillance undertaken is in accordance with the law.

But Geoffrey Robertson, writing in the Guardian today, says if what was described in the memo took place, this would be a breach of sections eight and 12 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001. The act sets a strict requirement that ministerial authorisation is required if the data of an Australian citizen is involved, and indicates that the citizen must be a “person of interest”, such as someone involved in terrorism or organised crime.

The Cheltenham gathering, which appears to have been convened to consider the issues around the burgeoning collection of metadata and to reach common positions, resolved to avoid pre-emptive efforts to categorise various materials and “simply focus on what is shareable in bulk”.

The memo flags privacy concerns around the collection of various types of data, but the meeting, according to the record, resolved not to set “automatic limitations” – leaving judgment calls to each country’s own agencies.

“Consideration was given as to whether any types of data were prohibited, for example medical, legal, religious or restricted business information, which may be regarded as an intrusion of privacy,” the memo says.

“Given the nascent state of many of these data types then no, or limited, precedents have been set with respect to proportionality or propriety, or whether different legal considerations applies to the ‘ownership’ of this data compared with the communications data that we were more accustomed to handle.”

“It was agreed that the conference should not seek to set any automatic limitations, but any such difficult cases would have to be considered by ‘owning’ agency on a case-by-case basis.”

The document also shows the agencies considering disclosure to “non-intelligence agencies”. It says: “Asio and the Australian federal police are currently reviewing how Sigint [signals intelligence] information can be used by non-intelligence agencies.”

The record of the Cheltenham meeting does not indicate whether the activities under discussion in April 2008 progressed to final decisions or specific actions. It appears to be a working draft.

Since Snowden leaked the NSA documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post in May, controversy has raged around the world over revelations that surveillance agencies are collecting information in bulk about ordinary citizens’ day-to-day activities, without first getting a warrant.

In Australia, the Greens party and the South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon have been pursuing questions about the extent to which Australian citizens have been caught up in the dragnet, and the extent of Australian intelligence agencies’ involvement.

So far, those questions have largely met with stonewalling, both under the previous Labor government and the new Abbott administration.

Ewen MacAskill, James Ball and Katharine Murphy
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013 00.20 GMT

Find this story at 2 December 2013

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Singapore, South Korea revealed as Five Eyes spying partners

Singapore and South Korea are playing key roles helping the United States and Australia tap undersea telecommunications links across Asia, according to top secret documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. New details have also been revealed about the involvement of Australia and New Zealand in the interception of global satellite communications.

A top secret United States National Security Agency map shows that the US and its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners tap high speed fibre optic cables at 20 locations worldwide. The interception operation involves cooperation with local governments and telecommunications companies or else through “covert, clandestine” operations.

The undersea cable interception operations are part of a global web that in the words of another leaked NSA planning document enables the “Five Eyes” partners – the US, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – to trace “anyone, anywhere, anytime” in what is described as “the golden age” signals intelligence.

The NSA map, published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad overnight, shows that the United States maintains a stranglehold on trans-Pacific communications channels with interception facilities on the West coast of the United States and at Hawaii and Guam, tapping all cable traffic across the Pacific Ocean as well as links between Australia and Japan.

The map confirms that Singapore, one of the world’s most significant telecommunications hubs, is a key “third party” working with the “Five Eyes” intelligence partners.

In August Fairfax Media reported that Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, is in a partnership with Singaporean intelligence to tap the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany.

Australian intelligence sources told Fairfax that the highly secretive Security and Intelligence Division of Singapore’s Ministry of Defence co-operates with DSD in accessing and sharing communications carried by the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable as well as the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable that runs from Singapore to the south of France.

Access to this major international telecommunications channel, facilitated by Singapore’s government-owned operator SingTel, has been a key element in an expansion of Australian-Singaporean intelligence and defence ties over the past 15 years.

Majority owned by Temask Holdings, the investment arm of the Singapore Government, SingTel has close relations with Singapore’s intelligence agencies. The Singapore Government is represented on the company’s board by the head of Singapore’s civil service, Peter Ong, who was previously responsible for national security and intelligence co-ordination in the Singapore Prime Minister’s office.

Australian intelligence expert, Australian National University Professor Des Ball has described Singapore’s signal’s intelligence capability as “probably the most advanced” in South East Asia, having first been developed in cooperation with Australia in the mid-1970s and subsequently leveraging Singapore’s position as a regional telecommunications hub.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and Singaporean intelligence collaboration since the 1970s. Much of Indonesia’s telecommunications and Internet traffic is routed through Singapore.

The leaked NSA map also shows South Korea is another key interception point with cable landings at Pusan providing access to the external communications of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has long been a close collaborator with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA, as well as the Australian intelligence agencies. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recently engaged in legal action in an unsuccessful effort to prevent publication of details of South Korean espionage in Australia. ASIO Director-General David Irvine told the Federal Court that Australian and South Korean intelligence agencies had been cooperating for “over 30 years” and that any public disclose of NIS activities would be “detrimental” to Australia’s national security.

The NSA map and other documents leaked by Mr Snowden and published by the Brazilian O Globo newspaper also reveal new detail on the integration of Australian and New Zealand signals intelligence facilities in the interception of satellite communications traffic by the “Five Eyes” partners.

For the first time it is revealed that the DSD satellite interception facility at Kojarena near Geraldton in Western Australia is codenamed “STELLAR”. The New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau facility at Waihopai on New Zealand’s South Island is codenamed “IRONSAND”. The codename for DSD’s facility at Shoal Bay near Darwin is not identified. However all three facilities are listed by the NSA as “primary FORNSAT (foreign satellite communications) collection operations”.

Coverage of satellite communications across Asia and the Middle East is also supported by NSA facilities at the United States Air Force base at Misawa in Japan, US diplomatic premises in Thailand and India, and British Government Communications Headquarters facilities in Oman, Nairobi in Kenya and at the British military base in Cyprus.

The leaked NSA map also shows that undersea cables are accessed by the NSA and the British GCHQ through military facilities in Djibouti and Oman, thereby ensuring maximum coverage of Middle East and South Asian communications.

November 25, 2013
Philip Dorling

Find this story at 25 November 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

New Snowden leaks reveal US, Australia’s Asian allies

Singapore and South Korea are playing key roles helping the United States and Australia tap undersea telecommunications links across Asia, according to top secret documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. New details have also been revealed about the involvement of Australia and New Zealand in the interception of global satellite communications.

A top secret United States National Security Agency map shows that the US and its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners tap high speed fibre optic cables at 20 locations worldwide. The interception operation involves cooperation with local governments and telecommunications companies or else through “covert, clandestine” operations.

The undersea cable interception operations are part of a global web that in the words of another leaked NSA planning document enables the “Five Eyes” partners – the US, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – to trace “anyone, anywhere, anytime” in what is described as “the golden age” signals intelligence.

The NSA map, published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad overnight, shows that the United States maintains a stranglehold on trans-Pacific communications channels with interception facilities on the West coast of the United States and at Hawaii and Guam, tapping all cable traffic across the Pacific Ocean as well as links between Australia and Japan.

The map confirms that Singapore, one of the world’s most significant telecommunications hubs, is a key “third party” working with the “Five Eyes” intelligence partners.

In August Fairfax Media reported that Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, is in a partnership with Singaporean intelligence to tap the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany.

Australian intelligence sources told Fairfax that the highly secretive Security and Intelligence Division of Singapore’s Ministry of Defence co-operates with DSD in accessing and sharing communications carried by the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable as well as the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable that runs from Singapore to the south of France.

Access to this major international telecommunications channel, facilitated by Singapore’s government-owned operator SingTel, has been a key element in an expansion of Australian-Singaporean intelligence and defence ties over the past 15 years.

Majority owned by Temask Holdings, the investment arm of the Singapore Government, SingTel has close relations with Singapore’s intelligence agencies. The Singapore Government is represented on the company’s board by the head of Singapore’s civil service, Peter Ong, who was previously responsible for national security and intelligence co-ordination in the Singapore Prime Minister’s office.

Australian intelligence expert, Australian National University Professor Des Ball has described Singapore’s signal’s intelligence capability as “probably the most advanced” in South East Asia, having first been developed in cooperation with Australia in the mid-1970s and subsequently leveraging Singapore’s position as a regional telecommunications hub.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and Singaporean intelligence collaboration since the 1970s. Much of Indonesia’s telecommunications and Internet traffic is routed through Singapore.

The leaked NSA map also shows South Korea is another key interception point with cable landings at Pusan providing access to the external communications of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has long been a close collaborator with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA, as well as the Australian intelligence agencies. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recently engaged in legal action in an unsuccessful effort to prevent publication of details of South Korean espionage in Australia. ASIO Director-General David Irvine told the Federal Court that Australian and South Korean intelligence agencies had been cooperating for “over 30 years” and that any public disclose of NIS activities would be “detrimental” to Australia’s national security.

The NSA map and other documents leaked by Mr Snowden and published by the Brazilian O Globo newspaper also reveal new detail on the integration of Australian and New Zealand signals intelligence facilities in the interception of satellite communications traffic by the “Five Eyes” partners.

For the first time it is revealed that the DSD satellite interception facility at Kojarena near Geraldton in Western Australia is codenamed “STELLAR”. The New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau facility at Waihopai on New Zealand’s South Island is codenamed “IRONSAND”. The codename for DSD’s facility at Shoal Bay near Darwin is not identified. However all three facilities are listed by the NSA as “primary FORNSAT (foreign satellite communications) collection operations”.

Coverage of satellite communications across Asia and the Middle East is also supported by NSA facilities at the United States Air Force base at Misawa in Japan, US diplomatic premises in Thailand and India, and British Government Communications Headquarters facilities in Oman, Nairobi in Kenya and at the British military base in Cyprus.

The leaked NSA map also shows that undersea cables are accessed by the NSA and the British GCHQ through military facilities in Djibouti and Oman, thereby ensuring maximum coverage of Middle East and South Asian communications.

November 24, 2013
Philip Dorling

Find this story at 24 November 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

Australian spy agency helped BHP negotiate trade deals

An apology is the least Indonesia can expect from Australia following revelations of electronic spying, according to Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

BHP was among the companies helped by Australian spy agencies as they negotiated trade deals with Japan, a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer says.

A former diplomat has also confirmed Australian intelligence agencies have long targeted Japanese companies. Writing in The Japan Times, Professor Gregory Clark said Australian companies were beneficiaries of intelligence operations.

“In Australia, favoured firms getting spy material on Japanese contract policies and other business negotiations used to joke how [it had] ‘fallen off the back of a truck’,” Professor Clark wrote.

“BHP knew we were giving them secret intelligence. They lapped it up.”

Business information is a main target for [intelligence] agencies, he said. “The targeting is also highly corrupting since the information can be passed on selectively to co-operative firms – often firms that provide employment and cover for spy operatives.”
Professor Clark’s observations are supported by a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer who said that commercial information became a priority after the global economic turmoil of the 1970s.

“Suddenly [the Australian government] wanted to know what the demand would be for Australian iron ore and other commodities, and just what price the Japanese were prepared to pay for steel,” the former intelligence officer said.

“We gave market information [to] major companies like BHP which were helpful to us, and officers at overseas stations would trade snippets with some of their commercial contacts … BHP knew we were giving them secret intelligence. They lapped it up.”

The former spy says informal exchanges with business executives were continuing when he retired in the 1990s. More recently, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published by Fairfax Media in 2011 revealed former BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers privately offered “to trade confidences” with US officials about China.

”Kloppers has a keen interest in learning everything he can about the Chinese and is not shy about asking us for our impressions,” US Consul-General Michael Thurston reported to Washington in 2009. BHP declined to comment at the time.

The US and Britain have repeatedly denied charges of economic espionage following the disclosures of US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Australia says it is longstanding policy not to comment on intelligence matters.

Australian National University international relations expert Dr Michael McKinley said: ”While most countries might have suspicions … the revelation of economic espionage has the potential to be highly embarrassing.”

Professor Clark also highlights the potential for secret intelligence to harm diplomatic relations.

After leaving the Australian foreign service in the mid 1960s because of his opposition to Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War, Professor Clark pursued a distinguished academic career in Japan.

However as an Australian Government consultant he was also involved in policy making on Australian-Japanese relations in 1974-76.

In his memoirs, Professor Clark recalls how “a piece of phoney information from an incompetent ASIS spy in Tokyo desperate to impress superiors” was used by conservative Canberra bureaucrats to stall trade negotiations with Japan during the Whitlam Labor Government.

“[E]ven when it is clear that the information is unreliable and the spies are out of control, it is hard for anyone to complain or disagree,” he says.

November 7, 2013
Philip Dorling

Find this story at 7 November 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

KGB ‘recruited’ two politicians as agents

KGB station chief Ivan Stenin (right) and his successor, Geronty Lazovik, in Canberra in 1971.

A KGB officer ran two Australian federal parliamentarians as Soviet agents in the 1970s, according to a confidential account of ASIO counter-espionage operations during the Cold War.

ASIO also tried to persuade a Russian military intelligence officer to defect by offering him treatment in the US for his stomach cancer.

In an unusually candid document obtained by Fairfax Media, a former senior ASIO officer lists known Soviet intelligence officers in Australia and reveals numerous details of ASIO’s counter-espionage efforts. Much of the information remains classified.

The account by the former counter-espionage specialist confirms that Soviet intelligence was very active in Australia throughout the Cold War and that ASIO’s counter-espionage efforts had only limited success.
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The document reveals ASIO’s bid in the 1970s to induce a senior military intelligence officer, Yuriy Ivanovich Stepanenko, to defect.

ASIO offered the Russian, who had stomach cancer, ”the best facilities in the world” at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore ”if he wanted to jump”.

According to the former ASIO officer, the Russian was “tempted but didn’t live much longer”.

The document also details how ASIO’s bugging operations revealed in the late 1960s and early 1970s that KGB officer Vladimir Aleksandrovich Aleksyev was “running two Australian politicians as agents, using tradecraft of a fairly high order”.

Aleksyev was followed by Vladimir Yevgenyevich Tulayev, “a hard-eyed, well-dressed thug” who, according to declassified ASIO documents, was also “aggressively involved in intelligence operations in Australia”.

Geronty Lazovik, another “definite agent runner”, was much more urbane and developed a wide range of contacts across Federal Parliament by targeting Labor politicians, staffers and lobbyists. However, ASIO director-general Peter Barbour delayed recommending that Tulayev and Lazovik be expelled before the 1972 federal election for fear of triggering political controversy.

Declassified documents show that after the election the new Labor prime minister, Gough Whitlam, was concerned about ASIO’s investigations causing diplomatic embarrassment. Neither KGB officer was expelled and the government suspended ASIO’s phone taps on the Soviet embassy.

Lazovik was reportedly later awarded a medal for his work in Australia. The award was for “allegedly recruiting a top agent in ASIO, Defence or [the Department of Foreign Affairs]”, according to the former ASIO officer.

The document also sheds light on the 1983 Combe-Ivanov affair in which the Hawke Labor government blackballed former Labor national secretary and political lobbyist David Combe because of his involvement with KGB officer Valery Ivanov, who was expelled from Australia.

The former ASIO officer says that Ivanov recruited a cipher clerk in the Indonesian embassy and that ASIO approached the Indonesians to agree to “a joint operation running the cipher clerk back against Ivanov”. However, the proposed double-agent operation had to aborted because of Ivanov’s expulsion.

“The farewell party for Ivanov was bugged and revealing. He had been roundly castigated by [fellow KGB officer] Koshlyakov for going too far, too soon, and wasn’t very happy at that,” the former ASIO officer says.

October 14, 2013
Philip Dorling

Find this story at 14 October 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

Ex-Mossad-Agent; Israel zahlt Schweigegeld an Familie von Häftling X

Ben Zygier war ein Mossad-Agent, der Geheimnisse an Israels Feinde weitergab. Während der Isolationshaft erhängte sich der Spion. Die genauen Umstände seiner Haft will Jerusalem unter keinen Umständen preisgeben – und bezahlt Zygiers Familie für ihr Schweigen.

Tel Aviv – Einer der spektakulärsten Justizfälle der israelischen Geschichte hat ein finanzielles Nachspiel. Israels Regierung will die Familie des sogenannten Häftling X mit vier Millionen Schekel entschädigen – umgerechnet etwa 842.000 Euro.

Das Geld fließt an die Familie des früheren Mossad-Agenten Ben Zygier. Der australisch-israelische Doppelstaatsbürger hatte jahrelang für den Geheimdienst gearbeitet, war dann aber Anfang 2010 verhaftet worden. Nach Erkenntnissen des SPIEGEL hatte Zygier Informationen an die libanesische Hisbollah-Miliz weitergegeben, die zur Verhaftung zweier Mossad-Agenten im Libanon führten.

Zygier wurde in der Hochsicherheitsanstalt Ajalon im israelischen Ramle in Einzelhaft unter Videoüberwachung gehalten. Das Gefängnispersonal kannte weder seinen Namen noch den Grund für seine Haft. Trotz der Überwachung konnte er sich im Dezember 2010 in seiner Zelle erhängen. Eine Untersuchungsrichterin hatte daher im April festgestellt, dass Zygier nicht ausreichend überwacht worden sei. Der Fall wurde erst Jahre später durch australische Medienberichte publik.

“Ihr werdet schweigen, wir werden bezahlen”

Israels Regierung betont, dass die nun getroffene Einigung mit den Hinterbliebenen kein Eingeständnis eines “vorgeblichen Fehlverhaltens” sei. Vielmehr solle vermieden werden, die Angelegenheit vor Gericht zu bringen, weil dann Einzelheiten an die Öffentlichkeit kämen und die nationale Sicherheit ernsten Schaden nehmen können.

Zygiers Familie hat sich zu Stillschweigen verpflichtet. “Ihr werdet schweigen, wir werden bezahlen”, titelte die israelische Tageszeitung “Jedioth Achronoth” am Mittwoch. Die Hinterbliebenen von Häftling X hatten direkt mit dem Büro des Premierministers Benjamin Netanjahu und dem Justizministerium verhandelt.

Jahrelang war die Familie über die Umstände des Todes falsch informiert worden. Den Hinterbliebenen wurde erzählt, dass Zygier als Mossad-Agent hinter feindlichen Linien ums Leben gekommen war.

11. September 2013, 13:06 Uhr

Find this story at 11 September 2013

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013

Prisoner X: Israel to pay $1m to Ben Zygier’s family

Family of Australian-born Mossad agent who died in jail in 2010 while facing treason charges, is offered settlement

Ben Zygier, known as Prisoner X, picture in a still from an ABC TV report. Photograph: AAP/ABC TV

Israel is to pay more than $1m to the family of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Mossad agent who hanged himself in an Israeli prison, in order to avoid damaging disclosures in a court case.

The agreement will see Zygier’s family receive four million shekels, or around $1.19m, in staged payments in return for the state of Israel being absolved of responsibility for the death.

Zygier, who held Australian and Israeli citizenships, hanged himself in the Ayalon Prison in 2010. He was known as Prisoner X due to his secret incarceration, where he was facing a 10-year sentence for treason.

A judicial inquiry found that guards did not properly check his cell and that at least one CCTV camera wasn’t working. Central district court president, Daphna Blatman, said: “Failure by various elements in the Israel prison service caused his death.”

The Israeli government has said that there was not enough evidence to bring charges over Zygier’s death.

Zygier’s parents – who are leading figures in Melbourne’s Jewish
community – threatened to bring a legal case against the state of
Israel, claiming negligence and seeking compensation.

According to a statement from the Israeli justice ministry,
negotiations between the state of Israel and the Zygiers led to the
settlement, “under which the state agreed to pay the family of the
deceased the sum of four million shekels”. The agreement was made
“without admitting claims raised against”, it said.

Israel made the payment in order to avoid court action, which might have
involved the disclosure of information “which could cause real damage
to national security”, the statement added.

Earlier this year, the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program reported that the Israeli government attempted to cover up the story of Zygier’s death, urging editors of Israeli newspapers not to report the incident.

The program claimed that Zygier was imprisoned for sabotaging a Mossad mission to recover the bodies of soldiers killed in action in Lebanon. Israel has refused to comment on the reasons for his incarceration.

Oliver Milman in Sydney and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 September 2013 09.07 BST

Find this story at 11 September 2013

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

‘Prisoner X’ family to get Israeli payout

Justice ministry says $1.1 million to be paid to family of alleged Mossad spy who hanged himself in prison.

Zygier known as “Prisoner X” was found hanged in his isolation cell in Ayalon prison near in December 2010. [EPA]

Israel is to pay more than $1 million to the family of an alleged Mossad spy who hanged himself in prison in 2010, the justice ministry has said.

“After negotiations, the two parties have reached an agreement whereby the state will pay $1.1 million to the deceased’s family,” the ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The family of Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli known as “Prisoner X,” had accused Israel of negligence in dealing with his case, according to the statement.

Zygier was found hanged in his isolation cell in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010 — a case Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.

A court document released on April 25 this year said Israel’s prison service had caused Zygier’s death by failing to prevent him from committing suicide.

The document revealed details about his background and imprisonment, indicating he was suicidal and had an emotionally-charged exchange with his wife the day he was found hanged.

It also said that his cell was not properly watched by prison guards.

The justice ministry statement stressed that the deal with Zygier’s family was not an “admission of alleged wrongdoing.”

It was instead “to avoid the affair going to court, which would lead to the publication of numerous details of the case which could cause serious harm to national security.”

The reasons for Zygier’s detention were unclear, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said in a report in May that the 34-year-old, who was allegedly working for Israel’s foreign spy service Mossad, had unwittingly sabotaged a top secret spy operation in Lebanon.

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2013 08:52

Find this story at 11 September 2013

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Israel pays £714,000 to the family of ‘Prisoner X’

The move is designed to keep their allegation of negligence from becoming a public lawsuit that could expose state secrets

Israel has agreed to pay four million shekels (£714,000) in compensation to the family of an Australian-Israeli Mossad agent who apparently committed suicide while being held in secret detention in 2010.

The settlement with relatives of Ben Zygier, who was known as “Prisoner X” during his detention for unspecified crimes, is designed to keep their allegation of negligence from becoming a public lawsuit that could expose state secrets, the justice ministry said in a statement.

“It is possible that in the course [of a trial] details would be liable to be made public which could cause tangible damage to the security of the state,” the statement said. The justice ministry stressed that the payment was not tantamount to admitting that state was negligent in its care of Mr Zygier.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broke the story of Mr Zygier’s secret incarceration in February. Before then, the Israeli media had been subject to a blackout on the “Prisoner X” case. A judicial inquiry later found that Mr Zygier’s death was a suicide enabled by “neglect of duty’’ on the part of those holding him.

Uri Misgav, an investigative reporter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said he doubted that security was the real reason for the state keeping the matter out of court. “There is at least suspicion of a cover up of failures in all aspects of this matter including recruitment, handling of him as an agent and his handling as a prisoner by the state,” he added.

The case has been an embarrassment to Israel, raising the question of whether the judiciary, which approved the secret incarceration, had acted as a rubber stamp of the security branches.

Ben Lynfield
Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Find this story at 11 September 2013

© independent.co.uk

Revealed: another secret incarceration of Israeli secret services agent

After revelations about Ben Zygier, ‘Prisoner X No. 2’ blamed for ‘horrible security breach’

For the second time in less than six months, the secret incarceration of a member of the Israeli secret services has been revealed.

The new case, which follows that of former Mossad agent Ben Zygier, who hanged himself in the high security Ayalon Prison in 2010, is also understood to involve someone who worked for of the Jewish state’s spy agencies. Both Zygier, and the other individual, were known only as ‘Prisoner X’ during their imprisonment. The second prisoner has not been identified.

There are still few details about the new case, which was revealed earlier today by the liberal Haaretz newspaper. However, Zygier’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, told Israeli radio that the allegations facing the second prisoner were much more severe.

“This affair points to far more severe failures than the ones committed by the defense [sic] establishment in Zygier’s case,” he said. “Regarding Zygier’s case, the authorities that recruited him didn’t understand who they were dealing with and weren’t aware of his conduct. Okay – that’s a failure. Prisoner X number two is an entirely different story – a horrible security breach. When I heard the story, as an Israeli citizen I was shocked, and the subject was completely silenced by lawyers who enjoy close ties with the establishment. Whoever opens this affair will be doing the country a great service.”

It is believed that Zygier – disappointed by his superior’s lack of willingness to hand him more interesting work – decided to try and impress his bosses and turn a leading member of the Lebanese group Hezbollah. He was then skilfully played to the extent that he ended blowing the cover of two double agents that had provided information to Israel.

Israeli officials have not commented on the case and like in Zygier’s case, are unlikely to offer any insight, although it is believed that unlike in Zygier’s case, the second Prisoner X had been convicted of whatever crimes he was accused of. It is not clear what has become of the second Prisoner X, but it is thought that he may still be being held at Ayalon prison.

Mr Feldman said that assumptions could be drawn from a detainee being classified as ‘prisoner X’.

“They are Israeli, they work in institutions linked to security whose activities are shrouded in secrecy,” he said. “And their detention demonstrates the failure of these organisations which are not capable of preventing offences such as those for which these agents have been arrested,” he said.

The disclosure that at least two of its spies are alleged to have committed grave crimes against their own state is a huge embarrassment to Israel and the fact that a second Prisoner X is guaranteed to raise questions about whether there yet more people being held in similar circumstances.

Alistair Dawber
Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Find this story at 9 July 2013

© independent.co.uk

Israel’s ‘Prisoner X2’ case raises concerns

In Israel, the news that a second prisoner is serving a jail sentence in top-secret conditions has triggered human rights concerns and raised questions about the transparency of the justice system.

A prominent Israeli criminal lawyer says the detainee, referred to as Prisoner X2, is a member of the nation’s covert security forces and has been held behind bars for years.

In February this year, an Australian TV report about another anonymous prisoner shook the Israeli security establishment and threatened to destabilize Israel’s relations with Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that a man referred to as Prisoner X, who died in jail in December 2010, was a Jewish immigrant to Israel from Melbourne.

Ben Zygier had joined, then betrayed, the Mossad Israeli spy agency. He was arrested in February 2010 and held in a top-security cell in Israel’s Ayalon Prison. Even his guards did not know his name, and Israel’s courts imposed a media blackout on even mentioning the case. According to media reports, Zygier’s crime was revealing the identities of Mossad operatives in Lebanon. Zygier later hanged himself with a sheet in the shower of his cell. Guards who were supposed to be monitoring his cell said the camera malfunctioned and they were short staffed on the night Zygier died.

Israel’s Justice Ministry released a statement July 9 about Zygier. It included a mention of a second prisoner held in similar conditions, who has become known as Prisoner X2. Israeli criminal attorney Avigdor Feldman, who met with both detainees, told Israeli radio that, like Zygier, Prisoner X2 was also an Israeli citizen and a part of Israel’s covert security operations. However, he noted that the charges against Prisoner X2 were “more grave, more astounding and more fascinating” than those leveled against Zygier. Feldman did not detail the charges and declined to answer DW’s questions.
The Zygier case shook the Israeli establishment

Secret cells

The secret wings and blocks of Israel’s prisons are reserved for those considered to be its most dangerous criminals. Zygier’s cell was previously assigned to Yigal Amir, who assassinated late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

Following the report of a second Prisoner X, legislator Miri Regev called a meeting to discuss the circumstances of his or her incarceration. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to end the prisoner’s isolation and lift a media blackout on the case.

“We cannot accept a situation in which a man is arrested, tried, and imprisoned in complete secrecy, and prevented from any possibility of contact with other persons on a daily basis,” ACRI attorney Lila Margalit said in a statement. “The ‘Prisoner X’ affairs prove again that without public scrutiny, it is impossible to safeguard the rights of suspected, accused or convicted persons.”

A senior Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the veiled arrests were necessary to safeguard important matters of national security. He noted that both secret prisoners were given access to defense lawyers and their families.

“The security services in Israel have a crucial job in protecting the citizens of Israel against the threats that are out there, but those security services work within the framework of the law,” he said.

Murky past
Israel has a history of secretive episodes

The recent Prisoner X cases recall other episodes in Israel. In 1995, an Israeli court order lifted a gag order on seven convicted spies held secretly. The most famous was Professor Avraham Marcus Klingberg, who was a senior researcher at the Israel Institute for Biological Research. He disappeared in 1983 and resurfaced a decade later in the Ashkelon prison, where he was held after being secretly sentenced to 20 years for spying for the Soviet Union. Klingberg was jailed under the false name of Avraham Greenberg. He was released in 1998 and placed under house arrest until he left the country after finishing his sentence in 2003.

Another prisoner on the list of seven was Col. Shimon Levinson, a security officer in the Prime Minister’s office. In 1991 he was found to have been spying for the Soviet Union and sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Yossi Melman, a journalist and commentator on security affairs, told DW that Israel holds far fewer secret prisoners today than in the past. Still, he doubted the method of using utter secrecy to cloak the latest cases.

“These are Israeli citizens. You don’t think Israelis have to know who is in their jails?” he said. “You don’t have to publish everything on him, but the minimum has to come out. [The government should] say someone was arrested, that he is suspected of something, that he is in prison, and has a certain sentence, and that his family is aware.”

Date 18.07.2013
Author Daniella Cheslow, Jerusalem
Editor Rob Mudge

Find this story at 18 July 2013

© 2013 Deutsche Welle

The Many Scandals Of The Prisoner X Affair

There is a joke among spies that the worst curse you can bestow on a colleague is, “I hope to read about you in the newspapers one day.” In the tragic case of Ben Zygier, the curse wasn’t a joke, and he had to die for it to become a reality. Needless to say, the gallows humor that is a hallmark of my former profession has lost much of its luster.

This file photo taken on February 14, 2013 shows Australian newspapers leading their front pages in Australia with the story of Ben Zygier. (William West / AFP / Getty Images)

In a piece in these pages entitled “What Prisoner X Scandal? (/articles/2013/02/20/what-prisoner-x-scandal.html) “, Professor Gil Troy argues that Zygier was the author of his own demise—both figuratively and literally—and that his treatment at the hands of the state was decidedly unscandalous and in accordance with all the norms associated with a liberal democracy.

I would strongly disagree with Troy, and go so far as to say that what is unfolding in this case is more than just one scandal but a culmination of many. I also take strong issue with Troy’s observations about Zygier’s state of mind and motives for committing suicide.

I know what it was like to walk in Zygier’s shoes (and he in mine, since I preceded him by a decade). I served in the Mossad for 13 years and the first 7 of those as a member of the same covert operations unit that Zygier belonged to. For a short while, we would have even been in the field at the same time (albeit in different units) at that stage of my career. Like Zygier, I grew up in the Anglosphere, with all the inherent cultural differences separating me from native-born Israelis. In my case however, I wasn’t even born Jewish and my family had settled in Canada long before Confederation (Troy—an expert on the War of 1812—may be interested to know that I am a direct descendant of Laura Secord). All the psychobabble of divided loyalties and identity crisis were never a part of the equation for me, nor any of my colleagues. We got on with the business of being at the sharp-end of Mossad operations because we knew what we were doing was important and engendered universal values that apply to any Western democracy. I do not see any evidence that Zygier was any less dedicated to this ideal.

I find the circumstances of Zygier’s incarceration in solitary confinement—ostensibly as a means to “protect him and others” for reasons of national security—scandalous. Zygier was tucked away by the state after a bout of closed-door legal proceedings. The two main criteria a prosecutor must consider when assessing a case is whether the prosecution is in the public interest and whether it has a good chance of being successful. It is clear that this case was not in the public interest and bears all the worst elements of legal expediency excused by national security interests. Zygier did not present any danger to the public and could have been summarily dismissed, placed under house arrest, and the matter dealt with internally. This was an exceptional case requiring an exceptional solution and I see little in the way of critical thinking on behalf of those who decided to remand him in solitary for an indeterminate time.

The management of Zygier’s cover by his Mossad commanders is no less scandalous. Zygier was placed in an untenable situation that was prone to his being compromised when the decision was made to dispatch him to Australia on several occasions to alter his name and passport. These decisions were all made on the heels of a very public scandal that put Australian Jewry and their travel documents under the spotlight in 2004. The other scandal is the churlish and clearly vindictive behaviour of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), who decided to leak Zygier’s name and details to a journalist presumably with a view to embarrassing its ally into “good behavior.” There are flaps and deconfliction issues all the time between allied intelligence services, and they are worked out behind closed doors. The Mossad has on more than one occasion been the aggrieved party in these cases and solved the issue with the offending service out of the public domain. These scandals both large and small have caused serious damage to the Mossad’s operational capability, the Jewish community in Australia, and more importantly, Zygier’s family.

I also take issue with Troy’s assertion that Zygier lacked the mental toughness for the job. Living and working in hostile locales for long periods under cover is, with all due respect, very different from the globe-trotting escapades of an academic with dual citizenship. Building cover is a long and painstaking process that involves more than remembering not to use a Hebrew word here and there. Hollywood notwithstanding, cover is an operative’s first, last, and only line of defense against a visit to the “fingernail factory” and an unpleasant death. To suggest that Zygier did not possess the mental scaffolding necessary to cope with the stresses of his job is wholly without merit.

by Michael Ross (/contributors/michael-ross.html) | February 21, 2013 5:00 PM EST

Find this story at 21 February 2013
© 2013 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

ASIO ‘burned’ Zygier

Analysis: Australian intelligence agency’s conduct played key role in Mossad operative’s decision to commit suicide

Ben Zygier was a victim. From details that have already been published by British and Australian media we learn that he was a victim of his own personality and also of the over-enthusiasm and lack of caution on the part of his handlers in Israel. Most infuriating is the fact that people who worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) purposely got the Mossad operative in hot water and indirectly contributed to his decision to commit suicide.

According to the details that have surfaced so far, Zygier and two of his colleagues, who were also born in Australia and held Australian citizenship, were recruited to Mossad at the beginning of the last decade. After a few years of service in Europe, the three were sent back to Australia to obtain new, authentic passports. Australian law allows a person to change his name and have a passport issued under the new name every calendar year. The three took advantage of this law, ASIO claims, to obtain a number of passports under various names that concealed their Jewish identities and presented them as Australians with an Anglo-Saxon background.

Opinion

Many questions remain unanswered / Ron Ben-Yishai

‘Prisoner X’ affair shows Mossad, PM’s Office do not understand how media works in information revolution era
Full story

Zygier, for instance, had four passports issued during the four years he had spent in Australia. The Australians claim Mossad needed these passports to allow fighters and spies to enter enemy states such as Iran and Syria and carry out missions under false identities. Apparently Zygier and his friends were not sent on missions in these “target states” themselves, but their passports were used by other people who operated under assumed names. Zygier was not in Dubai, as the Kuwait newspaper claimed.

These events occurred at the time of the al-Aqsa Intifada, when Mossad increased its activity regarding the monitoring and thwarting of the Iranian nuclear program, and at the same time prevented the smuggling of weapons and terror attacks initiated by Iran – such as the transfer of arms and aid to Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian organizations. This activity increased significantly after then-prime minister Sharon appointed Meir Dagan as Mossad chief in 2002 and instructed him to focus on Iran.

During this time a number of embarrassing work accidents occurred that angered some of Israel’s allies. One such incident occurred in 2004 in New Zealand, one of Australia’s closest allies. Another incident was the assassination of Mabhouh, Hamas’ smuggler, during which it was revealed that Mossad operatives made extensive use of authentic passports belonging to Jews, including Australian Jews – at least this is what the Dubai police chief claimed. During this time, the ASIO also claimed that an Israeli diplomat from the embassy in Canberra took advantage of romantic relations to gather information on the activities of the Australian government. The diplomat, Amir Laty, was deported from Australia in 2005. Against this background, Australian government offices were apparently instructed to raise their level of alertness regarding Israeli activity to gather information, and in 2009 the government office in charge of issuing passports warned of the frequent name changes by Zygier and his colleagues.

The warning was relayed to ASIO, which apparently began to follow the three and later summon them for questioning. According to Australian newspaper The Age and another newspaper based in Brisbane, Zygier became the main suspect following things he said during the interrogation or due to details revealed by one of his colleagues. However, this occurred before the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Australia that broke out following the Mabhouh assassination. Seemingly, there was no reason for Australia to act against Zygier because he did not commit any acts of espionage on its soil or collect any information on the country.

The ASIO is tasked only with foiling subversive and terrorist activity against Australia. Apparently, the intelligence agency had no evidence indicating that the passports issued for Zygier were used illegally. It is also possible that the Australian government chose to turn a blind eye for the benefit of the close ties between Mossad and ASIS, Australia’s intelligence agency that operates overseas.

But at least some ASIO officials apparently had their own agenda, and they were not willing to give up on the Israeli prey so easily – perhaps due to frustration, damaged professional pride or simply because they were anti-Israel. Or maybe they realized that Zygier was the weak link in the story and thought that more pressure would break him and cause him to reveal all of his activities on behalf of Mossad. It appears that the two other Australian Jews who were interrogated did not disclose enough information, prompting the ASIO to use the media as a tool to apply more pressure.

The plan was to have the media attack Zygier in order to convince him that his activities had been exposed and there is no point in getting in trouble with the Australian authorities by continuing to conceal them. The ASIO investigation was launched in the summer of 2009. Mabhouh was assassinated in February 2010. At the end of that month The Age published an article on how three young Israelis holding Australian citizenship were given passports with false names which they used to enter Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

The reporters who wrote the article were Jason Koutsoukis and Jonathan Pearlman, who had visited Israel for work and were familiar with the Israeli scene. Koutsoukis did not try to hide the fact that their source was an Australian intelligence officer. To justify the surveillance of the Jews with the dual citizenship, reporters were told that as a student, Zygier was in contact with students from Saudi Arabia and Iran. The reporters were essentially being told that Zygier was spying for Israel on Australian soil and should therefore be followed.

Zygier was in Israel when the Australian intelligence officer leaked the information to Koutsoukis. According to all accounts, he returned to Israel willingly and even reported to his superiors in Mossad that he was interrogated in Australia. It is safe to assume that he also informed Mossad that his colleagues had been questioned as well. But even before the Mabhouh assassination, Koutsoukis called Zygier and asked about the passports and his activity in the service of Mossad. Koutsoukis claims an “anonymous source” in Israel gave him Zygier’s phone number. It is entirely possible that this source was not Israeli.

In any case, in his conversation with the reporter Zygier denied working for Mossad, but Koutsoukis got the impression that Zygier would eventually tell him the entire story. The reporter continued to call, and Zygier may have softened and told him of his work for the Israeli intelligence agency.

At a certain point it was decided that there was enough evidence to justify an arrest and an investigation. The rest is known. Zygier was held in isolation under an assumed name because the names on the various passports, including his real name, were known. Zygier was not a senior Mossad operative. It is not surprising that Zygier, a passionate Zionist, could not bear the guilt and committed suicide. He did not betray the country; he simply could not live up to his own expectations and those of his family and his surroundings. The burden became too heavy for his tormented soul.

Published: 02.17.13, 12:10 / Israel Opinion

Find this story at 17 February 2013

Copyright © Yedioth Internet

Did British intelligence also know about Mossad suspect Ben Zygier?

Did Ben Zygier, the Australian-Israeli identified by Australian media last week as the mysterious “Prisoner X” who died in Israeli prison in 2010, also have British citizenship?

Australian reporter Jason Koutsoukis broke the story in February 27, 2010 that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had been investigating three Australian-Israelis suspected of links to Mossad. He confronted two of the (unnamed) men about the allegations, quoting one in his 2010 report:

“I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,” he said. ”I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

The same man is also believed to hold British citizenship, and is believed to have come to the attention of British intelligence after he had changed his name.

Now see what Koutsoukis told The Guardian last week, after the Australian Broadcasting Company aired an investigation suggesting that Prisoner X who had died in Israel’s Ayalon prison in December 2010 was Ben Zygier :

At the time Zygier said: “I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to, I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

So we now know the man who told Koutsoukis in 2010 “I have never been to those countries” was Zygier. And that Koutsoukis indicated that he had been told at the time– presumably by Australian intelligence–that Zygier had also previously come on the radar of British intelligence for taking out a passport in a new name.

If Koutsoukis’ original information was correct, that Zygier also had British citizenship and another British alias, it would be interesting to know what the British government and intelligence services might know about the case and how Israel came to suspect that Zygier was compromised.

Update: Why did Israel move to arrest Zygier in February 2010? One possible theory is also suggested by information in Koutsoukis’s February 27, 2010 report.

In the piece, that came out days after Zygier was secretly detained, Koutsoukis writes:

In January the Herald visited the offices of the European company that connects the three men.

The company’s office manager confirmed to the Herald that one of the men being monitored by ASIO – the same man believed to hold a British passport – was employed by the company but was “unavailable”.

The company’s chief executive later emphatically denied that this man was ever employed by his company, and totally rejected that his company was being used to gather intelligence on behalf of Israel.

ASIO said it had no comment to make on the case.

So in January 2010, the head of an alleged Mossad front company allegedly involved in selling communications equipment to the Middle East discovers that a foreign reporter seems to know about it and the name of one of the men associated with it. We now know the name Koutsoukis gave the alleged front company was Zygier’s. (Koutsoukis’ home was broken into a day after he confronted Zygier in early 2010, he told Israel’s Channel 10 last week.)

How did Koutsoukis get the name of the firm? Likely from his ASIO source, who originally called him in October 2009. How did ASIO get it? Hypothetically, it seems possible that Zygier might have given the name of the firm to ASIO under questioning about suspected passport fraud. (Zygier had reportedly been in Australia in the fall of 2009 attending an MBA program at Monash University.)

(It’s not clear to this reporter if that is the kind of disclosure that Mossad would consider a serious breach, or not, given Australia and Israel are allies. Some Israeli sources have insisted that Zygier must have committed some more serious transgression, with intent, involving an entity hostile to Israel, to have been treated so severely. Other Israeli journalists and former officials, however, seem to believe Zygier was compromised by officials with the Australian security service. Australia’s ASIO “burned” Zygier to Koutsoukis, YNet analyst Ron Ben-Yishai wrote Sunday, amid a series of actions by Mossad in Australia that deeply angered Canberra. Former Israeli intelligence official Michael Ross agrees.)

However Koutsoukis learned of it, Mossad would, after Koutsoukis’ visit to the company in January 2010, soon have been aware that there had been a serious compromise of the firm and all associated with it.

(For more on the Prisoner X case, see Ron Ben-Yishai, ABC (Part I) and (Part II), The Age, Daoud Kuttab, Yossi Melman, and the Guardian.)

Posted on February 17, 2013 by Laura Rozen

Find this story at 17 February 2013

© 2013 AL-MONITOR

Interview: Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ linked to 2010 al-Mabhouh killing

This morning I spoke to SBS Radio Australia’s Greg Dyett about the mysterious case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born naturalized citizen of Israel, who is said to have killed himself in 2010 while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. As intelNews reported on Wednesday, Zygier, who is believed to have been recruited by Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad, had been imprisoned incommunicado for several months and was known only as ‘Prisoner X’, even to his prison guards. Is there any connection between Zygier’s incarceration and the January 2010 assassination of Palestinian arms merchant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai? And what could Zygier have done to prompt Israel to incarcerate him? You can listen to me discuss this mysterious case in an eight-minute interview here, or read the transcript, below.

Q: You say that, after conferring with your contacts in Israel, Europe and the United States, you believe that Ben Zygier had some sort of involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.

A: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a weapons procurer for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At this point, there is little doubt that the Mossad was behind this operation. Several members of the team that killed al-Mabhouh were using third-country passports —Irish, British, Australian, and others— to travel to and from Dubai. In the aftermath of the assassination, there were questions about how the Mossad operatives managed to get those passports; and, if you’ll remember, that led to the expulsion of several Israeli diplomats from around the world, including Australia. At least four of those who conducted the assassination were using Australian passports. It appears that, although Zygier himself was not necessarily involved with the assassination on the operational level, he must have possessed significant knowledge about how these passports are actually obtained by the Mossad. And the general sense seems to be that his imprisonment in Israel is connected with his knowledge of how exactly this system works in Israel.

Q: What could he have done that would have prompted Israel to incarcerate him?

A: In order to answer that question one has to be aware of what is perhaps the main practical intelligence concern for Israel. The primary operational terrain for Israeli intelligence activities is of course the Middle East and North Africa. However, the problem Israeli intelligence agencies face —the Mossad in particular, which is Israel’s primary covert-action agency— is that Israeli officers cannot travel to most of the Arab world [or Iran], because Israeli passports are not accepted there. Because of this, Israeli intelligence agencies, including the Mossad, are constantly in a sort of desperate need for high-quality travel documents, which are considered indispensible in their work. Without them, they cannot fulfill their intelligence mission. So, procuring passports, especially from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, is seen as highly important. Such passports are highly coveted because these countries are seen as politically neutral and their passports do not carry the baggage that you get when you carry, say, an American or an Israeli passport, especially around the Middle East. Therefore, a person like Zygier, if he had knowledge of how the system works and how exactly Israeli intelligence procures these passports, would have been absolutely critical for the operational cohesion of an agency like the Mossad.

Some people tend to think that, because Zygier was incarcerated in Ayalon, the same prison and the same cell that was built specifically for the person who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, his crime must have been comparable in magnitude to killing an Israeli political leader. Now, I personally don’t think so. I think what he must have done is somehow compromised himself by collaborating with a foreign intelligence agency in the weeks or months following the al-Mabhouh assassination. Now, was that agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation? Was it perhaps the authorities in Dubai, who were investigating the al-Mabhouh assassination? Did he perhaps decide for some personal ethical reason to turn into some sort of whistleblower, reminiscent of Mordechai Vanunu, who in 1986 spilled the beans about Israel’s nuclear weapons program? That is, of course, an unanswered question. But I think the answer has to do with one of those three possibilities.

Q: If we go back to December 2009, an Australian journalist had the first of several telephone calls with Zygier, in which he put to Zygier that he had information that he was one of three Israeli-Australians involved in the production of false identity documents, like passports. What seemed interesting to me was the fact that Zygier was prepared to engage with that journalist to the point of taking several telephone calls from him between December 2009 and January the next year, shortly before the [al-Mabhouh] assassination on January 19 and just a month before Zygier was jailed in February.

A: Yes, this is very interesting, indeed. I think that if Zygier —and it seems almost certain at this point— was recruited by Israeli intelligence, when he received that call his world must have collapsed, because for someone like him, operational discretion would have been of the utmost importance. However, he did engage with the journalist and did continue to be in communication with him. This might perhaps point to Zygier not being a full-time operations officer for the Mossad, but rather a recruit —an asset— somebody recruited for a particular operation with an expiration date, who then falls into a sleeper-agent-type mode until he is recalled. It could also point to the possibility that Zygier was involved with the Mossad but seemed to have some kind of ethical concerns about the use of Australian passports to conduct assassinations around the world.

Incidentally, you might argue that his discovery by the press was not necessarily his own fault, but rather the fault of his Israeli handlers. His name was leaked to the press in Australia, probably by Australian intelligence, which was alerted by the fact that Zygier traveled back to Australia at least four times to legally change his name and to request new Australian passports, which he then must have used to travel around the world. That raised flags for Australian counterintelligence, which must have realized at some point that the Mossad had asked Zygier to anglicize his name so that he could travel to the Middle East without appearing to be in any way connected to Israel [or Judaism]. That is sloppy intelligence work, any way you look at it.

Q: Now, attention has been pointed to the fact that Zygier was being held in a supposedly suicide-proof prison cell. Would Israel have any motivation in wanting to kill this gentleman?

A: I really don’t think so. Let us take the gravest possibility, namely that Zygier had actually compromised himself —had collaborated with an intelligence agency of a country considered by Israel to be an adversary. In that possibility, the Mossad would have nothing to gain from his death. In a case like that, once the compromised officer or agent is incarcerated, he is seen as a card, which you can use to exchange with your agents or officers who might have been captured abroad. So he would be very useful in that respect. In addition, once he was considered essentially a defector-in-place —someone who collaborated consciously with a foreign intelligence agency— the Mossad would have had a lot more to gain by interrogating him for many, many years. Through this process, it could gain valuable information about the mode of operation of that adversary intelligence agency, which would be far more productive than actually killing him. So there is nothing to be gained by simply killing a compromised officer of the kind of Zygier.

[The last question, below, and the corresponding answer, were not aired as part of the SBS segment]

Q: Do you think we will ever find out the truth behind this story?

A: Yes. I am very optimistic that we will eventually find out a lot more information than we currently have available about this case. It is interesting how, in the hours after the initial revelation of Zygier’s identity by ABC Australia, a lot of Israeli news media received telephone calls by the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, requesting emergency meetings to discuss the case. In those meetings, the media were urged to exercise restraint and were warned of “very dramatic repercussions” to Israel’s security if more about this case was released. …

February 15, 2013 by intelNews

Find this story at 15 February 2013

Zygier ‘ran Mossad front company selling electronics to Iran’

Alleged Australian-Israeli agent, who reportedly killed himself in jail here in 2010, said to have been held in solitary on suspicion of treason

Jason Koutsoukis, a reporter for Australian’s Fairfax newspapers, began an investigation into Ben Zygier — aka “Prisoner X,” who is said to have committed suicide in Ayalon Prison in 2010 — in 2009, when an anonymous source fed him information regarding a Mossad front company that was operating in Europe and selling goods to Iran, the Guardian reported Wednesday evening.

According to the Guardian report, the source gave Koutsoukis the names of three Australians with joint Israeli citizenship who were working for the Mossad. The alleged agents were said to be selling electronics to Iran through a company based in Europe.

In 2009, Koutsoukis said, he contacted Zygier at his home in Jerusalem and confronted him with allegations of the story.

“The company did exist,” Koutsoukis was quoted as saying. ”I also managed to establish that Zygier and another of the individuals had worked for it. I wasn’t able to confirm the third name.”

According to Koutsoukis’s account, Zygier changed his name four times in Australia. Although Australian law permits changing one’s name legally once a year, Australian authorities grew suspicious and were beginning to close in on Zygier, Koutsoukis said.

Koutsoukis reported in 2010 that two Australian intelligence sources told him that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization was investigating three Australians who had emigrated to Israel in the last decade and who had changed their names and requested new passports.

“The three Australians share an involvement with a European communications company that has a subsidiary in the Middle East. A person travelling under one of these names sought Australian consular assistance in Tehran in 2004,” he reported at the time in the Sydney Morning Herald.

After a Mossad hit squad reportedly killed senior Hamas weapons importer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010, Koutsoukis decided to confront Zygier and telephoned him, the Guardian report said.

“When I spoke to him he was incredulous at first and said f*ck off – but what was interesting was that he did not hang up,” Koutsoukis said. “He did soundly genuinely shocked. But he listened to what I had to say.

“I still wonder why he didn’t hang up. He denied everything, however. He said he hadn’t visited the countries it had been claimed he had. I tried calling again but in the end he told me to buzz off.”

Koutsoukis said he also had a series of bizarre exchanges with the CEO of the alleged front company. He reported that the company’s office manager confirmed that one of the three Australians was being monitored by the ASIO.

“He seemed a bit weird. He denied all knowledge of what I was talking about, but then wanted to talk to me again and make an arrangement to meet up,” he later told the Guardian.

Koutsoukis claimed that a senior government official later confirmed the story, even though he had the opportunity to refute it.

Zygier was reportedly imprisoned later in 2010, a fact the Australian spy agency was aware of, according to The Australian. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Thursday acknowledged to the Australian Senate that Canberra was given assurances by Israel that Zygier’s rights would be respected.

“The Australian government was informed in February 2010 through intelligence channels that the Israeli authorities had detained a dual Australian-Israeli citizen – and they provided the name of the citizen – in relation to serious offences under Israeli national security legislation.” he said.

By Greg Tepper and Ilan Ben Zion February 14, 2013, 1:29 am 6

Find this story at 14 February 2013

© 2013 The Times of Israel

Exposure of alleged agent could have ‘dramatic implications’ for Mossad

Channel 10: Iran and Syria will now be checking through their records, working out when Ben Zygier entered, who accompanied him, and who he met with

The exposure in the Australian media this week of alleged former Mossad agent Ben Zygier, who reportedly committed suicide in Ramle’s Ayalon Prison two years ago, could have very dramatic repercussions for ongoing Mossad operations, Israeli media reported on Wednesday night.

Assuming the information is accurate, the impact of the exposure of the alleged agent and his movements on behalf of Israeli intelligence in Iran, Syria and Lebanon, will have “very significant” consequences for ongoing work, Channel 10 news said.

In countries such as Iran and Syria, the authorities would now be checking through their records, working out when Zygier entered, who accompanied him, and who he met with, the TV report said.

The ABC Australia reporter who broke the story, Trevor Bormann, said in interviews on Wednesday that he was first told about the case in Israel by an Israeli source who said he had “a terrific story” to tell but couldn’t publish it in Israel because of “a gag order” surrounding the case. Bormann said he worked on the story for 10 months, putting the pieces together.

Some Hebrew media reports Wednesday night indicated that Zygier was initially exposed in 2010 by the Australian security authorities.

He immigrated to Israel in around 2000, and was subsequently recruited by the Mossad, they said.

During his years in Israel, Zygier, a lawyer by profession, also worked at the Herzog, Fox, Neeman law firm of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Channel 2 reported.

In 2009, he went back to Australia and enrolled for a master’s degree at Melbourne’s Monash University, where he mingled with students from Arab countries, including from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

This attracted the suspicions of the Australian national security services, who called him in for questioning, the reports said, suspecting that he had used his Australian passport to spy for Israel. One Israeli media report on Wednesday night claimed Zygier admitted to the Australian interrogators that he was working for the Mossad, and then also told an Australian journalist. Another report said it was the Australian security services that “burned him” by leaking the story to a local Australian journalist. When this journalist called Zygier, he responded with an angry denial, insisting he had never been involved in espionage.

Three other suspected Mossad agents active at the Australian university campus were also questioned by the authorities, it was reported on Wednesday night. No further details were available.

Not long after he had been questioned, Zygier returned to Israel. He was subsequently arrested and held for eight months in Ayalon jail, in a cell originally designed for Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. His jailers did not know his identity, the reports said. There was no definitive explanation for why he was taken into custody.

It was also not clear why he had committed suicide, although the speculation on Wednesday night was that it might have been a consequence of his exposure. There were unanswered questions, too, about how he had been able to take his own life on December 15, 2010 — reportedly via “asphyxiation by hanging,” according to a post-mortem carried out by the Abu Kabir center for forensic medicine outside Tel Aviv — in a cell with constant camera surveillance and other supervision.

Israel on Wednesday night confirmed that a suicide of a security prisoner occurred at the prison in late 2010, and ordered an investigation into possible negligence by the prison authorities.

Zygier was 34 when he died. His remains were sent to Melbourne for burial shortly afterward.

The handling of the affair in the past two days has come in for withering criticism from several Knesset members — some of whom used parliamentary privilege to bypass the gag order on Tuesday — and by unnamed government sources quoted in the TV reports on Wednesday night. These unnamed sources were quoted as saying that Tamir Pardo, the head of the Mossad, is out of touch with modern media, and mistakenly believed it would be possible to prevent reporting of the story by utilizing court orders and military censorship.

A Channel 10 report quoted government sources as saying that the military censor’s office — utilized to prevent publication of material damaging to Israel national security — should be closed down. Those who broke the law by publishing illegal information should be prosecuted via normal judicial processes, these sources suggested.

Channel 10 also said the sources intimated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had panicked over the affair on Tuesday, when Israeli editors were summoned in an effort to suppress the story. Netanyahu was also said to have panicked when a Mossad attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal went awry in Amman in 1996 during his first prime ministership, and when details of the alleged Mossad assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010 began to leak out.

The Dubai incident, another episode that involved the alleged use of Australian and other foreign passports, has also been linked to Zygier, in a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East,” Australian reporter Bormann said Wednesday, but “when it comes to matters of security, it can be very heavy-handed.”

Attempting to assess the potential damage to Israeli-Australian relations, reports Wednesday night noted that the Australian authorities have not filed any formal complaint with Israel over the affair. It was noted that Israel reportedly did inform an official at the Australian Embassy of Zygier’s detention and suicide at the time, although this information apparently did not reach the Australian government.

By Times of Israel staff February 13, 2013, 10:38 pm 7

Find this story at 13 February 2013

© 2013 The Times of Israel

Mossad and Australian spies: how Fairfax reporter homed in on Zygier

Tip-off for journalist Jason Katsoukis led to espionage trail of Australian-Israeli spies, false passports and Zygier interview

The tombstone of Ben Zygier at the Chevra Kadisha Jewish cemetery, Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Julian Smith/EPA

For Jason Katsoukis, the Australian journalist who first investigated allegations that Ben Zygier was a Mossad agent, the claims initially sounded “outlandish”.

In 2009, while living in Jerusalem and filing stories to the Australian Fairfax group, Katsoukis was contacted by an anonymous source with connections to the intelligence world.

The story that the source told over a series of conversations was indeed extraordinary.

The source named three Australians with joint Israeli citizenship whom, he said, were working for a front company set up by Mossad in Europe selling electronic equipment to Iran and elsewhere.

“I was tipped off in October 2009,” Katsoukis told the Guardian on Wednesday, recalling the events that would lead to his calling Zygier at his home in Jerusalem and accusing him of being an Israeli spy.

“The story was that Mossad was recruiting Australians to spy for them using a front company in Europe. It all seemed too good to be true.

“But what I was told seemed to check out. The company did exist. I also managed to establish that Zygier and another of the individuals had worked for it. I wasn’t able to confirm the third name.

“I was told too that the Australian authorities were closing in on Zygier and that he might even be arrested.

“There was other stuff about Zygier. In Australia you can change your name once a year. He’d done it four times I think, but they were beginning to get suspicious. I also found out that he had applied for a work visa for Italy in Melbourne.”

The repeated changes of name would have allowed Zygier to create new identities and multiple passports.

While Katsoukis was working on the story – still uncertain if it stacked up – something happened that encouraged both his editors and Katsoukis himself to bring forward their contact with Zygier.

In January 2010, a Mossad hit squad murdered the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai.

It emerged that the team had been supplied with false passports from a number of countries including Germany, Ireland and the UK, apparently confirming the very practice Katsoukis was investigating.

“The feeling was that we should go to Zygier and put the story to him. It wasn’t difficult to find him. He’d was back in Jerusalem so I called him at home.

“When I spoke to him he was incredulous at first and said fuck off – but what was interesting was that he did not hang up. He did soundly genuinely shocked. But he listened to what I had to say.

Peter Beaumont
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 13 February 2013 18.35 GMT

Find this story at 13 February 2013
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Australian diplomat ‘aware Zygier being held’

AN AUSTRALIAN diplomat knew that Melbourne man Ben Zygier was being held in an Israeli prison before he died in his cell, the government has admitted, amid explosive reports that Mr Zygier was a Mossad agent known as ”Prisoner X”.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr was forced into an embarrassing backflip on Wednesday as he ordered his department to investigate the Zygier case.

His office was forced to correct earlier claims that the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv knew nothing of the case until after Mr Zygier died in prison in December 2010 when his family – a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne – asked for his body to be repatriated.

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In a revelation that raises questions about the extent of the Australian government’s knowledge, Senator Carr’s spokesman said an Australian diplomat – who was not the ambassador – was aware that Mr Zygier, 34, was being held by Israeli authorities.

The revelation follows a report by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent that said Mr Zygier was the notorious ”Prisoner X”, an inmate held in the utmost secrecy in a special section of Israel’s maximum security Ayalon prison.

The report stated that Mr Zygier, a husband and father of two, moved to Israel around 2000 and became a Mossad spy. But the report said something went tragically wrong with his intelligence activities and he eventually committed suicide in a tightly guarded cell, where he was being held in solitary confinement.

His father, Geoffrey Zygier, executive director for B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, did not comment on Wednesday.

The government acknowledges Mr Zygier died in jail but Senator Carr’s spokesman could not confirm that it was Ayalon prison. The Foreign Affairs Department refused to say who the official was or when they knew of the case.

As Fairfax Media reported in 2010, ASIO was investigating at least three dual citizens for their links to Mossad. We reveal now that Mr Zygier was one of them.

The issue has sparked a political storm in Israel, where opposition politicians demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lift a veil of secrecy surrounding Mr Zygier’s death and brief the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee.

Outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neema vowed that ”if true, the matter must be looked into”.

With TOM ARUP and STEPHEN CAUCHI

David Wroe and Ruth Pollard
Published: February 14, 2013 – 12:01PM

Find this story at 14 February 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

Prisoner X, Ben Zygier, was ‘rational’ before apparent suicide in Israeli prison cell

Lawyer claims Australian-born suspected Mossad spy was considering plea bargain

Ben Zygier, the suspected Mossad spy previously known only as Prisoner X, was “rational” and “balanced” the day before he apparently hanged himself in a maximum-security Israeli prison, one of his lawyers has said.

Avigdor Feldman told Israel’s Channel Ten that Australian-born Mr Zygier had been considering a plea bargain offered by prosecutors. “I met with a balanced person … who was rationally weighing his legal options,” said Mr Feldman, adding that his client denied the “serious” charges he was facing. The exact nature of the charges remains unknown.

On Wednesday, after Australia’s ABC TV aired a documentary revealing Prisoner X’s identity, Israel admitted for the first time that it had secretly detained a man with dual citizenship for security reasons. However, it did not explain how Mr Zygier, 34 – who emigrated to Israel in 2000, married an Israeli woman and fathered two children – managed to kill himself while under 24-hour surveillance in a cell designed to be “suicide-proof”.

The cell was built to hold Yigal Amir, the ultra-Zionist who assassinated then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Cameras inside the cell were supposed to be monitored around the clock, and Israeli newspapers have reported the room contained sensors to monitor temperature and heartbeat.

The Israeli Justice Ministry said that an inquiry had been ordered into possible negligence.

Mr Zygier’s family in Melbourne have declined to comment, but Harry Greener, a friend of Mr Zygier’s father, Geoffrey, a respected Jewish community leader, told Fairfax Media: “We all knew there was something suspicious and underhanded about Ben’s death.” Mr Greener said: “I think there should be justice for Ben, to find out what happened – because nobody really knows.” Mr Zygier had been a “friendly, warm, outgoing” person, he said, and his death had “gutted’ the Jewish community. Mr Zygier’s uncle, Willy, a musician, told ABC local radio in Melbourne that the saga was a “family tragedy”.

Kathy Marks
Thursday, 14 February 2013

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