Revealed: How Australia spies on its neighbours

Australia’s electronic spy agency is using the nation’s embassies to intercept phone calls and internet data in neighbouring countries, according to new information disclosed by intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.

The secret Defence Signals Directorate operates clandestine surveillance facilities at embassies without the knowledge of most Australian diplomats.

Fairfax Media has been told that signals intelligence collection occurs from Australian embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, the high commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby and other diplomatic posts.

A secret US National Security Agency document leaked by Mr Snowden and published by Germany’s Der Speigel magazine reveals a highly sensitive signals intelligence collection program conducted from US embassies and consulates and from the diplomatic missions of other “Five Eyes” intelligence partners, including Australia, Britain and Canada.

Codenamed STATEROOM, the collection program involves interception of radio, telecommunications and internet traffic.

The document says the DSD operates STATEROOM facilities at Australian diplomatic posts. It says the surveillance facilities are “small in size and in number of personnel staffing them”.

“They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned,” it says.

The document says the DSD facilities are carefully concealed. “For example, antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade declined to comment on the potential diplomatic implications of the disclosure. A spokesperson said: “It is the long-standing practice of Australian governments not to comment on intelligence matters.”

The leaked NSA document does not identify the location of the DSD facilities overseas. However, a former Australian defence intelligence officer told Fairfax Media that the directorate conducted surveillance from Australian embassies across Asia and the Pacific.

In June, the East Timorese government complained publicly about Australian spying, including communications interception and the bugging of government offices during negotiations on the Timor Gap oil and gas reserves.

The former intelligence officer said the interception facility at the Australian embassy in Jakarta played an important role in collecting intelligence on terrorist threats and people smuggling, “but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence”.

“The huge growth of mobile phone networks has been a great boon and Jakarta’s political elite are a loquacious bunch. Even when they think their own intelligence services are listening they just keep talking,” he said.

He said the Australian consulate in Denpasar, Bali, had also been used for intelligence collection.

Intelligence expert Des Ball said the DSD had long co-operated with the US in monitoring the Asia-Pacific region, including using listening posts in Australian embassies and consulates.

“Knowing what our neighbours are really thinking is important for all sorts of diplomatic and trade negotiations,” Professor Ball told Fairfax Media.

“It’s also necessary to map the whole of the telecommunications infrastructure in any area where we might one day have to conduct military operations so that we can make most use of our cyber warfare capabilities, however remote those contingencies might be, because you can’t get that knowledge and build those capabilities once a conflict starts.”

Meanwhile, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has demanded an explanation of news that the US embassy in Jakarta has been used to tap the phones of Indonesian officials.

“Indonesia cannot accept and strongly protests the news about the existence of tapping facilities at the US embassy in Jakarta,” Mr Natalegawa said.

”We have spoken to the US embassy representative in Jakarta demanding an official explanation from the US government about the news. If it’s confirmed, then it’s not only a breach of security, but a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics, and of course it’s not in line with the spirit of having a good relationship between the two countries.”

The Age
Date: October 31 2013
Philip Dorling

Find this story at 31 October 2013

Copyright © 2013
Fairfax Media

Malaysia protests at ‘US and Australia spying’ in Asia

Malaysia has protested at the alleged spying, saying “such activities are not done among close friends”
Continue reading the main story

The Malaysian government has summoned the heads of the US and Australian diplomatic missions in Kuala Lumpur over a row about an alleged American-led spying network in Asia.

The Malaysian foreign ministry said the reports of spying could “severely damage” relations.

It said a protest note was handed over.

China and Indonesia have already protested at the claims that Australian embassies were being used to monitor phones and collect data for the US.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said “such activities are not done amongst close friends”.

Mr Anifah said his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, replied that it was not her government’s policy to comment on intelligence matters, but she accepted Malaysia’s concerns.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) has reported that Australian diplomatic posts in Asia were being used to intercept phone calls and data.

The reports were based on a US National Security Agency document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has declined to comment on the reports.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official… operates in accordance with the law.”

Find this story at 2 November 2013

BBC © 2013 The BBC

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

www.aljazeera.com

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

US drone strikes guided from outback

Central Australia’s Pine Gap spy base played a key role in the United States’ controversial drone strikes involving the ”targeted killing” of al-Qaeda and Taliban chiefs, Fairfax Media can reveal.

Former personnel at the Australian-American base have described the facility’s success in locating and tracking al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders – and other insurgent activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan – as ”outstanding”.

A Fairfax Media investigation has now confirmed a primary function of the top-secret signals intelligence base near Alice Springs is to track the precise ”geolocation” of radio signals, including those of hand-held radios and mobile phones, in the eastern hemisphere, from the Middle East across Asia to China, North Korea and the Russian far east.

This information has been used to identify the location of terrorist suspects, which is then fed into the United States drone strike program and other military operations.

The drone program, which has involved more than 370 attacks in Pakistan since 2004, is reported to have killed between 2500 and 3500 al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, including many top commanders.

But hundreds of civilians have been also killed, causing anti-American protests in Pakistan, diplomatic tensions between Washington and Islamabad and accusations the ”drone war” has amounted to a program of ”targeted killing” outside a battlefield. This year, the Obama administration acknowledged four American citizens had been killed by strikes in Pakistan and Yemen since 2009.

”The [Taliban] know we’re listening but they still have to use radios and phones to conduct their operations; they can’t avoid that,” one former Pine Gap operator said. ”We track them, we combine the signals intelligence with imagery and, once we’ve passed the geolocation [intelligence] on, our job is done. When drones do their job we don’t need to track that target any more.”

The base’s direct support of US military operations is much greater than admitted by Defence Minister Stephen Smith and previous Australian governments, new disclosures by former Pine Gap personnel and little-noticed public statements by US government officials have shown.

Australian Defence intelligence sources have confirmed that finding targets is critically dependent on intelligence gathered and processed through the Pine Gap facility, which has seen ”a massive, quantitative and qualitative transformation” over the past decade, and especially the past three years.

”The US will never fight another war in the eastern hemisphere without the direct involvement of Pine Gap,” one official said.

Last week, secret documents leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden indicated Pine Gap also contributes to a broad US National Security Agency collection program codenamed ”X-Keyscore”.

Pine Gap controls a set of geostationary satellites positioned above the Indian Ocean and Indonesia. These orbit the earth at fixed points and are able to locate the origin of radio signals to within 10 metres. Pine Gap processes the data and can provide targeting information to US and allied military units within minutes.

Former US National Security Agency personnel who served at Pine Gap in the past two years have described their duties in unguarded career summaries and employment records as including ”signals intelligence collection, geolocation … and reporting of high-priority target signals” including ”real time tracking”.

US Army personnel working at Pine Gap use systems codenamed ”Whami, SSEXTANT, and other geolocation tools” to provide targeting information, warnings about the location of radio-triggered improvised explosive devices, and for combat and non-combat search and rescue missions.

Pine Gap’s operations often involve sifting through vast quantities of ”noise” to find elusive and infrequent signals. One former US Army signals intelligence analyst describes the ”collection and geolocation of an extremely hard to find target” as a task that included ”manually sifting through hundreds of hours of collection”.

Last month Mr Smith assured Parliament that Pine Gap operates with the ”full knowledge and concurrence” of the government.

He provided no details other than to say the facility ”delivers information on intelligence priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and military and weapons developments” and ”contributes to the verification of arms control and disarmament agreements”.

The government is required by a number of agreements to consult with the US government before the public release of any new information about Pine Gap.

The federal government maintains a long-standing policy of not commenting on operational intelligence matters.

Philip Dorling
Published: July 21, 2013 – 3:00AM

Find this story at 21 July 2013

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

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

China calls Australian spy HQ plans hacking claims ‘groundless’

Foreign ministry spokesman shrugs off ‘groundless accusations’ by Australian media that Chinese hackers stole Asio blueprints

China has shrugged off allegations by Australian media that Chinese hackers have stolen the blueprints for the new Australian spy headquarters.

“China pays high attention to cybersecurity issues, and is firmly apposed to all forms of hacker attacks,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. “Groundless accusations will not help solve this issue.”

The response came amid separate allegations that Chinese hackers had compromised some of the US’s most advanced weapons systems designs.

According to a classified report prepared for the Pentagon, the breaches compromised more than two dozen weapon designs for highly advanced missiles, fighter jets, helicopters and combat ships, the Washington Post reported.

Designs believed to have been compromised include those for the advanced Patriot missile system, the Black Hawk helicopter, and the $1.4tn F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system ever built.

While the Defence Science Board, a senior advisory group that prepared the report, did not explicitly accuse the Chinese of stealing the designs, “senior military and industry officials with knowledge of the breaches said the vast majority were part of a widening Chinese campaign of espionage against US defence contractors and government agencies,” the Washington Post reported.

“In many cases, [the defence contractors] don’t know they’ve been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door,” an unidentified senior military official told the newspaper. “This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It’s nuts.”

In Canberra, the Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, said claims that Chinese hackers stole top-secret blueprints of the Australian spy agency Asio’s new headquarters would not threaten bilateral ties.

Carr refused to confirm ABC reports that the cyber-attack netted documents containing details of the building’s floor plan, communications cabling layouts, server locations and security systems.

Concern has been rising over state-sponsored hacking emanating from China, with further allegations that its cyberspies have recently obtained sensitive Australian military secrets and foreign affairs documents.

Carr said the government was “very alive” to emerging cybersecurity threats but refused to confirm the ABC’s specific claims on Tuesday.

“I won’t comment on matters of intelligence and security for the obvious reason: we don’t want to share with the world and potential aggressors what we know about what they might be doing, and how they might be doing it,” he said.

The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, referred in parliament on Tuesday to “these inaccurate reports” without elaborating on which elements of the reports were wrong.

George Brandis, a senator with the opposition Liberal party, said on Wednesday that he had received a confidential briefing from Asio officials and the report was accurate. The Australian newspaper reported that the plans were stolen three years ago and no longer posed a threat to the operations of Australia’s main spy agency.

The Asio building’s construction had been plagued by delays and ballooning cost, with builders blaming late changes made to the internal design in response to cyber-attacks.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was last year barred from bidding for construction contracts on the national broadband network amid fears of cyber-espionage.

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 May 2013 03.10 BST

Find this story at 29 May 2013

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

Report: Australia spy plans hacked by Chinese

ABC Television says secret data stolen in major cyber attack on foreign affairs office housing overseas spy agency.

Carr says Australia’s relationship with China will not be damaged by the hacking allegations [Getty Images]

Chinese hackers have reportedly stolen plans for a new $600m Australian spy headquarters as part of a growing wave of cyber attacks against business and military targets of the US ally.

The hackers also stole confidential information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which houses the overseas spy agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s ABC Television said late on Monday.

The ABC report, which did not name sources, said that Chinese hackers had targeted Australia-based companies more aggressively than previously thought, including steel-manufacturer Bluescope Steel, and military and civilian communications manufacturer Codan.

The influential Greens party said on Tuesday that the reported hacking was a “security blunder of epic proportions” and called for an inquiry.

“I think there can be a proper investigation, an independent investigation, into this sorry saga of the ASIO building,” Christine Milne, head of the Greens party, said.

However, the Australian government has refused to comment directly on the allegations.

Relationship ‘not damaged’

Bob Carr, Australia’s foreign minister, said that the report would not damage the country’s ties with its biggest trade partner China.
David Vaile, of the University of New South Wales, talks about the implications of the latest hacking attack.

“I won’t comment on whether the Chinese have done what is being alleged or not,” he said.

“I won’t comment on matters of intelligence and security for the obvious reason: we don’t want to share with the world and potential aggressors what we know about what they might be doing, and how they might be doing it.”

The report follows several other hacking attacks on government facilities in the past two years.

The attack through the computers of a construction contractor exposed building layouts and the location of communication and computer networks, the ABC said.

The ASIO building, being built near the location of Australia’s top-secret Defence Signals Directorate, is supposed to have some of the most sophisticated hacking defences in the country, which is part of a global electronic intelligence gathering network including the US and the UK.

But its construction had been plagued by delays and cost blowouts, with some builders blaming late changes made to the internal design in response to cyber attacks.

Security priority

Australian officials, like those in the US and other Western nations, have made cyber attacks a security priority following a growing number of attacks of the resource rich country, mostly blamed on China.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was barred last year from bidding for construction contracts on a new Australian high-speed broadband network amid fears of cyber espionage.

The Reserve Bank of Australia said in March that it had been targeted by cyber attacks, but no data had been lost or systems compromised amid reports that the hackers had tried to access intelligence on Group of 20 wealthy nations negotiations.

In the US, the Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military developments accused China for the first time of trying to break into US defence networks, calling it “a serious concern”.

China has dismissed as groundless both the Pentagon report and a February report by the US computer security company Mandiant, which said a secretive Chinese military unit was probably behind a series of hacking attacks targeting the US that had stolen data from 100 companies.

Last Modified: 28 May 2013 06:10

Find this story at 28 May 2013

HACKED!

While debate rages over Australia’s border security, there’s growing evidence that the greatest threat to Australia’s national security potentially comes from foreign computer hackers. Few in government or business will admit the full extent of the break-ins, with one expert calling it a “dirty little secret”.

Next on Four Corners reporter Andrew Fowler reveals that hackers, working from locations overseas, have targeted key Federal Government departments and major corporations in Australia. Their intention is to steal national security secrets and vital business information.

In one case, an Australian company that supplies secret communications equipment used by military across the globe had its computer network hacked. It appears the hackers accessed the system holding vital design information involving a military radio system. The break-in meant secure communications used by Australia’s allies could be compromised.

Speaking with security specialists and insiders, Four Corners also details a number of specific high level break-ins involving Government departments. In each case it explains how the security system might have been breached.

A deafening silence surrounds this issue. Companies won’t speak about the break-ins because they fear it will alarm clients and shareholders. Governments refuse to speak up because inevitably they will be asked, who is doing this? The answer is uncomfortable.

A number of people, including former government advisors in cyber security, claim the digital trail leads to China. Although it’s unclear if the hackers are working for the Chinese Government, those same experts believe that any company doing significant business in China must assume it will be the target of corporate espionage.

HACKED!, reported by Andrew Fowler and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 27th May at 8.30pm on ABC1. The program is repeated on Tuesday 28th May at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview or at abc.net.au/4corners.

By Andrew Fowler and Peter Cronau
Updated May 29, 2013 16:22:00

Find this story at 29 May 2013

© 2013 ABC

Korean spy’s deportation reveals web of intrigue

ASIO headquarters in Canberra … reports say the agency alleges Yeon Kim, a senior agricultural trade specialist, was involved in “foreign interference” by the Korean spies. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Relations between Australia and South Korea have been strained after the east Asian economic powerhouse was caught soliciting sensitive information from public servants, and the deportation of a South Korean spy for espionage in 2009 was disclosed.

New details of South Korean espionage in Australia were revealed in an unfair dismissal case before the Fair Work Commission brought by a former intelligence officer with the Australian Federal Police, Bo-Rim “Bryan” Kim.

The commission this week rejected an unfair dismissal appeal by Mr Kim, who previously worked part-time at the South Korean consulate-general in Sydney. He then worked as an information technology staffer for the AFP in Sydney before transferring to criminal intelligence for Sydney Airport.

A Fair Work judgment released this week said Federal Police management terminated his employment in August 2012 after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recommended revoking his security clearance.

Commissioner Geoff Bull said ASIO alleged Mr Kim had committed an “act of foreign interference” by passing sensitive information to the intelligence services of a foreign government.

“Mr Kim attempted to diminish the complaints made against him on the basis that he had not attempted to gain any benefit from his conduct and some of the allegations made against him were not accurate.

“In any event, Mr Kim was remorseful and recognised his mistakes,” he said in the judgment.

Mr Bull said Mr Kim told ASIO a consular employee who had sought information from him in January 2009 on terrorism responses at Sydney Airport was understood to be an intelligence officer or “secret squirrel”.

“This consulate employee was deported from Australia in March 2009 for espionage,” his judgment said. “Mr Kim had also been invited to and attended a dinner at this consulate employee’s apartment, which Mr Kim did not consider an important enough contact to report.”

In a separate case, an immigrant and senior trade specialist at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Yeon Kim, lost his job after an adverse ASIO security assessment against him in 2011.

A Federal Court judgment this year said Dr Kim was alleged to have provided information to an intelligence officer working for what was then described as “country X”.

The information concerned negotiations between Australia and country X on an “important bilateral trade agreement” and its disclosure was alleged to have been an act of foreign interference under the ASIO Act.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal last year rejected an appeal by Dr Kim over his adverse assessment, but there has been subsequent litigation in the Federal Court on a planned appeal.

In March, Federal Court judge Lindsay Foster refused to extend non-publication orders on details of the case that were sought by the head of ASIO, David Irvine, ruling the information did not go to issues of national security or defence.

Dr Kim, the main author of an ABARES study on the South Korean beef market, is alleged to have met a South Korean diplomat in mid-2010 who was a known officer of that country’s National Intelligence Service.

Mark Skulley and John Kerin

PUBLISHED: 02 May 2013 09:11:00 | UPDATED: 03 May 2013 08:12:40

Find this story at 2 May 2013

© Copyright 2011 Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd

Spies caught in Canberra

South Korean spies have been caught cultivating public servants in Canberra to obtain trade secrets, with one Australian official sacked for disclosing sensitive information.

Previously suppressed information released by the Federal Court reveals that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) had sought “to obtain sensitive information” on trade negotiations between Canberra and Seoul.

A senior Australian agricultural trade specialist, Dr Yeon Kim, has lost his security clearance and employment with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation alleged Dr Kim was involved in the “foreign interference” by the South Korean intelligence operatives.

The revelation of economic espionage is embarrassing to Seoul and Canberra as Australia has strongly backed South Korea in its stand-off with North Korea. Last month Australian troops took part in joint military exercises with South Korea and the United States for the first time.

Although engaged in what ASIO described as “inappropriate activities” harmful to Australia’s interests, no South Korean spies have been expelled from Australia. Instead, in an effort to maintain good relations with the NIS, ASIO took legal action to prevent disclosure of the incident and protect the identities of the South Korean agents so they might continue their clandestine careers.

In mid-2010 ASIO learnt Dr Kim had been meeting a South Korean diplomat declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. Dr Kim, the principal author of an ABARES study of the Korean beef market, had taken part in free trade agreement negotiations between Australia and South Korea in December 2009.

ASIO officers interviewed Dr Kim in October 2010. On September 15, 2011, ASIO director-general David Irvine issued an adverse security assessment of Dr Kim “after finding that he had had contact with successive NIS officers who he had not reported as required by Australian government policy”.

ASIO alleged Dr Kim had been involved in clandestine contact with and provided sensitive information to an NIS officer, South Korean embassy minister-counsellor Hoo-Young Park.

ASIO determined that Dr Kim had been “successfully cultivated” by the NIS; that he had been “deceptive” in his responses to questioning; and there was a “specific threat” to Australian government information. ASIO recommended his secret-level security clearance be revoked, effectively ending his career as a public servant.

Dr Kim has said his contact with South Korean diplomats was purely social and any discussion of trade issues was confined to publicly available information.

Philip Dorling
Published: May 2, 2013 – 7:57AM

Find this story at 2 May 2013

© 2013 Fairfax Media

South Korean spies sought Australian trade secrets

Australia’s foreign minister says issue has caused no diplomatic tension with Seoul

Agents from South Korea’s national intelligence service have tried to get secret information about Australian trade, triggering the dismissal of an Australian public servant over his links to the agency.

The spy case dates back to 2010 and relates to efforts by South Korea to find out about Australian agricultural trade when the two nations were in early negotiations on a free-trade agreement.

Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, refused to comment on details of the case on Thursday, citing “matters of security or intelligence”, but said the issue had caused no diplomatic tension with Seoul, a strong ally and key trading partner.

“I believe the relationship with the Republic of Korea is so strong, so robust, that this will have no effect on it,” Carr said.

South Korea is Australia’s fourth biggest trade partner, with bilateral trade worth more than A$32bn (£21bn). The two countries launched free-trade talks in 2009, but have yet to clinch a deal.

Reuters in Canberra
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 May 2013 08.14 BST

Find this story at 2 May 2013

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

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