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

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© 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

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© 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.

Do you know more about this story or Ben Zygier? Email us here

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

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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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© independent.co.uk

Israels Agenten-Affäre; Mossad im Feindesland

Im Fall “Häftling X” werden mehr Details bekannt, als Israel lieb sein kann. Er gibt Einblicke, wie der Auslandsgeheimdienst Mossad gezielt Agenten mit Doppelstaatsbürgerschaft einsetzt, um in arabischen Ländern zu spionieren – und Tarnfirmen für Operationen zu nutzen.

Tel Aviv – Die Affäre um den “Häftling X” sorgt in Israel für Aufregung. Dabei geht es nun nicht mehr allein darum, ob der israelisch-australische Doppelstaatsbürger und Mossad-Agent Ben Zygier heimlich in einem Hochsicherheitsgefängnis festgehalten wurde, bis er mutmaßlich Selbstmord beging.

Der Vorfall bringt weitere Details ans Tageslicht, die Israel lieber verborgen wüsste: Er gibt Einblicke in die Operationsweise des israelischen Auslandsgeheimdiensts im Feindesland.

Viele arabische Länder und Iran stehen mit Israel offiziell auf Kriegsfuß, sie lassen israelische Staatsbürger nicht einreisen. Doch gerade diese Länder sind es, die natürlich besonders im Visier des Mossad stehen. Wie also dort vorgehen? Der Fall “Häftling X” liefert auf diese Frage einige Antworten.

Agenten reisen mit zweiter Staatsbürgerschaft

Offenbar sind für den Mossad als Agenten vor allem israelische Doppelstaatsbürger interessant – besonders Australier. “In Australien kann man einmal im Jahr seinen Namen ändern”, erklärte der australische Journalist Jason Koutsoukis SPIEGEL ONLINE. Koutsoukis enthüllte, dass Ben Zygier für den Mossad arbeitete. “Zygier hatte bereits rund viermal in Australien seinen Namen geändert”, sagte Koutsoukis. Der Australier soll ab 2000 für den Mossad gearbeitet haben.

Die israelischen Agenten agieren dann im Ausland offenbar unter ihrer zweiten Staatsbürgerschaft wie wohl bei der mutmaßlichen Mossad-Operation in Dubai im Januar 2010. Damals wurde in einem Hotel Mahmud al-Mabhuh erst betäubt und dann mit einem Kissen erstickt. Der Palästinenser galt als Waffeneinkäufer der radikalislamistischen Hamas. Bis zu 29 Verdächtige listeten die Behörden von Dubai – sie haben britische, irische, französische, australische Reisepässe. Ein Verdächtiger reiste mit deutschem Pass.

Israels Auslandsgeheimdienst nutzt offenbar Tarnfirmen

Noch brisanter sind die Erkenntnisse, dass der Mossad möglicherweise komplette Firmen im Ausland aufbaut und als Tarnunternehmen nutzt, um seine Agenten ins Feindesland zu schleusen.

So haben Ben Zygier und mindestens ein weiterer Australier nach Erkenntnissen von Jason Koutsoukis für eine Firma gearbeitet, die in Europa ihren Sitz hatte und Elektrotechnik unter anderem an Iran verkaufte.

Dies wirft die Frage auf, ob Zygier möglicherweise bei der “Operation Olympische Spiele” mitarbeitete – einem Cyberwaffen-Programm, das nach Berichten der “New York Times” Israel und die USA ab 2006 gemeinsam entwickelten, um das iranische Nuklearprogramm zu schädigen.

Das bekannteste Instrument der “Operation Olympische Spiele” ist der Computerwurm Stuxnet, der ab etwa Juni 2009 zum Einsatz kam und vor allem Computer in Iran schädigte. IT-Experten vermuten, dass Stuxnet gezielt die Zentrifugen in Irans Atomanlage Natans ausschalten sollte. Auch das Schadprogramm Flame, das hauptsächlich Computer in Iran und im Libanon befiel, soll Teil der “Operation Olympische Spiele” sein.

Wie es gelang, Stuxnet in die Atomanlage zu schmuggeln, ist unklar. Möglicherweise sind die europäischen Mossad-Lieferanten für Elektrotechnik ein Teil der Antwort.

In Zygiers Zeit fallen heikle Mossad-Missionen

In Zygiers Zeit beim Mossad fallen einige der wohl heikelsten Missionen, die dem israelischen Auslandsgeheimdienst zugeschrieben werden. Unter Meïr Dagan, der den Mossad ab 2002 bis Ende 2010 leitete, wurden die Operationen im Ausland massiv ausgeweitet, sie wurden riskanter und aggressiver. Zu den Aktionen, bei denen der Mossad als Drahtzieher in Frage kommt, gehören etwa auch die Ermordung des Hisbollah-Mitglieds Imad Mughnija 2008 in Damaskus und die Ermordung iranischer Atomwissenschaftler in Teheran.

14. Februar 2013, 18:47 Uhr

Von Raniah Salloum

Find this story at 14 February 2013

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013

Australia was investigating ‘Mossad agent’ Zygier who died in Israeli jail

Ben Zygier, Melbourne man known as Prisoner X, also questioned by reporter over spying before death in 2010

Ayalon jail, in Ramle, near Tel Aviv, where Ben Zygier was held incommunicado. He was found hanged in his cell. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters

Extraordinary new details emerged on Wednesday about the alleged double life of Ben Zygier – known as “Prisoner X” – an Australian-Israeli national and reported Mossad agent, who died after being secretly detained in an Israeli prison in 2010.

In the midst of an escalating diplomatic storm over the 34-year-old’s treatment and the revelation that he was being investigated by Australian authorities as a suspected Israeli agent who used Australian passports for operations, it emerged that he was confronted shortly before his arrest by an Australian journalist who accused him of being a spy.

As the scandal over Zygier’s suicide, while being held incommunicado in Ayalon prison, continued to grow in Israel and Australia, it was also revealed by Australian news organisations that he was under investigation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation [ASIO] as one of three citizens suspected of using of Australian passports on behalf of Mossad.

More details of the case emerged as the Israeli government partially lifted its blanket ban on reporting any details of Zygier’s imprisonment, first imposed by an Israeli court after his arrest.

Zygier, who was married to an Israeli and had two young children, was found hanged in his cell in late 2010. His body was flown to Melbourne for burial the following week.

In Israel the case has triggered demands by opposition politicians, human rights groups and the media for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to supply more information about the man’s imprisonment and death, and to reform its antiquated and authoritarian military censorship rules.

When the story about Prisoner X first emerged, Israeli media said the unidentified man was being held incommunicado at Ayalon high-security prison in the wing built to accommodate Yigal Amir, the assassin of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

While the case remains deeply murky, the new revelations will be deeply embarrassing to Mossad, not least because they have lifted the lid again on how the Israeli spy agencies acquire cover identities for agents.

In the last three years the Mossad department charged with providing cover identities has been caught out in a series of high-profile bungles as it has been found to have been improperly using foreign passports for its operations.

The details came only a day after an ABC documentary revealed Prisoner X’s identity for the first time, and after ham-fisted efforts by Netanyahu’s office to prevent reporting of the story by Israeli media messily backfired.

According to The Age, Zygier had applied for Australian passports using three identities over the years – those of Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.

The new details about Australian suspicions that Zygier was a Mossad agent came as the Australian government was forced to backtrack on claims that it had no knowledge of his arrest and to admit that Israeli officials had briefed Australian diplomats over the case.

There has still been no official explanation for why Zygier was secretly imprisoned without trial, and information on his case ruthlessly suppressed. But speculation is growing that he may have offered to provide information to a foreign power.

It is still not clear whether Zygier was actively working for Mossad, or whether he simply acquired passports for the spy agency to use in its overseas operations.

According to The Age, Zygier had been approached by a Fairfax journalist after being tipped off that the Australian intelligence agency ASIO was investigating three dual national citizens who had emigrated to Israel, on suspicion that the men had used Australian passports to spy for Israel in Iran, Syria and Lebanon – which is illegal under Australian law.

Zygier, known as Benji, was approached by the reporter Jason Koutsoukis shortly before his arrest in 2010 and asked whether he was an Israeli spy after being accused of travelling back to Australia to change his name and obtain a new Australian passport.

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.”

In recent years the issue of both Mossad operations involving citizens of friendly nations and use of passports of allies, has become a source of serious friction with governments usually friendly with Israel.

“There are informal rules,” said one person familiar with intelligence co-operation arrangements. “You inform your allies if you want to speak to someone or do something. There is a feeling the Israelis don’t play by the rules.”

Peter Beaumont and Alison Rourke in Sydney
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 13 February 2013 17.32 GMT

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

Silenced in Israel, Spy Tale Unfolds in Australia

JERUSALEM — The story had all the trappings of a spy thriller: an anonymous prisoner linked to Israel’s secret service, Mossad, isolated in a top-security wing originally built for the assassin of a prime minister. A suicide — or was it a murder? — never officially reported. A gag order that barred journalists from even acknowledging the gag order. And a code name to rival 007: Prisoner X.

The first reports about the death of Prisoner X leaked out in 2010, both in Israel and the United States, where a blogger identified the mystery man as a former Iranian general. Government censors immediately forced an Israeli news site to remove two items related to Prisoner X — and journalists were interrogated about it by the police.

On Tuesday, after an extensive Australian television report identifying Prisoner X as an Australian father of two who became an Israeli spy, the prime minister’s office summoned Israeli editors to a rare meeting to remind them of the court order blocking publication of anything connected to the matter.

It remains unclear what Prisoner X might have done to warrant such extreme treatment — and such extreme secrecy, which human rights groups have denounced as violating international law. What is clear is that the modern media landscape makes the Israeli censorship system established in the 1950s hopelessly porous: the Australian report quickly made the rounds on social media, prompting outraged inquiries from opposition lawmakers on the floor of Parliament.

“The Israeli public will know sooner or later what happened,” declared Nahman Shai, a Parliament member from the Labor Party.

Aluf Benn, the editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz, said the government forced him and another news organization to delete items about the Australian reports from their Web sites on Tuesday. Later, Haaretz posted an article on the unusual editors meeting and the parliamentary discussion.

“They live in a previous century, unfortunately,” Mr. Benn said of the Israeli administration. “Today, whatever is blocked in news sites is up in the air on Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. You can’t just make a story disappear. I hope that they’re more updated in whatever they do professionally.”

The prime minister’s office and prison service declined on Tuesday to comment. “I can’t tell you anything; I’m not dealing with this,” said the prison spokeswoman, Sivan Weizman. “I can’t answer any question about it. Sorry.”

The Australian report, a half-hour segment based on a 10-month investigation that was broadcast Tuesday on the ABC News magazine program “Foreign Correspondent,” identified Prisoner X as Ben Zygier and said he had used the name Ben Alon in Israel. Mr. Zygier immigrated to Israel about a decade before his death at age 34, married an Israeli woman and had two small children, according to the report.

“ABC understands he was recruited by spy agency Mossad,” read a post on the Australian network’s Web site. “His incarceration was so secret that it is claimed not even guards knew his identity.” Mr. Zygier “was found hanged in a cell with state-of-the-art surveillance systems that are installed to prevent suicide,” it said, adding that guards tried unsuccessfully to revive him and that he was buried a week later in a Jewish cemetery in a suburb of Melbourne.

A spokeswoman for the Australian government said in an e-mail that its embassy was unaware of the prisoner’s detention until his family asked for help repatriating the remains, and that she could not “comment on intelligence matters (alleged or actual).”

The Australian report builds on news items from 2010 that described the death of Prisoner X in solitary-confinement cell 15 in a part of Israel’s Ayalon Prison said to have been created especially for Yigal Amir, who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Prisoner X was not allowed visitors or a lawyer, according to those reports.

Richard Silverstein, an American blogger, claimed in 2010 that Prisoner X was Ali-Reza Asgari, a former general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a government minister, who had previously been reported to have defected to Israel and cooperated with Western intelligence agencies. On Tuesday, Mr. Silverstein acknowledged his error, saying his source apparently was part of “a ruse designed to throw the media off the scent of the real story.”

Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based analyst with Human Rights Watch, said the reports suggested a serious violation of international law. “That’s the most basic obligation you can think of, not disappearing people,” he said. “You can’t take somebody into detention, deny any knowledge of them, and not allow their families to be in communication with them, not allow them to see a lawyer or have any due process. That’s what needs to be looked into.”

Dov Hanin, a member of Parliament from the left-wing Hadash Party, on Tuesday questioned Israel’s justice minister, Yaakov Ne’eman, about Prisoner X, asking: “Are there people whose arrest is kept a secret? What are the legal monitoring mechanisms in charge of such a situation? What are the parliamentary monitoring systems in charge of such a situation? And how can public criticism exist in cases of such a situation?”

Mr. Ne’eman replied that the matter did not fall under his jurisdiction, but said, “There is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.”

February 12, 2013
By JODI RUDOREN

Find this story at 12 February 2013

© 2013 The New York Times Company

Australian suspected of Mossad links dies in Israeli jail

Evidence has been unearthed that strongly suggests Israel’s infamous Prisoner X, who was jailed under extraordinary circumstances in 2010, was an Australian national from Melbourne.

Investigations by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program have revealed Ben Zygier, who used the name Ben Alon in Israel, was found hanged in a high-security cell at a prison near Tel Aviv in late 2010.

His body was flown to Melbourne for burial a week later.

The death goes part of the way to explain the existence in Israel of a so-called Prisoner X, widely speculated in local and international media as an inmate whose presence has been acknowledged by neither the jail system nor the government.

The case is regarded as one of the most sensitive secrets of Israel’s intelligence community, with the government going to extraordinary lengths to stifle media coverage and gag attempts by human rights organisations to expose the situation.

Watch the full Foreign Correspondent report on Prisoner X on iview.

The Prisoner X cell is a jail within a jail at Ayalon Prison in the city of Ramla. It was built for the assassin of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The ABC understands Mr Zygier became its occupant in early 2010. His incarceration was so secret that it is claimed not even guards knew his identity.

Israeli media at the time reported that this Prisoner X received no visitors and lived hermetically sealed from the outside world.

When an Israeli news website reported that the prisoner died in his cell in December 2010, Israeli authorities removed its web pages.

An Israeli court order prohibiting any publication or public discussion of the matter is still in force; Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, has effectively blocked any coverage of the matter.
Secret imprisonment
Photo: Bill van Esveld has described the secret imprisonment of Prisoner X as “inexcusable”. (ABC)

Foreign Correspondent can reveal that Mr Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.

Mr Zygier’s arrest and jailing in Israel remains a mystery, but the ABC understands he was recruited by spy agency Mossad.

It is understood Mr Zygier “disappeared” in early 2010, spending several months in the Prisoner X cell.

At the time, human rights organisation Association for Civil Rights in Israel criticised the imprisonment and wrote to Israel’s attorney-general.

“It’s alarming that there’s a prisoner being held incommunicado and we know nothing about him,” wrote the association’s chief legal counsel Dan Yakir.

The assistant to the attorney-general wrote back: “The current gag order is vital for preventing a serious breach of the state’s security, so we cannot elaborate about this affair.”

Contacted by the ABC, Mr Yakir would not comment on the case, quoting a court order gagging discussion.

It’s called a disappearance, and a disappearance is not only a violation of that person’s due process rights – that’s a crime.
Human rights advocate Bill van Esveld

Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based advocate for Human Rights Watch, has described the secret imprisonment of Prisoner X as “inexcusable”.

“It’s called a disappearance, and a disappearance is not only a violation of that person’s due process rights – that’s a crime,” he told Foreign Correspondent.

“Under international law, the people responsible for that kind of treatment actually need to be criminally prosecuted themselves.”

Mr Zygier’s apparent suicide in prison adds to the mystery. He was found hanged in a cell which was equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance systems installed to prevent suicide. Guards reportedly tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

His body was retrieved and flown to Melbourne. He was buried in Chevra Kadisha Jewish cemetery in the suburb of Springvale on December 22, seven days after his death.

Mr Zygier’s family has declined to speak to the ABC, and friends and acquaintances approached by Foreign Correspondent in Melbourne have also refused to comment.
Mossad activity
Video: Former ASIS agent Warren Reed speaks to ABC News 24’s The World (ABC News)

Australia’s domestic intelligence agency ASIO has long scrutinised Australian Jews suspected of working for Mossad.

The agency believes Mossad recruits change their names from European and Jewish names to “Anglo” names. They then take out new passports and travel to the Arab world and Iran, to destinations Israeli passport holders cannot venture.

Warren Reed, a former intelligence operative for Australia’s overseas spy agency ASIS, told Foreign Correspondent that Australians were ideal recruits for Mossad.

“Australians abroad are generally seen to be fairly innocent,” he said.

“It’s a clean country – it has a good image like New Zealand.

“There aren’t many countries like that, so our nationality and anything connected with it can be very useful in intelligence work.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that Mr Zygier also carried an Australian passport bearing the name Ben Allen.
‘Allegations troubling’

When told details of Foreign Correspondent’s investigation, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he was concerned by the claims.

“Those allegations certainly do trouble me,” Senator Carr said.

“It’s never been raised with me. I’m not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened to Mr Allen and about what their view of it is.

“The difficulty is I’m advised we’ve had no contact with his family [and] there’s been no request for consular assistance during the period it’s alleged he was in prison.”

Senator Carr says in the absence of a complaint by Mr Zygier’s family, there is little for the Australian Government to act upon.

However the transgression came about, it would have to be involved with espionage, treachery – very, very sensitive information that known to others would pose an immediate threat to Israel as a nation state.
Former ASIS operative Warren Reed

International conventions spell out that when a foreigner is jailed or dies, their diplomatic mission must be informed.

Senator Carr claims Australian diplomats in Israel only knew of Mr Zygier’s incarceration after his death.

Mr van Esveld says it is inexcusable for the Australian Government not to be notified.

Foreign Correspondent By Trevor Bormann

Updated Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:07pm AEDT

Find this story at 13 February 2013

© 2013 ABC

Zygier ‘planned to expose deadly use of passports’

Security officials suspect that Ben Zygier, the alleged spy who died in a secret Israeli prison in 2010, may have been about to disclose information about Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media before he was arrested.

Mr Zygier ”may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance”, an Australian security official told Fairfax Media.

Sources in Canberra are insistent that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was not informed by its Israeli counterparts of the precise nature of the espionage allegations against Mr Zygier. However, it is understood that the Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian intelligence officers.

Israeli intelligence informed ASIO of the arrest and detention of Mr Zygier just eight days after authorities in Dubai had revealed that suspected Israeli agents had used fraudulent Australian passports in the assassination of a Palestinian militant.

The consequent crisis in Australian-Israeli intelligence relations provided the context in which the Australian diplomats did not seek consular access to Mr Zygier, who was regarded by Australian security officials as a potential whistleblower on Israeli intelligence operations.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, on Thursday revealed that the government learnt of Mr Zygier’s detention through ”intelligence channels” on February 24, 2010. He told a Senate estimates hearing that Israel 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”.

Fairfax Media has been told by security sources that ASIO’s liaison office in Tel Aviv was notified of Mr Zygier’s detention by the Israeli security agency Shin Bet. It is understood that ASIO promptly notified the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), including the ambassador to Israel, Andrea Faulkner.

However, officials were unclear when or whether the then foreign minister, Stephen Smith, was briefed. Senator Carr’s office declined to respond when asked on Thursday about the government’s precise knowledge of Israeli allegations about Mr Zygier and the reasons for his secret detention. As no request for consular assistance was made by Mr Zygier or his family, the matter was left to intelligence liaison channels. No consular contact was made with Mr Zygier, and Australian diplomats did not become involved in the matter until after his reported suicide in prison in December 2010.

Mr Zygier’s detention came at an increasingly tense time in Australian-Israeli relations.

On February 16, 2010, Dubai authorities revealed that suspected Israeli agents had used Western passports in a covert operation that resulted in the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in the United Arab Emirates.

News of the Israeli passport fraud caused a strong reaction from the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd. On February 25, according to a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, DFAT told the US embassy in Canberra that ”Australian officials are ‘furious’ all the way up the chain of command over the incident, and Prime Minister Rudd has vowed to get to the bottom of it”.

Australian Federal Police investigators travelled to Israel to pursue the Dubai passport fraud case, and that was followed by a visit to Tel Aviv by ASIO director-general David Irvine, who met Israeli intelligence chiefs. Mr Irvine subsequently provided a classified report to the government on the passport fraud issue.

However security sources have told Fairfax Media that the ASIO director-general did not raise the case of Mr Zygier.

Senator Carr told the Senate hearing that the Australian government sought ”specific assurances” that Mr Zygier’s legal rights would be respected and the government relied on these assurances. DFAT on Thursday declined to provide details of these exchanges.

Philip Dorling
Published: February 15, 2013 – 10:35AM

Find this story at 15 February 2013

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Secrets and lies – the double life of Prisoner X; Rumours swirl about ‘Mossad man’, Ben Zygier, found dead in Israeli jail

He was “a double agent working for Iran”; he was “responsible for the botched operation in a Dubai hotel in 2010” in which Mossad agents killed a senior Hamas commander; he was “just a loud mouth who couldn’t keep quiet” about being a member of Israel’s secret service. These are some of the many theories about why Ben Zygier, or “Prisoner X” as he was known until last week, was held in Israel’s most secure prison for a few months before apparently killing himself in December 2010. His detention was kept so secret that even his guards didn’t know his name; his presumed crime so grave that even his family haven’t gone public about his case.

Zygier’s name, and indeed his existence, would not have been known had it not been for an investigation by Foreign Correspondent, a programme produced by Australia’s ABC television, which unearthed details about the Israeli-Australian. They disclosed that his body was returned to his native Melbourne just before Christmas (and just after the birth of his second daughter) in 2010.

What Foreign Correspondent did not reveal was why Zygier was secretly jailed, a void that the Israeli government has not been eager to fill. So what exactly did this keen Zionist, a volunteer in the Israeli army, do to warrant such treatment? He was held in solitary confinement in the cell designed for Yigal Amir, the killer of the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and had access to nothing but a few books. Even Australian officials in Canberra admitted last week that they were unaware of Zygier’s case, despite his status as an Australian national.

The lack of official information has inevitably been filled by speculation. Because of the timing, the first theory was that Zygier had been involved in the operation in Dubai to kill the Hamas agent Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010. Zygier was arrested just a month later.

Several countries were outraged when it was revealed that some of the Mossad agents had travelled on fake passports – indeed, Australia expelled an Israeli diplomat in the aftermath. Was Zygier responsible for the images of Mossad agents being captured by CCTV? Was he responsible for bungling the passports? Or, more seriously, did he get turned by domestic security agents, as a Kuwaiti newspaper suggested last week?

One of the men who took part in the Dubai mission was Joshua Daniel Bruce, almost certainly an alias. The picture in a forged passport identifying Bruce appears to be of a man about the same age as the then 34-year-old Zygier, and of the 26 suspects he bears the greatest resemblance to Zygier. But on Friday a forensic facial recognition report commissioned by Reuters showed that Zygier and Bruce are not the same person, but it does not entirely dismiss the idea that Zygier was somehow involved in the Mabhouh operation.

At the beginning of 2010, the Australian journalist Jason Katsoukis uncovered evidence that Zygier was one of three Israeli-Australians running a front company in Italy, which ostensibly sold electronic equipment, to Iran among others. Zygier denied being a Mossad agent when asked by Mr Katsoukis, but it seems likely that he was working on contacts within the Sunni group, Jundallah, which has launched attacks against the Shia Iranian government.

Could Zygier’s incarceration be linked in some way to the arrest in February 2010 of Abdolmajid Rigi, the leader of Jundallah? Did Rigi blow Zygier’s cover and tell Iranian officials about the operation in Italy? In an interview with the Iranian Press TV after his arrest, Rigi said that American and Israeli agents were trying to persuade Jundallah to take their fight to Tehran. Rigi was eventually hanged, but what did he tell the authorities in Iran first?

Alistair Dawber
Sunday, 17 February 2013

Find this story at 17 February 2013

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Taser victim’s sister says brutality ‘can’t be ignored’

The sister of a Brazilian student who died after being tasered in Sydney’s CBD has told an inquest that the level of brutality police used on him cannot be ignored.

Ana Laudisio told Glebe Coroners Court that sitting through the two-week inquest into the death of her brother, Roberto Laudisio Curti, had been one of the hardest experiences of her life.

She gave a scathing assessment of police behaviour the night he died and criticised the lack of cooperation from officers involved in revealing the truth.

“It’s shocking police acted the way they did,” she said.

We have sat here and listened to all the officers involved describe in detail how our beloved Roberto was electrocuted for almost a minute. There were times we were angry, frustrated… and we felt sick.
Ana Laudisio

“Their lack of integrity disgusts me.”

Roberto Curti died in March after several officers discharged their Tasers 14 times and used capsicum spray, handcuffs and batons to restrain him after a chase through central Sydney.

He was suffering from an adverse reaction to a small amount of LSD. He had stolen two packets of biscuits from a convenience store but was unarmed.

Ms Laudisio said officers who gave evidence into what happened on March 18 were not concerned about her brother’s welfare.
Audio: Listen to Ana Laudisio (ABC News)

“They were worried about not getting their hands dirty,” she said.

“There was such a level of brutality that night that it cannot be ignored.”

Ms Laudisio said the inquest had been harrowing for her and her family.

“We have sat here and listened to all the officers involved describe in detail how our beloved Roberto was electrocuted for almost a minute, was hit with batons,” she said.

“There were times we were angry, frustrated… and we felt sick.

“What happened could have simply been avoided if some of these people had common sense.”

She also criticised the investigation into her brother’s death.
Photo: Roberto Laudisio Curti. (Facebook)

“After suffering all the devastation of our brother dying, we still had to deal with the frustration of not knowing what happened for four months, when we got the brief of evidence,” she said.

“Even more frustrating was to see the lack of cooperation among the police officers involved, their reluctance to help the family.”
‘Cowardly’

Ms Laudisio said officers had been “cowardly” in telling the truth about what happened on the night her brother died and she questioned why so many were allowed to carry Tasers.

“How can junior officers with only a few months’ experience be allowed to carry and use dangerous weapons at their own discretion?” she said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to have fewer officers well trained and able to respond appropriately.

“It could happen again, a young man’s life could again be taken simply because people are too proud and arrogant to change.”

Coroner Mary Jerram expressed her condolences to Ms Laudisio, her sister Maria and uncle Domingos Laudisio.

“Just know we won’t forget Roberto, and we won’t forget you,” she said.

The coroner gave permission for the family’s presentation to be recorded and broadcast.
Distressing testimony
Video: Tracy Bowden looks back at the events of the night Roberto Curti died (7.30)

Roberto Curti’s uncle, Domingos Laudisio, has told 7:30 that all along he has wanted the inquest to find the truth of what happened to his nephew.

“It is tough, believe me, I have been trained all my life to be very straight, very calm, but this is quite an experience. it is extremely distressful, extremely distressful,” he said.

Mr Laudisio insisted the inquest show graphic footage of Roberto’s final moments as police tasered him on the ground.

“The decision was to show everybody the difference between what was on that film and what was on the police reports,” he said.

“That was my personal decision even against some members of the family, I insisted on it.”

The footage shows Roberto Laudisio Curti on the ground and hand-cuffed when Senior Constable Eric Lim recycled his Taser and fired a second time.

Another officer had a knee on Mr Curti’s abdomen.

“Roberto was yelling in pain he was handcuffed they were still drive stunning tasering him,” Mr Laudisio said.

“I’m not saying [Roberto] was right, his behaviour was inappropriate but that film was unbelievable, unbelievable.”

The inquest heard that two officers applied Tasers directly to his body almost simultaneously in bursts of up to 14 seconds.

7.30 By court reporter Jamelle Wells and Tracy Bowden

Updated Fri Oct 19, 2012 12:23am AEDT

Find this story at 19 October 2012

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