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

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© 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

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

Intelligent kill: The dirty art of secret assassination

State-sponsored foreign assassinations of military, religious, ideological and political figures are an ugly reality of world history.

By means of sudden, irregular or secret attack, there is even a common euphemism in international law which bluntly describes the practice: targeted killing.

According to a UN special report on the subject, targeted killings are “premeditated acts of lethal force employed by states in times of peace or during armed conflict to eliminate specific individuals outside their custody”.

And it works something like this.

A state deems a certain individual wanted or a danger to its national security. After ruling out any feasible attempt to bring them to their own jurisdiction, usually because they are based in a third country, it deems itself responsible with silencing them by whatever means necessary.

The operational dynamics are then conducted under the auspices of one of two possible dimensions.

Either to eliminate the target under a fog of plausible deniability, in order for the state authorities to wash their hands clean of any discreditable action in a foreign land, and by extension any prosecution should its agents be captured; or to have blatant disregard to the norms of international law by reference to domestic constitutions that empower them to act under the guise of self-defence – in order to protect themselves from imminent threats of attack.

The use of targeted killing has become quite common in the aftermath of 9/11. U.S. Predator drones strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and the Yemen, Israeli airstrikes against Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories and Russian targeting of Chechen separatists in the Caucasus — are just a few recent examples.

But the covert practice of this art has always been a lot murkier.

In 1942, formerly secret memos now reveal how the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) secretly trained Czechoslovakian volunteers to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most feared men in Nazi Germany, in a daring ambush on his motorcade.

Alternatively, the main security services of the Third Reich, the RSHA, had in place its own clandestine unit which planned to target Allied soldiers with poisoned coffee, chocolate and cigarettes; as part of a ruthless terrorist campaign.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s equivalent of the CIA, the KGB, poisoned two of its dissidents abroad, once by firing a tiny Ricin-infested pellet from a specially designed umbrella into the target’s leg; and on another occasion by a spray gun firing a jet of poison gas from a crushed cyanide ampoule.

But even when the intended targets happen to miraculously survive a surreptitiously planned death, the devil that’s in the detail can be just as intriguing.

The CIA attempted to kill Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on numerous occasions by utilizing everything from exploding cigars, mafia contractors and femmes fatales — albeit without success.

On another occasion, the CIA unsuccessfully attempted to kill the Republic of Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, using a tube of doctored toothpaste which would have left him dead, apparently of Polio.

In 2004, Ukrainian opposition leader Victor Yushenko was poisoned with TCDD, the most toxic form of Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins, otherwise known as Dioxins, by what is largely suspected were pro-Russian individuals within the state’s security apparatus.

Although many of the shrewd techniques that have been secretly used in the murder of dissidents and enemies abroad have long been acknowledged in the post-cold war era, many practices may still be eluding us by virtue of remaining shrouded in anonymity, even to this day.

But generally speaking, secret state-sponsored targeted killings are still synonymous with booby-trapped car bombs, sniper hits, exploding cell phones and even small arms fire.

In recent years, however, the art of these smart assassinations – designed in the most part to make a person’s death look somewhat natural – have now been refined by the most unthinkable of materials.

And you don’t have to look beyond what happened to Alexander Litvenenko, a former officer in Russia’s internal security force, FSB, and critic of Vladimir Putin’s rule, in London on November 2006.

After meeting what he ostensibly thought were two former KGB officers for tea in a hotel bar, within hours he was hospitalized with mysterious symptoms including progressively severe hair loss, vomiting and diarrhea for three weeks — before he ultimately succumbed to his horrible death.

His post-mortem finally furnished us with details. He was poisoned it turns out, with tiny a nuclear substance, the radioactive isotope, Polonium-210. Its acute radiation syndrome that he ingested virtually meant he had no chance of survival.

The UK authorities were able to piece together trails of the material as left by the culprits, incidentally right back to Russia itself, where almost all the world’s polonium is produced.

The logic of administering such toxic materials was in fact deliberate. Polonium-210 is something which is normally undetectable; as a rare radioactive isotope it emits alpha particles, not the common gamma radiation that standard radiological equipment would detect in hospitals.

The accused culprits may have underestimated the determination of the British authorities to uncover the whole plot, but simultaneously the incident also told us something; the Russians were not going to play by the old rules – they were going to rewrite them.

It would be wrong to assume, however, that biological poisons, chemical agents and nuclear materials are the only things used in smart killings. In fact, the use of materials designed for rudimentary medical procedures have also taken on a new course.

Israel’s Mossad, long considered the most effective intelligence agency in the world per magnitude, and no stranger to the world of targeted killing in foreign countries, has two shiny examples.

In September 1997, Mossad agents sprayed Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal with the poison Levofentanyl – a modified version of the widely-used painkiller Fentany – by using a small camera which served as a trajectory. Although the agents were later apprehended, and eventually exchanged the antidote (following lengthy behind-the-scenes negotiations before it was eventually given to the victim), the audacity of the materials they used spoke volumes: it was designed not to leave any visible or tell-tale signs of harm on the target’s body.

In January 2010, Hamas military commander Mohammad Al Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel room in what initially appeared to be death by natural causes.

However, upon thorough investigation, not only were 26 suspects (believed to have emanated from Israel) fingered, but the circumstances surrounding his death also soon transpired.

Al Mabhouh was injected in his leg with Succinylcholine, a quick-acting, depolarizing paralytic muscle relaxant. It causes almost instant loss of motor skills, but does not induce loss of consciousness or anesthesia. He was then apparently suffocated — ostensibly to quicken the pace of his death.

In his bestselling book, Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, gives a chilling and detailed account of how the Mossad uses Biochemists and genetic scientists in order to develop lethal cocktails as bottled agents of death.

This includes the development of nerve agents, choking agents, blood agents, and blister agents – including Tuban (virtually odorless and invisible when dispensed in aerosol or vapor form), Soman (the last of the Nazi nerve gasses to be discovered which also has a slightly fruity odour and is invincible in vapour format), blister agents (which include chlorine, phosgene and diphosgene, and smell of new-mown grass) and blood agents (including those with a cyanide base).

The point to extrapolate is clear. States that employ the practice of smart assassination techniques see them as effective strategies that are justified. They don’t need to admit to carrying them out, but we know they are happening.

An obvious concern raised here is that their almost pathological unwillingness to answer questions about the consequences of resorting to such assassinations – or covert targeted killings – will result in the practice becoming more widespread.

The arbitrary stretching of legal justifications for such assassinations, premised on what an individual country recognizes as self-defence, indirectly renders them to be bound by no limits — and by extension may serve as encouragement for other nations to follow suit, if they interpret their national security considerations being failed by international treaty and cooperation.

Just last month, British Police warned two outspoken Rwandan dissidents of threats to their lives by the Rwandan government, which could come in ‘any form’ or by ‘unconventional means’.

Find this story at 19 June 2012

By Mohammad I. Aslam
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 3:00 am

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