Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

What Does the Prisoner X Case Reveal About Israeli Intelligence?

February 28, 2013 1:52 am 0 comments

The grave of Ben Zygier. Photo: Facebook.

The mysterious death of Australian-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier, commonly known as “Prisoner X,” in an Israeli jail has sparked international intrigue into the secret conduct of Israeli intelligence agents.

Details of the imprisonment and apparent suicide were kept quiet in the Israeli media following a directive from the Israeli government, while an Australian journalist first broke details of the story to the press.

Knesset Members from Arab parties as well as the Meretz Party, a relatively small party on the extreme left of Israel’s political spectrum, leveled charges of impropriety at the government for ordering a hush on the case’s intricate details. Yet many with advanced knowledge of Israel’s security apparatus and practices are unsure if the agent’s suicide in prison reveals more than the inherent risks of intelligence gathering in hostile environments.

“Even though this might be a great story for the movies, it doesn’t expose any major insights into the world of Israeli espionage,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brigadier General (retired) Meir Elran told JNS.org.

While members of Israel’s opposition have been using the case in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state’s incumbent government and its intelligence services, there may be very little about this case that warrants answers from the government to questions swirling around Zygier’s mysterious death, according to Elran.

“We actually know very little about this case, and at this point we cannot be sure if any of the case’s details present an problem that will further concern the government or the media,” he said.

Elran currently serves as Director of the Homeland Security Program at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) think tank, which is headed by IDF Major General (retired) Amos Yadlin. He previously served as the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence in the IDF.

“Everybody knows that Israel does what it can to infiltrate hostile areas, in an attempt to gather information and potentially interrupt behaviors dangerous to Israeli interests, and to find out what it can about potential enemies,” Elran said.

“The only thing we know about the actual case, is that the suspected agent whose actual crime we are still unsure of, committed suicide during a trial procedure that was supposed to protect him,” he added. “If anything, questions of impropriety seem to be related mostly to matters of misconduct on the part of judicial control.”

The intrigue in the Zygier case, however, has little to do with judicial controls, and much more to do with the activities of the defendant prior to his imprisonment. “Of course the case has gained attention due to the fact that this is clearly associated with Israeli espionage,” Elran said.

“Clearly, this agent and the case surrounding his death are not the government’s biggest success story, when it comes to international espionage. And the government has nothing to be proud of,” he said.

But international espionage carries tremendous risks. One such risk is an agent passing highly sensitive information to a foreign government. In the case of Zygier, it is being reported that he was about to pass information about Israeli intelligence passport usage, or on an impending intelligence gathering initiative, to a third-party government, possibly to Australian intelligence.

Many have also tried to link Zygier to a successful assassination by Israeli intelligence agents on a Hamas operative in Dubai in 2010.

“We need to recognize that we need to be more careful regarding espionage practices, and regarding the cover-up of information in the wake of a case gone bad,” Elran said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently defended the importance of keeping details of the prisoner’s case shielded from the public.

“We are not like all other countries,” Netanyahu said during an Israeli cabinet meeting. “We are more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper activity of our security forces. Allow the security forces to work quietly so we can continue to live securely and safely.”

Israel had hoped to conceal the Zygier case from the public by imposing a domestic freeze of information by all Israeli-based media. But such a ban is not applicable to foreign media, where many sensitive Israeli stories are first revealed.

“We need to understand that media is international, and that we simply can’t conceal things,” Elran said.

Ben Zygier. Photo: Youtube.

In a pre-digital age, intelligence agencies had an easier time using forged passports to enter into foreign nations, but with passport scanning and security cameras, it is often easier to enter a nation using an actual passport issued by a third-party nation.

It is for this reason that foreign-born nationals present an asset for Israeli intelligence.  Someone who can “lose” a foreign-issue passport or request a name change—as Zygier reportedly did on multiple occasions—can create a ticket of entry into a nation that Israel seeks to gain access to.

It is being reported that Zygier had taken advantage of an Australian law that allows citizens to legally change their name once every 12 months, and to then apply for a new passport. Zygier had reportedly changed his name four times, and his body was reportedly returned to Australia for burial under the name Ben Allen.

There are numerous methods for gathering intelligence, but among the proven methods may always be sending an agent to gather information.

“It is clear that in many cases, Israel sends actual agents, often deep into enemy countries to gather data,” Elran said.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →