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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.