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 Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.