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Thread: Ben Zygier - Prisoner X

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    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Ben Zygier - Prisoner X

    From the Editorial, Sydney Morning Herald 11 March 2012

    "The tragic death of ''Prisoner X'' in a suicide-proof prison cell - just as he was involved in a plea bargain that would have kept his identity as Ben Zygier a secret - has everything to do with Australia and our relations with Israel.

    The case may involve some naive zeal for Israel's cause on Zygier's part. It definitely involves worrying, arm's length self-protection by Australian bureaucrats and an implicit approach of ''what I don't know won't hurt me'' by our politicians. And it raises serious questions about the compromising of Australian passports.

    These difficult problems should not be consigned to darkness for the sake of protecting our friendship with Israel. If further inquiries reveal cynical manipulation and willful neglect of Australia's interest, our relationship is strong enough to withstand better processes and safeguards.

    Zygier was a willing participant in Mossad's operations for a time. He knew spies operated in a dark space where human rights were compromised. Despite his twin national loyalties, he knew the consequences of any betrayal, real or perceived. When he was placed in Israeli custody on what are reported to be espionage charges carrying up to 20 years' jail, it was Australia's problem as much as Israel's. His dual nationality should have triggered offers of Australian consular assistance, irrespective of whether Zygier's family and friends sought it.

    The procedures failed not only him but Australia. Those who should have intervened to ensure Israel was treating Zygier properly were well placed to ensure this was not a ploy to hide actions that compromised Australia's interests. Yet at best those people turned away for fear of offending Israel or jeopardising security. At worst, they deliberately ignored the problem in the hope no one would find out.

    In Zygier, Mossad found a zealous supporter of Israel, albeit innocent of spy life. The agency overlooked that because he held a clean Australian passport and had links to like-minded people. His father was a Jewish community leader in Melbourne. Zygier changed his name numerous times, as Australian law allows. Mossad needs access to multiple foreign passport identities. But ASIO and Mossad have an explicit understanding that it will not involve Australian passports.

    Zygier returned to Australia to make the switches. Using his real identity, he had no cover and was always going to come to ASIO's notice. When he did, Zygier became a problem for Israel. Israel viewed secrecy as security. It took almost three years and a media report based on a leak for the public to learn ''Prisoner X'' was Zygier. Some have surmised the leak came from ASIO, such was its anger at Mossad's misuse of Australian passports.

    The problem had festered for decades, coming to a head 10 months before Zygier's death when the passports of Jewish Australians were used in Israel's assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai. The then prime minister Kevin Rudd said: ''Any state that chooses to do this in relation to Australian passports frankly is treating the Australian people, the Australian government and the Australian nation with contempt.''

    Now the report from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into the Zygier case has found ''if media reports prove to be true that Mr Zygier used his passport in the service of Israeli intelligence, this use would raise significant questions about the appropriateness of this activity''. Besides expecting Australia to improve protocols to support its citizens, Israel must show that Zygier was treated humanely and that it will not condone abuse of our passports.

    To that extent Australians are putting great trust in the willingness of Israel's parliament and regulators to hold Mossad to account and to examine the ethics and risks of using a well-meaning diaspora. Some fear such trust is misplaced. The Israeli government should have the opportunity to explain.


    End Quote

    I have been following developments in this case with great interest for some time now. What should Australia's response have been to the issues raised by this case? Do any of our fellow forum members have a view?

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    Truth be told, I am loath to really comment on the subject. I was watching an interview on Israeli Channel 2 with a former Australian intelligence person. He said that if before the story broke we knew 10% of the story, after all the leaks and scoops and everything is all over and done with, we still will probably know no more than 50-60% of the story, TOPS. Since there's no way we'll know 100% of the story, I don't really feel comfortable commenting since we don't really know yet what is truth, what is false, what is fact, what is conjecture, what is insinuation and what is just plain rubbish...
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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    The reaction here has been fascinating to watch....not least for what isn't happening.

    We know that Israel has used Australian passports to conduct operations & it seems highly likely that Zygier & several other Jewish Australians were used to obtain such passports. As Rudd said - for a nation that is notionally friendly to us to encourage Australians to break Australian law, decieve the Australian government & potentially put other Australians at risk is contemptible. I guess years of watching the US/Israel relationship has robbed me of any surprise at Israel's behaviour or at the insipid response of my own nation.

    So, we have young Australians being encouraged to betray their nation. As I said, the response here has been fascinating. There have been a few opinion pieces from memebrs of the Jewish comminuty critical of this behaviour & raising the issue of divided loyalties. The respose from the pro-Israel lobby to such discussions has been predictibly hysterical - accusations of anti-semitism etc. The usual. Silent in all of this have been the 'multiculturalism is a threat to Australia' populists on the right. Had the name here been 'Mahmoud' or 'Chang' there would have been screaming denunciations of 'multiculturalism' & all sorts of implications & accusations about 'those people'. In this case there has been none of that. I doubt most people consuming news from these outlets even know about the story. Perhaps the most comprehensive case of 'politically correct self-censorship' I have ever seen. I just wish the racists & name callers would apply the same standard more broadly. They won't.

    We are unlikley to ever know the full truth here. Personally I could care less about Zygier. Much like the young men going off to die in the Syrian Civil War, he made his choice & he paid for it. Most likely the story will quietly die like the passport scandal did a few years back as events recede from memory. It won't even change our relationship with Israel unfortuantely.
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    In Memoriam Military Professional Minskaya's Avatar
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    There is much here that we do not know, and we probably never will. All things considered, it seems to me that there is something lurking deeper here than passport shenanigans. Whatever it is, it appears that both governments preferred that it remain buried with Ben Zygier.

    On a tangential note, HaMossad should seriously rethink its habitude of using legitimate foreign passports for illegitimate purposes.

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    In the professional community, Israel has been given the unflattering term, our Most Dangerous Ally. When push comes to shove, we will back Israel to the hilt mainly because while Israel may leave a bad taste in our mouths, Israel's enemies make us puke ... but enduring is not a feature of this alliance.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Officer of Engineers View Post
    In the professional community, Israel has been given the unflattering term, our Most Dangerous Ally. When push comes to shove, we will back Israel to the hilt mainly because while Israel may leave a bad taste in our mouths, Israel's enemies make us puke ... but enduring is not a feature of this alliance.
    The US learned long ago the Israelies and French feel the right to "spy" on friends. Nations trust Israel at their won peril. As for the guy in question, it looks like a traitor got the axe by the people he betrayed his nation for, better than he deserved.
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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Minskaya View Post
    There is much here that we do not know, and we probably never will. All things considered, it seems to me that there is something lurking deeper here than passport shenanigans. Whatever it is, it appears that both governments preferred that it remain buried with Ben Zygier.
    Yes, but I wouldn't assume that the thing each government wants to stay buried is necessarily the same. It may be, but as you said, we will probably never know.

    On a tangential note, HaMossad should seriously rethink its habitude of using legitimate foreign passports for illegitimate purposes.
    Israel has few enough reliable friends in the world. The willingness to seriously p1ss off some of them is fascinating to watch. Something about the 'bunker mentality' seems to compromise good judgement in this area. If Mossad is indeed encouraging citizens with dual nationality to obtain passports for these purposes there is a risk that may ultimately outweigh the reward.


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    In Memoriam Military Professional Minskaya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    If Mossad is indeed encouraging citizens with dual nationality to obtain passports for these purposes there is a risk that may ultimately outweigh the reward.
    I agree. Manipulating passports compromises relationships and good will.

    Whenever I visit Belarus/Ukraine/Russia, I always return to Israel for a while on the return leg. HaMossad always debriefs me. Nothing sinister. Just generalized questions about the mood of the people, commodity prices, etc.

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Minskaya View Post
    I agree. Manipulating passports compromises relationships and good will.

    Whenever I visit Belarus/Ukraine/Russia, I always return to Israel for a while on the return leg. HaMossad always debriefs me. Nothing sinister. Just generalized questions about the mood of the people, commodity prices, etc.
    Interesting policy. Just curious (and without telling tales out of school) do you think this is a widespread policy or is it limited to people they think might have particular insight. I can see what they are trying to achieve, but I have to ask if it runs the risk of these nations treating Israeli passport holders as 'spies'. Again, is the information any more than could be easily gleaned from legacy, 'new' and 'social' media (which I assume Mossad analyzes vigorously) and is it worth the risk?

    As I said, I wonder sometimes if there is a 'bunker mentality' that is sometimes self defeating.


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    Is everyone here seriously suggesting that any western nation including the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France et cetera et cetera does not, as a matter of course, forge or falsify passports of other nations to allow their various spys and operatives to travel?
    I know for a fact little old New Zealand does, regularly, as does Australia.
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    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    As for the guy in question, it looks like a traitor got the axe by the people he betrayed his nation for, better than he deserved.
    Perhaps a harsher judgement than Mr Zygier deserves. Like many people of Jewish decent he held both Israeli and Australian citizenship and dual nationalities is a common situation these days for millions of people. His Mossad recruiters no doubt played on his loyalty to Israel when encouraging him to obtain multiple passports. It is unlikely in the extreme however that his controller would ever have revealed to him the details of the operations they would be used in. No doubt Mr Zygier anticipated they would be used to expedite the travel of Mossad agents around the world for the purpose of collecting intelligence. I doubt very much he anticipated their use in serious crimes.

    What is clear is that at some point in time he did become aware serious crimes had been or were going to be committed using passports he had supplied and being so aware he began to have doubts about the wisdom of his actions. Whether he ever had the chance to contact Australian officials and what the The Australian government knew at the time of his arrest is an open question as is the circumstances surrounding his unfortunate if convenient (for the Israelis) death.

    In any case Mossad's personnel did what they are trained to do when recruiting agents of influence and/or civilian expediters, they played on a identified weaknesses (ironically in this context his loyalty to Israel) and/or stoked his ego and everybody has those. It would also appear their trade craft was also up to the job of keeping tabs on him after he had forfilled prime purpose, in any event he never had the chance to go public. For that matter it's an open question to whether ASIO would have let him even if he wanted to. Perhaps they tipped off the Israeli's that Zygier was becoming a problem, who knows, it would have caused big problems over here if he had gone public i.e. brought a formal complaint with Foreign Affairs.

    Out of curiosity would be still have been a simple traitor if he had been supplying the passports for use by US intelligence services?

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    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parihaka View Post
    Is everyone here seriously suggesting that any western nation including the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France et cetera et cetera does not, as a matter of course, forge or falsify passports of other nations to allow their various spys and operatives to travel?
    I know for a fact little old New Zealand does, regularly, as does Australia.
    There is a gentlemans agreement in place that if/when one of our "cousins" passports are used there will be no black (violent) Ops involved. Hell ask nicely and a passport and cover ID/back story may even be provided - so long as the intel is shared.
    Last edited by Monash; 13 Mar 13, at 14:03.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Parihaka View Post
    Is everyone here seriously suggesting that any western nation including the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France et cetera et cetera does not, as a matter of course, forge or falsify passports of other nations to allow their various spys and operatives to travel?
    I know for a fact little old New Zealand does, regularly, as does Australia.
    That is not the issue.The issue is the authentic passports obtained through a loophole in Australian legislation.Granted,there are always loopholes to be exploited,many of them created as such.
    It's the intent that's the problem,not the deed in itself.

    In itself,it's a minor case strictly from an operational pov.We'll never know the details.But such scandals don't show up in righteous anger.They're deliberately created to send a message.And the message here is that Israeli operations that endanger the interests of others aren't welcomed.
    I can only wish more countries will follow that example.their problems aren't everybody's problems.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    There is a gentlemans agreement in place that if/when one of our "cousins" passports are used there will be no black (violent) Ops involved. Hell ask nicely and a passport and cover ID/back story may even be provided - so long as the intel is shared.
    Really? Someone forgot to tell the French and Swiss
    http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/time...inking-3637927


    The only outcome of this internationally by the way was that Europe embargoed our exports until we agreed to release them. Gentlemans agreement indeed. Violence and mayhem have regularly ensued from those false passports NZ and Australia supply to their more loose public servants while traveling abroad, without regard to the sensitivities of the nations whose passports were misappropriated.
    Last edited by Parihaka; 13 Mar 13, at 16:07.
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    In Memoriam Military Professional Minskaya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Just curious (and without telling tales out of school) do you think this is a widespread policy or is it limited to people they think might have particular insight.
    I know that it was an all-inclusive policy when over one million Jews emigrated to Israel from the defunct USSR and former Warsaw Pact nations. As far as the here and now, I imagine HaMossad is a bit more choosy.

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