prisoner x conspiracy circus
Was ‘Prisoner X’ a false-flag agent?
Dimi Reider, +972 Magazine, Feb 13 2013
An Iran-related story developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X, with numerous factors allowing for overlap. Could Zygier have compromised a false-flag operation to enlist an Iranian armed opposition group? It’s always difficult to try and discern the full picture when all you have is a few pieces of a puzzle, not necessarily even pieces belonging to the same box. But this is precisely the trouble with censorship and gag orders: it forces us to make do with what we have and to use only information already in the public domain. With this in mind, I’d like to draw attention to a story that developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X and had numerous factors that could, though not necessarily should, allow for some overlap. In Jan 2012, a few days after another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, Foreign Policy.com published an expose by Mark Perry that met with a fierce backlash and clampdown reminiscent of the one experienced by Israeli media over the last few days. Drawing on testimonies and memos from senior intelligence officials in the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, Perry revealed that as recently as 2008, and perhaps even to this day, Israeli agents “touting US passports and flush with US dollars” posed as US intelligence operatives in order to recruit members of Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, infamous for attacks within Iran targeting both officials and ordinary civilians. According to the report, the recruitment took place in Pakistan, but also in Morocco, London and elsewhere.
What do we know about Ben Zygier? Apart from biographical details preceding his involvement with the Mossad, we know that he changed his name several times: first to Ben Alon when immigrating to Israel, then in a new Australian passport to the nearly-homonymic Ben Allen. Later still, he also added Benjamin Burroughs to the list. We know that using at least one of the latter two identities, Zygier visited Syria, Lebanon and Iran, and that his name changes and his movements, along with those of several other dual Australian-Israeli nationals, were enough to arouse the suspicion of Australia’s security service, the ASIO. According to The Age, in early 2010 Zygier was even confronted by Fairfax Media correspondent Jason Katsoukis, who discovered Zygier was one of three Australians who ran a front company set up by Mossad in Europe (possibly in Italy), selling electronic equipment to Iran and elsewhere. Katsoukis asked Zygier upfront if he was working for the Mossad, an allegation an “incredulous” Zygier heatedly, and it now appears beyond reasonable doubt, falsely, denied. Around the same time, in Feb 2010, Jundllah’s leader, Abdolmajid Rigi, found himself in the hands of the Iranian security services. At the time, Iran claimed he was taken off a plane traveling from Kyrgizstan to Dubai and forced to land in Iran. Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran, however, took partial credit for the capture, and al-Jazeera and later Perry reported he was taken in Pakistan and transferred to Iran with the silent agreement of the US, who, whatever Israel’s relationship with Giri’s men, were never particularly enamoured with Jundallah. In Iran, and, as Perry notes, probably under duress, Rigi gave an interview in which he voiced suspicions that Western agents he had met were not who they said they were. He said at the time:
When we thought about it, we came to the conclusion that they are either USAians acting under NATO cover, or Israelis.
Later, an Israeli source told Laura Rozen that whoever met Rigi in Morroco in 2007 posed as NATO agents. Rigi was hanged in Tehran on Jun 10 2010. On Jun 14 2010, the first report about Prisoner X/Ben Zygier/Alon/Allen/Burroughs appeared in, and quickly disappeared from, Israeli media, although it’s likely he was arrested earlier on, between the Fairfax interview and Rigi’s death. In other words, during the same time, the leader of a group with reported ties to Israeli intelligence and an Israeli agent with a profile and behaviour patterns similar to those of agents allegedly initiating and maintaining such links both found themselves in prisons. If the Perry report is true, and apart from vitriolic and ad hominem denials from state officials, I’ve seen nothing to conclusively prove that it is not, Rigi’s capture would have been a huge blow to Israel’s alleged investment in Jundallah, and the question of how the Pakistanis got to him would necessarily have arisen.
Again, this is pure speculation. Just because the Iran operation is the only one we know about, doesn’t mean it’s the one Zygier was involved in. A person can betray or compromise an organisation without the result appearing in the media in the form of a botched operation. Still, being forced to work with what we already know and just for the sake of the argument, a hypothesis can conceivably be proposed that Zygier was suspected of somehow undermining the Jundallah operation. Whether he did so deliberately or not is impossible to establish or even hypothesise on without further information, although it would seem Zygier’s biography to this point (strongly Zionist family and education, ideological immigration to Israel, and so on) would preclude an outright defection to Tehran. The extraordinary secrecy around his identity could simply be a precaution designed to prevent other assets he recruited from realising who he really was. Several Israeli outlets are currently emphasising another possibility: that Zygier’s activity and his arrest had something to do with the killing of Hamas’s Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai, the story of which also exploded in the media in early 2010, and which certainly involved several Australian passport-holders. Unlike the possibility that Zygier was a false-flag Mossad operator deployed in the Iranian or the Gulf theatres, which can be plausibly sustained by the overlaps listed above and the lack of information to contradict them, the exact nature of his offence, real, imagined or suspected, can only be guessed at. It may well be possible that the Mossad did not know either, and that at the time of his suicide, the state may well have still been trying to establish if the transgression he was suspected of was deliberate sabotage or an unfortunate mistake. The same degree of caution should apply at this stage to the nature of Zygier’s tragic death, precisely because it seems so “obvious” an alleged suicide in a “suicide-proof” cell “must have been” murder, and despite one of the key hints at Zygier’s fate was an op-ed by a senior intelligence analyst in Haaretz abstractly musing about prison murders disguised as suicides. The constantly monitored suicide-proof cell is a compelling idea. It was a single-inmate cell, so no bunk beds, and obviously without anything as appealing to a desperate man as a lamp-hook. Nearly a year before Zygier’s death, however, disgraced TV star Dudu Topaz killed himself in another suicide-proof cell in the same city. Despite the presence of other prisoners and constant monitoring of the cell, Topaz used the very short cord of an electric kettle to create a pressure noose around a water tap less than 1 m above the floor, sit down on the shower floor, and break his own neck. His death was covered in graphic, grotesque detail by Israeli media for weeks, and it’s unlikely Zygier would not have heard of it. Although the death certificate specifically lists “asphyxiation,” the Topaz affair should illustrate that suicide is not impossible in almost any circumstance. Both Topaz’s and Zygier’s cells enjoyed constant CCTV surveillance of their entire respective spaces, except the shower stalls. Then again, the only official execution in Israeli history, outside Eichmann’s, was of an officer field-marshalled for treason (posthumously exonerated); and accidental death under torture should not be excluded.
Speculation is the key word to this entire report. Over the past two days several versions of what happened to Zygier have been hinted at on social networks, some even more galling than what we know, some considerably more mundane, and none so far from identifiably credible sources. I myself certainly haven’t heard anything new and convincing, directly or indirectly. However, gag orders on new information mean I can’t even report the hints of rumours floating about, oro use them to counterbalance or challenge the picture I presented above. Furthermore, the question of the degree of Zygier’s guilt, and of the degree of the state’s responsibility for his death should be treated with double caution, not only precisely because both are so appealing to the imagination, but also because of deference to his family. Whatever he has done, Zygier was also a brother, a son, a husband and the father of two young children. We can only imagine that after such a devastating loss, the questions of his guilt or innocence, and the degree of ill-will involved in his death while in the ostensibly safe and accountable hands of a state, become all the more paramount for the bereaved family, especially a family as patriotic as Zygier’s seems to have been. Assertions concerning either should not be thrown about idly. But what we do know about Zygier’s arrest and the incredible amount of silence surrounding his detention and his death make the entire affair of crucial public interest. If left unmolested and unmonitored, what happened to Zygier could actually happen to any of us or our loved ones, although the state now says Zygier had a team of three lawyers. We do not know just how the state came round to clamp down on him as relentlessly and hermetically as it did, and whether its suspicions were convincing to the critical eye of any kind of an accountable monitor. It is crucial, therefore, that facts are brought to light why Zygier met such a gruesome fate, and how. Whether they are brought to light by the state coming to its senses and accountability, or by journalistic work as dogged as the ABC’s, is up to us citizens, public servants, parliamentarians, and crucially, journalists, from Israel or from anywhere abroad.
Why Israel will continue trying to keep ‘Prisoner X’ a secret
Michael Omer-Man, +972 Magazine, Feb 13 2013
As details about the life, work and untimely demise of ‘Prisoner X’ unravel, the most intriguing unanswered questions remain: why did Israel secretly imprison him and why he is dead? But the details of the story appear to be making one thing clear. Israel’s security services likely had every reason in the world to (try to) keep the affair and Ben Zygier’s identity a secret. Like most spy stories, nothing about Prisoner X, his true identity, what he did or didn’t do for Israel’s Mossad or even how he died is known with any degree of certainty. But as various reports and accounts come out, mostly from Australia, but others from Israel and around the world, pieces of a puzzle begin to take shape into a picture that resembles a spy thriller, possibly gone horribly wrong. The original ABC investigative report which revealed Ben Zygier as the highly-censored ‘Prisoner X’ identified him as an Australian-born Jew who emigrated to Israel in his early twenties. From his age at the time he immigrated and pictures of him in an IDF uniform, it is safe to assume that he was drafted into the army soon after arriving in the country. Those details, though unconfirmed like every other part of the story, are the most reasonable and normal parts of the story. He would have been only one of thousands of Diaspora Jews who move to Israel as young adults and volunteer to serve in the IDF. From there, the story gets much more interesting. At some point, it appears Zygier returned to Australia, where he changed his name to Ben Allen and took out a new passport under that non-Jewish-sounding name. That, in and of itself, it appears, was enough to spark the interest of Australian Security (ASIO). The ABC report stated:
In 2010, ASIO suspected that several Australian Jews were working for Mossad, after changing their names from European or Jewish names to Anglo names. Then, with new Australian passports and Australian accents, they could travel freely in the Arab world and to places like Iran, to destinations where no Israeli could venture.
Israel has long been suspected of having a hand in covert operations within Iran, in efforts to sabotage, spy on and subvert that country’s suspected military nuclear program. But from the assassinations of nuclear scientists to explosions at nuclear research and development facilities, it is difficult to believe that whatever intelligence agency or agencies was or were behind those events did not have agents on the ground, whether to carry out the covert operations themselves or to train and equip Iranian opposition groups to do the work on its behalf. Other operations widely attributed to the Mossad, such as the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah in Syria, would also likely have required agents on the ground, either to carry out the work themselves or train and equip others. The Sydney Morning Herald on Feb 13 reported that Zygier, aka Ben Allen, aka Benjamin Burrows, was one of at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens under investigation by ASIO. All reportedly changed their names at least once and took out new passports under their pseudonyms. The SMH reported:
The men had used the new passports to travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
Additionally, the three were reportedly involved with a straw company that sold electronics equipment to Iran. As former Australian intelligence (ASIS) agent Warren Reed explained to ABC, it is greatly advantageous to use Australian nationals and their passports for covert intelligence work.:
Australians abroad are generally seen to be fairly innocent. 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.
If Zygier was a Mossad agent and did indeed travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon under a new name, it is entirely plausible that he took part in any number of covert operations attributed to Israel. If that is the case, and it is unlikely we’ll ever know, it becomes clear why Israel would jump through so many hoops to try and keep his identity a secret. Almost by definition, a covert operative in enemy territory puts his or her own life at risk, but they also work with others, both locally recruited agents and foreign intelligence operatives. By revealing Zygier’s identity, if he is who it appears he may be, anyone he ever worked with is suddenly at risk. Just from his photo, any competent intelligence agency can begin to put together the pieces of how attacks and intelligence operations targeting them transpired. Analysts can review photos and video footage containing the exposed agent and discover the identities of those he worked and traveled with. The careers of covert operatives can be ended. The lives of those agents they recruited will likely come to a swift end. From an operational perspective, years of work installing equipment and building networks for intelligence collection and sabotage can vanish overnight. Any responsible spy agency would themselves dismantle those networks the moment they fear any serious exposure. If Zygier was a covert Israeli operative, it is absolutely clear why the Mossad and the entire Israeli government would want to prevent his identity from being made public. Its work in whatever countries he may have operated in are likely over. It would take years to rebuild the networks that were destroyed. We will never likely know the full story of why Israel put Zygier into secret detention. But one angle revealed in recent foreign news reports does provide highly speculative clues as to why his second country might have stopped trusting him to the point of making him disappear into one of the most secure prison facilities in Israel. One acquaintance of Zygier’s from 1994, long before he would have ever joined the Israeli army, let alone any clandestine service, spoke anonymously to JTA after news of the affair broke Tuesday. He said:
Ben never struck me as someone who was stable. He talked too much.
In another account published Feb 13, about the time in early 2010 when an Australian journalist actually accused Zygier of working for the Mossad, the suspected spy reacted strangely and angrily, in a demeanor one would not expect from a trained spy, blustering to Fairfax’s then Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis:
Who the fuck are you? What is this total bullshit you are telling me?
If the Mossad did believe Zygier was mentally unstable and either was likely to, or had already revealed too much about his clandestine work for Israel, it is almost understandable why they would want him to disappear. It’s also possible that Zygier’s demise was a result of treachery, accidental exposure, an impending Moshe Vanunu-type planned public exposé, or a host of other spy novel-esque scenarios. What actually happened? We may never know. As the story unravels, it’s becoming clearer and clearer why Israel would have wanted it to remain a secret.