Mossad went into crisis mode when it heard the “Prisoner X” story was about to break, the Australian reporter responsible said yesterday, amid claims the jailed man had been set to reveal sensitive operations.
The prisoner, identified by media as Australian-Israeli Mossad agent Ben Zygier, died in December 2010 while in isolation at Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv, in a case Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.
ABC reporter Trevor Bormann, who broke the story on Tuesday, said Israeli intelligence services were aware his report was going to air with a promo going viral on social media and a press release sent out the previous week.
‘ALL HANDS ON DECK’
“My sources told me that it was ‘all hands on deck’ for Mossad and Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet,” he said on the Web site of the Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday.
“Their intelligence had told them that the mainstream Israeli media would most likely grudgingly abide by the court gag order, and that the main task for censors would be to ‘pull down’ the work of bloggers who would be posting links to our story. It did not work out quite like that,” he said.
As the story went global, Israel on Wednesday said it imprisoned a man with dual nationality on security grounds who committed suicide in 2010, but did not identify him nor confirm reports he worked for its external spy agency.
However, an Israeli lawyer who met Zygier just days before his death confirmed that Mossad agents had been involved in the case, and said he saw no indication the prisoner was planning to kill himself.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian intelligence officials believe Zygier may have been about to reveal information about Mossad operations, including the use of falsified Australian passports, to either Canberra or the media when he was arrested.
Zygier “may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,” said an Australian security official familiar with the case.
Stephen Smith, who was the Australian foreign minister at the time, refused to comment yesterday, saying he was “not proposing to be drawn on any of the issues” until an ongoing review of the case had been completed.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra first learned of Zygier’s arrest “through intelligence channels” on Feb. 24, 2010.
Just a week earlier, Dubai police had publicly accused Mossad agents of carrying out a hit on a top Hamas militant last month, saying they were looking for around a dozen people with Western passports — four of them Australian.
The move sparked a crisis between Israel and several Western governments, including Canberra, with a resultant freeze in intelligence contacts meaning Zygier’s case was not pursued by Australia until his death, the Herald said.
Shortly after the Dubai assassination, it emerged that Australia’s overseas intelligence agency had been investigating Zygier on suspicion of using his passport to spy for Israel, the Herald reported.
Former Australian Secret Intelligence Service official Warren Reed told the ABC yesterday that Israel must have believed Zygier knew something potentially damaging.
“So if he divulged that information to somebody who was from a hostile intelligence service, hostile to Israel, he could damage Israel’s national security in not only an immediate sense, but ongoing for 10, 15, 20 years,” he said.
Human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman confirmed to reporters in Israel that he had met the prisoner just days before he was found hanged in his cell, which was equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance gear.
Zygier gave no indication of being suicidal, Feldman said, adding he was “shocked” when he heard the news.
Speaking to Kol BaRama radio station, Feldman confirmed Mossad involvement.
He said his “contact man from the Mossad” had informed him that his client was no longer alive.