Zygier was about to reveal Mossad secrets to Australia, report claims

Australian security officials say that local intelligence services or the media may have been close to getting spy to talk

Ben Zygier's Australian passport (Screenshot Channel 10)
Ben Zygier's Australian passport (Screenshot Channel 10)

The Australian Mossad agent recently outed as Ben Zygier was jailed because he was about to reveal Mossad operational secrets to Australian authorities or the media, Australian media reported Thursday.

Zygier, known until recently only as Prisoner X, reportedly killed himself in jail in 2010, Israel admitted on Wednesday, though Jerusalem has not said why he was jailed.

According to Australian media company Fairfax Media, Zygier was going to open up about the Israeli spy service’s use of foreign passports to carry out an assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai before he was put in prison.

”[Zygier] may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,” an Australian security official with knowledge of the case told Fairfax Media, according to Melbourne’s The Age.

The report said that Israeli authorities told the Australian Security Intelligence Organization of Zygier’s arrest a mere eight days after authorities in Dubai claimed that suspected Israeli agents had used fraudulent Australian passports in the assassination of Mabhouh, which Israel has never admitted carrying out.

The passport incident caused a crisis between Israeli and Australian intelligence services, yet the latter did not pursue the matter of Zygier’s incarceration at the time despite seeing him as a potential source for information about Mossad operations and the use of Australian passports, the paper reported.

In 2009, Zygier had returned to Australia and enrolled for a master’s degree at Melbourne’s Monash University, where he reportedly mingled with students from Arab countries, including from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

This attracted the suspicions of the Australian national security services, who called him in for questioning, the reports said, suspecting that he had used his Australian passport to spy for Israel.

One Israeli media report on Wednesday night claimed Zygier admitted to the Australian interrogators that he was working for the Mossad, and then also told an Australian journalist. Another report said it was the Australian security services that “burned him” by leaking the story to a local Australian journalist. When this journalist called Zygier, he responded with an angry denial, insisting he had never been involved in espionage.

Not long after he had been questioned, Zygier returned to Israel. He was subsequently arrested and held for eight months in Ayalon jail, in a cell originally designed for Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to a Tuesday report by Australia’s ABC news, which the blew the case open. His jailers did not know his identity and there was no definitive explanation given for why he was taken into custody.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or DFAT, said on Wednesday that the Australian government first learned of Zygier’s detention on February 24, 2010.

”The Australian government was informed in February 2010 through intelligence channels that the Israeli authorities had detained a dual Australian-Israeli citizen — and they provided the name of the citizen — in relation to serious offences under Israeli national security legislation,” Senator Carr told a Senate hearing.

Australian authorities said that following Zygier’s arrest there was no request made for assistance by the him or his family so the matter was left in the hands of intelligence organizations. The Australian consul only became involved in the matter after Zygier’s prison suicide in December 2010 after which his body was flown back to Melbourne to be buried.

In response to the 2010 passport fiasco Australia expelled an unnamed Israeli diplomat who was quickly revealed in the local press to be a Mossad intelligence officer stationed in the Israeli embassy.

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