How the Mossad works: The mystery of Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’

Der Spiegel reports: The Milan office building exudes elegance with its stucco facade, brass name plate, concierge service and expensive wooden furniture inside. There’s nothing to suggest that the firm based here, which specializes in the sale of satellite communications technology, is a front for the Israel foreign intelligence service Mossad.

But the Milan company is reported to have hired Israeli agents who needed legends for their operations in enemy territory. One of them was Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew and a committed Zionist who emigrated to Israel as a young man. The company is reported to have vouched as Zygier’s employer when he applied for a work visa at the Italian consulate in Melbourne in 2005. That, at least, is what Australian intelligence agents claim.

Ben Zygier died aged 34, just four days after the birth of his second child, on December 15, 2010, in a solitary confinement cell in the Ayalon high-security prison near Tel Aviv. He was reported to have hanged himself, even though he was the country’s best-guarded prisoner, monitored by four cameras. His lawyer had met him one or two days beforehand and said Zygier had seemed normal.

His case made headlines last week after an Australian news program identified Zygier as Israel’s mysterious “Prisoner X.” What crime can the agent have committed to prevent even his guards from knowing his identity?

Israeli officials said he had been a danger to national security. His lawyer said the accusations against him were “serious.” When Zygier died, Israel issued a gag order preventing media from covering the case.

The agent was arrested in February 2010, shortly after the Mossad had murdered the weapons dealer of Hamas in Dubai. Now there’s speculation that Zygier was involved in that killing, and that he may have divulged secrets. Or did he have something to do with the killings of Iranian scientists or software attacks against Iran’s nuclear program?

There are no answers, but Zygier and two other Australian Jews who also worked for the Milan firm were reported to have been successful agents. “The nature of their business gave them access to military and secret installations,” said an Austrialian intelligence source.

Zygier’s case provides insight into the methods of Mossad. It shows how the service recruits agents and masks operations.

As a young man, Zygier got involved with the “Community Security Group” in Melbourne, a kind of Jewish citizens’ defense league. These groups often have links to Mossad and are instructed by agents. Ben Zygier was probably recruited in this way. At around the same time, Paul Y. and David Z. were recruited. [Continue reading...]

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