Prisoner X riddle deepens
A suspected Mossad agent who died in an Israeli jail in 2010 was arrested by his spymasters who believed he may have told Australian intelligence about his work with the Israeli spy agency, Australian media reported yesterday.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp said dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier, 34, had met officers from Australia's domestic spy agency ASIO and had given details of a number of Mossad operations.
The ABC, which broke the story about Zygier's secret arrest and death in prison, said on one of his four trips to Australia, he had also applied for a work visa to Italy.
But Mossad became concerned when it discovered Zygier had contact with the Australian spy agency, the ABC reported, adding it was worried he might pass on information about a major operation planned for Italy.
It said Zygier was one of three Australians who changed their names several times and took out new Australian passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe for their work with Mossad.
The closely guarded case has raised questions in Australia and Israel about the suspected use by Mossad of dual Australian-Israeli nationals.
Israeli lawmakers on Sunday announced plans to investigate Zygier's death, which a judge has ruled was suicide.
Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, has initiated an inquiry into his department's handling of the case.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday sought to reduce media attention on the case and said he "absolutely trusts" Israel's security services and what he described as the independent legal monitoring system under which they operated.
Australia's Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, head of ASIO, yesterday said he would not comment on intelligence matters or suggestions his organisation had exposed Zygier's identity.
Australian intelligence officials had reportedly questioned Zygier about his spying activities, which allegedly included changing names on numerous occasions and obtaining multiple Australian passports.
Zygier, a Jewish father of two - also known as Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burroughs - died in a maximum security cell, supposedly under continuous surveillance, on December 15 2010.
Israel initially sought to gag the country's media from reporting the affair but has partially lifted the order. The justice ministry said Zygier received access to lawyers and family.
In his first public remarks on the case, Netanyahu appeared to suggest that disclosing details would be against Israel's interests.
Israel has refused to state the reason for Zygier's arrest, citing only national security concerns.