One day after Israel conceded that its prison service did indeed incarcerate a man with dual Israeli-foreign citizenship, the mystery surrounding the man dubbed Prisoner X shows no signs of abating. New details surrounding the case of Ben Zygier emerged on Thursday, when a number of Australian media outlets reported that Australian officials said Zygier planned to transmit information about Israeli espionage activity to the Australian government or to local media.
According to a report in the Brisbane Times, Zygier was expected to convey information concerning the Mossad's use of fake Australian passports.
''Zygier may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,'' an Australian security official told Fairfax Media on Thursday.
Sources in Canberra insist that the Australian Internal Intelligence Agency (ASIO) was not informed by its Israeli counterpart concerning the substance of charges attributed to Zygier. Nevertheless, Australian journalists are convinced that Zygier was in contact with Australian intelligence.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the crisis in intelligence relations between Australia and Israel was the reason that Australian diplomats did not demand access to Zygier, whom official security sources in Australia saw as a "whistleblower" concerning Israeli intelligence practices.
Australia furious at Israel
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said on Thursday that his people learned of Zygier's arrest, through "intelligence channels," on Feb. 24, 2010, eight days after Dubai authorities discovered that Australian passports had been used during the assassination of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
''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 offenses under Israeli national security legislation,'' Senator Carr told a Senate hearing.
Carr said that the Australian government sought ''specific assurances'' from Israel that Mr. Zygier's legal rights would be respected, that he would have legal representation of his choice, that his family would be told of his detention and that he would not be mistreated.
According to Fairfax media, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) told the ASIO liaison in Tel Aviv of Zygier's arrest and from there the information was conveyed to the Foreign Affairs department as well as to the Australian ambassador to Israel, Andrea Faulkner.
According to the Brisbane Times, the Australian Foreign Affairs department was "furious" with Israel over the "passport fraud" involved in the Mabhouh affair and then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith summoned Israel's ambassador to reprimand him.
Following the assassination of al-Mabhouh, the director-general of the ASIO, David Irvine, visited Israel and met with the heads of Israeli intelligence, but he apparently did not bring up Zygier's case.
Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported Thursday that Zygier was a member of the team that allegedly assassinated al-Mabhouh. Shortly after the assassination, the newspaper reported, Zygier made contact with authorities in Dubai and informed them of all the details of the assassination, including names and pictures of the members of his team.
In exchange for the information, the Kuwaiti newspaper claims, Zygier received protection from the Dubai authorities. According to Western sources quoted in the newspaper, Israeli intelligence managed to track down Zygier's hiding place, abducted him and took him to Israel, jailed him and served an indictment against him for treason. Dubai's police chief has denied the report in the Kuwaiti paper though. Dhahi Khalfan rejected claims that Zygier had collaborated with Dubai authorities in an interview with the Arabian Business website.
“He may have committed suicide after he was found out as a mercenary and a criminal,” Khalfan told Arabian Business.
All of this occurred under the cover of total secrecy and silence on the part of high-ranking officials in Israel and Australia, making sure the information was kept absolutely secret and not leaked. The newspaper also said that Zygier's family did not know about the abduction because it was so secret.
The British Guardian newspaper on Thursday published an interview with an Australian journalist who spoke with Ben Zygier for the first time in 2010 and confronted him with the suspicion that he was working for the Mossad.
Journalist Jason Koutsakis related that while working in Israel in 2009, he was tipped off by "an anonymous source with connections to the intelligence world."
"The source named three Australians with joint Israeli citizenship who, he said, were working for a front company set up by Mossad in Europe selling electronic equipment to Iran and elsewhere," The Guardian wrote.
"I was tipped off in October 2009," Katsoukis told The Guardian. "The story was that Mossad was recruiting Australians to spy for them using a front company in Europe. It all seemed too good to be true. But what I was told seemed to check out. The company did exist."