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Friday, 15 February 2013

Was Zygier involved in a toxic operation?

Zygier's gravestone.
A new participant in the global discussion about the death of Ben Zygier is Warren Reed, a former operative in Australia's overseas spy agency, ASIS. Reed writes today on the ABC's The Drum website about the use of passports by spy agencies in a technologically advanced world and it's an interesting piece that seems to suggest that Zygier, if he was involved in Mossad activities, was probably a small cog in a much larger machine. Supplying Mossad with passports is not exactly the same as spying, but of course if he were just doing this then how could he have come to possess information of such importance that we had to be jailed in a high-security prison? Possibly just knowing the name on the passport, and threatening to leak it to the media, would have been reason enough for the Israeli authorities to turn on him.

But Reed also points to another aspect of the case that makes it stand out: the publicity that has resulted from at least one leak. Reed writes:
The case also raises questions about possible dissatisfaction within Mossad.
An overwhelming majority of men and women who work in spy services like Mossad are just like people in the street. They're paying off mortgages, educating their kids and they all have their own ethical and moral standards like we do.
The fact that someone seemingly in the heart of the agency was moved to leak details of such a hyper-sensitive case like Prisoner X is highly significant.
Almost certainly that person's act (which was very dangerous for him or her) would be fairly reflective of a broader sentiment inside the agency: that corners may have been cut and things haven't been handled the way they should have been.
Some people will recall that Jason Koutsoukis, a Fairfax reporter at the time based in the Middle East, received information from "an anonymous source with connections to the intelligence world" about Zygier and some other people who were involved with Mossad. There is also the question of who informed the Israeli media that Zygier was being kept in Ayalon Prison. So there are two leaks associated with the same individual, which certainly does suggest that someone inside the agency, Mossad, was not happy with how things were being conducted.

There have been suggestions that passports sourced from people such as Zygier may have been used for operations involving the assassination of enemies of Israel in foreign countries. The case of the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, killed in Dubai by Mossad agents, has been brought up by others. If people in Mossad were not happy with this way of dealing with national defense problems then it may be that Zygier was involved in some sort of attempt to make contact with someone outside the agency about the practices that made them possible. It's all very murky and I think many people are waiting for more information from the authorities, as Reed mentions, that will shine a light on the truth.

What militates against such a hope is the overarching mentality of secrecy, imposed also through legislation, that constrains people working in spy agencies from having active recourse to what Reed calls "their own ethical and moral standards". Just how strong those standards are is a cogent question. Noone forces these people to work where they do, but they function under a thick blanket of secrecy that denies the electorate access to information that can be critical when it comes to judging the performance of the government that serves them. Lack of information is bad enough even where secrecy provisions by law do not operate. In a real sense, considering Bob Carr's lack of awareness of relevant details at the beginning of this expose, we are dealing with an extra-legal organisation, one that prioritises situations and performs its essential functions independently of the elected government. Or so it appears.

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