Report: Ben Zygier Planned to Expose Mossad's Use of Australian Passports

'Prisoner X' was reportedly in contact with Australian intelligence, and may have been about to spill the beans on Mossad methods.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Suspicions are growing that suspected Mossad agent Ben Zygier was also acting on behalf of Australian intelligence.

The Brisbane Times on Thursday quoted Australian security officials as saying that Zygier may have been about to supply information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) or the media on Mossad activities in Australia, including the spy agency's use of Australian passports.

Zygier was arrested by the Shin Bet security service in February 2010 and imprisoned in Ramle's Ayalon Prison, where he committed suicide in December that year, despite being in an isolation cell and under constant surveillance.

The reports state that Zygier was in contact with ASIO before his arrest. After the arrest, Israeli intelligence reportedly informed their Australian counterparts about Zygier's arrest but not about the specific charges against him.

Australia's ambassador to Israel, Andrea Faulkner, and senior Foreign Affairs Ministry officials were quickly informed of the matter by ASIO. Despite receiving notification of Zygier's arrest, no official Australian representative asked to visit him in jail.

The reason, says Australian news agency Fairfax Media, is that Australia had frozen its intelligence relations with Israel after Mossad allegedly used Australian passports in the assassination of senior Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room, in January 2010.

''[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 yesterday.

On January 27, 2010, Australian journalists Jason Koutsoukis and Jonathan Pearlman published an article in The Age newspaper that stirred up a lot of controversy. According to the article, ASIO was investigating three Israelis who also held Australian passports and were suspected of using their second passports to spy on behalf of Israel - though the three were not connected to the killing in Dubai.

The article stated that ASIO had already started investigating the use of Australian passports, in June 2009, though Zygier was not named at the time. All three Australians under investigation were immigrants to Israel who had lived here for over a decade, but returned to Australia a number of times to change their last names officially and receive new passports.

They had all changed their original surnames from Ashkenazi, Jewish-sounding names to ones that sounded more Anglo-Australian.

Previous cases of Mossad agents allegedly using Australian passports didn't help matters. The repeated name changes, along with the fact that all three suspects' passports had supposedly been used to enter countries like Iran, Syria and Lebanon, heightened suspicions at ASIO.

Another red flag for Australian intelligence was that all three individuals were tied to the same European telecommunications company, which had branches in the Middle East, but company management denied that the three worked there.

British daily The Guardian reported Wednesday that Zygier had operated a shell company in Europe for the Mossad, selling electronic equipment to Iran and Arab countries.  According to the report, Zygier managed the company with two other Australian citizens who had immigrated to Israel, changed their names and replaced their passports.

Zygier was educated at Jewish schools in Melbourne and was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. He immigrated to Israel after finishing his law studies in Australia. Over the course of his adult life, Zygier changed his surname no fewer than three times. He first changed his name to Ben Allen, then to Ben Alon and finally to Benjamin Burrows.

According to Australian media reports, after living in Israel for an extended period of time Zygier returned to Australia with his Israeli wife and two children, in order to register for M.B.A. studies at Melbourne's Monash University.  ASIO discovered that while at the university, Zygier became friendly with Arabs students who were studying there.

Koutsoukis called Zygier in February 2010 slightly before his report was published and confronted him with his allegations. The article that was eventually published did not name Zygier or the other two suspects, but it is clear that the telephone conversation with Koutsoukis  was linked with Zygier's arrest in Israel, which appears to have occurred several days later.

On Wednesday, Koutsoukis revealed in The Age the transcript of his dramatic conversation with Zygier, when the latter first heard that he was under investigation by ASIO. Faced with the suggestion that he was an agent for Israel and that he was under investigation, Zygier was livid.

''Who the f*** are you?" he asked Koutsoukis, then serving as the Middle East correspondent for Fairfax Media. ''What is this total bullshit you are telling me?'' Zygier expressed outrage when the reporter suggested that he had used an Australian passport to travel to Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

''I have never been to Iran, Syria or Lebanon,'' Zygier said. ''I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.''

"He told me he was like any other Australian who had made aliyah and was trying to make a life in Israel," Koutsoukis recounted.

Ben Zygier in his IDF uniform.Credit: SMH Website
Ben Zygier in IDF uniform.
Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.
Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.
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Ben Zygier in IDF uniform.Credit: SMH Website
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Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.Credit: Handout
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Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.Credit: Steve Yarrow

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