Since significant new material has emerged in today's Fairfax press regarding the case of Prisoner X, I'll leave the other two aspects of the case I'd intended writing about to a later post, possibly the next.
The most important piece on the issue has to be Philip Dorling's report, Zygier 'close to spilling on Israel', which offers an eminently plausible explanation for Prisoner X's incarceration and suicide/murder:
"Australian security officials suspect that Ben Zygier, the spy who died in secret in an Israeli prison cell in 2010, may have been about to disclose information about Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media when he was arrested. '[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. Sources in Canberra are insistent that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was not informed by its counterparts of the precise nature of the espionage allegations against Mr Zygier. However, it is understood that the former Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian intelligence. He was in contact the day before he died with human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman, who said last night: 'When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide', adding that he was rational, focused and without self-pity. Mr Feldman said he was surprised 'that a man who was being held in a cell like that, a cell which was being monitored and checked 24-hours a day, could manage to commit suicide by hanging himself. I understood that he was told he was likely to face the longest possible jail term and that he was likely to be ostracised by his family,' he said. Israeli intelligence informed ASIO of Mr Zygier's arrest and detention just 8 days after authorities in Dubai revealed that suspected Israeli agents had used fraudulent Australian passports in the assassination of a Palestinian militant leader. The subsequent crisis in Australian-Israeli intelligence relations provided the context in which the Australian diplomats did not seek access to Mr Zygier, who was regarded by Australian security officials as being a potential whistleblower on Israeli intelligence operations."
Dorling goes on to say that, although ASIO's liaison office in Tel Aviv was notified of Zygier's detention by Israel's domestic intelligence service, Shin Bet, and that it in turn notified DFAT, "as no request for consular assistance was made by Mr Zygier or his family, the matter was left to be dealt with through intelligence channels."
Two matters arise here.
First, if Zygier had wanted to blow the whistle on Mossad's abuse of Australian passports and had contacted Australian intelligence with this in mind, how did he end up in Shin Bet's hands?
Two possible explanations come to mind. The Shin Bet were already onto him and picked him up before he could tell all to his Australian intelligence contact(s), or the latter cold-shouldered him or worse to avoid the kind of falling out with Israel that a full disclosure of the passport abuse by an Australian-Israeli intelligence insider might have precipitated. If so, the question arises as to just how far up the Australian chain of command, security and political, that decision might have been made. Certainly, the suspicion that then PM Rudd and his FM, with their expressions of 'grave concern', their vows to 'take action', their carpeting of the Israeli ambassador, and their expulsion of an Israeli 'diplomat' - but no real severing of intelligence links - were really just taking part in an elaborate charade had crossed the mind of one of our more astute and combative television news presenters/interviewers, Kerry O'Brien. (See my 16/8/10 post Diplomatic Dancing.)
Second, I can't quite get my head around the implications of the assertions that a) "[Zygier] was told... that he was likely to be ostracised by his family"; and b) "no request for consular assistance" was made by Zygier's family. What is going on here?
These assertions are further complicated by Konrad Marshall's report, We want justice for Ben Zygier, family friend says:
"A family friend of Melbourne man Ben Zygier... has called for 'justice' and transparency two years after the 34-year-old's death. Henry Greener... said he could no longer abide by a 'sleeping dogs lie' credo. 'We all knew there was something suspicious and underhanded about Ben's death and nobody wanted to go there because of the suppression order in Israel... But now that the cat's been let out of the bag, we are going to find out a lot more, and in that process I think there should be justice for Ben..."
One is left wondering why, if "we all knew there was something suspicious and underhanded about Ben's death," we're reading references to family ostracism, a failure to seek consular assistance and respect for an Israeli suppression order.
Finally, my attention was caught by this particular exchange, in a report by David Wroe, 'We failed our duty' to Prisoner X:
"Asked by Greens senator Christine Milne why no embassy official had gone to visit Mr Zygier in jail, [DFAT] secretary Peter Varghese said communications had been between intelligence agencies, not the respective governments... Senator Milne asked: 'My question is just why did the Australian government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to the spooks? Why?'" (14/2/13)
Could you ever imagine Milne play the terrier over the fate of an Arab-Australian in Israeli hands?