The rise and fall of Mossad agent Ben Zygier

Laura Rozen – The Back Channel March 25, 2012

A month after Australian media first identified “Prisoner X” as Australian-born Mossad recruit Ben Zygier, the Australian journalist who first reported on the Zygier case and his partner have published a joint investigation into how Zygier’s dream-career with the Israeli intelligence service unravelled, culminating with his suicide in an isolated Israeli prison cell in December 2010.

According to the report Monday by Jason Koutsoukis in Australia’s Fairfax media, Melbourne-born Zygier was a passionate Zionist who was recruited into the Mossad in 2003, a few years after he had moved to Israel and had started working at an Israeli law firm. It ended with his 2010 arrest and suicide after Zygier embarked in 2008 on an unauthorized attempt to recruit a Hezbollah source in Eastern Europe and ended up instead allegedly betraying two claimed Mossad assets in Lebanon, according to Koutsoukis’ report.

Zygier’s career with the Mossad began in late 2003, after he responded to a Mossad advertisement that proclaimed “the Mossad is open – not for everyone, but for a few. Maybe for you,” Koutsoukis reported.

By early 2005, after a year of training, Zygier “was ready for his first mission,” Koutsoukis wrote. “He was sent to Europe, where he was instructed to infiltrate companies that had business relationships with countries including Iran and Syria.

“One chief executive of a mid-sized European company with extensive business interests across the Middle East and Persian Gulf – including Iran – confirmed that he had hired Zygier for an accounting position,” the report continues. Zygier worked for the unidentified firm for 18 months.

But apparently his Mossad supervisors were not overly impressed with his performance, and in 2007, to his great disappointment, they ordered Zygier back to a desk job in Israel.

(While Koutsoukis doesn’t identify the firm in Europe where Zygier took a cover job—apparently unbeknownst to the firm–he later reports that Zygier, upon returning to Australia in 2009 to pursue a masters degree, told fellow students that he had worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers management consulting firm in Geneva.)

Zygier, apparently in an attempt to impress his Mossad superiors and salvage his intelligence career, embarked in 2008 on an unauthorized, freelance mission to try to recruit an East European man known to be sympathetic to Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a double agent, Koutsoukis writes. But it all went terribly wrong, when the unidentified Eastern European/Balkan man asked Zygier to prove his bona fides by providing Mossad intelligence on Lebanon.

Two alleged Mossad assets in Lebanon were subsequently arrested in 2009 based on Zygier’s information, according to Koutsoukis:

Zygier, apparently frustrated by his demotion to a desk job, had decided to take matters into his own hands and find a way to rehabilitate his reputation within the organisation.

Under intense questioning from the Shin Bet, Zygier broke down and admitted that sometime in 2008, before he took his leave of absence and moved to Australia, he had flown to eastern Europe to meet with a man he knew to have close links with Hezbollah with the intention of turning that person into a double agent.

Instead, the man reported the recruitment attempt to Beirut, and himself began playing the same game as Zygier, except in reverse. Without Zygier’s knowledge, the man was reporting every detail of his contact with Zygier back to the Hezbollah leadership in Beirut. Israeli officials believe that even Nasrallah himself was being kept informed.

The contact between Zygier and his Hezbollah-affiliated contact went on for months.

When the man asked Zygier for proof that he was a real Mossad agent, Zygier readily complied and began supplying him with real intelligence from Tel Aviv, including the names of Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh, Mossad’s two top informants in Lebanon.

Israeli officials with access to the investigation say that when Zygier was arrested, he was also found carrying a compact disc with additional classified information from the Tsomet department, which they believe he was also preparing to hand over to the other side.

The full piece is published here, and a shorter summary “double agent disaster,” here.

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