Israel's Mysterious ‘Prisoner X’ Revealed In Australian Program; Real Life ‘Man In The Iron Mask’

on February 12 2013 4:43 PM
Overcrowding in Britain's prisons have reached breaking point, according to the POA
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Israel reportedly had a prisoner so secret that he was never referred to by name and any media reports of “Prisoner X” were immediately suppressed. In an upcoming Australian program, the identity of Prisoner X is revealed as an Aussie citizen who was a Mossad agent.

Prisoner X was Ben Zygier, according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Prisoner X’s identity was a closely guarded secret and the mysterious prisoner’s existence was not revealed until 2010, when he was found hanged inside his prison cell. Zygier may have been an agent for Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, but the reason for his imprisonment, and the intense secrecy surrounding it, remain a mystery.

According to ABC, Israel went to dramatic lengths to keep the existence of Prisoner X a secret. The man was held within a special cell inside Ayalon Prison, located in Ramla, and was prevented from any contact from the outside world. Prisoner X was detained in 2010, several months before his death, and Israel never notified Australia, as it was obliged to under international law, that it had incarcerated one of its citizens, reports ABC. A court order prevents any media or public discussion about Prisoner X in Israel and human rights advocates were quickly rebuffed be officials claiming state security concerns.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article on ABC News’ coverage of Prisoner X but that story was deleted from its website, notes the BBC. In the “Foreign Correspondent” program, Zygier’s identity was revealed but little else, and Israel has yet to comment on ABC’s findings.  

Zygier, an Australian Jew, was recruited by Mossad, ABC News says. He was valuable as an English speaker with an “Anglo” name and Australian passport, easing entry into enemy territory. Warren Reed, a former intelligence operative for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, told “Foreign Correspondent” that Zygier, who also had an Australian passport with the name Ben Allen, would be a useful agent because Australia has a "clean" international reputation.  “There aren't many countries like that, so our nationality and anything connected with it can be very useful in intelligence work.”

Despite being in a high-security cell, Zygier, who had been living in Israel for a decade before his incarceration and had married and had children there, committed suicide and guards were unable to resuscitate him. His body was flown back to Australia. Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the case was unusual because Israel did not inform the Australian Embassy of Zygier’s incarceration, and his home country discovered his existence only after his death, notes ABC. Bill van Esveld of Human Rights Watch told ABC, “The obligation of one country to notify another when the other citizen has been arrested, detained, especially if they die - that is so basic. It is called customary law.”

The New York Times also notes the odd nature of the case and the great care the Israeli government has taken to censor any information surrounding Prisoner X as well as any news organization publishing reports about the ABC News program. As such, while Prisoner X may have been identified the story surrounding Zygier has yet to be told.

The full "Foreign Correspondent" program and transcript can be found here.