Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/21/01-1739/

Former Mossad officer describes Zygier affair as ‘scandalous’

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former member of Israeli spy agency Mossad, who claims to have worked in the same covert-operations unit as Ben Zygier, has described the latter’s incarceration and subsequent death as “scandalous”. The Australian-born Zygier was a Mossad officer several years before he was placed in solitary confinement following his arrest in Israel, in February 2010. Known to the outside world only as ‘Prisoner X’, he allegedly killed himself in his cell a few months later. Earlier this month, when an Australian television program identified ‘Prisoner X’ as Zygier, the Australian government admitted it had been aware of its citizen’s incarceration and death, but chose not to extend to him diplomatic support. So far, the Mossad, Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, has remained silent on the matter. But a former Mossad operative, who uses the name Michael Ross, has weighed in with his opinion. Ross was born in Canada and converted to Judaism before joining the Mossad for 13 years, seven of which he claims to have spent in the same covert-operations unit as Zygier. Although he never met his Australian-born colleague, Ross wrote in The Daily Beast in the weekend that he and Zygier “were in the field at the same time, albeit in different units”. In his article, the former Mossad spy dismisses allegations that Zygier may have betrayed his employer, saying that he has seen no evidence that the Australian-born Jew was not dedicated to the mission of the Mossad. He argues that the circumstances surrounding Zygier’s incarceration in solitary confinement were “scandalous”, because the jailed spy presented “no danger to the public”. Instead, says the former spy, Zygier could have been dismissed from the spy service and placed under house arrest for as long as it would have been necessary for the accusations against him to be “dealt with internally”. Read more of this post

Did Aussies ‘burn’ Israel’s Prisoner X and was he also a British citizen?

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As intriguing questions continue to mount about the case of Israel’s so-called ‘Prisoner X’, the flow of verifiable information from official channels in Australia and Israel has slowed to a trickle. However, two important analyses appeared over the weekend, which could potentially place the incarceration and subsequent death of Ben Zygier under new light. One claims that the Australian-born Israeli was a low-level Mossad operative who did not commit any serious crime —let along high treason. The other suggests that Zygier might have held British citizenship, in addition to being a dual Australian and Israeli citizen, and that the British government might have been privy to the information regarding his arrest and subsequent incarceration in Israel’s Ayalon prison. In an article for Ynet, the online outlet for Israel’s high-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, veteran security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai posits that Zygier was simply a “support operative” for the Mossad, adding that he “did not commit treason”. Instead, says Ben-Yishai, Zygier was probably arrested by the Israelis because they suspected he might have given, or might consider giving, information about forged Australian passports to Canberra. The Mossad decided to detain him after he told them he had been contacted by Australian journalist Jason Koutskoukis in late 2009 and asked whether he was a Mossad operative. Koutsoukis was tipped-off by Australian counterintelligence, which suspected Zygier of supplying the Mossad with Australian passports in his possession. It was the stigma of being considered a traitor by his own people that drove Zygier —a passionate Zionist— to suicide, claims Ben-Yishai. Read more of this post

Interview: Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ linked to 2010 al-Mabhouh killing

Ben ZygierThis morning I spoke to SBS Radio Australia’s Greg Dyett about the mysterious case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born naturalized citizen of Israel, who is said to have killed himself in 2010 while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. As intelNews reported on Wednesday, Zygier, who is believed to have been recruited by Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad, had been imprisoned incommunicado for several months and was known only as ‘Prisoner X’, even to his prison guards. Is there any connection between Zygier’s incarceration and the January 2010 assassination of Palestinian arms merchant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai? And what could Zygier have done to prompt Israel to incarcerate him? You can listen to me discuss this mysterious case in an eight-minute interview here, or read the transcript, below.

Q: You say that, after conferring with your contacts in Israel, Europe and the United States, you believe that Ben Zygier had some sort of involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.

A: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a weapons procurer for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At this point, there is little doubt that the Mossad was behind this operation. Several members of the team that killed al-Mabhouh were using third-country passports —Irish, British, Australian, and others— to travel to and from Dubai. In the aftermath of the assassination, there were questions about how the Mossad operatives managed to get those passports; and, if you’ll remember, that led to the expulsion of several Israeli diplomats from around the world, including Australia. Read more of this post

Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ supplied Australian passports to the Mossad

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Concerns about the routine use of Australian passports by Israeli spies led to the exposure of Israel’s mystery ‘Prisoner X’, who killed himself in 2010 while in prison, it has been claimed. On Tuesday, ABC Australia reporter Trevor Bromann identified the mystery prisoner as Ben Zygier, an Australian father of two, who had been recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, after moving to Israel in 2000. Zygier, whose identity had been withheld even from his prison guards, was arrested in early 2010 and was held for several months in Ayalon, Israel’s most secure prison, located southeast of Tel Aviv. Ayalon’s Unit 15, where Zygier was held, consists of a single cell constructed in 1995 to house Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Remarkably, shortly after ABC Australia revealed Zygier’s identity, Israeli news outlets received telephone calls from the Office of Israel’s Prime Minister, requesting urgent meetings “in the interest of Israel’s national security”. Israeli media reported that senior news editors across Israel were told by the government “to exercise restraint” and refrain from exposing information that could have “very dramatic repercussions” for Israel’s security. Read more of this post

Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ identified as Australian Mossad agent

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In late 2010, an unnamed man known in Israel as ‘Prisoner X’ allegedly hanged himself while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. He committed suicide despite being under constant surveillance inside a facility originally built for the man who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. So secret was the identity of the mysterious prisoner that, it was claimed, not even his guards knew his identity. Some in Israel speculated at the time that it might have been an abducted Iranian general. On Tuesday, however, an investigative Australian television program identified the dead man as an Australian citizen who had allegedly been recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency. ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program identified ‘Prisoner X’ as Ben Zygier, an Australian father of two, who moved to Israel in 2000 at the age of 24. The program said Zygier, who in Israel went by the name Ben Alon, was arrested by Israeli authorities in 2010 for unknown reasons. There is intense speculation, however, that Zygier’s secretive incarceration might be connected with an extremely serious security case, possibly involving high treason against the state of Israel. Despite the allegation by ABC of Zygier’s Mossad connection, Israeli news outlets are subjected to an active court order authorizing Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service to prohibit any media discussion on the subject. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on Tuesday that, hours after ABC’s revelation of Zygier’s identity, Israeli news outlets received telephone calls from the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #759 (analysis edition)

Carter HamBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►What goes on in the mind of a spy? An interesting article on the psychology of espionage operatives and those who handle them. It includes several insightful observations, including this one: “Just as they face outward physical dangers, agents face many inner psychological adversities. These pressures in the psyche are as taxing as physical hardships. Furthermore, while physical hazards and hardships disappear once the active espionage is over, the psychological toll can linger”. IntelNews has covered psychological and psychiatric issues around espionage before.
►►Researchers propose using decoys to detect leaks. A group or researchers working for the US Pentagon’s research wing have come up with a new plan for busting leakers: spot them by how they search, and then entice the secret-spillers with decoy documents that will give them away. Computer scientists call it it “fog computing”, and it is seen as part of a broader assault on so-called “insider threats”, launched by the Pentagon in 2010, after the WikiLeaks imbroglio. In a related development, the US federal government announced recently that it spent over $11 billion to protect its secrets last year, double the cost of classification a decade ago. The total does not include the costs incurred by the US Intelligence Community, which remains classified.
►►US General says US military spies ‘across Africa’. America’s top commander in Africa, General Carter Ham, has revealed that the US military has conducted spy operations all over the continent as part of the fight against international adversaries from al Qaeda-allied terror groups that target the homeland to suspected war criminals like Joseph Kony. “Do we collect information across Africa? Yes, we do”, the commander of US Africa Command said in a leadership conference at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Ham noted that US troops do at times go on “short-term deployments of capabilities” in various African nations, but always with the permission of the host country.

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