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Betraying Mossad: Case of Prisoner X2

For the past year or so, Israeli media have featured a few tantalizing stories about a mysterious case of Prisoner X2.  You’ll recall that after I first exposed the suicide death of another Israeli prisoner, who I first called “Mr. X” and who eventually came to be called “Prisoner X,” his real identity was exposed as Ben Zygier.  When Avigdor Feldman, who presumably was his defense lawyer, exposed the existence of Prisoner X2, the ears of every Israel journalist (and yours truly) perked up.  Everyone would like to discover who Israel has kept under wraps for this long and why.

We know that he was convicted of treason, the gravest Israeli security offense, which compromised Israeli secrets and his Mossad comrades.  Since he worked for Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the betrayal likely involved selling secrets to a foreign power.  The list of who would be interested is potentially endless.  Russia or China (and any close allies) might be at the top of the list.  Even the U.S. is a possibility–though after Pollard, I’d imagine the CIA would be leery of recruiting Israeli spies.

We know X2 has been in prison for at least ten years.  We also know that his crime, arrest, conviction and imprisonment were all conducted in secret.  This means two things: like Zygier, Prisoner X2 embarrassed the Israeli national security state by showing that even those who hold the keys to the kingdom, the nation’s secrets, are human and fallible.  It means the Mossad, which appointed X2 to a position of trust, made a fatal error in not detecting his betrayal until grave damage had been done.  The security services never admit mistakes.  Thus aberrations like this one must be hushed up.  They of course would argue the case must be handled in secret to protect the security of the state.  But that’s false,  it must be done in secret to protect the professional reputation of the security services

Now, there is a new development in the case of Prisoner X2.  You’ll recall the important Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, which featured six former Shabak chiefs talking candidly (mostly) about the most sensitive and vulnerable issues of their tenures including torture, targeted killings and other grave moral breaches.  Among the interviewees was Avi Dichter, Shabak chief from 2000-2005.

In a new book, which is an expanded version of the film, Dichter has this tantalizing, candid comment (page 76, Hebrew edition) about a security disaster during his tenure:

I’m familiar, to my sorrow, with several very grave examples of traitors to the State of Israel over the years. These examples make our hair stand on end when we consider what happened.  Some of them are known, some not yet known.

A confidential Israeli source has confirmed definitively that Dichter is speaking of Prisoner X2.  My source also affirmed for the first time that this case is “no less grave than that of Marcus Klingberg.*”  This new information pinpoints the scandal to the term of Shabak director, Avi Dichter, since the spy has been in prison since 2003-2004.  That may explain why Dichter has been relatively forward in speaking, even elliptically, of the case.  It’s like reverse case of “Who lost China.”  In this case, the guy (Dichter) who caught the Mossad double agent looks awfully good in the public’s eyes.  Conversely, the Mossad chief who shepherded the traitor’s career is going to look mighty bad.  I don’t yet know who takes the blame.  Ephraim Halevy was the director till 2002, when Sharon replaced the cerebral pipe-spoking intellectual with the knife-in-the-teeth Dagan.  X2 went to prison around 2003.  So either he was caught in 2002 or 2003.  My guess is that Halevy is the likely fall-guy for this one.  But if it happened on Dagan’s watch, then it would be the third disaster of his tenure–the other two being Ben Zygier and the al-Mabouh assassination (we might also add the Mavi Marmara to this list).

* Marcus Klingberg was the deputy director of Israel’s Nes Ziona WMD research institute, who for nearly two decades was Russia’s chief spy within the Israeli establishment.  Klingberg exposed more Israeli secrets than any other spy in the nation’s history.  He was arrested, tried and imprisoned in secret and released after concluding his sentence.  Unlike, Mordechai Vanunu, Israel didn’t attempt to confine or restrict Klingberg.  So he’s written an autobiography with Michael Sfard.  It will be published soon in German, but unfortunately doesn’t yet have an English publisher.

Yossi Melman wrote about Klingberg:

There have been few spy cases like his in the modern era.  Klingberg’s success is one of the greatest in the history of Soviet intelligence and one of the greatest failures in the history of the Shabak.  There’s never been one like it.

This is the sort of story which whets the appetite of the journalist.  Careers are made on such things.  The only thing of which we can be sure is that Prisoner X2’s identity will become known.  When it does, it will cause grave embarrassment to Israel’s security services.  The shame will no doubt be ten or one hundred times worse than it was regarding Ben Zygier.  A large part of the tragedy and suffering of this breach will be directly attributed to the culture of secrecy under which Israel conducts its national security policy.

The cases of the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard all caused immense damage to America’s national security in their separate ways.  But these scandals were lanced like boils by the transparency (with the exception of the first case) with which they were handled at the time they were exposed.  As a result, the damage is behind us.  The reputations of the agencies whose secrets were betrayed have been repaired.  Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant.  Israel has never learned this lesson and likely will never.  As a result, its scandals will fester and become infected.  Secrecy in such cases is a breeding ground for suspicion, cynicism and dysfunction.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • yankel January 24, 2014, 9:39 AM

    As far as I know, the Rosenbergs’ attempt at spying caused very little, if any, damage to the US. To my humble knowledge, their contemporary portrayal as The Betrayers of The A-bomb Secrets to the Soviets was a successfully-orchestrated myth.

    • Robert Mullenb January 25, 2014, 9:14 AM

      What would be the U.S. motive to fake the Rosenbergs’ activities as traitorous? That they spied for the Soviet Union was no way an “attempt” at spying. That their spying was not a myth is simply not in question. That they were clumsy and stupid at how they went about their spying is not to excuse what they did. That they were executed for it is a separate philosophic issue concerning application of the death penalty: it does not excuse them from the penalty for spying and who they did if for. Besides permitting the Soviet Union to save years in their quest to develop a nuclear weapon, it accelerated their development of systems to deliver their weapon designs, and in retrospect accelerated the development of some of the worst aspects of the former cold war.

      • Richard Silverstein January 26, 2014, 3:09 AM

        @ Robert Mullenb: The information offered by the Rosenbergs wasn’t very helpful to the Soviets. Klaus Fuchs did far, far more damage. He escaped and fled to Russia and faced no penalty for his betrayal. The Rosenbergs were very small cogs in the Russian espionage apparatus. Giving them the death penalty was terribly unjust and a miscarriage of justice.

        • Robert Mullen January 26, 2014, 10:21 AM

          RS re: Rosenberg: “I consider your crime worse than murder. . .I believe your putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted before the Russians would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the communist aggression in Korea, with the resulting casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civil defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack”

          Remarks of sentencing Judge Irving R. Kaufman on 5 April 1951 (transcript, Rosenberg Case, pp. 1615-1616. In: Romerstein, Herbert and Eric Breindel. The Venona Secrets. Regnery, 2000, Washingto, D.C.)

          • Richard Silverstein January 26, 2014, 2:34 PM

            And you think the ridiculous unfounded words of the presiding judge will sway us because??? The Rosenbergs no more put an A bomb in the hands of the Russians than my aunt Sadie did. They sent a few crude drawings that showed hardly anything of value. As I wrote, it was Klaus Fuchs who not only had the personal expertise to understand the material he was stealing, but to convey it to the Russians in a way that they could use scientifically. The Rosenbergs had no such knowledge.

            Irving Kaufman was a Jewish anti-Communist Cold Warrior who was sold a pack of lies by the prosecution & swallowed them hook line & sinker. His role in the killing of the Rosenbergs is as shameful as that of the Justice Department & FBI.

      • yankel January 26, 2014, 6:15 AM

        @Robert Mullenb
        I wasn’t referring to the culpability of their actions but to the claim that they were the ones who betrayed the A-Bomb secrets to Stalin. A claim which, as far as I know, has long been proven false.

      • Robert Mullen January 26, 2014, 10:37 AM

        Fuchs, of course, was not a citizen of the Unites States, but of England.

        • Richard Silverstein January 26, 2014, 2:35 PM

          @ Robert Mullen: That, of course, is a complete non sequitur.

          • robert mullen January 27, 2014, 6:40 AM

            rs: He was arrested, tried and sentenced under english law: hardly a non sequiter except perhaps in the mind of one who cannot distinguish between apples and orangea.

          • Richard Silverstein January 27, 2014, 12:53 PM

            @robert mullen: Again, this is a total non sequitur. Whether or not he was tried & convicted is irrelevant to the case of the Rosenbergs. THis is your last comment in this thread. Move on to another.

  • Yonatan January 25, 2014, 8:46 AM

    Perhaps the US should offer to swap Pollard for X2?

    • Robert Mullenb January 25, 2014, 9:18 AM

      Pollard will be out of prison after he serves his 30 year sentence, which is in about 3 years.

  • TMC January 25, 2014, 10:35 AM

    Re: Pollard – most people I’ve spoken to in the American intelligence community think he was worse than the Rosenbergs and they wish they could render a different verdict upon him. It creates an even larger issue when anyone asks for his clemency from the pro-Israeli crowd, especially if they also claim to represent some sort of Jewish-American caucus. Who knows if this is inadvertant (they don’t know what Pollard really did) or another case of double standards for the self-chosen (they know, but think it’s justified), but “it’s not good for the Jews”. It gives the wrong impression entirely.

    In my opinion, Pollard got a good end for what he did. Re: Prisoner X – looks like someone is just using that entire story and your assumed veracity of “leaks” to hurt your credibility. I think your original story had legs, was true, and these ulterior stories are other hidden prisoners brought forth as “Prisoner X”.

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