UPDATE: It seems that the Russian connection mentioned by two separate sources in this post was either deliberate misinformation; or that it is peripheral to the real reason Eiges was arrested. Please keep in mind that when you are reporting on military-intelligence stories under military censorship there are those who want to mislead and sow confusion. You do your best to disseminate the best and most accurate information you know. Most of the time you succeed. I apologize for this.
חשד: גורמים רוסיים מעורבים בפרשת תומר אייגס, קצין אמ”ן שמצא את מותו בכלא הצבאי
IDF Capt. Tomer Eiges, who died in a military prison last month, had been accused by Israeli counter-intelligence authorities of leaking top-secret information to Russian hackers in exchange for money. An Israeli well-connected with military-intelligence sources offered this information. A separate Israeli security source adds a new and troubling dimension, saying authorities fear, at this point, that Eiges was in fact killed by the very same Russian gang with which he had trafficked in Israeli cyber-secrets. The source said:
“The main suspicion – for now – is that the Russians or their local proxies, in order to silence Eiges forever, managed somehow to poison him inside the military prison”.
The key words above are “for now.” In other words, it seems Israeli authorities themselves don’t know definitively how he died…yet. They are theorizing what they believe to be the most likely scenario. I want to emphasize that the rest of this post does not offer a single unified theory of what happened to Tomer Eiges. It can’t simply because the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus is working overtime to suppress and obscure the truth. For that reason, I offer theories based on sources and circumstantial evidence. But I also offer rebuttals to these theories in order to try to ascertain which theory withstands scrutiny best.
One of the troubling elements of the above explanation of the victim’s death is that it wraps things up in a neat little bow and absolves both Eiges and the IDF of his death. Instead, it blames an obscure Russian gang which somehow infiltrated the prison and dosed the poor lad’s dinner with poison.
But even if the security source’s theory is correct and Russians killed him, it doesn’t absolve the prison authorities of responsibility. After all, how did they get poison into the prison? How did they get it into his food?
It’s most unfortunate that Eiges was buried within days of his death. This could hinder a full, comprehensive pathology examination of tissue, blood and organs to determine the cause of death.
An argument against the Russia theory: why would Russian hackers want to kill him? I could understand if he possessed some secret they wished suppressed and were afraid he would reveal to his interrogators. But it was Eiges who allegedly was passing secrets to them. Not the other way around. On the other hand, Eiges might know a considerable amount about the hackers and their methods of operation. Naturally, Israeli counter-intelligence would want to know how Russians were penetrating Israel’s tightest-held cyber-secrets. That could be a motivation for the Russians to eliminate him.
Here are a few thoughts on how a Russia connection might have happened. Eiges’ family originated in Belarus, a country heavily influenced by its neighbor, Russia. On his LinkedIn account, Tomer says he is fluent in Russian.
Russian hackers would be intensely interested in Israel’s most advanced Cyber-intelligence methods. Approaching a naive young man like Tomer, who possessed brilliant technical skills would make perfect sense. He could provide them what interested them most, something of tremendous value intrinsically; and also of great monetary value on the Dark Web.
In September 2020, when he was arrested, he was two months shy of leaving the army. This left only that short period in which to harvest whatever secrets he may have had access to. After exiting, he would no longer be of much value to the Russians. So a burst of suspicious activity on his computer accounts might have drawn the attention of those tasked with maintaining AMAN cyber-security.
Of course, there are alternative theories as well. In planning to leave the army, cyber-intelligence personnel would be thinking of marketing themselves to prospective employers. Their most marketable skills are the latest projects they’ve been working on. So it would make sense for Eiges to be accessing and documenting these projects in order to make use of them post-army. In the Israeli legal code, “espionage” can range from the traditional definition of passing secrets to a foreign power, to simply taking top secret materials off site. Eiges may have inadvertently done something like this.
An argument against this theory (and in favor of the Russian hacking report) is the severe 10-year sentence that military prosecutor offered him. It is extremely rare for Israeli Jews to receive such a harsh sentence for the sort of unintentional criminal act described above. For example, Mordechai Vanunu, deeply reviled by the security apparatus for revealing Israel’s nuclear weapons program at Dimona, received an 18-year sentence.
On the other hand, if Eiges was simply preparing to enter the civilian work force as a cyber-security specialist, he would have expected a handsome payday, earning the in the range of a low to middle-six-figure annual salary. In that case, why would he need to take money from Russian hackers?
The Israeli investigative site, HaMakom, published a revealing account of Tomer’s arrest and the months leading up to his death. It reports that he was arrested last September while riding home to his Tel Aviv apartment on a motor scooter from his base. Men in a dark van pulled up next to him and hustled him inside. He was not heard from for an entire week during which he was relentlessly interrogated by either Shin Bet or IDF counter-intelligence officers.
They did not wish to bring him to trial because even in such secret proceedings (as all such Israeli trials are) they would be forced to reveal the secret intelligence methods he compromised. So the prosecution suggested mediation and reduced the charges against him from 36 to 18. They offered a plea deal of 10 years in prison. When he died he had been indicted, but he was still awaiting trial.
HaMakom also reports on Tomer’s death. That evening, he ate with other prisoners in a common dining hall. Normally, he ate alone in his cell. But that night was the first one in which he was permitted to join other prisoners eating communally. Later that night, he was found unconscious in his bed and foaming at the mouth. Guards were called and he was transported to a hospital in nearby Netanya. He was pronounced dead there.
The autopsy revealed that he did not hang himself, had no needle marks in his arms, had not had a heart attack, and had no obvious physical cause of death. Toxicology blood panels were sent to a lab but have not yet been returned. This would rule out the possibility he committed suicide, which is the cause of death an IDF source suggested early in reporting on this case.
In an earlier post, I reported that a source told me that he had been prescribed an anti-depressant and was experiencing depression. Though other sources told HaMakom that he had not seen any medical or psychiatric personnel since his admission to the prison.
Also, one of Tomer’s sisters gave birth to her first child the day of his death. Being from a close-knit family, it seems unlikely he would intentionally impose such grief on a family prepared to celebrate the birth of its first grandchild. Another sister is in the eighth month of her pregnancy.
Finally, to give you a sense of the paranoia imposed on Israelis by its military censorship regime, an activist named Avshalom Elitzur posted a message on the mourners web page for Tomer. He quoted from the Book of Job, in which the hero cries out in protest at the suffering God inflicted on him: “Earth! Do not cover up my blood.” His message was deleted by the website.