Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Netanyahu Warns against 'Overexposure' Israeli Leader Cites National Security in 'Prisoner X' Case

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Netanyahu Warns against 'Overexposure' Israeli Leader Cites National Security in 'Prisoner X' Case

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM -- Wading into the furor surrounding the death in secret custody of an Australian-Israeli man reported to have been an Israeli spy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that "overexposure" of intelligence activities could seriously harm national security, and that Israel's security agencies should be allowed to get on "quietly" with their jobs.

Mr. Netanyahu made his first public remarks on the case after days of intense media coverage and calls for an investigation into the mysterious death of the man initially known as "Prisoner X" and later identified in media reports as Ben Zygier, 34, an immigrant from Australia who became an agent of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

Jailed secretly under a sweeping gag order imposed by an Israeli court, Zygier died Dec. 15, 2010, after nearly 10 months in solitary confinement in a maximum security cell. Israeli authorities have ruled the death a suicide.

The court order prevented publication of information about the case for more than two years until a report last week by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., which said Zygier had hanged himself, led Israeli authorities to acknowledge the prisoner's death after initially trying to prevent local media from publishing the story.

The authorities did not identify Zygier or provide information on what crimes he was accused of, why he was held in isolation and how he managed to kill himself in a cell that was supposed to be under round-the-clock surveillance.

Some members of Israel's parliament have called for an inquiry, and Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Sunday he was seeking "an explanation" from Israel for a report that his ministry is preparing about the case.

Mr. Netanyahu tried to parry accusations that Israel's security agencies, acting under a cloak of secrecy that critics say prevented public oversight, had gone too far in the name of national security. …

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