It’s not surprising that the story of “Prisoner X” has captured the attention of the world’s media. Here are a couple of thoughts on what we’ve seen so far.
1. You can’t put a lid on it:
One thing is crystal clear, however. The Israeli government’s attempts to squash the story have backfired and have drawn more attention to itself. The gag order meant to muzzle the Israeli press has been shown to be a blunt and ineffective instrument. For some people, their morning delivery of the English edition of Haaretz came packaged with the International Herald Tribune. While Haaretz was subject to publishing restrictions, the IHT had no such problem with printing the “Prisoner X” story.
In an age of global communications, it is virtually impossible to keep a lid on the information leaking out somewhere and Israeli media are quite adept at reporting what the foreign media are reporting in order to circumvent the limited censorship that exists when it comes to issues pertaining to national security.
2. Less is more:
Intrigue, spies, the Mossad – all the ingredients of a Bond-esq caper. And to top it all off, the chance to speculate or weave conspiracy theories surrounding Israeli behavior. Indeed, in this case, less really is more. The story seems to have grown legs precisely due to the lack of information and the mystery involved.
Add to this the fact that most of the story is based on on a single Australian news report that relies on unnamed sources and the “expert analysis” of a former Australian intelligence operative who is also reliant on speculative guesswork.
3. Journalistic responsibility?
When Julian Assange published classified material on his Wikileaks site, his crusade for “transparency” showed little regard for the people whose identities were exposed, including intelligence operatives and informants. Most likely, some of these people may have even lost their lives as a result of this internet exposure.
In 2009, Australian Fairfax journalist Jason Koutsoukis investigated Ben Zygier – a.k.a. “Prisoner X” – and was told that three Australians with joint Israeli citizenship were allegedly working for the Mossad and said to be selling electronics to Iran through a company based in Europe. When Fairfax published its story in 2010, it did not expose the “Mossad front company.”
Koutsoukis has not revealed why this was. Could it be that he saw the bigger picture and decided not to expose an Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear program? If this is the case (and once again, we can only speculate) then Koutsoukis may have been putting his responsibility for the greater good above that of publishing the full story.
Likewise, Israeli journalists, up until the point where the gag order was partially lifted, went along with the Israeli authorities’ instructions not to publish. Not because of any sympathy with censorship or curtailing freedom of speech but from a profound sense of patriotism and the recognition that sometimes the security of the state and a citizen’s responsibility to uphold it trumps the freedom to publish.
Perhaps this case has drawn the ire of some Israeli politicians and the press as it is, thankfully, so unusual for such a dramatic gag order to be made in a country with a free and vibrant press.We may never know the full story behind the “Prisoner X” affair but you can bet that the media, both Israeli and foreign, won’t stop trying to find out everything.
Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting.com, flickr/Lauren Michell, flickr.