Spying ain't beanbag

The tragedy of espionage

The history of spying is in many ways a history of broken allegiances, of long-distance betrayals that lead to murder, of fractured families, of fakers, of individuals caught up in unbelievably difficult circumstances with no way out. Many spying successes are based on discovering traitors elsewhere. Rarely does a significant secret get stolen without someone, eventually, dying because of it, or from it. Argos are few and far between. If you find a story like that, buy the rights to it, and sell it, and Hollywood will turn it into a movie.

The story of "Prisoner X" ought to be placed in this context. It's fascinating and horrible. A young Australian named Ben Zygier became a spy for Israeli's Mossad. The Australian intelligence service found out and doubled him, getting him to report on what the Mossad was trying to get from Australia. Then the Mossad found out that their officer had been doubled. They arrested him and imprisoned him. He allegedly committed suicide in a secret Israeli jail. Formal censorship in Israel and informal censorship in Australia kept the story from coming out before now.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.