Key confirms Israeli spy investigation - claims nothing found
By Dylan Moran and Lloyd Burr
Prime Minister John Key has attempted to pour cold water on a Southland Times story this morning, which suggested an Israeli national killed in the February Christchurch Earthquake was a Mossad spy.
However, he has confirmed that an investigation into the four Israeli’s involved was carried out by police and the SIS.
There are claims an Israeli who died in the February earthquake in Christchurch was part of a team of spies in the city, and Israel may have hacked into the police national computer.
The man who died, 23-year-old Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi, was found to be carrying five passports.
Prime Minister John Key, who is currently in the USA, says the story is "not in the national interest".
When continually pushed by reporters to reveal why it was not in the national interest, Mr Key eventually said "because I deem it not to be".
Key refuses to comment
In the press conference, Mr Key repeatedly stated he would not comment on matters of national security, and said "I cannot confirm all of those details in the way you present them are correct," but would not elaborate on which details were incorrect.
"I don’t delve into those issues blow by blow; if I was to do that I’d have to go through quite a wide-ranging discussion with you and I’m not in the position to either want to or believe it’s in the national interest to go through those details," said Mr Key.
Massey University senior lecturer Jim Veitch, who heads the Centre for Defence and Security Studies says Mr Key's measured reaction is justified.
“That’s very interesting indeed, I guess he wants more briefing about the impact that connects us with the Israelis, we have to handle that pretty carefully so I presume that’s what it’s about," he says.
Mr Veitch also says Israel has a track record of passport problems.
"Whenever there’s a crisis of any kind, the Israelis are not far from it. We’ve had the passport problems with the Israelis before and there was more to that than met the eye. The Israelis are very active wherever there is a chance to pick up information and knowledge and that sort of thing.”
Israel's response to quake raised eyebrows
The claims were originally made in a report by the Southland Times newspaper.
The newspaper says four Israeli spies were in a van crushed by falling debris on an inner city Christchurch street. One of them, Mr Mizrahi, was killed instantly. The other three, Michal Fraidman, Liron Sade and Guy Jordan, scrambled to safety and left New Zealand within 12 hours of the quake.
Israel quickly sent an urban search and rescue team to the city, however as the team was not UN accredited New Zealand officials did not grant them permission to work in the CBD. They were later found disobeying these orders, and removed by armed officials. An Israeli forensic analysis team sent by the Israeli Government was welcomed into Christchurch and worked on identifying bodies in a temporary morgue.
A Facebook tribute page was set up for Mr Mizrahi after the quake, receiving 10 likes. The SIS has expressed an interest in investigating the page, as it is unusual for a tribute site to receive so little attention.
Israeli PM desperate to contact Key
The Southland Times also alleges there was an unprecedented response by Israel to the quake with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling Mr Key four times on the day of the quake.
Mr Key claims there was nothing untoward or suspicious in the calls.
"As part of those phone calls he raised a couple of issues, one was to pass his condolences on, to offer support to NZ, and secondly to offer support to try and locate or find the individuals in question because they weren’t immediately located straight away," he says.
Police say computer network safe
The Southland Times also claims the SIS has major concerns that in the aftermath of the quake Israeli spies loaded software into the police national computer system to uplift sensitive information.
Police acting chief information officer Murray Mitchell has released a statement saying he is confident in the security of the national network.
"We also have a number of anti intrusion measures designed to stop unauthorised or malicious programmes from entering or being active on our systems," he says.
"These systems are regularly being updated and reviewed, and we are confident that our data and network were not compromised during the Christchurch Earthquake response or subsequently."
Southland Times editor Fred Tulett broke the story and told RadioLIVE’s Marcus Lush New Zealand’s national security could have been compromised.
“Because of some incredibly dangerous malware that’s been inserted into United States defence computers that after three years they’re still trying to eradicate, I think the SIS decided that they at least needed to do the check to satisfy themselves that it hadn’t happened,” he says.
Israel spies previously caught in NZ
The Green Party is calling on the SIS and police to make their assessment of the Israeli group public, and reveal whether they are suspected Mossad agents.
"It would be inexcusable, after two Mossad agents were imprisoned for passport fraud in 2004 for Mossad agents to once again be present here with false documentation," says the party's police spokesman Keith Locke.
Israel's ambassador to Australia and New Zealand has told the paper he denies all the allegations.
In 2004, two Israeli Mossad agents were jailed in Auckland for six months for stealing the identity of New Zealand cerebral palsy babies for false passports.
Israel named its first foreign envoy in seven years to New Zealand in 2009, after New Zealand suspended diplomatic relations with the country in the fallout from the 2004 incident until it received a formal apology in 2005.
The Prime Minister is denying he is 'covering up' for Israel.
"I think we’ve taken a balanced view when it comes to Middle East issues," he says.
A third man who was sought in 2004 fled before being caught, and was later implicated in the 2010 slaying of a Hamas operative in Dubai.
That killing involved 32 people using false identities, including four fake Australian passports.
3 News / RadioLIVE