Identity theft may have been Israelis' goal - analyst

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 11:37 20/07/2011

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New Zealand passports are "extremely valuable" and it is most likely four Israelis in Christchurch at the time of the February 22 quake were on an identity-theft mission, a political risk consultant says.

Israeli national Ofer Mizrahi was killed in the quake and the three friends he was with fled the country 12 hours later. 

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed Mizrahi was carrying five passports but refused to go into further detail.

Paul Buchanan, who has worked at the Pentagon and trained intelligence officers in the United States, said it was suspicious that one of the Israelis was carrying multiple passports and that his friends left New Zealand so shortly after he was killed.

He believed the four Israelis were probably on a "trolling mission" searching for identities they could steal.

"Because of New Zealand's international reputation the passports are extremely valuable for intelligence services. New Zealand has this reputation for independence and autonomy... people trust New Zealand," he said.

"The passports would have been used for very covert activities - nothing light."

He said those activities could include assassinations.

Buchanan said it was unlikely they were Mossad agents because they were too young and Mossad agents would be involved in more high-level operations.

"However they may be recruits for the service and this might have been one of the tasks they needed to do, operating as sayanins, which is the Hebrew word for helper," he said.

"That is likely what these people were and the question then comes - why were they specifically in Christchurch?

"It could well be in the aftermath of the first September quake that the decision was made to go into the damaged city and see if they could access public records or identity banks that would allow them to use the name of a living New Zealander who does not travel, or a dead one that could be falsified and put on to passports."

The police national computer had been under scrutiny since a Security Intelligence Service officer described the suspicious activities of several groups of Israelis during, and immediately after, the earthquake.

Three Israelis, including Mizrahi, were among the 181 people who died in the earthquake.

Israel showed immediate interest in the quake, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling Key four times on the day.

An unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad was later confronted by armed New Zealand police and removed from the sealed-off "red zone" of the central city.

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Another Israeli group, a forensic analysis team sent by the Israeli government, was welcomed in Christchurch and worked on victim identification in the morgue.

When it was realised the forensic analysts could have accessed the national police computer database, an urgent security audit was ordered.

Two Israelis were arrested in 2004 for stealing the identity of an Aucklander with cerebral palsy to fraudulently obtain a passport.

Tony Resnick, a former paramedic with St John Ambulance, was also believed to have been involved. He spent some time working in Israel and was a "person of interest" to police. He resigned from his job and left the country without warning in March 2004.

Buchanan said Resnick had access to official records and it was likely that if the Israelis in Christchurch were trying to obtain New Zealand passports they would also have had a relationship with someone who had access to government records.

"It would have had to have been such a person known as a handler in Christchurch because the sayanins wouldn't have had the local knowledge," he said.

"They had to have had a handler and I have no doubt the SIS will be looking for that person who will more than likely be Jewish."

He said it would have only taken "minutes" for the handler to copy information on to an external hard drive.

- Stuff

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