The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not only whitewashed the facts of a criminal gang that obtained classified technical, tactical and procedural data for US-made F-16 fighter jets but also decided to drop a probe into officials who leaked the sensitive military data.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Air Force pilot Lt. Nuri Dereli leaked 954 pages of classified F-16 technical data to the espionage network in exchange for sleeping with prostitutes as payment for his services, courtesy of the gang. The document, found in an encrypted file called Pandora’s Box, was seized from a suspect in the case, and investigators managed to crack the code and reviewed the shocking secret data that was leaked to the gang.
The “Tur_AEM_F16.pdf” file was classified as “Secret Releasable to USA, TUR” and included a one-page Turkish cover page beni oku.doc (read me.doc) which explained that the 954-page F-16 .pdf file was classified as secret, included technical and process data for F-16s and warned that it must be handled with caution in order to not allow any leaks. The readme document also noted that a document of similar nature was leaked before, creating major problems with the Americans and that therefore it must be treated with extreme care.
The Pandora data, which details who leaked what classified information to women who were used in honey traps by the network, shows the F-16 classified document was listed under the name Asuman Ünlü, a doctor in the Air Force who was also a suspect in the case. Ünlü was placed under surveillance and his phone was wiretapped in 2008 with the authorization of the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court in ruling No. 2008/2990. The document was leaked to Narmina Gayret, a woman who served as an escort and was rewarded by the gang for acquiring the document.
In many cases government officials were leaking sensitive information and secret documents in exchange for sex from escorts, according to the indictment file. The gang was taking pictures and video recordings of their affairs in hotel rooms or designated safe houses as an insurance policy to ensure the continuation of the leaks. Looking at the evidence cited in the indictment, many cooperated willingly with the gang in exchange for sex, while others were coerced into supplying information under threat of blackmail or intimidation.
An investigation by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, launched in May 2010 under investigation case file No. 2010/640, was initially looking into a prostitution ring and sex trafficking involving foreign nationals. The authorities were tipped off about the network by an email sent to a police department in Izmir. When authorities looked into allegations in the email, they found much more than they had expected. It morphed into an espionage investigation when new evidence exposed that officials not just from the military but from all branches of government were involved in a honey-trap scheme, intimidation and bribes.
Hundreds of top secret and classified documents were seized from the suspects in sweeping detentions that were carried out in May 2012. Public prosecutor Zafer Kılınç indicted 357 suspects on January 6, 2013. When the case moved to the trial phase, they were released and acquitted with the intervention of the Erdoğan government.
Although suspect Dereli, who leaked the F-16 data, was arrested, indicted and faced up to 14 years in prison, Erdoğan made a deal with the gang and secured his release from pre-trial detention in January 2014. He and all the other suspects who had leaked top secret documents to the espionage ring were acquitted in June 2017 after Erdoğan had fully consolidated his grip on the judiciary with the purge of over 4,000 judges and prosecutors a year earlier.
Dereli was promoted in the Air Force and now works under the command of Gen. Oğuz Okuyucu, who was also a suspect in the espionage ring because of his leaks. Okuyucu, then a staff colonel, was arrested in 2012 and released in 2014 in the same scheme devised by the Erdoğan government and his neo-nationalist allies. He and his teams have been instrumental in gutting the Air Force with the purge of over 700 pilots, crippling the main defense line of the Turkish military. In August 2017 Okuyucu was rewarded for his services by the Supreme Military Council and promoted to general in contravention of established rules in the ranking system with the approval of Erdoğan.
The preliminary report prepared by Interior Ministry inspectors on May 29, 2015 under the direction of the Erdoğan government ruled that the case lacked merit despite overwhelming, incriminating evidence in the case file, from seized documents to hundreds of wiretaps that were obtained under warrant. Public prosecutor Kılınç, who exposed the massive leaks in the Turkish government, was arrested in April 2018 on fabricated charges and placed in pre-trial detention. The police investigators who had worked on the case file for years were also punished by dismissals, imprisonment or exile.
The leak also raises questions as to how the Turkish government will ensure the confidentiality of sensitive military data passed by the United States. Despite the track record of such leaks in Turkey, in a notification the US State Department sent to Bob Corker, the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on December 18, 2018 about the proposed sale of Patriot long range missile batteries to Turkey, Andrea Thompson, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, stated that “[a] determination has been made that Turkey can provide substantially the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology being released as the U.S. Government.” The protection of sophisticated US military technology is relevant to the F-35 deliveries to Turkey that are in question now against the background of Turkey’s insistence on moving to finalize the purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia, which US officials claim would compromise US and NATO security.