Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), met secretly with Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, in Tehran in 2014, a diplomat who served in the Iranian capital and had knowledge of the meeting told Nordic Monitor.
The meeting was held in a parking garage away from prying eyes and hidden from Turkish Embassy intelligence and security personnel. It was on the sidelines of then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Iran, where he met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Fidan’s meeting with Soleimani was not on the official itinerary for Erdoğan’s visit, which took place January 28-29, 2014.
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the assessment of the secret meeting at the time was that Fidan was an Iranian asset and was meeting with Soleimani to brief him on Turkish government policy.
Fidan was investigated in Turkey as part of a criminal probe of the Quds Force launched in 2010, when the police counterterrorism unit that monitors Quds Force operations and investigates its terror attacks in Turkey identified IRGC assets who were connected to Fidan.
A top-secret official document obtained by Nordic Monitor reveals how Fidan had been sleeping with the enemy and sharing classified intelligence with Quds Force generals for some time. The police intelligence unit, authorized by a court on June 13, 2013 to wiretap senior operatives of the Quds Force, intercepted a communication of IRGC Quds Force Gen. Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vakili, who was heard talking about how he obtained the minutes of a confidential meeting of the Turkish Cabinet from none other than Fidan himself.
Trained to evade detection and surveillance, Mir Vakili was usually careful in phone conversations not to reveal what he was up to and took measures to ensure he was not followed when meeting with assets in public places. But the Turkish investigators managed to plant a wiretap in the car driven by his right-hand man, Hakkı Selçuk Şanlı, a Turkish national and convicted felon who helped set up the Quds Force network in the 1990s under the orders of then-IRGC general Nasir Takipur. Şanlı was arrested on May 13, 2000 and was sentenced to 12 years, six months in prison for involvement in terrorist plots targeting Turkish and US interests. But he was freed in 2004 when then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government passed an amnesty bill in parliament reducing sentences for some convicts.
The wiretap from Şanlı’s car, in which he was driving Mir Vakili, who was seated on the passenger side, exposed how the IRGC worked secretly with Fidan in gathering intelligence on Turkey. The conversation took place on June 18, 2013, five days after a judge granted the authorization. Mir Vakili told Şanlı that he had talked to Fidan (code-named Emin) and that he learned about a scandal that took place during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Erdoğan in the wake of the Gezi anti-government protests. Erdoğan was insisting on crushing the nationwide protests with brute force, while then-Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and several others in the Cabinet advocated the view of compromising with the lead organizations that launched the protests over a controversial construction project in İstanbul’s historic Taksim Square.
In fact, Arınç, the acting prime minister while Erdoğan was away on a trip to North Africa, had already initiated such meetings with NGO leaders, sending signals that the government was willing to take a step back and listen to the concerns of local residents. The Cabinet meeting took place on June 10, 2013 after Erdoğan returned from the trip and lasted six-and-a-half hours, during which a heated discussion took place between Erdoğan and Arınç. Apparently irked by an angry Erdoğan’s insults, Arınç fired back, tendered his resignation and walked out of the meeting.
In the wiretap transcripts that showed the conversation of Mir Vakili with his right-hand man in the car between 18:39 and 19:43 on June 18, 2013, the IRGC operative says he talked to Fidan and learned about the incident from the Turkish intelligence chief. “Aga has gone crazy,” Mir Vakili said, referring to Erdoğan. Şanlı asked who he had talked to about this, and Mir Vakili responded by saying, “With Emin,” Fidan’s code name. When asked to elaborate on the incident, Mir Vakili said Erdoğan was angry at the meeting and claimed he was in a war. He scolded Arınç for saying the government should act calmly, prompting Arınç to fire back and stomp out of the meeting in anger. Mir Vakili also noted that Erdoğan was angry with Iran. He said everybody was against Erdoğan’s harsh position on the protests and that the prime minister was making things worse and instead should be quiet and let the Interior Ministry handle them.
Fidan’s divulging of secret information, as the prosecutor described it, from the Turkish Cabinet is a clear violation of Turkish laws on espionage and state secrets, and this was well documented with the duly authorized wiretap evidence. This was not the only evidence, of course, against Fidan as investigators found out about many meetings that took place between Mir Vakili and Turkish spy chief Fidan in several places including a café owned by another Iranian operative in Ankara’s Çukurambar district that was patronized by the new Islamist elite in Ankara. A room set up on the top floor of the café was specially designed by MİT as a shield against intercepts and eavesdropping. The evidence shows that on at least two occasions Fidan brokered meetings between Mir Vakili and Erdoğan and then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara, assigned a protective detail to the IRGC general’s family and friends when he came for a shopping spree in Ankara and even provided a government plane to fly Mir Vakili back to Tehran.
Fidan was nurtured in Shiite studies in the Turkish capital while he was a low-key noncommissioned officer in his youth and was tapped by the Quds Force network. Erdoğan brought him into the government first as the head of development agency TIKA and then as deputy undersecretary of the Prime Ministry. He was named head of the intelligence service in 2010.
The Quds Force investigation was launched after a whistleblower came forward on August 8, 2010. Kamile Yazıcıoğlu, a 54-year-old woman who had fled from her abusive husband, informed Bursa’s counterterrorism unit that her husband, Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, has been working for Iranian intelligence and provided documents to back up her claims. She later repeated her testimony to the İstanbul counterterrorism unit in depositions taken in March and April 2011. The allegations triggered a secret three-year investigation into Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu and his accomplices and contacts, including both Turkish officials and Iranian intelligence agents. Prosecutors in İstanbul launched an investigation on April 8, 2011, under case file 2011/762.
It turned out that Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu had been secretly communicating with Fidan. He already had a criminal record for his involvement in staging an anti-Zionist, pro-Shariah protest called Jerusalem Night in Ankara’s Sincan district in late January 1997, attended by the Iranian ambassador, who delivered a fiery speech. Yazıcıoğlu was the director of the Sincan Municipality’s education and culture department and organized an event that was used by the military as one of the reasons to oust the government in 1997. The military sent tanks rolling through Sincan to issue a stern warning to the government.
Yazıcıoğlu was convicted of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and served more than three years in an Ankara prison. After his release, he moved to İstanbul, where he kept a low profile until 2008, when he was reactivated by Iranian intelligence, according to his wife’s testimony. Yazıcıoğlu had maintained close contact with the prime suspects in the murder of journalist Ugur Mumcu and academic Muammer Aksoy.
The most significant allegation raised by the whistleblower is that Iranian informant Yazıcıoğlu had remained in contact with Fidan and that they met several times. Both Yazıcıoğlu’s son and Fidan’s son were attending Bilkent University in Ankara, and their children were used as another channel of communication between the two.
Yazıcıoğlu’s wife claimed he had connections within MİT, the police and the government. He kept several passports at home as well as reports he wrote for Iranian intelligence. His wife claimed her son told her how he and his father surveyed the Çekmece Nuclear Research and Training Center (ÇNAEM) in İstanbul from a vehicle and indicated landmarks around the facility on a map, to which explanatory notes were attached. She also said her husband possessed satellite photos of the Israeli and American consulates in Istanbul, with detailed markings on back alleys and side streets noted on the images. It appears that Yazıcıoğlu had scouted the areas and later delivered reports to third parties.
The documents provided by his wife included top secret military maps of the southeastern provinces of Adana and Gaziantep and confidential information on public officials, including Cabinet members as well as senior members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). One document details how Yazıcıoğlu enlisted young men in a terrorist organization and focused recruitment efforts on those with anti-Israel and anti-US views. The handwritten notes seized by the police contain directions to drop points and secret meetings with Iranian intelligence agents. Police video captured his meeting with Naser Ghafari, the top representative of the Quds Force in Turkey, who worked undercover as a political attaché in the Iranian Consulate General in İstanbul. Police said Ghafari had contacts in Turkey other than Yazıcıoğlu.