Wiretaps obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed the names of Turkish intelligence officers who had worked closely with a suspect indicted on charges of sex trafficking and organized crime.
Five agents of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) were exposed during the investigation into key suspects in an organized crime gang operating out of Turkey’s western province of Izmir. The gang was using honey traps with escort women as bait, including some foreign nationals, to obtain confidential documents from Turkish military officers and government employees as well as NATO ally officers who were deployed to Turkey.
The preliminary probe led Turkish investigators to a man named Coşkun Başbuğ, a retired colonel who was working as manager of the Marmaris Marina, owned by Bilgin Özkaynak, the leader of the gang and the key suspect in the investigation. In order to expose Başbuğ’s contacts, the police obtained wiretap warrants from the courts as well as authorization for physical surveillance. He was closely followed by a team of undercover police officers while meeting with other suspects including the MIT agents.
From the phone records and surveillance, investigators identified five MIT agents who were working with Başbuğ. Two agents — Gürcan Çapar and Mehmet Lütfi Belül – were assigned to the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır in Turkey’s Southeast. Two others — Ismail Hakkı Yurttakalan and Hasan Duru – were working at the headquarters of the spy agency in Ankara. The fifth one, Erol Yağcı, was employed at MIT’s regional directorate in Istanbul.
During the interrogation in the police station after his detention, Başbuğ admitted his ties to the MIT agents and acknowledged the content of the wiretaps when the transcripts of the phone conversations were read to him. The police surveillance photographed Başbuğ meeting with MIT agents at the airport, in a restaurant, in a parking lot and elsewhere.
On November 19, 2011 the police tailed Başbuğ and MIT officer Duru as the two went to Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul to meet an incoming passenger, a woman named Dilara Erol, in order to pick up a green passport from her. Green passports are issued to senior Turkish government employees to facilitate overseas travel. Many countries including the EU Schengen member states do not require visas for green passport holders.
The content of the conversations in the wiretaps depicts Başbuğ and the MIT agents as harboring extremist and racist views with respect to Kurds and as opposed to the botched initiatives launched by the government to settle Turkey’s Kurdish problem. They also voice anti-Western views in their conversations.
Wiretap transcript showing retired Col. Coşkun Başbuğ using foul language targeting then-Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz over conscientious objection:Coskun_Basbug_Ismet_Yilmaz
For example, in a wiretap recorded on November 15, 2011, Başbuğ, talking to Ersin Kaymakci, also indicted in the same organized crime case, swore and used profanities to lash out at then-Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, who announced the government was working on options for dealing with conscientious objectors. Yılmaz said their efforts were aimed at protecting the Turkish state from additional fines imposed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) due to Turkey’s policy of mandatory military service.
Yılmaz’s remarks were made at a Q and A session with reporters, joined by then-Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, after the two met with Council of Europe (CoE) representatives during which Turkish and CoE officials reviewed recent rulings from the ECtHR, which found Turkey to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
According to Article 72 of the Turkish Constitution, all male Turkish citizens must perform military service: “National service is the right and duty of every Turkish male. In addition, Article 45 of the Military Penal Code explicitly states, “Individuals may not evade military service, and penalties may not be revoked, for religious or moral reasons.” Such legal mandates make conscientious objection a crime in Turkey.
“Did you hear that son of a bitch a while ago? That fucking son of a bitch with an almond mustache. The fucking guy says they look at Europe [for conscientious objection] and are going to assess the matter accordingly. Let Europe screw his mother,” Başbuğ said. He claimed at the police station that he was drunk and could not remember the details of the conversation when presented with a transcript of the call.
When Başbuğ was about to lose his job at the marina, MIT agent Çapar suggested a job at Hyundai, saying said he knew the manager and could easily fix it up for him, according to a recorded conversation between the two on December 10, 2011.
In a wiretap dated January 25, 2012, Başbuğ talks about how he wants to invest in a government-subsidized program and submit the deed of his house as collateral for cheap credit. MIT agent Duru, a womanizer, advises him to offer booze and a prostitute to the government expert who would assess the value of the collateral so that he can get a higher price for the house than the market value. Concerned that the phones were wiretapped, Başbuğ warns Duru that the content of their conversation may be revealed one day, putting them in a difficult spot. The two also talked about a scheme for insurance fraud.
In the wiretap Coşkun Başbuğ and MIT agent Hasan Duru talk about fraud and an insurance scheme by bribing a government expert with drinks and prostitutes:Ciskun_Basbug_MIT_fraud
MIT agent Çapar called Başbuğ on October 12, 2011 to ask a favor for his nephew, who had been detained for drunk driving in Izmir. Başbuğ said he would take care of it and immediately called Capt. Serhan Varol, commanding officer of the gendarmerie unit that detained the suspect, urging him to make the charges go away. But Serhan said the man not only drove under the influence but also refused to submit to a breathalyzer on the scene and got into a quarrel with the officers. The local prosecutor ordered the man’s detention and sent him to the hospital for a blood test, Serhan said, adding that the matter was in the hands of the judiciary. The suspect was also slapped with an additional charge of resisting arrest.
The wiretap that shows a MIT agent asking for a favor to make DUI charges against his nephew go away:Coskun_Basbug_DUI_case
In other wiretaps Başbuğ was seen receiving calls from people who asked that their sons be given a better deployment while performing their compulsory military service. The investigators intercepted two such conversations, one on May 12, 2011 and the the other on December 12, 2011. In the interrogation, Başbuğ claimed he did not act on such requests for favors.
Two wiretaps that show Başbuğ receiving requests to make arrangements in the Turkish military:Basbug_favors
The discovery of MIT’s involvement in the organized crime syndicate was made after the police in Izmir received a tip on August 10, 2010 that informed the authorities about a sex trafficking and human smuggling network which was involved in blackmail, prostitution, privacy violations and further criminal activities. Police briefed the prosecutor’s office on the tip and submitted preliminary research on the people named in it. The prosecutor ordered the organized crime unit on October 26, 2010 to investigate the claims and suspects named in the whistleblower’s account.
The report, dated December 3, 2010, shows the police investigated the claims made in the tip and identified nine people, including Russian and Belarusian women, who were involved in the gang. The report indicated that the gang forced women to engage in sex and seized the passports of foreign women who were lured to Turkey and forced to work in honey trap schemes. The gang was recording the sexual encounters to blackmail government officials.
The investigators had worked on the case for two years, obtained wiretaps from the courts and ran surveillance on suspects to uncover the network. It turned out the gang was much more than a sex trafficking network and resembled more of an espionage group collecting top secret information from various government and military officials through honey traps, sexual favors or blackmail. Among the thousands of pages of secret documents were classified NATO and FBI documents that were shared with the Turkish government as a member of the alliance.
The first wave of arrests was launched on May 9-10, 2012 at the order of prosecutors, and more criminal evidence was gathered from the homes and offices of suspects during the execution of search and seizure warrants. The police detained 28 people in the first wave including nine active duty military officers. According to the internal memo submitted to the Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (KOM) in Ankara on May 11, 2012, a copy of which was obtained by Nordic Monitor, investigators drew up profiles of the detained suspects and the content of the seized materials from the suspects.
The assessment made by investigators indicated that at least two MIT officers, Yurttakalan and Duru, were involved in the scheme and had to be incorporated into the investigation file, indicted and tried.
21-page transcript of wiretap records for suspect Coşkun Başbuğ shows him interacting with Turkish intelligence agency MIT officers:Coskun_Basbug_wiretaps
However, while investigators were mapping out MIT’s role in the illicit sex trade and human smuggling network, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rushed an intelligence bill amendment through parliament on February 17, 2012, providing more immunity for MIT officials from the criminal probes. It required that prosecutors obtain permission from the government to pursue investigations into MIT officials.
The reason for the government action was to cover up MIT’s trail in aiding and abetting jihadist groups in Syria as well as to save agents who were caught in armed and bomb attacks that took place in Istanbul but were blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Istanbul prosecutors had to issue a summons to MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan to respond to the allegations, but Erdoğan intervened and made changes to the intelligence bill in parliament using the majority he controlled.
As a result, the Izmir prosecutor decided to not press charges against MIT, thinking that the Erdoğan government would not allow their prosecution. In the indictment, 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were named when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013. The indictment also mentions 831 victims and 196 co-plaintiffs.
According to the indictment, the gang hired foreign women as prostitutes to send to military officers from whom the gang eventually obtained classified military information. The gang’s main objective was to make money through the sale of confidential military documents to third parties, according to the indictment. The gang, which included civilian suspects, infiltrated the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and had many members from inside the military, who facilitated its activities in establishing contact with high-ranking officers and obtaining confidential documents from them.
The indictment revealed how NATO and US security was compromised. For example, NATO documents seized from suspect Narin Korkmaz during the execution of a search warrant identified Alparslan Yücel Soysal, also a suspect in the case, as revealing in detail the assets and capabilities of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EAD) units operating in every NATO member state. The note next to his name clearly singles out Russia, China and Iran as potential clients for these documents.
A suspect named Bülent Karaaslan, a bomb expert, supplied secret US and NATO directives in bomb-making and bomb-diffusion techniques to the spy ring. Suspect Aydın Şit, an air force officer, handed over FBI bomb-making analyses to the gang that explained, among other things, how to make improvised bombs manually and where in the car these bombs should be planted. Suspect Ersin Kapucu, an air force pilot, was identified as an important source for electronic warfare data and information on how it is used in the Turkish Air Force (THK) and NATO. He supplied 22 Power Point presentation files dated 2009. A note in his file says he was soon expected to supply passcodes, which the gang believed would be very beneficial.
The gang obtained from a mark named İsmail Demir a hard copy of top secret details on AIM-120 missiles used in Turkish F-16 fighter jets. The note advises that he be rewarded for supplying this sensitive information. Another mark named Andaç Keskin, an officer at the field corps school of engineering in İzmir, was identified as an important asset in hooking up with NATO officers. The note about him says he knows many NATO officers and coordinates logistics for them. It says Keskin operated out of the Aktur Hotel in İzmir, where many NATO officers stayed, in a room fitted with surveillance equipment.
Suspect Nuri Dereli, a flight lieutenant, supplied the gang with a very sensitive file titled “Tur_AEM_F16.pdf,” which is 954 pages long in English and classified as “Secret Releasable to USA, TUR.” It details technical, tactical and procedural data for F-16s. The note attached to this file says it should not be obtained by anybody else. It even warned that when a file of a similar nature was previously leaked, it created problems between Turkey and the US. “I repeat it should not be leaked in order not to experience similar problems with the US,” the note added.
Similarly, suspect Okay Yalçın, an air force officer, leaked sensitive information on US-made Hawk medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, including a 24-page secret document titled “60G-2-2-70 Hawk Passive Engagement System.pdf.” Another set of documents seized from suspect Saygın Özdemir details performance reports of pilots assigned to the 151st squadron and their evaluations on war preparedness. A document titled “F-1” reveals frequencies and positions pilots use with ground control at the 5th Air Base and was described as vital information that cannot be allowed to be leaked to the enemy in wartime. Another document explains how the ammunition loaded on F-16s should be used and under what conditions. It says this document cannot be transferred to any country other than Turkey and the US. A document leaked by Gökhan Gülbalar explains the nuts and bolts of a signal intelligence system named Milsis-23u, used within the General Staff’s Electronic Systems Command (GES), the military’s most comprehensive and top secret communications interception unit.
The criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all suspects were let go. Many returned to their duties in the Turkish military, advancing in the ranks despite their controversial records.
Prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered this massive espionage ring were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.