The illegal surveillance, information collection and monitoring activities of the Turkish intelligence services in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Central Asia have been revealed in documents marked “secret” obtained by Nordic Monitor.
According to the classified documents, Turkey has been running intelligence operations to spy on critics of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in more than a dozen countries around the world. The documents were prepared by a secretive government agency that was established in 2016 at the special directive of President Erdoğan and which operates under the umbrella of the Security General Directorate (Emniyet).
A review of the documents indicates that Turkish spies have been actively collecting intelligence in the following countries: the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Romania, Brazil, Angola, South Africa, Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The paper trail shows that the intelligence collected on critics in these countries was sent to the Department for Combatting Crimes against National Security (Ulusal Güvenliğe Yönelik Suçlarla Mücadele Şube Müdürlüğü), a special department that was set up on May 12, 2016 in the capital city of Ankara. Erdoğan personally asked for the establishment of the department and got it approved in a cabinet meeting chaired by then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in decision No. 2016/8591, adopted on March 14, 2016. The official government registry did not disclose the name of this new department; instead, it simply referred to it as one of four new departments that were set up within the Security General Directorate.
Secret document on people profiled by Turkish intelligence in foreign countries:espionage_globe_4
The documents list the names of people Turkish intelligence located, tracked and monitored. Turkish operatives appear to have been more active in the US, Germany and Greece as they have more names listed as being under surveillance than in other countries.
Turkish authorities were apparently worried about a leak of the documents, according to the wording in a cover letter that was found among the classified documents. In the letter, dated November 8, 2018, Kayhan Ay, the deputy provincial head of the police department in Ankara, warned his associates to treat the information with care. He stressed that the information must be shared on a “need to know basis” and “not be shared with any unauthorized people or agencies.” He also asked them to review protocols to ensure the security of the intelligence while taking action against people profiled in foreign territories. The Erdoğan government was apparently concerned about fallout in the event the documents were exposed and wanted to make sure no leak took place.
The people who are targeted by the long arm of the Erdoğan government overseas are believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement, an outspoken group that is highly critical of Erdoğan and his allies on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in governance to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical Islamist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The repercussions of having been listed in such documents could be devastating for people abroad. They are subject to arrest if they return home, denied consular services in Turkish embassies and consulates and have their assets in Turkey seized on fabricated charges of terrorism. In fact, the people who were named in the intelligence reports were further investigated by the Organized Crime Department (KOM), the documents show. Many of them were the subject of criminal prosecution on dubious charges.
The research report attached to the intelligence documents and signed by Resul Holoğlu, the head of KOM, maps out how Turkish authorities were bent on destroying the lives of people who were spied on in other countries. Each was identified with a brief explanatory note that shows the government kept tabs on them for activities that would be legal in any country governed by the rule of law.
Secret document warns that the information must be shared on a “need to know basis” and “not be shared with any unauthorized people or agencies.:
The notes compiled by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı in Turkish, or MIT) were attached to the files that were used to build sham cases against these critics. Although the intelligence was collected by undercover Turkish agents in many cases, there are instances in which Turkish diplomats were also involved in spying. For example, diplomats in the Turkish embassies in London, Denmark and Uzbekistan have engaged in illegal surveillance of Turks and sent their reports to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. The intelligence, collected in clear violation of the relevant Vienna conventions on the conduct of diplomats on foreign soil, was also incorporated into the case file. The file concerning Copenhagen revealed that a journalist who was critical of the Erdoğan government was flagged by diplomats.
Ibrahim Aytaç Anlı, a US resident and Turkish national, was monitored while living in Iraq before his move to the US. He currently serves as the executive chair of the Rumi Forum, a Washington, DC-based NGO that advocates interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Among those profiled was journalist Metin Yıkar, who was editor-in-chief of leading news channel Samanyolu Haber TV in Turkey. He fled Turkey to escape prison time on fabricated charges after the government shut down his TV network in 2016. The channel’s critical reporting of a corruption investigation into the government that incriminated President Erdoğan’s family members drew Erdoğan’s ire.
The rest of the names listed in the documents are as follows: İbrahim Hasgür in Kyrgyzstan, Zeki Yağmur in Brazil, Yaşar Beçene in Egypt, Ali Yalçındağ in South Africa, Taşkın Demir in Pakistan, Veysel Artukaslan in Uzbekistan, and Onur Ataş, Sebahattin Ergül, and four members of Kasap family (Bayram, Burcu, Şehriban and Abdullah) in Angola.
Secret summary report on the profiled people:espionage_globe3
The following people were targeted as part of the Turkish government’s relentless pursuit of government critics and opponents in the US: Ömer Kırcıoğlu, Erhan Çoban, Mehmet Kurt, Hüseyin Genç, Mustafa Yıldız, Ahmet Muharrem Atlığ, Hüseyin Hüsnü Hurmalı, Metin Yıkar, Serkan Mengüç, Muhammet Enes Yılmaz, and Mustafa Yetim. In Germany, Hüseyin Saruhan, Vedat Oğuz, Cemil Koca, Müşerref Özer, Murat Kale, Turan Ali Baştürk, Ali Can Öztürk, and Abdullah Yılmaz were in the crosshairs of Turkish agents. In Greece, Turkish intelligence located Zehra Türker, İbrahim Baştepe, Nazıf Yalılı, Halil Dinç, Nazım Kılıç, Mehmet Düzenli and Kubilay Türker.
Orhan Çaya and Kadir Demirlenk were listed as residing in the UK; Salih Yaylacı in Belgium; İbrahim Doğan in Italy; Mustafa Doğan in the Netherlands; Emine Sözen and Aytaç Sözen in Norway; Erkan Coşğun in Romania; and Süleyman Deşdemir in Canada.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges since 2014 as part of the Erdoğan government’s unprecedented crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders, civil society organization and others. More than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan to punish critics, opponents and dissidents. As of April 2020, there were 161 journalists in jail in Turkey, far more than any other figure for the rest of the world.