A civilian employee at the Turkish General Staff, indicted for leaking documents detailing Turkey’s secret military assistance to neighboring Georgia, was freed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Banu Yurdusev, a 45-year-old woman who was working as a civilian expert in the Directorate for Logistics at the General Staff, was discovered to be a mole leaking secret documents to a gang. The evidence collected in the investigation that was launched in 2010 in Izmir led the investigators to her as the source of the leak.
Several documents that were handed over to the gang by Yurdusev included military communications between Turkey and Georgia with respect to the former’s military assistance to the latter in April 2002. It included procurement contracts for various supplies that were shipped to the Military Academy in Georgia. Although the assistance comprised non-lethal goods, the General Staff Legal Department issued an opinion stating that they must remain secret when asked by the prosecutors about the confidentiality of the documents.
On June 13, 2012, when Yurdusev returned to her office from a lunch break, she found a team of investigators from the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Police Department, the Central Command, the General Staff Intelligence Directorate and the General Staff Legal Counsellor’s Office searching her office and taking images from a hard drive in her computer. Her notes and phone were taken away, and she was told by her supervisor, Staff Col. Ertuğrul Duğral, that she was under detention and the subject of a court-ordered search and seizure warrant.
Still-shots from a video recording the execution of a search warrant in Banu Yurdusev’s office at General Staff headquarters:Banu Yurdusev
Her home was also simultaneously searched under a judge’s order by a separate team of investigators who seized her notebook, CDs, DVDs, an external hard drive and a flash drive. The next day she was transported to Izmir, where the investigation into the gang had originally started. She was formally arrested during her arraignment and sent to the Şirinyer military prison pending trial.
The profile of Yurdusev that was discovered in an encrypted file named Pandora indicated that she had been quite busy in entrapment schemes, archiving the dirty laundry of officers who were targeted by the gang. The file was stored in a seized hard drive that was found during the execution of the search and seizure warrant in the summer house of the main suspect Bilgin Özkaynak, boss of the organized crime gang. The encryption was cracked by IT specialists who were authorized by the court, and the content of the file revealed the names of assets and operatives and a huge archive of secret government documents obtained through honey-trap schemes that used women as bait.
“Her father is from the Black Sea [region of Turkey] and an Albanian immigrant. Being a single woman, she does whatever she wants. She has developed a network of many Pashas [generals]. There are many video recordings in her archive. It would be good to reward her more often with money [for services rendered]. She says got bored with the requests made by commanders with whom she maintained relationships,” the background note on her states.
Evidence collected from the suspect’s home and office reveals Banu Yurdusev’s involvement in the organized crime syndicate :Yurdusev1
According to a General Staff report dated January 31, 2013 several documents obtained from her home were classified and their leak could harm the national security interests of Turkey if exposed. The documents included test questions for the examination that determines promotions in the officer corps. Candidates who are successful in the Komkarsu exam (Komutanlık ve Karargah Subaylığı) get promoted to elite staff officer position in the Turkish military. Another document concerned a human resources management study for the Land Forces Command, written by Capt. Nihat Aksüt. The rest of documents dealt with problems between Turkey and Greece, the Cyprus issue and migration.
In her defense statement on October 20, 2014, Yurdusev claimed the secret documents seized from her home belonged to her ex-boyfriend Tolga Sürüel, who was listed as a victim in the indictment. She said the 500GB Western Digital brand hard drive was not hers but was given to her by the boyfriend because their photos taken together during the time they had a relationship were stored on it. She argued in court that she never even opened the drive to look at the contents.
However, in testimony at a hearing held on October 12, 2015 at the Izmir 5th High Criminal Court, Sürüel did not corroborate Yurdusev’s statements. Instead he said he had no idea about the content of the drive. He recalled that he bought the drive as a gift for her when she complained that she had run out of space on her laptop and needed more storage for photographs.
Sürüel also denied Yurduev’s claims that the documents were part of his thesis completed in 2007 and that they were obtained from the digital library of the Land Forces Academy. None of the documents seized from the hard drive were cited in the thesis he wrote, according to Sürüel’s testimony. He said he had never used any classified material in the thesis and would certainly recall if he had come across any of the secret documents identified in the indictment as evidence against his ex-girlfriend.
Transcript of a hearing which includes Yurdusev’s claims that the hard drive seized from her home belonged to a former boyfriend:Yurdusev2
Yurdusev was indicted on multiple charges for leaking classified documents as well as her involvement in a gang that used sex to obtain classified information and engaged in invasion of privacy, extortion, blackmail, prostitution and organized crime activities. In total 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were indicted when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013.
The investigation was initiated after police in Izmir received a tip on August 10, 2010 that informed the authorities about a sex trafficking and human smuggling network that was involved in blackmail, prostitution, privacy violations and other criminal activities. The investigators had worked on the case for two years, obtained wiretaps from the courts and ran surveillance on suspects to decode 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.
However, the criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all the suspects, including Yurdusev, were let go. Many returned to their duties in the Turkish military, while most bureaucrats who were profiled as having sex and leaking information have continued to work for the government.
In the meantime, the prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered the espionage ring were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.