Turkey’s spy agency (Milli Istihabarat Teşkilatı, or MIT) has collected intelligence on critics and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Canada, a NATO ally, secret documents have revealed.
According to the secret intelligence report, sent to the prosecutor’s office in Ankara with a cover letter from the agency and bearing the signature of the MIT legal counsellor on behalf of the intelligence chief, about two dozen people, Canadian nationals and residents, were spied on. The MIT document, which confirms for the first time the spy agency’s activities targeting critics in North America, was submitted on January 16, 2020 to Birol Tufan, the public prosecutor in the counterterrorism unit of the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
“The information collected [about people targeted in Canada] as a result of the intelligence is presented in the annex,” the letter, signed on behalf of agency head Hakan Fidan by Ümit Ulvi Canik, the legal counsellor, stated. The attached 10-page report, also classified as secret, provided detailed information on 15 people as well as the spouses of some. All of them were accused of being involved with the Gülen movement, a group that is highly critical of Erdoğan for a variety of reasons, from pervasive corruption in the government to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria.
Secret document from Turkish intelligence agency MIT that confirms spying activities in Canada:Canada_MIT_espionage
The report listed what appears to be the legitimate activities of Canadian nationals and residents as if they amounted to terrorist activity, which is not surprising given the fact that Turkey’s rulers often abuse the criminal justice system, especially counterterrorism laws, to prosecute and imprison critical journalists, human rights defenders, dissidents and others en masse. The report shows that Turkish intelligence also profiled the spouses, parents, siblings and in-laws of people who were put under surveillance on Canadian soil.
The intelligence report was shared with the prosecutor’s office after Tufan wrote a letter to the intelligence agency on December 13, 2019, asking the agency to forward the intelligence collected on 15 Canadian nationals and residents, almost all of Turkish origin. It is not clear how the prosecutor’s office managed to get these names in the first place as there is no paper trail to explain it. However, as in other spying activities abroad targeting the Gülen group, the list most likely originated in the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa when diplomats were asked by the Turkish Foreign Ministry to profile Erdoğan critics.
It is not surprising to see multiple lists with similar names since the Turkish intelligence agents who were deployed in Canadian territory either under the disguise of diplomats or as independent operatives who blend in with the diaspora file their reports directly with the headquarters in Ankara, not through the Foreign Ministry, which has its own intelligence department under the name of the Security and Research Directorate. The public prosecutor’s letter reveals similar people were spied on and profiled by multiple agencies of the Turkish government.
All 15 names listed in the prosecutor’s document were listed as suspects in a terrorism investigation, and case file No. 2018/224693 was assigned, meaning that the investigation into them was launched in the year 2018 and is still ongoing. The MIT intelligence gathered on these people was incorporated as criminal evidence against them although no violent or terrorist activity is included in any document.
The 10-page MIT report has a warning printed on both the top and bottom of each page, cautioning that the intelligence must be used without identifying the source. It also highlighted that intelligence notes cannot be used as legal evidence in a court of law, a stipulation of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMUK). But in practice such notes have often been used in prosecutions in recent years since the government started to intensify its crackdown on critics and opponents in a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system. Under the CMUK, at least on paper, any evidence presented to the court must be obtained legally and authorized and reviewed by a court, and prosecutors must use only law enforcement agencies such as the police, not intelligence units, when they investigate.
The secret 10-page report details the information collected by the Turkish spy agency. (Redactions done by Nordic Monitor.):Canada_MIT_report1_Redacted
The police, the main law enforcement agency in Turkey, was also involved in the investigation of these 15 people and their relatives. On February 14, 2019, prosecutor Tufan wrote to counterterrorism unit of the Ankara Police Department asking the police to investigate the 15 people listed in the letter. He even provided 10 criteria for them to look at such as membership in Gülen-linked unions, NGOs and foundations, subscriptions to critical media outlets, participation in protests, the posting of messages on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, their foreign travels and use of the ByLock encrypted messaging application.
The prosecutor also noted that if needed, search and seizure and arrest warrants could be secured through his office and asked the police to take the suspects’ statements and refer them to his office for further interrogation. Although no indictment was filed at this stage, arrest warrants were most likely issued for the listed individuals in absentia. The Turkish government would eventually seek the extradition of these people and file Interpol notices for them.
The investigation of Canadian nationals and residents on false terrorism charges will have far-reaching repercussions. They risk arrest if they travel to Turkey as well as the loss of their assets located there. They may also get stuck in a third country when they travel if the Turkish government manages to get them on the Interpol database. The most notorious example of Turkey’s abuse of the Lost and Stolen Documents/Passports database in the Interpol system took place when NBA star player Enes Kanter, a Turk, was stranded in Romania on such a notice until the US government intervened and freed him before he was deported to Turkey.
Those who also have Turkish nationality would be denied consular services such as passport renewal, notary, power of attorney and birth registry offered by the Turkish consulates and embassy in Canada. Since they were already flagged by Turkish intelligence and other government agencies, further surveillance and tracking of their movements is quite possible.
Turkish prosecutor’s letter to MIT:Prosecutor_letter_MIT1
Erdoğan, incriminated in a major corruption scandal in 2013 that exposed secret kickbacks in money laundering schemes involving Iranian sanctions buster Reza Zarrab, blamed the Gülen movement for the graft investigations into his family members and business and political associates. He branded the group as a terrorist entity although no violent action has ever been associated with it, and launched a major crackdown on the group, jailing and/or purging tens of thousands of government employees, unlawfully seizing their assets, shutting down schools, universities, NGOs, media outlets, hospitals and others that were owned or operated by people associated with the movement.
The Erdoğan government accused 79-year-old Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, leader of the eponymous movement, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999, of attempting to overthrow the government in 2016. Gülen has repeatedly and strongly denied the accusations, and the Erdoğan government has failed to present any evidence linking Gülen to the abortive putsch. The US Department of Justice said the evidence presented by Turkey to secure his extradition would not stand up to US court scrutiny.
Canada has been a destination for critics, especially Gülenists, who had to flee the Turkish government crackdown on rights and freedoms.
Turkish prosecutor’s letter asking the police to investigate Canadian nationals and residents:Canada_prosecutor_letter_Police1
According to the MIT report, Turkish intelligence surveilled the following persons in Canada: E.K.K., a member of the Turkish-Canadian Chamber of Commerce (TCCC); F.K.K., a teacher at the non-profit Turkish Community Center in Ottawa, his wife S.K., his father M.Z.K., his mother M.K. and his mother-in-law S.D.; Ö.P., a member of the Canadian-Turkish Friendship Community (CTFC) and TCCC; A.A., an administrator at the Northern Lights Educational Services; Ö.B., a teacher at the Nile Academy and his wife. E.B., a manager at the Intercultural Dialogue Center; S.U., a member of the Dicle Islamic Society; E.S., who was involved with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, the CanadaTurk news outlet and the Circle blog, and his wife, S.S., who is also affiliated with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute; B.B., a member of the Manitoba Fellowship Organization (MFO) and the Edmonton Nebula Foundation; M.F.Y., who was affiliated with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute-Greater Toronto Area (IDI-GTA) and the Anatolian Heritage Federation(AHF), his wife, A.Y., who also works for IDI-GTA; his brother M.K. and his father I.B.Y.; M.B., coordinator at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute; H.Y., a writer and editor with CanadaTurk and the Canatolian news outlets; A.A., the former manager of the Beam Education Community Center (BECC); his wife, E.A. also involved with BECC; E.B.Ş. of the Canadian-Turkish lslamic Foundation, her father M.Ş., her mother İ.Ş. and her sister Z.Ş.; and İ.K., a member of the TCCC and CTFC.