Turkish intelligence agency MIT secretly generated content for several rabidly anti-Semitic and anti-Western websites that were set up and financed by Serhat Albayrak, a 49-year-old organized crime suspect indicted in the past as an associate to a one-time al-Qaeda financier.
According to a cache of secret documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Albayrak, son of the late Islamist ideologue Sadık Albayrak, who was convicted and served prison time, funded and provided logistics for multiple hate-mongering websites that smeared critics and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with defamatory anti-Semitic, anti-Western content.
Most of the content published on the websites was discreetly provided by Nuh Yılmaz, 48, a hard-core Islamist who was put in a senior position at MIT in August 2013 by the Erdoğan government. Yılmaz had worked for a Turkish publication in the 1990s that was financed by Iran and promoted the Iranian mullah regime. The magazine was shut down by a court decision, and its managers were indicted and stood trial.
Samples from anti-Semitic website Medyagundem, which was jointly run by the Turkuvaz group and Turkish intelligence:Samples_anti_Semitic_content_MedyaGundem
MIT’s black propaganda websites were identified by investigators as medyagundem.com, medyasavar.com, haber10.com and karakutu.com. The most notorious among them was Medyagundem, which peddled conspiracy theories against Jews and promoted hatred toward them with hundreds of articles and associated critics of Erdoğan with Zionist, Western plots.
“The Jews established their system on the destruction and wiping out of everybody except them,” one article published on Medyagundem in July 2014 said. The unsigned article blamed Jews for all wars in the world, claiming that the more the world’s population decreases, the greater amount of oxygen Jews would get. “Wherever there is a war in the world, even if the Jew is not there, s/he will be involved with weapons and the war industry materiel.”
The articles posted on the site called for a boycott of known international brands such as Coca Cola because every cent spent on a Coke would turn into bullets and bombs used by what it called the “murderous and terrorist Israeli state.” It carried remarks by Erdoğan that often described Israel as a terrorist state that was following in Hitler’s footsteps.
It relentlessly attacked Fethullah Gülen, a US resident and self-exiled critic who opposes the Erdoğan government by smearing him over interfaith dialogue and outreach activities with Jews, Christians and other faith groups. Gülen’s meeting with Jewish leaders such as Abraham Foxman, the then-national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as well as Gülen’s meeting with the pope in 1988 were criticized. The Muslim cleric was described as an infidel and a friend of Zionists and the Vatican. The political opposition in Turkey also received its fair share of defamation attacks from the site as well.
The content generated for Medyagundem was published on other black sites as well and was amplified through trolls and bots on social media by a group under the control of Erdoğan’s people.
ALBAYRAK PUT IN POWERFUL POSITION IN THE MEDIA BY ERDOĞAN
Albayrak was a nobody until his younger brother Berat, 44, married the daughter of then-prime minister and current president Erdoğan in July 2004. All of a sudden, a red carpet was rolled out for him in business circles where people who wanted to curry favor with the government started engaging with him. He had worked in the private sector until Erdoğan decided to bring him in to manage the Sabah daily, ATV and other media outlets owned by Turkuvaz Media, the main propaganda machine of the Turkish regime, in 2007.
The media outlet was acquired with funding Erdoğan obtained from kickbacks that were taken from pro-government businesspeople in exchange for lucrative government contracts. Control of major media outlets Ipek and Zaman, which were unlawfully seized by the government in late 2015 and early 2016, respectively, was also handed to Albayrak, whose job it was to turn these media outlets into government mouthpieces, which happened almost immediately.
With the intensified pressure on the rest of the media, especially after the closure of nearly 200 media outlets in July 2016, Albayrak effectively took control of dozens of TV networks, print dailies, radio stations , news agencies and online outlets, including Hürriyet, Milliyet and CNN Türk. Today, Albayrak is known as the “high commissioner” in charge of the editorial line of the Turkish media on behalf of his boss Erdoğan.
INDICTED IN ORGANIZED CRIME NETWORK ALONG WITH AL-QAEDA FINANCIER
The long arm of the Turkish justice system caught up with Albayrak when he was involved in an organized crime network and listed as a suspect in an investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul in 2013. The case was handled by the financial police, who were looking into the illegal activities of Saudi national Yasin al-Qadi, at one time listed as an al-Qaeda financier by both the UN Security Council and the US Department of the Treasury.
The indictment listed Serhat Albayrak as a suspect immediately following the name of a one-time al-Qaeda financier:Serhat_Albayrak_Yasin_al_Qadi
Al-Qadi was secretly funneling money to Turkey to fund ventures established by Erdoğan’s family and illegally entering Turkey although he was under a travel and asset freeze by the UN al-Qaeda sanction committee. Albayrak and his younger brother as well as Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan were all under investigation.
The indictment, obtained by Nordic Monitor, listed al-Qadi as suspect number 53, followed by Serhat, suspect number 54. The case was hushed up by the Erdoğan government in 2014 before the prosecutor had a chance to take it to trial.
BLACK SITES PEDDLED ANTI-SEMITIC CONTENT, ATTACKED OPPONENTS
A review of the documents obtained by Nordic Monitor reveals how Turkish intelligence and Albayrak conspired to run anti-Semitic, anti-Western online sites listed as medyagundem.com, medyasavar.com, haber10.com and karakutu.com. Although Albayrak and Yılmaz tried to cover their tracks in this secret operation, investigators nevertheless managed to find evidence that unmasked the identity of the suspects and exposed their sinister plans.
The most venomous site was Medyagundem, which appears to have been idle since 2018 but is still accessible. On paper, the owner of the website was Tutkun Akbaş and included writers who were anonymous. The website’s links to Albayrak’s Turkuvaz group and the intelligence agency were exposed when public prosecutor Ömer Solmaz investigated Akbaş and the website after a series of criminal complaints were filed in June 2013 by Turkish journalists who were targets of a hate campaign and libel through defamatory articles published by the website.
Preliminary investigation report identified the key suspects running the black propaganda sites. The report, stamped secret, was used to support requests for wiretaps from a judge:Prelimenary_investigation_report_into_MIT_run_websites_watermarked
With funding from Albayrak’s Turkuvaz group and through content provided by MIT, the website tried to bring independent and critical journalists and newspapers into disrepute through lies, libel and insults, often phrased in vulgarities. For example, journalists like Ekrem Dumanlı, Bülent Keneş and Celil Sağır were called “Zionist,” “Israeli agents,” “CIA agents,” “local collaborators in an international conspiracy” and “servants of foreign powers.”
Under orders from the Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the cybercrime unit of the police department managed to track the IP addresses of the servers used by MIT to send anonymous editorial content to Medyagundem. It turned out that Yılmaz and his associates did not even bother to try to hide their footprint when sending anti-Semitic and anti-Western articles to the site.
Judge’s order that authorized police to intercept communications of suspects who were involved in running the black propaganda websites:Judge_warrant_rule_on_suspects_who_run_black_sites
Most of the IP addresses used to send content to Medyagundem employed Turkish servers, while others originated from Ukraine, Poland and Kazakhstan. When they examined the IP addresses from the Turkish servers, the cybercrime investigators found that the anonymous emails were sent from shopping malls such as Antares and Acity Outlet, located near the headquarters of the intelligence agency in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district. Free WiFi available at venues such as Starbucks in these malls were used to send the emails.
In other words, MIT agents did not bother to try to hide their tracks and instead used internet service available at malls close to MIT headquarters. In some cases, the free internet connection available at Karacan Akademi, a private firm that organizes supplemental courses for students in Ankara’s Kızılay neighborhood, and the Rollhouse Ankuva bowling alley in Bilkent were also used.
BLACK WEBSITES FUNDED BY TURKUVAZ GROUP, OWNED BY ERDOĞAN FAMILY
On the surface the websites appeared independent of each other, but close scrutiny revealed that they were all run by the same group of people. All these smear-campaign websites were discovered to be using the same tracking code (Google Analytics: UA-1088672) and the same commercial ID (Pub-5356585783519848), according to the investigation file.
Investigators named six suspects – Akbaş, Erdem Yavuz, Esat Burak Uzundere, Seyfettin Mut, Hikmet Gök and Mustafa Yüce, who were involved in running the websites, and obtained warrants from the Istanbul 26th Criminal Court of Peace on December 6, 2013 to monitor their phone and email communications. All were identified except Yavuz, whom they believed was a fake name fabricated by Turkish intelligence to send articles via the internet.
The IP addresses of emails sent by Turkish intelligence using the fake name of Erdem Yavuz were traced to locations near the headquarters of MIT in Ankara:MIT_IP_addresses
The investigation also revealed that one of the suspects, Yüce, was actually an employee of Albayrak at the Turkuvaz media group. Yüce managed the online edition of the Takvim daily, also part of Turkuvaz, on behalf of Albayrak. He was assigned by his boss to provide logistics for the websites.
The owner and registrant data for most of the websites were kept hidden from the public, but one was perhaps inadvertently left open for the public to see. Yüce’s name was listed as the registrant of karakutu.com. That was enough for the cybercrime unit to build a case against him and the other suspects because the emergency recovery email address and the phone number used during the registration of unlisted websites were the same as the one used by Yüce in registering Karakutu.
A detailed investigative report traced black propaganda sites to the Turkuvaz Media group, which is owned by the Turkish president’s family:Comprehensive_report_black_websites
Panicked over the exposé, the Erdoğan government rushed to replace the investigating prosecutor in 2015 and appointed a loyalist named Mehmet Aydın to take over the probe. Only one day later, Aydın returned a decision of non-prosecution for the file, which his predecessor had painstakingly prepared on the basis of months-long police research and 400 pages of evidence. The case never went to trial thanks to this abrupt closure of the file.
In the meantime Turkish intelligence followed the classic textbook rules that get invoked when an operation is exposed. It abandoned the websites, with all inaccessible today with the exception of Medyagundem, which has not been updated since 2018 although its content is still available.
Statement given to the police by suspect Tutkun Akbaş, owner of Medyagundem, on August 1, 2013:Tutkun_Akbas_police_statement
Perhaps they no longer need such websites since most Turkish media is under the control of Albayrak and his crony Yilmaz, who started aggressively peddling a similar anti-Semitic and anti-Western narrative on TV screens, the headlines of print dailies and in their online editions.
SUSPECTS WERE REWARDED FOR THEIR SERVICES
Yüce, who helped set up these websites, was rewarded for his services and became general director for digital publications at the Turkuvaz group in 2017, which means that the online editions of the Sabah daily and dozens of other publications in the group are under his direct control. Akbaş, who administered Medyagundem, was transferred to the Turkuvaz group in July 2017 and still works in the digital media department for Albayrak.
Serhat Albayrak’s email announcing the promotion of Mustafa Yüce, who provided logistical support for anti-Semitic websites in Turkey:Mustafa_Yuce_promotion_albayrak
Uzundere, who helped amplify anti-Semitic content on Twitter, became an advisor to Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank, who has his own troll and bot army on social media.
This Albayrak-led gang knows they can get away with such nefarious activities in defiance of Turkish law and constitutional articles that prohibit hate speech, discrimination and libel because no prosecutor would dare investigate them as long as Erdoğan remains in power. The rule of law is no longer applicable in Erdoğan’s Turkey, where thousands of judges and prosecutors including Solmaz, who investigated these black propaganda websites, were purged and/or jailed because they did not support Erdoğan’s vision for Turkey and took on crimes that extended to Erdoğan and his family members.