Turkey in turmoil as 70 are arrested for spying on PM, spy chief

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkey’s political system appeared to be sinking deeper into crisis on Tuesday, as nearly 70 police officers, some of them senior, were arrested for illegally wiretapping the telephones of senior government figures, including the Prime Minster and the intelligence chief. At least 67 members of the country’s police force were arrested in raids that took place on Tuesday all over Turkey, while warrants have reportedly been issued for over 100 people. Many of the arrestees were seen being taken away in handcuffs by security personnel, including two former heads of Istanbul police’s counterterrorism unit. Hadi Salihoglu, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, said in a written statement issued on Tuesday that the suspects were part of a criminal conspiracy that had wiretapped phones belonging to Turkeys’ Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Hakan Fidan, director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. Thousands of other phone lines had also been wiretapped, he added, belonging to journalists and government administrators, including judges and military officials. Salihoglu said the conspirators had concocted a fake police investigation of a made-up terrorist organization called Tevhid-Selam (Al-Quds Army, in English), in order to justify the wiretapping of the officials’ phone lines. However, critics of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government noted that one of the police officers arrested on Tuesday is the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of the Erdoğan cabinet. The investigation led to the exposure of corrupt practices by several cabinet members and their families, and resulted in several ministerial resignations. A few months ago, a wiretapped conversation emerged in the media, in which Mr. Erdoğan can allegedly be heard discussing with his son how to hide large sums of money. Some observers have expressed the view that the leaked telephone conversation between the two men emerged from the Tevhid-Selam investigation, which may be why Mr. Erdoğan has now decided to shut it down and arrest those behind it. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #828

Abdullah ÖcalanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Chinese researcher charged with stealing US drug. Chinese cancer researcher Huajun Zhao, 42, who has been working in the United States since 2006, has been charged with stealing data and an experimental compound from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The federal complaint accuses Zhao of stealing the compound, C-25, which could potentially assist in killing cancer cells without damaging normal cells. An FBI investigation turned up evidence that Zhao hoped to claim credit in China for discovering C-25. He had already claimed on a research website that he had discovered an unnamed compound he hoped to take to China.
Turkish intelligence to ‘oversee PKK retreat’. Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, MİT, will oversee the withdrawal of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, according to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç. Last month, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the armed Kurdish group that has battled Turkey for 30 years, proclaimed an immediate ceasefire in PKK’s conflict with the Turkish state, which has claimed about 35,000 lives. Speaking on Turkey’s state-run broadcaster, TRT, Arınç said no legislation would be introduced to facilitate the withdrawal, but “certainly MİT will oversee it; security forces will take part in it, too”, he added.
Analysis: Controversial Bush programs continue under Obama. During the George W. Bush years, two of the most controversial elements of what was then called the Global War on Terrorism were the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and the creation of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay and the RDI program are both back in the news now, each for their own unsavory reasons. The Pentagon is requesting nearly $200 million for Guantanamo Bay infrastructure upgrades, including $49 million for a new unit for ‘special’ prisoners. Meanwhile, participation in the CIA’s controversial RDI program has resulted —for at least one person— not in prosecution or professional sanctions, but rather in a promotion.

Turkey refused to extradite bin Laden’s son-in-law to US

Ghaith (left) with bin Laden and al-ZawahiriBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Turkish authorities have reportedly rejected a formal extradition request by the United States for a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who was arrested in Ankara on Friday following a tip-off by the Central Intelligence Agency. Suleiman Abu Ghaith was born in Kuwait but had his citizenship revoked after publicly opposing the rule of the Kuwaiti monarchy and demanding the institution of shari’a law in the oil emirate. In 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda. He eventually married Fatima bin Laden, one of bin Laden’s numerous daughters, who is currently living in Saudi Arabia. He gradually rose within the ranks of the organization, eventually becoming one of its public spokesmen. Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, Ghaith is believed to have escaped from Afghanistan by entering Iran on foot. He was eventually captured by Iranian government forces and placed in a detention camp along with other suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members. It is not known how he managed to leave Iran and enter Turkey (though some say he was released the by Iranian authorities), or how the CIA knew of his presence there. However, according to Turkey’s leading daily Milliyet, the Agency contacted members of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (known as MİT) and told them that Ghaith had entered the country on a forged passport. He was arrested soon afterwards at a hotel in Ankara’s affluent Çankaya district. The hotel where Ghaith was captured is reportedly located near the official residence of the Turkish President and a stone’s throw from numerous foreign embassies —including the embassy of the US, which was attacked by a suicide bomber on February 1. Read more of this post

Who wiretapped Turkish Prime Minister’s office, home?

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During a televised interview on December 21, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed that four unauthorized wiretapping devices had been detected in his parliamentary office and government car. A subsequent report from the Office of the Prime Minister on December 25 said that one more device had been found in Mr. Erdoğan’s home-office at this residence in Turkish capital Ankara. Who is behind the operation? In his December 21 interview, the Prime Minister told a nationwide audience that the bugs had been planted by “elements of a deeper state” within Turkey. “A deeper state exists in nearly every country”, he said, adding: “we try a lot but unfortunately it is impossible to [completely] eradicate the deeper state”. The term ‘deep’ or ‘deeper state’, which is used frequently in Turkey, is meant to signify a covert collaboration of convenience between organized crime and members of the country’s intelligence services.

One example of the Turkish ‘deep state’ that comes to mind is Ergenekon, a clandestine ultra-nationalist organization with secularist and anti-Western objectives. Its membership, which is reportedly drawn primarily from Turkey’s military and security establishments, is involved in both criminal and political activities aiming to preserve the political power of Turkey’s armed forces, while subverting the rise of Islamism and keeping Turkey out of the European Union. The existence of this mysterious organization was revealed in 2001 by Tuncay Güney, an operative of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), who was arrested for petty fraud. In 2009, an investigation into Ergenekon uncovered a clandestine network of safe houses in Ankara, as well as in the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, for the sole purpose of wiretapping the communications of targeted individuals and organizations. The safe houses were reportedly equipped with wiretapping systems purchased in Israel, some of which were portable and were thus moved to various cities and towns in Turkey, in accordance with Ergenekon’s mission directives. But are Ergenekon’s tentacles powerful enough to reach into the Turkish Prime Minister’s residence? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #694

Hakan FidanBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►India’s spy satellite to be launched in April. The Radar Imaging Satellite, or RISAT-1, is a wholly Indian-built spy-surveillance satellite that can see through clouds and fog and has very high-resolution imaging. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said that RISAT-1 is slated for launch in April. The satellite would be used for disaster prediction and agriculture forestry, and the high-resolution pictures and microwave imaging “could also be used for defense purposes”.
►►GCHQ staff could risk prosecution for war crimes. British law firm Leigh Day & Co. and the legal action charity Reprieve are launching the action against Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague, accusing him of passing on intelligence to assist US covert drone attacks in Pakistan. Human rights lawyers have said that civilian staff at GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, could also be at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes.
►►Turf war between Turkey’s top spy and police commander? A news report appeared yesterday, which claimed that there was a rift between Turkish intelligence agency MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and National Police Chief Mehmet Kılıçlar, over intelligence sharing in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the two agencies issued a rare joint statement calling media reports “unsubstantiated”.

News you may have missed #685

Aleksandr Z. AnkvabBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►Abkhazia President survives assassination attempt. Unidentified assassins tried on Wednesday to kill Aleksandr Z. Ankvab, the president of Abkhazia, a Russian-backed rebel enclave of Georgia. The assailants used automatic rifles, grenade launchers and a powerful roadside bomb in an attack that raised fresh questions about Moscow’s ability to preserve order there.
►►Groups object to CIA declassification charges. Open government advocates are protesting a recently adopted CIA policy that allows the agency to charge up to $72 an hour to review requests to declassify secret records. The effect “will be to price the public out of submitting” requests for “mandatory declassification review,” the American Library Association, Sunlight Foundation and more than 30 other organizations said in a letter Thursday to CIA Director David Petraeus.
►►Analysis: Fallout from Syrian colonel’s abduction in Turkey. The smokescreen surrounding the abduction of Syrian Col. Hussein Harmush, who defected to Turkey in June 2011 before being handed over to the Syrian secret service in September 2011, has begun to clear in recent weeks following a judicial probe. Claims that Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), was involved in handing Harmush over to Syria were finally confirmed on February 2 when the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a written statement saying one MİT agent had been arrested for questioning and further MİT officials had been called to testify as “suspects” in the scandalous repatriation case.

News you may have missed #683

Lech WalesaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Walesa scorns new claims he was communist informant. Poland’s former President and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has brushed off new claims that crucial documents concerning his alleged collaboration with Poland’s communist secret services may be stored in the Polish parliament’s archives. “I know that if there are any papers on me that are unknown, they are only toilet paper”, he said in an interview with Polish television network TVN. Rumors and accusations that Walesa, an anti-communist union leader was in fact a secret communist informant have been circulating for years in Poland.
►►Israeli embassy in Singapore dismisses Barak assassination plot. The Israeli embassy in Singapore confirmed Friday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had visited the city-state, but dismissed reports of an assassination plot targeting him. Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida wrote recently that Barak had been targeted for assassination by three members of a Hezbollah militant cell during his trip to Singapore from February 12-15.
►►Moves to question Turkish spy chiefs quashed. State prosecutors have abandoned an attempt to question Turkey’s spy chiefs over past secret contacts with Kurdish militants, after government moves to curb their investigation of the intelligence agency (MİT). State media said on Monday that prosecutors lifted an order summoning MİT head Hakan Fidan. Nice to be reminded who is really in charge in 21st-century ‘democratic’ Turkey.

Turkey denies reports of intelligence officers arrested in Syria

Turkish-Syrian borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Turkish government has denied reports in the Israeli media that dozens of Turkish intelligence officers have been arrested and are under interrogation in neighboring Syria. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported over the weekend that at least 40 Turkish intelligence officers had been captured by the Syrian military and were being questioned. The paper also claimed that Syrian military interrogators had extracted “confessions” from the captured Turkish officers, according to which they were operating on instructions to “carry out bombings” in Syria, and other operations aimed to “undermine the country’s security”. Citing Syrian sources, Ha’aretz also said that the Turkish intelligence officers “admitted” having been trained by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and that the Mossad also trains members of the opposition Free Syrian Army. The Israeli daily also said that Ankara and Damascus have been involved in “intensive negotiations” over the fate of the 40 Turkish intelligence officers. According to Ha’aretz, Syria has offered to release the Turks, providing Ankara extradites scores of Syrian defectors —most of them from the military— who have been given political asylum in Turkey during the past few months. Damascus reportedly also insists that Turkey takes immediate steps to prevent the smuggling of weapons and military supplies to the Free Syrian Army through its territory. But in a brief press statement on Monday, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that the report in Ha’aretz was “incorrect”. Turkish newspaper Zaman also quoted anonymous Turkish intelligence sources who flatly refuted the reports from Israel. Read more of this post

Turkish intel officer arrested for abducting Syrian defector

Hüseyin Mustafa HarmuşBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
There seems to be no end in sight to the troubles of Turkey’s spy service. According to reports from Ankara, an employee of the country’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) has been arrested for orchestrating the abduction of a leading Syrian military defector, who had sought refuge in Turkey. According to authorities in Ankara, the MİT employee, who has been identified only by his initials, Ö.S., had been under surveillance for nearly half a year, along with four of his collaborators. Last week, Turkish police arrested Ö.S. in connection with the abduction of Colonel Hüseyin Mustafa Harmuş, one of the most senior Syrian military officials to have defected to the opposition, and the founder of the Free Syrian Army. Harmuş, who defected from the Syrian military in June of 2011, had crossed the border into Turkey and was living in a camp set up and supervised by the Turkish government in Hatay, a province in south-central Turkey. Following his defection, Harmuş became one of the most vocal and media-savvy members of the Syrian opposition, frequently directing strong public criticism of the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government responded by declaring Harmuş a traitor and offering a $100,000 reward for his capture. Then, all of a sudden, Harmuş disappeared without a trace on August 29. After a detailed investigation, Turkish authorities found that Ö.S. had assembled a team of four people who collaborated to kidnap Harmuş, deliver him to the Syrian government, and pocket the hefty reward. By utilizing his access to Turkish government communications, Ö.S. forged a letter authorizing him permission to escort Harmuş to another camp in Turkey’s Anatolia region. Upon gaining custody of the Syrian defector, Ö.S. delivered him to two of his collaborators, who in turn handed him over to the Syrian authorities. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #678

Hakan FidanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia ‘exposed 199 spies’ last year. Outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russian counterintelligence had exposed 199 spies working for foreign powers last year. He was speaking at a meeting of the Federal Security Service. He also urged the FSB to “take extra measures to protect Russian interests” and reinforce the country’s borders in the Arctic.
►►Germany expels four Syrian diplomats. As tensions mount between Western nations and Syria, the German authorities said Thursday that they had ordered the expulsion of four Syrian diplomats after arresting two men accused separately of spying on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. The four diplomats —three men and a woman who were not identified by name— have been given three days to leave Germany.
►►Turkey summons spy chief over talks with Kurds. Prosecutors have summoned Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT), as well as his predecessor, Emre Taner, for questioning, over reports of secret peace talks in Norway between Turkish intelligence agents and Kurdish militant leaders. Predictably, MİT has appealed the move.

News you may have missed #664

Hakan FidanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iran nuclear defector’s family spared deportation from Canada. Family members of a top defector who worked for Iran’s nuclear energy program have been temporarily spared deportation from Canada, after claiming they will be tortured by Iran’s secret police. The defector, his daughter and mother, have not been identified in media reports. The names of their lawyers were not made public either.
►►Turkish spy services to be “among world’s largest”. Turkey commemorates the 85th anniversary of its National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. The agency’s undersecretary, Hakan Fidan (pictured), told Turkish media that within the next two to three years, they aim to become one of the largest intelligence services in the world, and that they are “synthesizing the CIA-FBI model”.
►►Analysis: New rules for CIA drones in Pakistan. The current pause in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan (55 days and counting) is now the longest during Barack Obama’s presidency. The break in drone strikes was enforced by Islamabad after NATO killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. The break coincided with a major policy reappraisal by Washington, and it has given Islamabad room to refocus on its own strategic needs. In the coming weeks CIA drone attacks are expected to resume in Pakistan. But according to leaks and hints, there are likely to be far fewer strikes, and far fewer casualties.

News you may have missed #612 (analysis edition)

Cevat Ones

Cevat Ones

►►What is a senior CIA clandestine officer doing at NYPD? Three months ago, one of the CIA’s most experienced clandestine operatives started work inside the New York Police Department. His title is special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. On that much, everyone agrees. Exactly what he’s doing there, however, is much less clear.
►►Iranian plot shows even super spies have bad days. The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States may have revealed the biggest secret of all –intelligence agencies mess up and do not always live up to the James Bond ideal.
►►Former spy makes plea for peace in Turkey. Cevat Ones, former deputy chief of MİT, Turkey’s leading spy agency, speaks candidly to Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper about the state of Turkey’s internal security and foreign policy.

Turkish spy agency in secret Oslo talks with Kurdish PKK

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PKK banner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which culminated in the early 1990s, has flared up again, ever since the creation of the US-protected Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Currently, the Turkish military is technically at war with the PKK, a leftist secessionist movement that aspires to create a Kurdish homeland comprising mostly of territories in Turkey’s Anatolia region. But a leaked audio recording posted on the Internet last week shows that senior Turkish intelligence officials have been participating in secret talks with the leadership of the PKK, since at least 2010. Several Kurdish news agencies published the recording of one such secret meeting, involving the leadership of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The recording features a frank discussion between, on the one side, the head of MİT, Hakan Fidan, and its deputy director, Afet Güneş; the two are heard deliberating with Sabit Ok, Zübeyr Aydar and Mustafa Karasu, all of whom are senior PKK officials and wanted dead or alive by the Turkish state. A voice of an apparent mediator —marked by a distinct Scandinavian accent— can be heard speaking at the beginning. The mediator mentions that the meeting is the fifth installment of a series of encounters called “The Oslo Talks”. According to Turkish daily Hürriyet, the mediator appears to be a government official from Norway, which probably hosted the secret meeting(s) somewhere in its capital city. Shortly following the mediator’s introduction, Fidan is heard saying that he is acting as a “special envoy of [...] prime minister” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The leaked recording disappeared from Kurdish websites soon after it was posted, and some Kurdish media sources said that it had been aired by “anonymous hackers”. Read more of this post

Turkish intel report raises fears of Syrian, Iranian support for PKK

PKK banner

PKK banner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
By all accounts, in 1998 Syria discontinued its clandestine support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a leftist secessionist movement that aspires to create a Kurdish homeland comprising mostly of territories in Turkey’s Anatolia region. But a leading Turkish newspaper claims that, according to a classified intelligence report, Damascus has resumed its support for the PKK. The paper, Zaman, said that according to the report, Turkey’s main intelligence directorate, the MİT, has concluded that Syria has “started to support the PKK” again, thus reverting to its pre-1998 stance. It was on that year that Damascus expelled the PKK’s founder and leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who had previously been given shelter and protection in the country. A few months later, Öcalan was snatched by Turkish commandos from the hands of Greek diplomats in Nairobi, Kenya, and flown to Turkey, where he is now serving a life sentence. Following Öcalan’s expulsion, Syria, which is home to an estimated 400,000 Kurds, quietly began cooperating with Ankara against the PKK and its sister organizations operating on Syrian soil. But the MİT report cited by Zaman says that, under the fear of anti-government militancy and continuous popular and ethnic uprisings, Damascus has tried to mend relations with its Kurdish minority, and is now “providing shelter to some of the PKK’s most important leaders”. The classified report, which Zaman says gives “a highly detailed overview” of the PKK’s regional activities, also alleges that Syria has increased its security collaboration with Iran, which is also home to several thousand ethnic Kurds. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #406

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