Turkey summons US chargé d’affaires to protest spying claims

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Turkey has summoned the interim head of the United States diplomatic mission in the country to lodge an official protest over reports that Washington has been spying on Turkish leaders for nearly 10 years. German publication Der Spiegel said on Sunday that American intelligence agencies, with the help of British operatives, have engaged in “intensive spying” of Turkish government officials since at least 2006. The German newsmagazine said the information was based on internal documents released by American defector Edward Snowden, a former employee of the US National Security Agency who is currently living in Russia. The documents show that the NSA, which conducts worldwide communications interception on behalf of the US government, places Turkey “ahead of Cuba” when it comes to intelligence collection in the service of American national security. The documents supplied by Snowden show that the NSA launched a sizeable surveillance operation in 2006, in which it targeted the computers of Turkey’s senior government officials, including those belonging to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Spiegel also said that Washington targeted Turkey’s embassy in the US and even spied on the communications of Turkey’s permanent mission in the United Nations in New York. The reported aim of the spying operations was to acquire accurate information regarding Ankara’s strategic intentions under the leadership of Prime Minister Erdoğan. What is more, the information gathered by the US was eventually shared with members of the so-called UKUSA agreement, namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement describing the Spiegel revelations as “grave allegations” that “cannot be accepted”. It added that, if true, the German newsmagazine’s revelations pointed to actions that were incompatible with “the history of friendship between the two countries”. Read more of this post

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German intelligence spied on American, Turkish officials

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence agencies have spied on two successive American secretaries of state and are actively engaged in espionage in Turkey, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that German spies intercepted at least one telephone call made by American politician Hillary Clinton, while she was serving as secretary of state. The Munich-based newspaper said the intercepted telephone call was made over an unencrypted line while Clinton was travelling on an airplane belonging to the United States government. On Sunday, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel added that the interception of Clinton’s telephone call occurred in 2012, when the American secretary of state telephoned the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to discuss his mediation efforts over the Syrian civil war. Der Spiegel said that Clinton had not been a direct target of a German intelligence operation and that her telephone conversation with Anan had been intercepted “by accident”, after it “quasi-randomly entered the listening network” of the BND, Germany’s federal intelligence agency. Spiegel added that the BND officers who conducted the interception passed the recording on to their superiors. The newsmagazine said that Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, also had a telephone conversation intercepted by the BND in 2013, again by accident. This time, however, the German intelligence officers immediately deleted the intercepted conversation, according to Spiegel. The article goes on to add that German intelligence circles insist the wiretapped conversations of the two US secretaries of state were accidentally recorded within the context of other intelligence-collection operations, and that the American politicians were not in and of themselves targets of the BND. The Spiegel article goes on to state, however, that the BND has been actively conducting espionage operations in NATO member-state Turkey since at least 2009. Read more of this post

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

Newspaper retracts report of Turkish jets attacking Syrian rebels

Turkish-Syrian borderBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A Turkish newspaper has retracted a report stating that Turkish military jets entered Syrian territory and destroyed an outpost belonging to an al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, after its members attacked a Turkish military garrison along the Syrian-Turkish border. In a published correction, the paper said instead that the Turkish army opened fire from inside Turkey. Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Turkish daily Zaman, reported on January 29 that Turkish F-16s had entered Syrian territory and had bombed a stationary convoy of vehicles belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda-linked group that made its appearance in Syria in April of last year. The origins of ISIS are in Iraq, where it was founded in 2003 as a Sunni armed paramilitary force, in response to the invasion by the United States. In 2004, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and changed its name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Many observers argue that, in recent months, ISIS has turned into “one of the most powerful forces on the ground” in Syria, with 7,000 well-armed fighters, many of whom are battle-hardened foreign Islamists. It is widely believed that ISIS now dominates Syria’s northwest, having established outposts in a series of “strategic towns” in the region, which are referred to by its leaders as “mini emirates”. Through these outposts, ISIS fighters are able to monitor border traffic between Syria and Turkey, and effectively control most border passages. After retracting its earlier report, Today’s Zaman said the Turkish military used “tanks and artillery fire” to attack the ISIL outpost. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #861 (Syria edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Report from Syrian city controlled by al-Qaeda. Raqqa, a city in northeastern Syria with approximately one million inhabitants, is now under control of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the most powerful al-Qaeda affiliate currently operating in Syria. Since ISIS came to power in May, its abuse of Raqqa’s citizens has been well documented. On the surface, this violence appears to be indiscriminate and irrational. Yet, it is also organized and tactical.
►►US weighing closer ties with hardline Islamists in Syria. As the moderate faction of the Syrian rebellion implodes under the strain of vicious infighting and diminished resources, the United States is increasingly looking to hardline Islamists in its efforts to gain leverage in Syria’s civil war. On Monday, the State Department confirmed its openness to engaging with the Islamic Front following the group’s seizure of a Free Syrian Army headquarters last week.
►►Turkey shipped tons of arms to Syria rebels. Turkey has shipped 47 tons of weapons to Syrian rebels since June despite repeated government denials, a local newspaper reported on Monday. The Hurriyet Daily News, citing UN and Turkish Statistics Institute records, said 29 tons of military equipment were sent to opposition fighters in September alone. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vociferous opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has openly supported the rebels but has always denied arming them.

News you may have missed #858

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►The FBI facilitates NSA’s domestic surveillance. Shane Harris writes in Foreign Policy: “When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on US soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic US law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s PRISM system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA”.
►►Egypt expels Turkish ambassador. Egypt says it has ordered the Turkish ambassador to be expelled, following comments by Turkey’s prime minister. Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders earlier in the week. Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August following Turkey’s sharp criticism of Egypt’s leaders and Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Turkey’s ambassador returned to Egypt a few weeks later, but Egypt has declined to return its ambassador to Turkey. Turkey’s government had forged a close alliance with Morsi since he won Egypt’s first free presidential election in June of 2012.
►►The internet mystery that has the world baffled. For the past two years, a mysterious online organization has been setting the world’s finest code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolvable problems. It is a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the “darknet”. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge —known as Cicada 3301— is all about or who is behind it. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a mysterious secret society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course, everyone thinks it’s the CIA.

Ship carrying 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles seized in Greece

The Nour-MBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Hellenic Coast Guard in Greece has seized a cargo ship carrying explosives, ammunition, and about 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, allegedly bound for Syria or Libya. The Associated Press quoted an anonymous official from the Greek Ministry of Mercantile Marine, who said that the ship, Nour-M, is flagged under Sierra Leone and set sail from Ukraine early last week. It was intercepted on Friday while passing through Greek territorial waters, near the Aegean island of Symi. Upon inspection, it was found to be carrying thousands of AK-47s, as well as ammunition and an undisclosed quantity of explosives. As the ship’s documentation did not mention the highly irregular cargo, the Greek authorities decided to escort the vessel to the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, where it remains under Coast Guard protection. The ship’s crew of three Turkish nationals, including the captain, and three Indian nationals, have been arrested. Interestingly, some maritime transportation databases state the vessel’s destination port as Tartus in Syria, while others suggest it was headed to Tripoli in Libya. Adding to the perplexity of the case, the ship’s Turkish captain told Greek authorities that his destination port was Iskenderun in Turkey. The Greek government has refused to give details about the ship’s itinerary, stating simply that “the exact destination of the arms and ammunition has yet to be verified”, while no precise information has been provided about Nour-M’s cargo. There are unconfirmed reports, however, that, in the past, the same vessel has troubled international maritime authorities, who suspect its captain of involvement in international narcotics smuggling. On Friday, the Reuters news agency aired an insightful analysis on the strong connection between the political chaos that rains in the Middle East and North Africa and the increase in smuggling activity across the Mediterranean. Read more of this post

Turkey ‘disclosed identities of Mossad spies’ operating in Iran

Israel and IranBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Turkey disclosed to Iranian counterintelligence the identities of Mossad spies operating in Iran, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper’s associate editor, David Ignatius, cited “knowledgeable sources” on Thursday, in claiming that up to 10 spies were captured as a result of the Turkish disclosure. The alleged spies, who are all Iranian citizens, are said to have been operating inside Iran on behalf of Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. Ignatius said the Turkish action, which appears to have been authorized by Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, resulted in a “significant loss of intelligence” for the Mossad’s Iran office. Turkey and Israel forged strong bilateral ties in the 1990s and early 2000s. But they fell out in dramatic fashion in May of 2010, when Israel attacked a convoy of civilian ships in international water. The ships, known as the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, were carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to the Gaza Strip. But Israel claimed that the ships’ pronounced intention to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, was an affront to Israel’s national security and subverted Israeli political jurisdiction, expressed through the blockade. The attack on the flotilla by Israeli commandos resulted in the death of 10 Turkish civilians, one of whom was also an American citizen. Following the Israeli attack, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Jewish state, terminated several joint military projects with Israel, and called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Relations between the two countries, which reached a low point in May of 2010, have yet to recover. Read more of this post

UK/US spy agencies targeted heads of state at London G20 meeting

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British and American intelligence agencies targeted the communications of heads of state and other senior officials during a G20 summit held in London in 2009, according to documents. The summit was hosted by the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was attended by delegates from 20 major world economies, including then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was specifically targeted in the spy operation. British newspaper The Guardian, which published the information, said that delegates had their personal computers and cellular telephones monitored during a joint effort by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The two agencies, which are tasked with intercepting communications signals on behalf of their respective governments, maintain a jointly administered listening base inside the Royal Air Force station in Menwith Hill near Harrogate, North Yorkshire. According to one of the documents, entitled “Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London —Intercept at Menwith Hill station”, the listening facility was utilized to spy on the communications of the Russian President during his stay in London. The targeting began as soon as President Medvedev and the Russian delegation arrived in the British capital on April 1, and continued for several days. The top-secret document, which was shared between British, American, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand intelligence services, noted “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted” through satellite links from the Russian embassy in London. Another set of documents, also published by The Guardian, indicate that some G20 summit delegates were “tricked into using Internet cafes [that] had been set up by British intelligence agencies” in order to intercept their email communications. Read more of this post

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.

News you may have missed #827

Brigadier General Mohammed KhaloufBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: The spies who fooled the world about Iraq. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, the BBC flagship investigative program Panorama has aired a documentary arguing that, even before the fighting in Iraq started, intelligence from highly placed sources was available in the UK, suggesting that the administration of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
►►Syrian officer to auction spy files as general defects. Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported this past weekend that an intelligence officer that defected is offering to auction the intelligence archives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat. Meanwhile, Syrian Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf and about 20 soldiers defected from the Syrian army in two separate incidents on Saturday, according to rebel-controlled media.
►►Half a million wiretapped in Turkey in last decade. Some 470,000 people in Turkey have been subject to eavesdropping over the past 11 years, said officials from the Gendarmerie Command’s intelligence unit. In 2012 alone, over 33,000 people were eavesdropped on by the Gendarmerie, according to information given to the Turkish Parliament’s Eavesdropping Examination Commission. Notably Gendarmerie authorities said that they found no information or documents regarding the case of the wire-tapping of the Turkish Prime Minister in their examination of their own records.

German authorities had monitored Turkish bomber of US embassy

Ecevit ŞanlıBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Some observers were surprised by news last week that the suicide attack at the US embassy in Turkish capital Ankara was perpetrated by secular Marxists, instead of religious extremists. But students of terrorism know that modern suicide bombings have historically been employed by secular separatist groups. These include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), which assumed responsibility for last Friday’s attack in Ankara, is a Marxist-Leninist splinter group, which has carried out suicide operations against its ideological enemies since at least 2001. Last week’s attack, which killed two and injured over a dozen people, was perpetrated by Ecevit Şanlı, a 40-year-old Turk from the city of Gölköy in northeastern Turkey. A member of DHKP/C for at least 20 years, in 2000 Şanlı became a cause célèbre among far-leftists in Turkey. During that year, he played a leading role in a hunger strike organized by self-described political prisoners in Turkey, in protest over prison conditions. The protest was brutally suppressed by Turkish security forces, and Şanlı barely survived it. He was eventually released on probation after serving a lengthy prison sentence. According to German sources, upon his release from prison, Şanlı moved to Germany, home to the world’s largest Turkish expatriate community. While there, he joined local leftist causes and appears to have been active in DHKP/C’s network of supporters among the Turkish community there. In 2009, German authorities briefly detained Şanlı after he was found in possession of propaganda literature belonging to DHKP/C, which is a designated foreign terrorist organization by the German government. Read more of this post

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

Turkey peace talks halted as Kurdish activists are assassinated in Paris

Sakine Cansiz with Abdullah Öcalan in 1995By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The future of peace talks between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority appeared uncertain yesterday, after three female Kurdish activists were found murdered execution-style in downtown Paris, France. The murders marked the first-ever killings in Europe of senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates as the primary political and paramilitary agent of Turkey’s Kurdish population. According to reports from France, a gun fitted with a silencer was used to kill two of the women in the back of the neck and the third one in the stomach.

One of the dead, Leyla Sönmez, was a Kurdish activist responsible for Kurdish diplomatic relations in France. Another, Fidan Doğan, who was also a French citizen, was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which operates as Kurdistan’s government-in-exile based in Brussels, Belgium. But the most prominent victim of the triple murder is Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who is described as a “legend” among party activists. Cansiz who was present at PKK’s founding in 1978, was imprisoned by the Turkish government in the 1980s and given political asylum in France in 1998. 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

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