Analysis: Unease in Europe as Turkey intensifies espionage abroad

BND GermanyEarlier this week, it was revealed that the German government rejected a request by the head of Turkish intelligence to spy on Turks living in Germany. The rejection was an important moment in German-Turkish relations and highlights the growing unease in high-level exchanges between Turkey and the European Union.

On Monday, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper alleged that the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), gave his German counterpart a list containing the names hundreds of Turks living in Germany, and asked him to spy on them. According to the newspaper, the list was given by MİT chief Hakan Fidan to Bruno Kahl, head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. The two men reportedly met at a security conference held in Munich last February. The Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that the list given to Kahl included 300 individuals and approximately 200 groups and organizations that the MİT wanted the BND to monitor.

It is extremely uncommon for information of this kind to be communicated informally between directors of intelligence organizations. Typically the exchange of information between cooperating intelligence agencies happens in a very formal and prescribed environment, not circumstantially during a conference. The episode described by the Süddeutsche Zeitung demonstrates a degree of amateurism on behalf of Turkey’s MİT. It is also symptomatic of the pressure that the agency is under by the Turkish government, following last July’s failed military coup in Ankara and Istanbul.

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses members of the so-called Gülen movement of orchestrating the failed coup, which included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s. In responding to the post-coup security pressures, MİT has been stretched to its limit. Asking the BND for assistance illustrates the Turkish agency’s limitations, especially when it comes to spying abroad. Read more of this post

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Germany publicly rejects Turkish spies’ request to monitor dissidents

KurdsGerman intelligence and security agencies have publicly rejected a direct request made by Turkey’s intelligence chief to gather information on Turks who are living in Germany and are critical of the Turkish government. The request reportedly relates to attempts by the Turkish government to round up its critics, following a failed military coup in July of last year. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses members of the so-called Gülen movement of orchestrating the coup, which included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s.

Since the end of the failed coup, the Turkish state has initiated a nationwide political crackdown against alleged supporters of the coup. Over 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs, while hundreds of thousands have been demoted, censured or warned. Another 41,000 are believed to be in prison, charged with supporting the failed coup or being members of the Gülen network. But many observers in Europe view the coup as a catalyst that was exploited by the government in Ankara neutralize its political opponents.

On Monday, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper claimed that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, gave its German counterpart a list containing the names hundreds of Turks living in Germany, and asked him to spy on them. According to the newspaper, the list was given by MİT chief Hakan Fidan to Bruno Kahl, head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. The two men allegedly met at a security conference held in Munich last February. The Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that the list given to Kahl included 300 individuals and approximately 200 groups and organizations that the MİT wanted the BND to monitor.

But instead of spying on these targets, the BND wrote to them and warned them that the Turkish state was after them. The German spy agency also warned them to stay away from any contact with Turkish authorities in Germany and to refrain from traveling to Turkey. On Tuesday, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas De Maiziere, confirmed the Süddeutsche Zeitung article and warned Turkey to respect Germany’s territorial sovereignty. “Here German jurisdiction applies”, said De Maiziere, “and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2017 | Permalink

Turkish diplomats stepping up espionage in Europe, claims German report

Turkish embassy in GermanyTurkish state agencies have asked the country’s diplomats stationed all over Europe to spy on Turkish expatriate communities there, in an effort to identify those opposed to the government, according to a German report. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses members of the so-called Gülen movement of orchestrating a military coup in July of last year, which resulted in an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s.

According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the Erdoğan government has now tasked its diplomats stationed abroad to engage in intelligence collection targeting alleged Gülen sympathizers. The report cited “a confidential analysis by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution” (BfV), Germany’s counterintelligence agency. The analysis allegedly states that Turkish diplomats are now conducting systematic espionage activities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and other Western European countries. The BfV report allegedly claims that much of the espionage conducted by Turkish diplomats is directed by the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet. The agency is seen as the institutional guardian of Turkey’s Sunni Muslim orthodoxy. It provides schools with religious education that is carefully tailored to be compatible with the country’s secular constitution, and trains the country’s imams, who are employed by the state. Der Spiegel claimed on Monday that Diyanet has asked its religious representatives stationed in Europe to look for Gülen sympathizers. According to the German newsmagazine, information is now pouring in from Turkey’s embassies and consulates. It includes names of individuals, as well as student groups, cultural organizations, schools and day-care centers that are seen as not sufficiently critical of the Gülen movement. Der Spiegel said it had seen a report sent to Diyanet by the Turkish embassy in Berne, Switzerland, which warned that many Gülenists had left Turkey and were now operating in Switzerland.

Late last summer, Der Spiegel claimed that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (known by its Turkish initials, MİT) secretly contacted its German counterpart, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and asked for assistance to investigate and arrest supporters of the Gülen movement living in Germany, some of whom are German citizens. The BND reportedly refused to cooperate with the request. Another German news outlet, Die Welt, cited an unnamed German security official who said that the MİT employed more operatives in Germany than the East German spy agency did at the height of the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2017 | Permalink

Swiss court reopens probe of alleged espionage by Kazakh agents

Viktor KhrapunovA Swiss court has reopened an investigation of alleged espionage activities by agents of the government of Kazakhstan against a high-profile political exile living in Switzerland. The case, which dates to 2014, centers on Viktor Khrapunov, a former senior Kazakh government official, who has been living in Geneva since 2008. In the years immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Khrapunov served as Kazakhstan’s Minister for Energy and Coal, a post that was later renamed to Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. After 1997, he was appointed mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, which is inhabited by 10 percent of the country’s population. But by 2006, Khrapunov had fallen out with the government of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The government claimed that Khrapunov was embroiled in a series of fraudulent real-estate schemes and that he laundered large sums of money for his own personal use.

In 2008, a chartered airplane carrying Khrapunov and his wife landed in Switzerland, reportedly with a millions of dollars in cash, fine jewelry and antiques onboard. The Khrapunovs were granted asylum in the small alpine country and have since lived in the Lake Geneva area. In 2012, the government of Kazakhstan requested that Khrapunov be placed on Interpol’s list of wanted persons. Khrapunov himself dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated and blasted Nazarbayev as “a third-world dictator”.

In early 2014, the Swiss Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into allegations by Khrapunov that he had been followed around by Kazakh intelligence officers, had an electronic tracker covertly installed in his car, and had his computers hacked by Kazakh spies. The case was closed in March of this year, after Swiss authorities said they did not have enough evidence to confirm the precise identity of the perpetrators, two of whom were reportedly holders of British passports. On Monday, however, the Federal Criminal Court in the Swiss city of Bellinzona ordered that the case be reopened, after allegations by Khrapunov that the espionage against him continues.

Kazakh authorities have been regularly accused by European governments of conducting aggressive espionage and intimidation operations targeting exiled adversaries of President Nazarbayev. Last year, Kazakhstan’s former spy chief and a former presidential bodyguard were acquitted after a lengthy trial in Austria after a co-defendant in their double-murder trial, who was also the Kazakh president’s former son-in-law, was found dead in his Vienna cell.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 November 2016 | Permalink

FBI seeking former Syrian intelligence officer reportedly hiding in Florida

Moustafa Abed AyoubA Syrian former intelligence officer, who was given American citizenship several years ago, is being sought by authorities in the United States. The man was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week as Moustafa Abed Ayoub, a 75-year-old resident of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A statement by the FBI said the wanted man is believed to be hiding in southern Florida, possibly in the Miami area. A reward is now offered for information leading directly to Ayoub, according to the FBI press release. The release did not specify whether the former intelligence officer is wanted in connection with the ongoing civil war in Syria.

The FBI press release described Ayoub as a former brigadier general in Syria’s powerful Mukhabarat, the Military Intelligence Directorate, which operates under the auspices of the country’s Ministry of Defense. He is reported to have served in the Mukhabarat for nearly 20 years, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. According to the FBI release, Ayoub served initially in Hama and Homs before he was transferred to Damascus. It appears that Ayoub is accused by the FBI of procuring American citizenship unlawfully, after giving deliberately false testimony during his naturalization proceedings. To be eligible for American citizenship, an applicant must have lived in the US for at least 30 months during the period leading to his or her naturalization application. Ayoub is accused of not telling immigration authorities that he had spent over 1,000 days outside the US in the months leading to his application for citizenship.

The FBI said it issued a warrant for Ayoub’s arrest in Florida, where he is believed to be hiding. However, the FBI release noted that Ayoub may have returned to Syria, or may be currently residing in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 30 September 2016 | Permalink

Turkey has more spies in Germany than Stasi had during Cold War: expert

Turks in GermanyThe Turkish intelligence service currently employs more operatives in Germany than the East German spy agency did at the height of the Cold War, according to a German expert on espionage. The comment was made following the disclosure that Turkey maintains close to 6,000 informants and other intelligence operatives in Germany. An unnamed German security official told German newspaper Die Welt on Monday that the informants are operational throughout Germany and are handled by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT.

According to Die Welt, many of these informants are tasked with keeping tabs on Germany’s large Kurdish community, which Ankara views as domestic threats to Turkish national security. More recently, however, MİT operatives in Germany have been instructed to infiltrate groups of supporters of the charismatic Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen who lives in the United States. A former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Gülen and his millions of supporters around the world now oppose the Turkish government and are described as terrorists by Ankara. President Erdoğan has personally accused “Gülenists” of orchestrating the failed July 15 coup in Turkey. In addition to infiltration, MİT informants in Germany are allegedly engaged in psychological operations against perceived opponents of the Turkish government, and sometimes engage in blackmail and intimidation of targeted individuals or groups, according to Die Welt.

Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, one of Germany’s best known independent researchers on intelligence, and a widely published author, said he was surprised that the number of alleged MİT operatives in Germany is this high. If the number of 6,000 operatives is accurate, said Schmidt-Eenboom, it would place the MİT above the level of the Stasi during the Cold War. He was referring to the Ministry for State Security, the intelligence agency of communist-era East Germany, which was known for its extensive networks of informants during the Cold War. Schmidt-Eenboom said that, according to Stasi records, the agency handled approximately 10,000 operatives in West Germany, a country that at the time had a population of 60 million. In contrast, the 6,000 MİT operatives in Germany are primarily tasked with monitoring the Turkish and Kurdish immigrant community there, which numbers no more than 3 million. Consequently, said Schmidt-Eenboom, there are 500 potential human targets for each present-day MİT operative, whereas there were 6,000 West German citizens for every Stasi operative during the Cold War.

The article in Die Welt did not specify whether the alleged MİT informants are paid agents or simply supporters of the Turkish government who have volunteered their services. As intelNews //reported// earlier this week, some members of the German Bundestag’s Committee on Parliamentary Oversight, including its chairman, Clemens Binninger, plan to launch an official investigation into the activities of Turkish intelligence in Germany. Of particular interest to the committee is the alleged cooperation between German and Turkish intelligence agencies following the failed coup in Turkey this past July.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2016 | Permalink

Fake Syrian passports given to ISIS members found in Greek refugee camps

Syrian passportFake Syrian passports designed for use by members of the Islamic State trying to enter Europe have been found in refugee camps in Greece during an investigation by the law enforcement agency of the European Union (EU). Officials from Europol, the EU agency that coordinates intelligence operations against organized crime across EU-member-states, said that the fake travel documents were found during a fact-finding mission in Greek refugee camps. The mission was part of a larger investigation into the production and use of forged passports by the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, which published the claim, Europol is investigating the production and distribution of fake passports by ISIS in its strongholds of Syria and Iraq, and among refugee networks in European countries like Belgium, Austria, Italy and Greece. Greece is the most widely used route into Europe by hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and the rest of the Middle East, who leave their countries in hopes of migrating to the prosperous countries of Western Europe. Nearly 60,000 of them have been trapped in Greece since April, when Macedonia shut down its borders, thus preventing migrants from heading north. These people have been living in refugee camps since that time, hoping for a chance to continue the journey northwards.

But in a leading article published last weekend, La Stampa claimed that ISIS is using the refugee crisis form Syria to infiltrate Europe with militants intent on launching attacks on soft targets. The militants are supplied with false identity papers, said La Stampa, primarily fake Syrian and Iraqi passports. They then use these passports to enter Greece. Their goal is to eventually travel north to countries such as Belgium, Germany, Austria or France, and claim asylum there. La Stampa quoted one unnamed Europol official as saying that fake passports “that were destined to supposed members of ISIS” had been identified in refugee camps in Greece. It has been confirmed that at least two of the perpetrators of last November’s attacks in Paris, France, which killed over 130 people, entered the EU using forged Syrian passports. The Italian daily also noted that the reliability of Turkey, from where the vast majority of Syrian refugees entered Europe in recent years, remains fragile after the failed July 15 coup, which has altered the balance of power in that country. As a result, the EU-Turkey migrant deal may collapse “at any moment”, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2016 | Permalink