United States quietly scraps joint anti-terrorist intelligence project with Turkey

Incirlik TurkeyThe United States has indefinitely suspended a longstanding military intelligence-sharing program with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey. The program, which targets a Kurdish separatist group, is believed to have been in place since 2007. According to the Reuters news agency, which published the story on Wednesday, it has never before been reported on by news media.

The joint intelligence-sharing program targets the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization that campaigns for a separate homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Washington and Ankara have both designated the group a terrorist organization, and have been working jointly to combat it since at least 1997. According to Reuters, the United States military has been carrying out surveillance on the PKK using unmanned surveillance drones that fly out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base. Much of the surveillance focuses on the regions of Turkey that border with Iraq and Syria, where the PKK has a strong grassroots presence.

But Washington decided to suspend the program indefinitely last October, said Reuters. The decision was allegedly taken after Turkish troops invaded Syria in order to push back Kurdish rebels and establish a Kurdish-free buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. The news agency cited four American officials, who did not wish to identify themselves, “due to the sensitivity of the matter”. It also cited an unnamed Turkish official, who confirmed that the intelligence-collection program had been terminated.

The American officials told Reuters that the suspension of the program would place strains on the ability of the Turkish military to respond to the challenges of its ongoing guerrilla war against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, as well as within Turkey. It will also make “the anti-PKK campaign more […] costly for Turkey”, one of the officials told the news agency.

Reuters said it contacted the United States Department of Defense, but was told by a spokeswoman that the Pentagon would “not provide details on operational matters”. A spokesperson from the United States Department of State told Reuters that its representatives could “not comment on intelligence matters”. The Turkish Ministry of Defense did not return requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 February 2020 | Permalink

Iraqi Kurds claim they have captured senior Turkish intelligence officers

Cemîl BayikThe Turkish government has refused to comment on reports from Iraq, which suggest that Kurdish forces have captured at least two senior Turkish intelligence officers. News of the arrests first emerged in mid-August, when pro-Kurdish media in Turkey’s Anatolia region claimed that an armed Kurdish group in Iraq had captured two members of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s principal intelligence agency.

According to the reports, the Turkish intelligence officers had used forged identity papers to travel from eastern Turkey to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. From there, they went to Sulaimaniyah, a metropolitan center in Iraq’s Kurdish north. Allegedly, the Turkish officers traveled to Iraq in order to assassinate Cemîl Bayik, a co-founder and senior leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Founded in 1978, the PKK is a leftwing secessionist paramilitary organization that seeks an independent homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah region is controlled by another Kurdish armed group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has close relations with Iran. But a rival Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP), which is supported by Turkey and opposes the PKK’s secessionist aims, also has a strong presence in the area. It is not known whether KDP forces were aware of —or even assisted— the Turkish intelligence officers in Sulaimaniyah.

Kurdish sources claim that the two Turkish intelligence officers were arrested by PUK forces. Notably, media reports suggest that one of arrestees serves as the MİT’s deputy undersecretary for foreign operations, while the other heads the MİT’s PKK desk. The PUK is now threatening to publish photographs of the two men, which would blow their cover. But there has been no comment on this story from Ankara, where Turkish government officials refuse to confirm or deny that the arrests happened or that the two men are indeed MİT employees. Some observers, however, note that the Turkish government shut down the PUK’s office in the Turkish capital on August 23, and expelled the organization’s representatives. The group has maintained an office in Ankara since 1991, so the Turkish government’s surprising move may signify that the media reports about the arrests of the two MİT officers are indeed accurate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2017 | Permalink

Analysis: Will ISIS claim responsibility for Istanbul airport attack? (updated)

Istanbul Airport TurkeyTurkish security and counterterrorism officials are blaming the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for Tuesday’s bloody attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, which left at least 41 people dead and nearly 300 injured. But will ISIS claim responsibility for the attack? And if not, why not? ISIS is indeed the most likely culprit of Tuesday night’s terrorist attack. The modus operandi of the three attackers, which some unconfirmed reports suggest Turkey has now confirmed were foreign nationals, matches that of previous ISIS attacks on high-profile international targets. More importantly, the style of the attack does not fit the profile of the secessionist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, which almost always targets uniformed personnel in Turkey.

There is no shortage of motives for ISIS to target Turkey. The militant group wants to destabilize Turkey, which it sees as a prime market for spreading its ideas, especially among the country’s disenfranchised religious working class. The attack at Istanbul’s airport happened in the holy month of Ramadan, the most revered time on the Muslim religious calendar, during which ISIS said would launch a wave of violence around the world. Last but not least, foreign and domestic intelligence agencies had warned the Turkish government in recent weeks of an impending large-scale attack by ISIS, saying that the group was anxious to re-galvanize its supporters after suffering heavy military defeats in Iraq and Syria. Since the start of 2015, experts have connected ISIS to at least seven different attacks on Turkish soil, most of them in large urban centers like Ankara and Istanbul. However, the only attacks the militant group has claimed responsibility for were against Syrian anti-ISIS activists based in southern Turkey. In contrast, ISIS has shied away from officially linking itself with deadly attacks against high-profile targets in Turkey. This latest attack may fall in line with that pattern.

But why would ISIS not claim responsibility for such a media-savvy strike? There is no question that the Sunni Islamist group wants to destabilize Turkey’s economy, a goal that it sees as key to its success. That explains Tuesday night’s attack on one of the country’s busiest transport hubs during the peak of the tourist season. At the same time, however, ISIS is aware that Turkey’s main concern in the Middle East is not Sunni Islamism, but the rise of the PKK and other secessionist Kurdish groups. The latter are some of ISIS’ most formidable military adversaries, and the Islamist group would rather not distract Turkey from its escalating war against the Kurds. What’s more, because Ankara has been paying most of its attention to Kurdish separatists, ISIS has been able to build an extensive network of operatives inside Turkey, and it does not want to see it demolished by Turkish security forces. ISIS is therefore engaged in a delicate balancing act: on the one hand it wants to destabilize Turkey so as to export its sectarian war to one of the world’s most populous Sunni Muslim nations. On the other hand, however, it does not want to alter Turkey’s security priorities, which are mostly focused on Kurdish militias.

What will it mean if ISIS breaks with the typical pattern and does claim responsibility for Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul? That would be equivalent to an official declaration of war by the Islamic State against the Turkish Republic, a call for arms issued to all pro-ISIS networks in Turkey for the opening of a northern front in this widening regional conflict. It could also spell trouble for Turkey’s beleaguered security forces, which will be forced to divide their attention between two foes, the PKK in the east and in urban centers, and ISIS in the south and in popular tourist resorts throughout the country.

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

Study: Who are the Americans fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

ISIS - JFMuch emphasis has been given to the Islamic State’s Western recruits, but there is almost nothing known about Westerners fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Last week, an investigative website published the first substantial study on the subject, focusing on volunteers who are citizens of the United States. Entitled “The Other Foreign Fighters”, the study focuses on those Americans who have voluntarily traveled to the Middle East to take up arms against the group, which is also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was authored by Nathan Patin, an independent researcher who often publishes his work through Bellingcat, a website specializing in open-source investigations.

Patin reports that there are roughly 200 Americans who have either entered or attempted to enter Syria and Iraq in efforts to battle ISIS. Of those, at least 108 have spent time the region and enlisted in the various militias and armed groups that are fighting ISIS. Based on open sources, Patin claims that at least two thirds of the Americans fighting ISIS have previously served in the US Armed Forces, mostly in the Marine Corps and Army. Almost all of them are in their 20s and 30s and one of them is female. The majority have spent between one and four months on the battlefield in Iraq, Syria, or both. However, almost a third had little or no military experience prior to joining the war against ISIS. They included Keith Broomfield, 36, who died earlier this year while fighting ISIS in Kobani, Syria.

Almost half of the Americans tracked by Patin have fought for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish group that serves as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria. Others have enlisted in the peshmerga forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Iraq, as well as in an assortment of Christian militias, including the Nineveh Plains Protection Units and the Dwekh Nawsha. There are major questions about the legality of the American volunteers’ actions, according to American law. The US Department of State does not include the YPG or the PUK in its official list of foreign terrorist organizations. But the PKK, which cooperates with both groups, is designated by Washington as a terrorist outfit. It is important to note, however that the Bellingcat study does not cover the legality of the American volunteers’ actions in Iraq and Syria. Finally, it is worth pointing out that almost nothing is known about several hundred Westerners from countries other than the US, who are also fighting against ISIS in the region. They include citizens of Finland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and many other countries.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2015 | Permalink

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 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

News you may have missed #796

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iranian spy scandal sparks outrage in Turkey. After a nearly yearlong investigation into an alleged Iranian spy ring in Turkey, seven people were charged in early September with “providing information related to state security and establishing an [illegal] organization”. The charges against five Turkish citizens and two Iranian nationals followed a raid on the suspects’ residences and workplaces on August 29, in which videos and pictures of border security, documents, correspondence with Iranian intelligence and weapons were found, according to the investigation materials. Tehran denied any connections to those arrested, while officials in Ankara revealed more alleged evidence showing that Iran is providing support to the PKK.
►►British SIGINT agency ‘helps US drone attacks’. Britain’s former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, has said there is “pretty compelling” evidence that the British government’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, is passing information to the United States to help it locate targets for controversial drone attacks in Pakistan. Earlier this year David Anderson, the British state’s independent reviewer of terrorism-related legislation, warned that the British government faced “a raft of civil cases” over possible complicity in the CIA drone attacks.
►►Canada’s top spy dismisses call for human rights scrutiny. In a newly declassified memo, CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to dismiss the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that national security agencies do more to ensure they are not taking part in racial profiling or other objectionable practices. “I am confident in the service’s existing human rights policies and procedures, as well as our accountability and review structures”, Fadden says in the January 2012 memo, which is addressed to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The memo —initially classified secret— was discovered by Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor in British Columbia, who obtained it under the Access to Information Act.

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.

Turkish officials see link between Israel and Kurdish rebels

Israeli Heron UAVBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Turkish intelligence agencies have authored a report detailing alleged Israeli assistance to Kurdish rebels, whose goal is to secede from Turkey and create an independent Kurdish homeland, according to a leading Turkish newspaper. The Ankara-based Zaman said the intelligence report was commissioned after Turkish forces detected Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) conducting reconnaissance missions over Turkey. The paper, which is tacitly affiliated with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said the UAVs were spotted flying over Turkey’s Adana and Hatay provinces, both of which are adjacent to Turkey’s border with Syria. As intelNews reported last August, Turkey’s main intelligence directorate, the MİT, is convinced that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has increased its clandestine support for the largest Kurdish secessionist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in an attempt to court Syria’s 500,000-strong Kurdish minority. According to the Zaman news report, airborne intelligence collected by Israeli Heron UAVs is shared with PKK guerrillas, who then use it to construct training bases in Syrian border regions. This explains, claims the paper, why most PKK training bases in Syria are located “in areas that are known to be weak spots for the Turkish military”. The report also claims that Turkish intelligence has verified that senior PKK military commander Kenan Yıldızbakan has visited Israel “several times” in recent months. Yildizbakan is believed to have commanded a brazen PKK assault on a Turkish naval base in İskenderun in 2010, which killed seven and wounded four members of the Turkish armed forces. Read more of this post

Turkey expelled Dutch spy posing as diplomat, says newspaper

AIVD headquarters in AmsterdamBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Turkey secretly deported a Dutch intelligence officer posing as a diplomat, according to a leading Dutch newspaper. According to Amsterdam-based De Volkskrant, the unnamed Dutch spy held a diplomatic post at the embassy of the Netherlands in Turkish capital Ankara. In reality, however, he was an intelligence officer in the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), Holland’s domestic intelligence agency. He was quietly expelled last year, says the paper, and is currently serving at another Dutch embassy in the Middle East. De Volkskrant notes that the reason why the Turkish government decided to expel the AIVD officer remains unclear. The paper quotes one unnamed member of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, when questioned about the expulsion, said simply: “sorry but that’s a no go zone […]; I love my career and my family”. However, the article hints that the intelligence spat may have been sparked by differences between Ankara and Amsterdam over Turkey’s Kurdish minority and its nationalist organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Founded in the 1970s, the PKK leads Kurdish secessionist aspirations for a Kurdish homeland incorporating parts of Turkey’s far-eastern Anatolia region, as well as parts of Iraq and Syria. According to De Volkskrant, in 2006 the AIVD stationed for the first time a liaison officer at the Dutch embassy in Ankara, whose mission was to collaborate with Turkey’s MİT intelligence service in collecting intelligence on Kurdish secessionist groups. However, the collaboration appears to have turned sour after Turkey accused the Dutch government of allowing many Kurdish activists, which it accuses of inciting terrorism, to claim political asylum in Holland. Moreover, Ankara has accused Dutch authorities of turning a blind eye to PKK recruiting and fundraising operations in Holland, organized by the sizeable Kurdish expatriate community in the country. Read more of this post

Turkish spy agency in secret Oslo talks with Kurdish PKK

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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

Lebanon charges PKK Kurds with spying for Israel

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By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Lebanese authorities have detained three alleged members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on charges of spying for Israel. The three arrestees, whose names have not been released to the media, were reportedly arrested last week by Lebanese military intelligence forces in Jounieh, a town located on the Mediterranean coast, about 15 kilometers north of Beirut. The arrests form part of a wider Lebanese counterintelligence offensive that has netted over 100 alleged Israeli agents in Lebanon since April of 2009. But news of the detentions have inflamed an ongoing discussion in Turkey about alleged covert links between Israeli intelligence agencies and Kurdish separatists operating in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Read more of this post