Secret Turkish Foreign Ministry documents obtained by Nordic Monitor reveal how Turkish embassies and consulates have become tools of spying in the hands of Turkey’s Islamist rulers.
The documents confirm that Turkish diplomatic and consular missions around the world have systematically spied on critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, collected information on Turks living in exile and transmitted it to headquarters.
The government has benefited from the pro-Erdoğan networks and organizations of the Turkish diaspora and has transformed its embassies and consulates into intelligence hubs where information is gathered and critics and their organizations are profiled. Then, intelligence reports created by Turkish diplomatic missions have been used in criminal cases based on fabricated terrorism charges to maintain the campaign of intimidation and silence opponents of the regime.
Official correspondence conveyed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office proves once more how Turkish diplomats collect information on the activities of Erdoğan critics, profile their organizations and list their names as if they were part of a terrorist organization. The correspondence includes two CDs, the first of which contains, according to letter, information about the leading critics of the Erdoğan regime in what the Foreign Ministry described as priority countries.
The target is listed as the Gülen movement, a civic group that has been active in education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and charity work in many countries. The movement is led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Erdoğan on corruption and the Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria and other countries. The document points out that Turkish diplomats and consular officers collected intelligence on people in 20 countries where the movement is considered most active.
The second CD includes details of the structure of the movement in each country and a full list of people believed to be affiliated with the movement. The document confirms major spying activity conducted by Turkish diplomatic missions that appears to be unprecedented in its scope and extent.
According to a postscript in the document, the lists were also distributed to the Ministry of Justice, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and relevant departments of the Security Directorate General for them to take further administrative or legal action against people who were profiled, punish their relatives back in Turkey and seize their assets.
In the last couple of years Turkish diaspora associations have been accused of acting as the long arm of the Erdoğan regime in Europe, and some of them have been put under surveillance by local intelligence agencies. An official e-mail from Turkish Consulate General in Rotterdam calling on Turkish nationals in the Netherlands to report on critics of Ankara and President Erdogan was exposed by Dutch media.
Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing how Turkish embassy and consular officials engaged in spying on government critics in 92 foreign countries as part of profiling activities that at times amounted to a systematic and deliberate campaign of refugee spying. A document found in papers released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019 in case No. 2016/238 indicated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the movement.
The new document confirms that such activity still continues and in fact has been further expanded by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which had categorized the countries according to priority criteria. The new secret document from the ministry defines the extent of its illegal spying activities and reveals that all Turkish nationals living abroad may have been kept in files at Turkish consulates and embassies.
The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. However, diplomats enjoying the privileges and immunities described in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and to avoid interfering in its internal affairs as detailed in Article 41. Similarly, consular staff are granted limited privileges and immunities by the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, but the host state authorities can start investigations and prosecute any of the personnel if they perpetrate crimes inside or outside the consulate premises according to Article 43 of the convention.
It is clear that Turkish diplomatic missions violate the domestic laws of receiving states and the principles of international law by conducting unlawful information-gathering campaigns and sweeping intelligence operations. Their spy work recorded officially by Turkish courts makes them vulnerable to international or local prosecution in foreign countries.
The official communication sent by the Foreign Ministry’s intelligence section, the Directorate General for Research and Security Affairs, reveals the role of the ministry in the cancelation of Turkish nationals’ passports. The document, dated February 23, 2018 and numbered GİGY/2018-13502069, confirms the importance of these spy files in the Turkish judicial and administrative systems. According to the document the Ministry of Interior and relevant governor’s offices cancel the passports of Turkish nationals listed by diplomatic missions.
In addition to the arbitrary punishments in Turkey, people who were listed in these documents were often targeted by a campaign of intimidation and harassment and denied consular services abroad.
The Foreign Ministry document was signed by former Deputy Undersecretary Kaan Esener, who is currently the ambassador representing Turkey at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Ironically, the person who was in charge of the office that communicated this scandalous document and kept lists of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is now representing his country at the largest intergovernmental body in Europe, which champions democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights.
Public prosecutor Adem Akıncı, who received the Foreign Ministry document on February 23, 2018, forwarded the classified CDs to the Organized Crimes Unit of the Ankara Police Department for further action against Turkish nationals who were profiled abroad by Turkish embassies and consulates. Akıncı also ordered the police unit to examine their affiliation with the Gülen movement and to present information about ongoing police investigations and arrest warrants issued for the suspects.
A CD including data from police records was sent on March 13, 2018 to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in a secret communiqué by Volkan İmişçi, deputy head of the Organized Crime Unit at the Ankara Police Department. İmişçi informed the prosecutor’s office that more profiling documents and lists of names from Turkish embassies and other government agencies abroad keep coming in to the police, noting that the investigation into the people listed is continuing.
According to the document, police records on the suspects consist of legitimate activities such as depositing funds in a private bank, volunteering at Gülen-affiliated organizations, working for companies linked to the movement and using mobile apps that were legal at the time. Schools, private banks, companies and other organizations were licensed and duly authorized by the government and regularly monitored and audited by the relevant government agencies. In addition, the official document informs the public prosecutor of the separate investigations launched into Turkish nationals, the number of whom may exceed the thousands.
Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers and businessmen, have either been dismissed or arrested since 2016 for using ByLock or having accounts at the now-closed Bank Asya.
Although the Erdoğan government expanded the powers of surveillance for its intelligence agency and extended immunities for its agents who conducted operations on foreign soil targeting dissidents, other institutions of the government such as the Foreign Ministry and the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) were also used to spy on critics, opponents and dissidents in other countries.
The document also lays bare how criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials were conducted in Turkey. It confirms that the Turkish judicial system is no longer impartial, credible or independent as indicated by several decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in favor of the victims.
The Erdoğan regime is notorious for labelling as terrorists opposition groups such as journalists, human rights defenders and academics. The Gülen movement and its members are not designated as terrorists by the EU, the US or any other Western country or international organization, unlike Turkey, which does so label them.
The eight pages of classified documents that expose the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s spy network is posted below: