A Turkish prosecutor launched a criminal investigation into US officials and American defense contractor Lockheed Martin representatives over their alleged role in a 2016 coup attempt, secret documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
Serdar Coşkun, a Turkish prosecutor in Ankara who gained notoriety for going after critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ordered the General Staff to disclose all information about defense procurement meetings held in Ankara in July 2016. In a legal brief filed on July 27, 2016 Coşkun wrote that the meetings in which American officials and employees of a US defense contractor might have been part of the failed coup of July 15, 2016 and said he wanted to look into details of the meetings including the content of the discussions and the participants.
The meetings between Turkish and US officials on July 12-13, 2016 were nothing out of ordinary and were technical in nature and part of a modernization program for Turkish F-16 fighter jets. They had been planned for a long time and were organized as part of a bilateral agreement signed between Turkey and the US on April 26, 2005 that was to expire in 2020. However, Coşkun’s order triggered a series of communications among government agencies, the military and the prosecutor’s office.
On August 1, 2016 Dinçer Ural, a brigadier general and legal counselor for the General Staff, collected all the information about the US delegation from the Air Force Command and the Ministry of Defense and sent the documents to the prosecutor’s office as requested. The identities of US nationals, their Turkish counterparts, the minutes of the meetings and country-sensitive F-16 data were forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further action.
According to dozens of classified documents reviewed by Nordic Monitor, the first meeting on July 12 was a discussion between Turkish Air Force and US government officials regarding a radar upgrade for the Block 30 F-16 warplanes in the inventory of the Turkish Air Force. The Air Force had been looking into the possibility of acquiring Active Electronic Scan Array (AESA) systems to replace its Mechanical Scan Array (MSA), and the negotiations between Turkish and US officials on that upgrade had been ongoing since September 2013.
John Philbin, chief of the F-16 New Business Office for the F-16 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and Randy Bulkard from the same office participated. The Turkish delegation was led by Col. Kadircan Kottaş, who was the then-acting chief for the Program Management Department at the Air Force Command.
Lists of participants of meetings are posted above.
The minutes of the meetings indicated that the US officials talked about various Turkish requests for the modernization of F-16 jets in cooperation with US defense contractor Raytheon, which holds the license for the equipment. The Turkish side expressed their preferred choices and the ways in which they wanted to proceed with the upgrades, while the US officials explained the procedures and how they could mediate and clear the sales between Raytheon and the Turkish Air Force, which are subject to export controls and prior approvals in the US. Philbin urged the Turkish side to talk to Raytheon before drafting the Letter of Request (LOR), examine the cost options for various upgrades and study delivery schedules.
More proposals were put on the table during the meeting. The Turkish colonel stated that the Air Force was specifically interested in the SLEP upgrade in order to decrease downtime for the jets. The cost of the upgrade, as presented by the US side, was listed as $738 million, which the Turkish delegation said it would take up with the political leadership. There were other estimated figures for two other options presented by the US. The discussion at one point turned to whether the US officials could trim the cost and adjust the pricing according to the Turkish requests.
The second meeting that the Turkish prosecutor eyed for a criminal investigation was held on July 13 with the participation of Turkish and US government officials as well as representatives from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The focus of the meeting was Turkish requests to set up a System Integration Lab (SEL) and develop in-country reprogramming (ICR) to accommodate domestically produced parts for the F-16 program.
In addition to Philbin, who had attended the meeting a day earlier, Greg Byrnes, Turkey program manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, and Tom Crumb, a systems engineer with Lockheed, joined the meeting as well. Lt. Col. Köksal Essoy, from the Program Management Department at Turkish Air Force headquarters, and Lt. Selçuk Cumhur Kabasakal, chairman of the department at the F-16 system management branch at the Ministry of Defense, led the Turkish delegation. The minutes of the meeting, reviewed by Nordic Monitor, show the delegation discussed hardware and software upgrade and maintenance options for various components of the F-16 jets. The talks were very detailed and technical and centered on meeting Turkish Air Force requests.
Both meetings were held at the Office of Defense Cooperation Turkey (ODC-T), which functions as part of the US Security Assistance Organization to Turkey. The office was originally established in 1947 under the name of the Joint American Military Mission for Aid to Turkey (JAMMAT) and has been renamed twice since then. The paper trail show the Air Force informed both the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense about the July 12 meeting on June 16, 2016. The letter, which gave details about pricing proposals for the radar upgrade of the F-16s was signed by Brig. Gen. İdris Aksoy, who headed the Air Force Planning and Principles Department. The letter also listed 18 Turkish officers as participants of the upcoming meeting.
The criminal probe was launched after a private who was doing his obligatory military service and was assigned to the ODC office went to the police and gave a statement to the counterterrorism unit. Also, Sarper Kaya Yazgünoğlu, a 30-year-old Turkish national, told the police on July 20, 2016 that he suspected the meetings held between Turkish and US officials were part of a plan to stage the coup in Turkey. Yazgünoğlu, a teacher by profession, was serving as a corporal in the guard unit at the base that hosted the ODC office. He said all the visitors’ names were provided to his office in advance and that he cleared them based on the ODC list. He said he recorded the names of Turkish and US officials who attended the meetings at ODC and thought they were involved in the coup.
The meetings were completely legal and conducted under the agreement signed between Turkey and the US in 2005. The agreement was drawn up based on a Turkish letter of request (LOR) on keeping the F-16 fleet upgraded, which was responded to by a letter of request and acceptance (LOA) signed by Maj. Gen. John L. Hudson, then-assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force, on March 30, 2005. Yalçın Ataman, deputy undersecretary of the Ministry of Defense, signed the proposal on April 26, 2005 on behalf of the Turkish government.
The second meeting held on July 13 was requested by the Turkish side according to another document dated November 12, 2015 and signed by Brig. Gen. Aksoy, who referred to the 2005 agreement and explained why the Turkish side needed to put out a proposal for price and availability for the upgrades it had requested of the US government officials and Lockheed Martin employees. In fact, the document has an annex in the form of a draft proposal drawn by the Air Force so that it could be submitted to the US government. It talks about an information meeting, similar to the one in July 2016, that was held at ODC on September 16, 2015. Similar procedures were followed for the July 12 meeting as well, and the Turkish side prepared a draft letter in the form of a LOR, according to the documents.
The documents do not reveal what happened with the criminal investigation or if prosecutor Coşkun pressed on with the charges. The Ministry of Defense statement was clear, however, in concluding that the meetings had nothing to do with the coup attempt and were part of the routine scheduled events. Nevertheless, the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense shared all the confidential documents with the prosecutor’s office including a country-sensitive Power Point presentation by Lockheed Martin and the identities of the US nationals involved.
Given the fact that Turkish prosecutors, subordinated to the office of Turkish President Erdoğan despite supposed independence from the executive branch, do the dirty bidding of the government in going after critics and perceived enemies of the Islamist regime including US and NATO allies, it is not surprising to see that the issue escalated to this level in a criminal probe. The Erdoğan government often abuses the criminal justice system to punish its opponents and is keen to manipulate criminal prosecutions on dubious evidence to feed mass conspiracy theories in the 80-million-strong nation.