Turkish intelligence services appear to have breached the security of a US resident who has long been an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in the government to Turkey’s arming of radical jihadist groups.
According to a trove of secret documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Turkish authorities picked up a confidential list of security protocols and measures adopted to insure the safety of Fethullah Gülen, a 79-year-old Turkish Muslim cleric who has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999. If the claims in the Turkish government documents are true, the incident can be seen as a major security breach and a disconcerting compromise of the safety of a high-profile dissident. The breach also fits into the familiar pattern of the Erdoğan government’s relentless pursuit of Gülen which, among other plots, included an alleged plan to abduct him from US soil, as The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2017.
A review of the documents reveals that recommendations prepared by Gülen’s aides in consultation with security experts were intercepted by the authorities in Turkey, exposing a major security flaw in protecting Gülen, who has a sizable number of followers in Turkey and around the world.
Secret Turkish government letter that claims they obtained confidential security protocols for exiled critic Gülen:UTAD1
In an exchange of letters among various agencies, Turkish security services claimed they got their hands on such sensitive documents from a witness identified only by the code name “garson” (waiter). Considering that Erdoğan’s partisan prosecutors in the past made up secret witnesses and created fake personalities to level accusations against government critics in sham trials, it may very well be the case that the information was in fact leaked to Turkish intelligence by a mole planted in the Gülen group or intercepted electronically.
The paper trail from the seized documents shows that Gülen’s aides sought the help of several Turkish entities that specialize in security with a view of boosting measures to provide better protection for the cleric. One of the organizations that was asked for help was an Ankara-based security organization called Uluslararası Güvenlik Politikaları Araştırma ve Dostluk Derneği (International Association for Security Studies and Friendship, or UPAD). The organization was run by professionals with various specialties ranging from intelligence to counterterrorism.
It is clear from reading the documents that Turkish intelligence managed to obtain confidential communications between Gülen’s aides in Pennsylvania and the representatives of UPAD. According to a letter sent by the General Directorate of Security (Emniyet) on May 5, 2018, the seized documents were assessed and analyzed, and the findings were reported to various government agencies. Tracking the names mentioned in the communications, the Turkish intelligence services identified specialists who were recruited to advise on Gülen’s security in the US.
For example, in a letter sent to the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office, Burhan Akçay, deputy head of the Organized Crime Department of the National Police, said the investigators identified 12 security specialists who were named in the documents. Some of the specialists were later arrested and prosecuted on dubious charges, while others were forced to flee into exile. Some 30,000 police officers including veteran chiefs who had investigated al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been purged and/or jailed by Erdoğan since 2013 on trumped-up charges, leaving him free to conspire with jihadist networks and maintain his corrupt practices without worrying about investigations by law enforcement officers.
Fatih İnalkaç, chairman of the board at UPAD, was unable to leave the country. He managed to remain at large until August 2019, when he was caught in a safe house after investigators tracked his whereabouts. İnalkaç is a well-known security expert who had worked in various branches of the National Police Department in the past, running strategy, education and training units as well as managing the external relations of the police department in the Turkish capital. He had been assigned to overseas mission to provide expertise and training of police in some 40 countries around the world.
Atilla Eser, a veteran police chief and a founding member of UPAD, was also arrested in August 2018. Metin Kavak, former deputy head of the Organized Crime Department, was also listed as a member of UPAD. He remains at large.
The Erdoğan government shut down UPAD in July 2016 and seized its assets on fabricated charges just as it closed nearly 2,000 other NGOs, foundations, unions and charity groups as part of the government crackdown on all independent, opposition and critical voices in the country.
The documents indicate that UPAD vetted 14 candidates who were fit to serve in the US on a temporary contract to advise on security matters and help protect Gülen against possible threats. Although retired specialists were for the most part used at the Chestnut Camp Retreat Center in the Poconos where Gülen lives, some active-duty police officers also signed up to provide services in a private capacity when they took vacation from the force, according to the names listed in the intercepted documents.
The confidential documents the Turkish intelligence services seized had notes on the description of requirements for the assignment such as fitness, expertise, family background and familiarity with the values of the Gülen movement. The cleric’s aides emphasized that they were keen to provide security but wanted it to be discreet and not bother the neighbors as well as guests temporarily visiting the retreat in the Pennsylvania town of Saylorsburg.
The administrators of the retreat center underlined that security was paramount but that compliance with rules and regulations by guests who arrive for short visits might be tricky and urged the specialists to enforce security measures without antagonizing or alienating neighbors and guests. They also cautioned candidates about divulging any information on their assignments to the occupants of the retreat while they were there and asked them to limit knowledge of the presence of security experts on a “need to know” basis.
Part of the communications with UPAD focused on logistical matters such as accommodation, travel, visas and family companions. It identified how the experts would be picked up at Newark Airport by staff members of the retreat after they had landed in the US. The retreat center management did not want the security specialists to bring family members as they increased the cost, complicated logistical arrangements and required schooling for the children. They preferred experts who were not married, or asked them to leave their families in Turkey if they were married or bring only one companion if necessary. They also recommended that UPAD select younger candidates if possible due to the fact that older advisors could have difficulty in adjusting to the surroundings and be less willing to show flexibility.
An association that was set up by retired policemen as an advocacy group, Küresel Mağdur Polis Emeklileri Derneği (KMPED), was also approached by the Gulenists, according to the documents. Mahir Kahraman, a KMPED member, was one of those who were vetted and assigned as a security advisor. His record in the police force before retirement was quite impressive. Kahraman served in the critical post of deputy head of protection in the Turkish Parliament. Raşit Poyraz, a founding member of KMPED, was also named as an advisor in the documents. Poyraz had earlier served as deputy head of the Directorate for Public Order in the National Police Department. KMPED shared the same fate as many other NGOs in Turkey and was unlawfully shut down by the Erdoğan government in July 2016.
Critics of the Erdoğan government, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, threats of death and abduction since 2014, when then-Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles in major corruption investigations that incriminated Erdogan, his family members and his political and business associates. The investigations revealed Erdogan was involved in a sanctions busting scheme that allowed Iran to use Turkish state banks to evade US sanctions. Turkish ministers and Erdoğan received commissions on the transactions. The investigations also uncovered how Erdoğan was personally linked to Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, at one time listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the US and the UN.
Police chiefs, intelligence officers, judges and prosecutors who investigated corruption, jihadists, organized crime and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IEGC) Quds Force activities in Turkey were all removed by Erdoğan, who hushed up ongoing criminal investigations.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 161 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to the latest monitoring report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight in 2016 by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. Since then, more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.
The assets of individuals and entities affiliated with the movement which, according to estimates from Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) amounted to $11 billion, were also expropriated.