Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, or MIT) has expanded monitoring, illegal information gathering and intrusive surveillance activities in neighboring Greece, while the Turkish Embassy in Athens has engaged in similar operations in a blatant violation of international conventions, newly discovered secret documents have revealed.
The documents expose expansive, clandestine and hostile activities conducted by Turkish intelligence and diplomats in a NATO ally country. The secret operations, although targeting members of government critic the Gülen movement, reveal how Turkey has been transformed under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into conducting massive intelligence operations in a neighboring country and challenging Greek national security interests. They also tell the tale of the modus operandi of the new Turkey under one-man rule, often displaying the behavior of a non-rational, non-state actor in harassing, threatening and intimidating other countries in its immediate neighborhood.
According to the the first document stamped secret and dated February 13, 2020, the spy agency submitted a 39-page intelligence brief on February 7, 2020 that identified hundreds of Turkish citizens who took refuge in Greece to escape an unprecedented crackdown on critics, opponents and dissidents by the repressive government of President Erdoğan.
The secret Turkish government document that reveals the existence of an intelligence brief on Greece filed by spy agency MIT put in a password-protected digital vault on internal police servers.Greece_espionage_list2
The document was signed by Erdoğan Kartal, deputy head of the counterterrorism department at the Security General Directorate (Emniyet) in Ankara and distributed to dozens of Turkish provinces in a secret message for further police action against Turkish asylum seekers identified in the MIT intelligence.
Apparently concerned about a leak of the document and possible fallout from the scandalous activity in Greek territory, Kartal referred to the source of the intelligence as “the information note obtained from the affiliated (IV) institution.” The roman numeral IV is the code number for the notorious spy agency MIT, which employs huge financial and logistical resources to collect data on Erdoğan’s opponents abroad.
In their intra-agency communique, the Turkish police department often assigns codes to institutions such as MIT, the General Staff Intelligence Directorate, the Foreign Ministry Security and Research Directorate (otherwise known as the intelligence section) and Gendarmerie Intelligence to keep the source confidential. Masking the source also gives the agencies plausible deniability in the event they are exposed for engaging in illegal activity.
A page from the secret Turkish intelligence report that was compiled by spying on critics in Greek territory. Hundreds of people were profiled according to the report:Greece_spied_list_redacted
It is also a tactic to circumvent the strict requirements of the Turkish Code on Criminal Procedure (CMUK), which do not consider intelligence notes legal evidence in a court of law. Any evidence presented to the court must be obtained legally and authorized and reviewed by a court, and prosecutors must use only law enforcement agencies such as the police, not intelligence units, when they investigate.
However, in this specific case, information illegally obtained by intelligence was passed to the police department, which tried to hide the source’s identity and present it as evidence against people who were spied on by MIT. The 39-page report has the details of nearly 300 people who managed to cross into Greece to escape imprisonment on fabricated charges of terrorism and other crimes in Turkey, where the rule of law has effectively been suspended and torture and abuse are rampant in detention centers and prisons. On each page, a warning was printed at the bottom, cautioning that the intelligence must be used without identifying the source.
It is clear from the wording in the text that the police went to great lengths to protect the MIT intelligence activities in Greece from any public exposure, keeping the file in a secure internal communications network called PolNet and placed in a vault with a unique passcode for those who were authorized access to the intel. Instead of appending the MIT information to the police letter, which is the usual practice, or sending it through a courier for hand delivery in a sealed envelope, Kartal informed the counterterrorism units in dozens of provinces through electronic messaging system EBYS that the intelligence brief would be placed in a secure digital vault. He said the MIT document would disappear from the password-protected shared vault within 24 hours.
The police chief also warned that the information must be treated on a need-to-know basis and must not be shared with any unauthorized parties.
Another secret Turkish government document that reveals parallel espionage operations targeting critics in Greece conducted by the Turkish Embassy in Athens:Greece_espionage_list1
In another related document, also stamped secret, Kartal wrote on October 10, 2019 that his office had received intelligence from an affiliated institution numbered V about critics of the Erdoğan government in Greece. The Roman numeral V is a code for the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The second document with the intelligence note was apparently sent by the Turkish Embassy in Athens. The Foreign Ministry shared the document with the Security General Directorate as well as other relevant government agencies in Ankara.
The code V was also used for the Turkish Foreign Ministry in another secret document dispatched from the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi. In that document, it was revealed that officials assigned to embassies under the title of counselor and attaché for Interior Affairs have officially been instructed by the Erdoğan government to conduct spying operations in Georgia and other countries.
The four-page intelligence note filed by the Turkish Embassy in Athens includes the names of 69 Turks including spouses and children who live in Greece. The note incorporates information on criminal procedures that were initiated against them on fabricated charges in Turkey. The postscript shows that the letter was shared with the Interpol/Europol section of the Turkish police department as well.
First page of the intelligence note dispatched by the Turkish Embassy in Athens to Ankara. Turkish diplomats spied on 69 Turks who are residents or asylum seekers in Greece:Greece_espionage_embassy_redacted
The second document exposes how the Turkish government has been using diplomats and consular officers assigned to work in Greece as undercover agents to spy and collect information in the host nation’s territory in a blatant violation of the relevant Vienna Conventions.
The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. 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 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.
This is quite unprecedented given the fact that Turkey had generally been careful to separate its diplomatic work from espionage in order to protect its diplomats and consular officers and not harm bilateral ties. The intelligence officers attached to Turkish embassies are known to their host countries and merely function as liaison officers. However, turning career diplomats and consular officers into spies marks a new level and dangerous escalation in the governance style of Erdoğan in Turkey, where some 30 percent of its diplomats including high-profile ambassadors were purged and/or jailed.
The Gülen movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, is highly critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to the government’s arming and funding of radical jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.
Erdoğan, incriminated in a major corruption scandal in 2013 that exposed secret kickbacks in money laundering schemes involving Iranian sanctions buster Reza Zarrab, blamed Gülen for the graft investigations into his family members and business and political associates. He branded the group as a terrorist entity although no violent action has been associated with it, and launched a major crackdown on the group, jailing and/or purging tens of thousands of government employees, unlawfully seizing their assets, shutting down schools, universities, NGOs, media outlets, hospitals and others that were owned or operated by people associated with the movement.
Greece has served as an important destination for critics and opponents of the Erdoğan regime including Gülenists to escape Erdoğan’s wrath as it has both land and sea borders with Turkey. The Turkish intelligence services, already running operations to collect information using assets developed from minority Muslim groups in Greece, have intensified their operations in the neighboring NATO member. The secret document shows that Turkey keeps tabs on critics even after they manage to cross into Greece and seek asylum under international human rights conventions.