Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Turkey is active in the Middle East fight all against all
Intelligence services are the foundation of any ruling regime in the Middle East, and their role in the whole world is extremely important. The attitude of the country’s authorities towards their employees is an indicator of the domestic political situation. A conflict with the intelligence services usually ends badly for the rulers. At least sometimes it is worse for law enforcers. Fortunately, the ruling elites never rely on one department and always form alternatives in an alliance with which they act when the time comes for another “long knife night”. This is not an exception to Turkey, where the local security forces had control for decades until Recep Tayyip Erdogan put the screws on them.
According to a secret MIT document received by the Turkish opposition website Nordic Monitor, seven percent of National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) staff have been fired or imprisoned since 2013. Five hundred fifty-eight positions have been abolished: 181 of them after major investigations conducted in December 2013, which revealed business contacts of Erdogan’s family with Turkish-Iranian financier Reza Zarrab (for financial transactions bypassing the anti-Iranian sanctions, he was under criminal investigation in the US) and Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi, accused of financial transactions for al Qaida (under the relevant UN and US verdicts).
Turkish operatives covered up these operations for solid kickbacks. Russian specialists know very well that in both Chechen wars MIT employees did the same thing: they took care of extremists for revenge.
Erdogan is under suspicion
A number of experts claim that the personnel purge was part of a campaign launched by the Turkish president’s entourage to get rid of MIT employees who objected to or expressed concern about illegal, violating national and international law operations. The fired personnel emphasize that some of the terrorist acts, which are attributed to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or the banned Islamic State (IS) in the Russian Federation, were in fact organised by MIT in the interests of the Erdogan government. IVB experts have repeatedly written that the Turkish authorities have actively used the IS for cover, with which MIT has working contacts, to organise high-profile attacks against opposition rallies in Turkey during key domestic political battles.
Recently, the European Union Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) published a report that the double suicide attack on October 10, 2015, when 105 people died at Ankara Railway Station, was carried out by a suicide bomber commissioned by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) through ISIS. According to the Europeans, the purge of hundreds of MIT officers under the pretext of their ties with the Fethullah Gulen movement was the result of the implementation of the transformation scheme of the Turkish intelligence service into a private detective bureau for Erdogan, which provides him and his inner circle with comfortable conditions for illegal financial operations and other sensitive missions in the process of the internal political struggle.
According to the UN and the US Department of Justice, another MIT illegal act was al-Qadi’s secret visits to Turkey. The Saudi businessman entered Turkey seven times before his name was removed from the United Nations list of suspected terrorists. He entered Turkey by private jet, without any border crossing stamps at the airport. MIT provided him with a company car, bodyguards and driver each time.
He met with MIT head Hakan Fidan at least five times during his stay in the country. Like Reza Zarrab, who regularly paid “assistance” to at least three ministers in the government for allowing the use of state banks to circumvent US sanctions, al-Qadi conducted similar operations through Turkish state banks with the blessings of the MIT leadership and also for kickbacks. It is safe to assume that al-Qadi played a bridging role between MIT and the Directorate of Operational Intelligence (DOI) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in financing and supplying the armed resistance forces to the Assad regime in Syria.
The MIT leadership was aware of these illegal activities. On April 18, 2013, the head of the intelligence service warned Erdogan about the alleged corrupt ties between Iranian businessman Zarrab and two ministers of the Turkish government. According to the law, the agency was supposed to send the information to the judicial authorities, but Fidan tried to conceal it and only informed Erdogan about the possible negative consequences.
The secret note stated that Zarrab had close ties to former ministers Muammer Güler and Zafer Chaglayan, whose sons were detained in an investigation of corruption in December 2017, which involved people from Erdogan’s inner circle and the leadership of the Justice and Development Party. At a press conference in Istanbul before his visit to Germany in February 2014, Erdogan had to recognise the authenticity of the document, wondered how it had become public, and stressed that MIT’s work was confidential.
A coup d’état with the permission of the authorities?
After the failed coup d’état on July 15, 2016, 277 officers were fired from MIT, using the state of emergency as a pretext. The opposition believes the putsch attempt was a staging organised by MIT in cooperation with the General Staff Chief Akar with Erdogan’s approval. Following the suppression, Akar was appointed Minister of Defence and Fidan received new funding and a mandate. The day before the coup attempt, Akar and Fidan met on July 15, before the riots began. Some experts believe that the coup d’état was initially prepared in accordance with the authorities’ plan to organise a mass provocation, which would allow for a massive personnel purge of the Turkish security block.
It is possible to argue whether it was a provocation or whether Akar and Fidan knew about the upcoming mutiny and decided where to fit in, just as a number of Wehrmacht generals doubted until the last moment whether they should take the side of the conspirators in “Operations Valkyrie” to eliminate Hitler on July 20, 1944. This version of the events looks more than plausible. Returning to the 377 employees scrubbed from MIT, we note that after the putsch about 150 operatives were thrown out. The rest were fired during 2015 in the course of several waves of personnel purges.
Ankara will help the jihadists
President Erdogan used MIT to arm and finance jihadists in Syria, including IS, al Qaida and other groups. Judicial investigations have documented the links between MIT employees and terrorists and have shown that some MIT operatives and agents acted outside of Turkish law in secret enterprises illegally sanctioned by Erdogan’s cabinet. There is no record of how many people were hired by MIT to perform these operations, and the information is kept secret.
In February 2014, Besir Ataley, then Deputy Prime Minister, who lobbied for the appointment of Hakan Fidan as MIT head in 2010, said in Parliament that there were about eight thousand intelligence officers. The majority of them work at headquarters in the capital’s Yenimahalle district, as well as in regional directorates in Istanbul, Izmir, Hatay and Diyarbakir. At the same time, there are no exact data on the number of contractors and staff of informants, but the official figures of the 2019 budget show that the government has allocated 1.2 billion Turkish Liras (about 220 million dollars) only for the salaries of employees of Fidan’s department. This means that even the number of eight thousand employees is greatly underestimated.
The audit report on the expenditures of the Turkish government, published in December 2018, shows that Turkey’s main intelligence service has sharply increased its budget from 834 million Lire in 2016 to 2.9 billion Lire in 2017. That said, the total budget of MIT for 2018 actually decreased to 2.335 billion Lire, i.e. by 7.6 percent. Since 2019, it has decreased to 2.157 billion Lire again, which will only be intensified by further devaluation of the Turkish currency.
The increase in MIT’s budget in 2017 was due to the financing of the construction of its new headquarters in the suburbs of Ankara. In addition, the agency received new equipment and funding for recruitment to strengthen the capacity of the intelligence service following the coup attempt. At that time some close advisors to President Erdogan accused the MIT of being ineffective in the fight against supporters of Fethullah Gulen. Talk in this case is primarily about the president’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalyna, who eyes the post of head of MIT…
As for the Syrian dossier, after the beginning of the civil conflict in this country, in MIT on the secret order of then the Prime Minister, now President of the Turkish Republic Erdogan, a special department was created to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and replace his regime with an Islamist government. In this regard, the scouts began to revive contacts with former Turkish law enforcement operatives and agents. These are former officers, military officers from the special operations forces and other people with a history. Many of them had problems with the law. MIT helped convicted criminals and suspects facing criminal charges to be released. “Dozens of former military personnel were released from prison as part of a systematic and deliberate campaign”, MIT sources say. These people were involved in training, arming and organising jihadist groups, mostly associated with al Qaida and in some cases with the IS. One of the agents was former SSO Major Nouri Gekkha Bozkir, who was dismissed and convicted for his involvement in the mafia structures embedded in the Turkish security services. In 2007, he was sentenced to six years in prison during an investigation into the mafia blackmail of government officials and politicians, but in November 2016, after the intervention of MIT, he was acquitted. Subsequently, Bozkir trained and armed jihadists in the Syrian Arab Republic for the Military Search and Rescue Group (MAK), which reports to the Turkish Special Forces Command (OKK).
The 2015 investigation confirmed the information on the supply of detonating cords to IS fighters, which was controlled by MIT operatives. After the police in the Akchakale district of Shanfiurfa intercepted a truck and seized more than six tons of cords used by jihadists to make IEDs, the data were made public. Bozkir, a partner in the Bishkek-based arms trading company DNS Defense, and infantry Major Mehmet Oktar were involved in the shipment.
Then nine suspects were charged, including the truck driver Yalchyn Kai. At the trial he said: the organisers assured him that the transportation was authorised by the authorities and he had nothing to worry about. The shipment of legally regulated explosives, where prior notification of the authorities by licensed dealers and registration with law enforcement at departure and arrival points are required, was apparently one of many, intended not only for IS, but also for other jihadi groups fighting in Syria.
The driver told during the interrogation and court hearing that one of the company’s employees introduced himself as an intelligence officer when loading explosives onto a truck in Afjonkarhisar and told him that the cargo was destined for IS with the approval of the government. He was sent from the warehouse to the village of Tahliburun in the western province of Ajfonkarahisar, and the detonating cords purchased from two suppliers in Turkey were loaded onto a truck at the roadside meeting point. All 6.4 tons of detonating cords (about 260 thousand meters) were loaded on a tractor-trailer with plate number 32DG475.
The driver added that they easily passed through the police checkpoints to Shanlyurfa with escort vehicles, which strengthened the authorities’ approval of the cargo. The investigation revealed that the detonating cords belonged to Trend Limited, the owner of which, retired policeman Mesut Dogan, worked in the weapons and explosives department of the Denizli police department. Dogan bought the company in 2014 and for some time mentioned his wife as the owner.
It should be noted that the cargo was originally planned to be delivered to the Turkmen groups in the Syrian Arab Republic, and they should have handed over a part of the cargo to IS supporters. Dogan’s testimony suggests that the operation was covered by a man identified as Lieutenant Ahmet Yasin Gunesh of the Turkish Armed Forces. The petition to the 2nd High Criminal Court of Shanlyurfa proved that he had worked for MIT, although his position was indicated as military. He jointly worked with the staff of the police special operations headquarters in the Gelbasi area of Ankara with Major Nouri Gekkhan Bozkir and Major Jema Shaheen and was involved in the shipment of at least four Stinger MANPADS to Syria.
This type of operation has been carried out by Turkish intelligence officers and their agents since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, first in cooperation with the KSA’s DOI, and then independently. Along with this, after the putsch in the Turkish Republic, the logistics of jihadist supply built by MIT was seriously disrupted, in particular, because of the infiltration into the logistics chains of Gulen’s supporters, which allows us to confidently assume that they were well known to the American CIA. Another reason for the collapse of the Islamists’ supply was the fact that, in addition to MIT, Turkish military intelligence officers were involved in the case, whose leadership was almost entirely arrested after the putsch.
MIT Deputy Director Sadik Ustun was responsible for all aspects of the operation and the Euphrates Shield campaign. Western intelligence officers who have been in contact with him consider the former Special Forces officer to be one of the most intransigent Turkish “hawks”. After retiring from the army in 2007, he founded a private military company with Ibrahim Jevaheer, the head of Cevahir Holding, who is close to President Erdogan.
Ustun joined MIT in 2012. He was assigned to supervise all operations of this service on the Syrian dossier, the fight against the Kurds of the National Self-Defence Forces and Gulen’s supporters abroad.
The key MIT agent in the organisation of supply and training of jihadist groups in Syria was and still is PMC SADAT, which is led by Erdogan’s advisor Adnan Tanriverdi since August 2016. A former special forces general, dismissed from the army because of Islamist beliefs, was able to attract officers to this PMC at the first stage, who lost their shoulder straps for similar reasons.
General Tanriverdi was one of the Turkish officers sent to Bosnia in 1996 to study military cooperation with the government of the Muslim leader Aliya Izetbegovic. This initiative was halted by the Dayton Accords, which stipulated that Bosnia should completely destroy its weapons. Izetbegovic wanted Turkish officers to lead the new army in Bosnia, but in the end Military Professional Resources Inc., founded by retired US generals, won the contract. To mitigate image risks, the company hired several Turkish officers to work under a Bosnian contract.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, it was PMC SADAT that became the key organiser of Syrian jihadists training, which allowed MIT to mask operations in this area and, if necessary, to distance itself from them. It can be confidently assumed that similar schemes will continue to be applied by Turkey in those areas of the Middle East (including the Horn of Africa) that Ankara considers to be its area of interest. The same is true of the regions under the close scrutiny of its main ally, the Emirate of Qatar.
For Russia, the weakening of the Turkish security forces and their connection with Islamist radicals (and not only in Syria) is a positive factor. It allows Ankara’s ambitions to be limited where its interests and those of Moscow overlap, and to find common ground with states that believe that Turkish operations in the Middle-East and in Africa are dangerous for themselves, including such Middle Eastern players as the UAE and Egypt, whose alliance is opposed to the Doha-Ankara axis. A special feature is Saudi Arabia, which competes with Turkey in the SAR and the UAE/Egypt alliance in Libya and the Horn of Africa, but cooperates with Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Manama in the fight against Qatar. A common pattern for the region is the struggle of all against all…
The article is based on materials from the Middle East Institute expert Yu. Schelgovin.