Secret documents have emerged that once again confirm expanded illegal information gathering and intrusive surveillance activities in neighboring Greece by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, or MIT) as well as the Turkish Embassy and its consulates.
The documents lay bare the fact that hostile acts by Turkish government agents in a NATO ally’s territory continues unabated as the threat from the long arm of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s relentless pursuit of critics abroad challenges Greek national security with no sign of it disappearing any time soon.
The first document, which was stamped secret and dated March 26, 2019, makes a reference to the spy agency as the code IV institution and lists 568 people identified through the intelligence gathering efforts. The Turks targeted by MIT were alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria and Libya.
According to the document MIT tracked the movements of Turkish asylum seekers while they were in Greece and determined that some had left the country, confirming to which European state or country in the Americas they had travelled as a final destination after stopping in Greece. Of the people who were spied on, 288 were described as former government employees, most of whom had worked in public schools in Turkey before they were unlawfully purged from their jobs with no administrative of judicial investigation.
The document listed 31 as former police chiefs, 23 as military officers and four as diplomats who worked in the Turkish Foreign Ministry. All had to flee an unprecedented crackdown and vicious witch hunt launched by the Erdoğan government against members of the Gülen movement as part of a transformation of the government bureaucracy, which is now filled with Islamists, nationalists and neo-nationalists.
The secret Turkish government document that reveals the existence of an intelligence report on Greece filed by spy agency MIT was put in a password-protected digital vault on internal police servers. It was distributed to dozens of Turkish provinces in a secret message for further police action against the Turkish asylum seekers identified in the MIT intelligence.
Hasan Yiğit, deputy head of the counterterrorism department at the Security Directorate General (Emniyet) in Ankara, signed the document which warned that the MIT report would be available in the digital vault for only 24 hours and provided a passcode to access to the file. Apparently concerned about a leak of the document and possible fallout from the scandalous activity in Greek territory, Yiğit warned the police units that the information must be treated on a need-to-know basis and must not be shared with any unauthorized third parties.
In another related document, also stamped secret, Erdoğan Kartal, deputy head of the counterterrorism department at the Security General Directorate in Ankara, on November 5, 2019 briefed on another intelligence report collected in Greece, this time not by MIT, but rather by the Turkish diplomatic missions in Greece.
The three-page intelligence report was cabled to Foreign Ministry headquarters by the Turkish Embassy in Athens and then forwarded to the police department, MIT and the Ministry of Justice. Code V was used to identify the Turkish Foreign Ministry as the source of the intelligence.
Kartal warned that the information must be treated with the utmost care and handled on a need-to-know basis and asked for feedback on what action was taken against people identified in the report. The three-page secret Turkish Embassy report listed 47 Turkish nationals who managed to escape wrongful imprisonment in Turkey on fabricated charges.
Two days later Ibrahim Bozkurt, deputy head of the Ankara Police Department, responded to the Security Directorate General, saying that an investigation into four people whose birth records were located in Ankara province had been initiated. Similar criminal probes were launched for others based on their birth registrations in other provinces.
The postscript shows that the letter was shared with the Interpol/Europol section of the Turkish police department as well. On January 17, 2020 Alp Aslan, deputy provincial police chief in Ankara, informed the Ankara 16th High Criminal Court about one person listed in the Turkish Embassy intelligence file as the person who was being tried in that court.
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 to avoid damaging 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.
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 ever 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 other entities 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 apparently intensified their operations in the neighboring NATO member.
The secret documents show that Turkey keeps tabs on critics even after they manage to cross into Greece and seek asylum under international human rights conventions.