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Turkish spies targeted US organization led by former senior US officials

Turkish spies targeted US organization led by former senior US officials


Abdallah Bozkurt/Stockholm

Covert investigations by Turkish Foreign Ministry intelligence have targeted a nonpartisan U.S. political organization that counts former senior U.S. government officials on its board of directors.

Classified documents obtained by Nordic Monitor reveal that the Turkish Democracy Project, a US-based non-profit organization presenting itself as an international political organization and created in response to Turkey's democratic regression towards authoritarianism, has attracted the attention of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The clandestine surveillance initiative, run by the Turkish Foreign Ministry's secret unit, the Directorate of Intelligence and Research (stihbarat ve Gvenlik leri Genel Mdrl), has designated the organization as a threat to Turkey's authoritarian regime. 'Erdogan.

Documentation found in Ankara police files indicates that Turkish diplomats collected intelligence on the organization, its leaders and its advisory board, then forwarding a detailed report to headquarters in Ankara for further action.

Turkish Democracy Project Team

Launched in the summer of 2021, the Turkish Democracy Project has established itself as a virulent critic of the Erdogan government. John Bolton, a former US national security adviser, stressed the urgency of tackling Turkey's situation, tweeting at the start of the project: “It's time to sound the alarm on Turkey.”

“Under the leadership of an authoritarian leader, a once-reliable NATO ally is turning its back on democracy and embracing #Russia. I am happy to join the advisory board to shine a light on this darkening situation,” Bolton added.

On its website, the organization claims that President Erdogan has threatened his regional neighbors, supported extremist groups, deployed men and equipment to support conflicts from the Middle East to Europe, persecuted ethnic minorities, destroyed free press, imprisoned and killed politicians. opponents, eroded democratic institutions and spread corruption throughout Turkish institutions.

The project highlights its commitment to fostering Turkey's adoption of more democratic policies and combating the continued erosion of democratic institutions, human rights guarantees and the country's economic prosperity.

Classified study carried out by the Cybercrime Unit of the General Directorate of Security on the website and social media accounts of the Turkish Democracy Project:


The organization's CEO is Mark David Wallace, a former diplomat who served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Human Rights Management and Reform. UN. Its executive director is Madeleine Joelson, responsible for overseeing the planning and management of all Turkish Democracy Project programs and initiatives.

In addition to Bolton, the advisory board includes influential figures such as Joseph Lieberman, a former U.S. senator who died in March 2024, and Frances Townsend, who served as aide to President George W. Bush on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. terrorism.

In addition, Giulio Terzi di SantAgata, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy; Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida; David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Rights at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University; and Alejandro Wolff, who served in various positions at the State Department, are also listed as members of the organization's board of directors.

The advisory board also includes two veteran officers with extensive experience within the Central Intelligence Agency. Norman T. Roule, who oversaw major Middle East-related programs during his tenure at the CIA, and Robert Richer, former deputy assistant director for operations at the CIA, both bring expertise to the project.

The Turkish Democracy Project's efforts appear to have greatly destabilized Erdogan's government, prompting government agencies to issue directives to monitor the organization and its affiliates, as well as state-owned and/or state-run media efforts to launch smear campaigns and defame the organization. Democracy Project in Türkiye.

Screenshot of the Turkish Democracy Project homepage.

Intelligence gathered by diplomats, some of whom apparently operated under diplomatic cover on behalf of Turkey's main intelligence agency, Milli stihbarat Tekilat (MIT), on the organization, was then disseminated to other Turkish government entities, including to the police and the Ankara General Prosecutor's Office. as evidenced by the written record.

This implies that the organization and its affiliates could face punitive measures, including criminal charges, possible arrest warrants for its members, entry bans into Turkey and asset freezes.

Indeed, the documents reveal that the Erdogan government integrated the Democracy Project's activities in Turkey into an anti-terrorism investigation, subjecting those involved to potentially harsher prison sentences under Turkish law. The Erdogan administration frequently uses the tactic of labeling critics and opponents as terrorists, launching criminal investigations and abusive legal proceedings with partisan members of the judiciary.

A classified release, marked secret on December 2, 2022 and cataloged under file number E-45599763-63044-2022120215341906748, indicates that the intelligence was transmitted by Institution V, a code name meant to designate the intelligence section of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 9. 2022. It bears the signature of Salih Yldrm, deputy head of the anti-terrorism department at the General Directorate of Security.

A classified communiqué sent by the General Directorate of Security reveals the espionage carried out against the American organization:


In the statement, Yldrm explained that the General Directorate of Security finalized its own investigation into the Turkish democracy project on December 2, 2022, after receiving intelligence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This information was then disseminated to the Ankara Police Department in order to facilitate the construction of a false case against the organization and its affiliates, in collaboration with the Ankara Prosecutor's Office.

Another statement, signed by Police Chief Engin Aydn, Head of the Ankara Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau, on December 18, 2023, reveals that the police cybercrime unit has been tasked to monitor and to target the website, emails and social media accounts affiliated with the Turkey Democracy Project.

The full report by the cybercrime unit on the US organization says police examined social media accounts and attempted to identify email addresses, physical addresses and phone numbers associated with the website and to social media profiles. Additionally, the report reveals that the police cybercrime unit attempted to hack the Twitter account, now known as X, of the Turkey Democracy Project by exploiting the password reset function.

A December 2023 statement sent by police chief Engin Aydn reveals the attempted hacking of the Turkish Democracy Project Twitter account:


Turkish investigators have advocated leveraging the legal aid agreement between Turkey and the United States to obtain additional information from the Turkey Democracy Project website, in an effort to identify individuals who recorded the website and their corresponding addresses.

The joint efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the police were then forwarded to the General Prosecutor's Office in Ankara, where the reports were integrated into an ongoing anti-terrorism case. This case is currently being tried by a high criminal court in Ankara.

Documents from Ankara police provide only partial insight into Turkey's vast global espionage program, suggesting Erdogan's government may have targeted other organizations and individuals in foreign countries, particularly in North America and Western Europe, due to their critical coverage of Turkey. .

The use of Turkish embassies and consulates as intelligence centers saw a notable increase after Hakan Fidans assumed the role of foreign minister in the summer of 2023. Fidan, who previously headed the infamous agency Turkish intelligence agency MIT for a decade played a central role. significant role in supporting the Erdogan government's efforts, including false flag operations, influence campaigns and kidnapping critics for interrogation under torture on undisclosed black sites.

Hakan Fidan, Turkish Foreign Minister and former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT.

Fidan brought with him several senior intelligence officers from MIT and strategically placed them in key positions within the Foreign Ministry, effectively transforming the diplomatic service into a major intelligence apparatus.

The Foreign Ministry's secret intelligence unit, the Directorate of Intelligence and Research, has undergone a restructuring, with Fatma Ceren Yazgan, a veteran Turkish intelligence officer, named to head the directorate. Yazgan played a crucial role in the profiling of Turkish ambassadors and diplomats, which ultimately led to the summary and brutal removal of a third of Turkish diplomats from the foreign service in 2016.

President Erdogan is increasingly relying on intelligence services to support his authoritarian rule in Turkey, suppress dissenting voices and suppress opposition factions. Increased overseas surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts aim to intimidate critics and adversaries abroad, foster a climate of fear within Turkish diaspora communities, and exert influence over foreign policies and internal affairs of host countries.

Fatma Ceren Yazgan, a longtime Turkish intelligence officer who currently heads the foreign ministry's espionage section.




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