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Turkey's global spy program targeting critical journalists exposed

Turkey's global spy program targeting critical journalists exposed

 


Abdallah Bozkurt/Stockholm

A large-scale surveillance program operated in secret by the Turkish Foreign Ministry's intelligence services targets critical and independent journalists living in exile in Europe, the United States and Canada, confidential documents obtained by Nordic reveal Monitor.

The documents confirm that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government meticulously monitors journalists in the West, profiling them, compiling detailed intelligence reports and closely tracking their movements and activities.

This clandestine initiative is managed by the Foreign Ministry's secret unit, the Directorate of Intelligence and Research (stihbarat ve Gvenlik leri Genel Mdrl). This unit has gained additional mandates and resources since Hakan Fidan, the former head of Turkey's main intelligence agency, Milli stihbarat Tekilat (MIT), was named foreign minister last year.

Intelligence collected by diplomats, some of whom apparently operated under diplomatic cover for MIT, on the journalists was then disseminated to other Turkish government entities, such as the General Directorate of Security (Emniyet) and the Turkish Prosecutor General's Office. Ankara, as evidenced by the written records.

Terming the critical and independent work of journalists as black propaganda and disinformation, the Foreign Ministry said in the transmitted intelligence report that journalists target Turkish government institutions and officials, working to discredit them in the eyes of the public .

A classified communiqué sent by the General Directorate of Security reveals espionage against journalists in Europe and North America:

Secret_document_revealing_surveillance_of_Journalists_Redacted

The Erdogan government has decimated critical and independent media in Turkey, shutting down hundreds of outlets, including the country's main newspapers and broadcast networks, and imprisoning hundreds of journalists over the past decade. Many journalists have fled Turkey to escape this unprecedented crackdown on free and independent media, finding refuge in Western countries and continuing their work in exile.

The few remaining opposition media in Turkey are under the strict control of Erdogan's government, as they are obliged to echo the regime's rhetoric on fundamental issues, to respect the red lines imposed by Erdogan's communications office and to act with caution to avoid risking imprisonment. Under these dire conditions, media coverage of Turkey from abroad provides valuable insight into the Turkish government's record by highlighting the clandestine activities of President Erdogan and his associates in support of the authoritarian regime.

A press release classified and marked secret on December 2, 2022 indicates that the information was transmitted by Institution V, a code name supposed to designate the intelligence section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on November 9, 2022. It bears the signature of Salih Yldrm , the deputy head of the anti-terrorism department at the General Directorate of Security.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan

In the press release, Yldrm explains that the General Directorate of Security finalized its own investigation into the journalists on December 2, 2022, following receipt of information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This information was then disseminated to the Ankara Police Department to facilitate the creation of a false case against the journalists, in collaboration with the Ankara Prosecutor's Office.

Another statement, signed on December 18, 2023 by Police Chief Engin Aydn, Head of the Counterterrorism Bureau of the Ankara Police Department, reveals that the police cybercrime unit has been tasked with monitoring and to target websites, emails and social media accounts affiliated with journalists. .

The document included the names of journalists such as Abdullah Bozkurt, Levent Kenez and Blent Korucu in Sweden; Cevheri Gven and Sevin Zarslan in Germany; Said Sefa in Canada; and Emrullah Uslu and Adem Yavuz Arslan in the United States.

Cover page of a Turkish government report filed on Turkish journalists living in Sweden:

Spying_on_journalists_in_Sweden_Redacted

The attached documents indicate that more journalists have been targeted by the global espionage program run by the Erdogan government, using Turkish embassies as cover. Asm Yldrm, Aydoan Vatanda and Mehmet Faruk Mercan in the United States as well as Tarik Toros in the United Kingdom were also monitored by Turkish intelligence services.

The cybercrime unit's full report on the journalists says police examined social media accounts and attempted to identify email addresses, physical addresses and phone numbers associated with the website and profiles social networks. Additionally, the report reveals that the unit attempted to hack the Twitter (now known as X) accounts of journalists by exploiting the password reset feature.

Turkish journalists in the UK have also been targeted by Turkish government agents:

Spying_on_journalists_in_UK_Redacted

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 incorporated into the ongoing anti-terrorism cases against the journalists. 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.

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

Cover page of the Turkish government's surveillance report on journalists in the United States:

Spying_on_journalists_in_US_Redacted

Turkish journalists in Germany were monitored by Turkish government agents:

Spying_on_journalists_in_Germany_redacted

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

Nuh Ylmaz, a former intelligence officer, is currently deputy foreign minister.

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

Nuh Ylmaz, Fidans' longtime aide and former intelligence officer, became deputy foreign minister. While working for MIT, Ylmaz's primary mandate was to supervise Turkish media, conduct influence operations through intelligence assets planted in various Turkish media outlets, and help construct false narratives for support the domestic and foreign policy objectives of the Erdogan government.

A December 2023 press release sent by police chief Engin Aydn reveals the attempted hacking of journalists' X accounts on social networks:

Engin_Aydin_signed_document_omn_intelligence_gathering_on_journalists_abroad

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, appointed to head it. 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.

Sources

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2/ https://nordicmonitor.com/2024/05/turkeys-global-spying-program-targeting-critical-journalists-exposed/

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