by Abdullah Bozkurt
The secret document shows that Turkey keeps tabs on critics even after they manage to cross into Greece…
Turkish intelligence agency MIT infiltrated refugee camps in Greece in order to spy on critics of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, secret documents have revealed.
According to a classified police report that compiled data from various government agencies, the intelligence was collected on members of Erdoğan critic the Gülen group who were forced to flee to Greece to escape an unprecedented crackdown in neighboring Turkey. The document was electronically date-stamped June 29, 2019, when it was shared as an inter-agency document with other branches of the government through the Electronic Information Management System (Elektronik Bilgi Yönetim Sistemi, or EBYS).
Although MIT’s clandestine activities in Greece are widely known, the document is a rare piece of evidence that confirms such operations on foreign soil. The document exposes Turkey’s surveillance of refugees and migrants in Greece in order to identify names, plans and whereabouts of those who were persecuted by the Erdogan regime even while abroad.
The explanatory note for a woman named Hilal Bilim, who is wanted on Gülen-linked charges, says she is one of those who fled Turkey in the aftermath of a false flag coup bid on July 15, 2016. “As a result of the intelligence work, she is one of those Gülenists who was identified as having stayed in refugee centers [in Greece]”, the note explained, stressing that some members and sympathizers of the Gülen movement had illegally crossed into Greece, with some staying and applying for asylum there and others moving to other European countries, mainly Germany.
The classified intelligence was uncovered in a criminal investigation overseen by Ankara prosecutor Adem Akıncı into a number of Gülenists who live abroad. Among them was Denmark-based Turkish journalist Hasan Cücük, who faced a credible death threat, prompting the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, or PET) to move him to a safe place in 2017 until the threat was neutralized.
The intelligence gathering activity targeting Gülenists in Greece was located on an Excel-style worksheet with an explanatory note attached next to Bilim’s name. According to the paperwork trail, her name was also mentioned in a statement given by a defendant, and prosecutor Akıncı ordered the Ankara police department on November 20, 2018 to investigate Bilim and others named in the statement. On January 7, 2019, Ibrahim Bozkurt, head of the counterterrorism department, sent the full report on the teacher and others to the prosecutor’s office. The report included information obtained from various sources. In the teacher’s case, it was clear that that the information came from the intelligence services of the Erdoğan government.
Bilim was described as a teacher who had worked for a Gülen school in Turkey, and an arrest warrant was issued for her by the Konya 2nd Criminal Penal Court. Her husband Cemal Bilim was also profiled in the same intelligence document. According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, 96,719 teachers and academics were purged from Turkey’s public and private educational institutions. The Erdoğan government jailed some 20,000 instructors and arbitrarily fired 34,185 public school teachers and 5,719 academics including professors from state universities in the 2016-2017 period.
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 of 2013 that exposed secret kickbacks in money laundering schemes involving an Iranian sanction buster, blamed Gülen for an investigation into his family members and business and political associates. He branded the group as a terrorist entity although no violent act had been associated with it and launched a major crackdown against 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 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.
Article first appeared on Nordic Monitor.
Abdullah Bozkurt lives in Sweden. He is director of Nordic Research and Monitoring Network. He is also journalist and author of Turkey Interrupted Derailing Democracy. He tweets under @abdbozkurt.