MI6, the CIA and Turkey’s rogue game in Syria

World View: New claims say Ankara worked with the US and Britain to smuggle Gaddafi’s guns to rebel groups

The US’s Secretary of State John Kerry and its UN ambassador, Samantha Power have been pushing for more assistance to be given to the Syrian rebels. This is despite strong evidence that the Syrian armed opposition are, more than ever, dominated by jihadi fighters similar in their beliefs and methods to al-Qa’ida. The recent attack by rebel forces around Latakia, northern Syria, which initially had a measure of success, was led by Chechen and Moroccan jihadis.
America has done its best to keep secret its role in supplying the Syrian armed opposition, operating through proxies and front companies. It is this which makes Seymour Hersh’s article “The Red Line and The Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels” published last week in the London Review of Books, so interesting.

Attention has focussed on whether the Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, aided by Turkish intelligence, could have been behind the sarin gas attacks in Damascus last 21 August, in an attempt to provoke the US into full-scale military intervention to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” a former senior US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.

Critics vehemently respond that all the evidence points to the Syrian government launching the chemical attack and that even with Turkish assistance, Jabhat al-Nusra did not have the capacity to use sarin.

A second and little-regarded theme of Hersh’s article is what the CIA called the rat line, the supply chain for the Syrian rebels overseen by the US in covert cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The information about this comes from a highly classified and hitherto secret annex to the report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the attack by Libyan militiamen on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. The annex deals with an operation in which the CIA, in cooperation with MI6, arranged the dispatch of arms from Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s arsenals to Turkey and then across the 500-mile long Turkish southern frontier with Syria. The annex refers to an agreement reached in early 2012 between Obama and Erdogan with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying funding. Front companies, purporting to be Australian, were set up, employing former US soldiers who were in charge of obtaining and transporting the weapons. According to Hersh, the MI6 presence enabled the CIA to avoid reporting the operation to Congress, as required by law, since it could be presented as a liaison mission.

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The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen. The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers. The disaster in Benghazi, which soon ballooned into a political battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.

This happened at the moment when Assad’s forces were starting to gain the upper hand and al-Qa’ida-type groups were becoming the cutting edge of the rebel military.

The failure of the rebels to win in 2012 left their foreign backers with a problem. At the time of the fall of Gaddafi they had all become over-confident, demanding the removal of Assad when he still held all Syria’s 14 provincial capitals. “They were too far up the tree to get down,” according to one observer. To accept anything other than the departure of Assad would have looked like a humiliating defeat.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar went on supplying money while Sunni states turned a blind eye to the recruitment of jihadis and to preachers stirring up sectarian hatred against the Shia. But for Turkey the situation was worse. Efforts to project its power were faltering and all its chosen proxies – from Egypt to Iraq – were in trouble. It was evident that al-Qa’ida-type fighters, including Jahat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and Ahrar al-Sham were highly dependent on Turkish border crossings for supplies, recruits and the ability to reach safety. The heaviest intra-rebel battles were for control of these crossings. Turkey’s military intelligence, MIT, and the paramilitary Gendarmerie played a growing role in directing and training jihadis and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular.

The Hersh article alleges that the MIT went further and instructed Jabhat al-Nusra on how to stage a sarin gas attack in Damascus that would cross Obama’s red line and lead to the US launching an all-out air attack. Vehement arguments rage over whether this happened. That a senior US intelligence officer is quoted by America’s leading investigative journalist as believing that it did, is already damaging Turkey.

Part of the US intelligence community is deeply suspicious of Erdogan’s actions in Syria. It may also be starting to strike home in the US and Europe that aid to the armed rebellion in Syria means destabilising Iraq. When Isis brings suicide bombers from across the Turkish border into Syria it can as easily direct them to Baghdad as Aleppo.

The Pentagon is much more cautious than the State Department about the risks of putting greater military pressure on Assad, seeing it as the first step in a military entanglement along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are the main opponents of a greater US military role. Both sides in the US have agreed to a programme under which 600 Syrian rebels would be trained every month and jihadis would be weeded out. A problem here is that the secular moderate faction of committed Syrian opposition fighters does not really exist. As always, there is a dispute over what weapons should be supplied, with the rebels, Saudis and Qataris insisting that portable anti-aircraft missiles would make all the difference. This is largely fantasy, the main problem being that the rebel military forces are fragmented into hundreds of war bands.

It is curious that the US military has been so much quicker to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya than civilians like Kerry and Power. The killing of Ambassador Stevens shows what happens when the US gets even peripherally involved in a violent, messy crisis like Syria where it does not control many of the players or much of the field.

Meanwhile, a telling argument against Turkey having orchestrated the sarin gas attacks in Damascus is that to do so would have required a level of competence out of keeping with its shambolic interventions in Syria over the past three years.

PATRICK COCKBURN
Sunday 13 April 2014

Find this story at 13 April 2014

© independent.co.uk

Sy Hersh Reveals Potential Turkish Role in Syria Chemical Strike That Almost Sparked U.S. Bombing

Was Turkey behind last year’s Syrian chemical weapons attack? That is the question raised in a new exposé by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh on the intelligence debate over the deaths of hundreds of Syrians in Ghouta last year. The United States, and much of the international community, blamed forces loyal to the Assad government, almost leading to a U.S. attack on Syria. But Hersh reveals the U.S. intelligence community feared Turkey was supplying sarin gas to Syrian rebels in the months before the attack took place — information never made public as President Obama made the case for launching a strike. Hersh joins us to discuss his findings.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As Syria continues to remove its chemical weapons arsenal under the monitoring of the United Nations, a new article by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh questions what happened last year in the Syrian city of Ghouta, when hundreds of Syrians died in a chemical weapons attack. The United States and much of the international community blamed forces loyal to the Assad government, and the incident almost led the U.S. to attack Syria. But according to Hersh, while President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were making the case for U.S. strikes, analysts inside the U.S. military and intelligence community were privately questioning the administration’s central claim about who was behind the chemical weapons attack.

According to Hersh, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page “talking points” briefing on June 19th which stated the Syrian rebel group al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell. According to the DIA, it was, quote, “the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort.” The DIA document went on to state, quote, “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.” A month before the DIA briefing was written, more than ten members of al-Nusra were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh now joins us from Washington, D.C. His latest piece is headlined “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” It was just published in the London Review of Books.

Sy Hersh, welcome back to Democracy Now! Lay out what you have found.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you just laid out part of it. I think the most important thing about the document is that—as you know, I was on this show, and the London Review did a piece that I wrote, months ago, questioning just the whole issue of “Whose Sarin?”—was the title. It wasn’t clear. This doesn’t mean we know exactly what happened in eastern Ghouta. What we do know—I’m talking about the military, the Pentagon and the analysts—is that the sarin that was recovered wasn’t the kind of sarin that exists in the Syrian arsenal. It just raises a grave question about one of the basic elements of the president’s argument for planning to go to war. The real point of the Shedd document, and the reason I wrote so much about it, is because when I did that piece months ago, the White House said they know of no such document, and there’s no—they have no information about sarin being in the hands of al-Nusra or other radical groups or jihadist groups inside Syria.

Here’s what’s scary about it. What’s scary about it is the military community—I know that the Southern Command, etc., were very worried about this possibility. The war is going badly for some of these jihadist groups. They obviously—more than al-Nusra, other groups obviously have the capacity now to manufacture sarin, with the help of Turkey, and the fear is that as the war goes bad, some of this sarin—you can call it a strategic weapon, perhaps; when used right, it can kill an awful lot of people very quickly—is going to be shipped to their various units outside of Syria. In other words, they’re going to farm out the chemicals they have, who knows where—northern Africa, the Middle East, other places—and then you have a different situation that we are confronting in terms of the war on terror. That’s the reality.

Meanwhile, the White House’s position, again, with this article, once again, even though we—this document they claim no longer existed, we ran a big chunk of it. Clearly, I have access to it. They are still insisting, “We know of no such document.” This head-in-the-sand approach really has to do with something I write about in the article. I quote people as saying, once the president makes a decision, it’s almost impossible to change—to get it changed. The president decided that the Syrians did it, and we’re justified in thinking that and continuing to think that, no other option exists. And so, he’s predicated a foreign policy which is a head-in-the-sand policy, because, meanwhile, we have a serious problem with these kind of weapons, particularly as Syria gets rid of the weapons. The only people inside Syria with those weapons are the wackos. And so, there we are.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the rat line?

SEYMOUR HERSH: The rat line is an informal designation of a—the CIA is—there’s a lot of very competent people in the CIA. I give it a hard time, but you’ve got to acknowledge a very—a lot of very bright people still work there, and they know what they’re doing. During the Iranian war, when—during when Cheney and Bush were deeply involved in trying to find out whether there was a secret underground nuclear facility inside Iran—they absolutely believed it—we would send in Joint Special Operation Command teams undercover from Pakistan, from wherever, through routes that the CIA had known for smuggling and moving cash. They would use those rat lines to go in.

And the rat line in this case is, very early in 2012, when this—I don’t know why, but maybe because of the hubris over what—the victory we thought we had in Libya ousting Gaddafi, which is a mess of its own, we set up a covert, a very secret operation inside Libya to funnel arms through Turkey into the Syrian opposition, including all sides—those who were secular, those who had legitimate grievances against the Assad government, and the other groups sponsored by the Saudis and Qataris, who are really trying to create a Wahhabi or Salafist government in Syria, take it over. And this was a very secret operation. It went for a long time. It only ended when the consulate in Benghazi was overrun. And it was done without—as I write, without telling Congress. And the reason we even know about it, there was a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi that was published a few months back raising questions about security, etc., the same issues Republicans constantly talk about, but there was a secret annex to the report that described this process of funneling stuff. And it was done with money, actually, from the Turks, from the Saudis and the Qataris. We sort of used their money, and we funneled—to use it to buy weapons and funnel it. The CIA was deeply involved in this.

In effect, you could almost say that, in his own way, Obama—you can call it shrewd or brilliant. He was almost channeling Saudi Arabia and Qatari and the Turks to get something done we wanted done, which was to have the opposition defeat Bashar al-Assad. And that’s what it was. It was a long-running operation. It only ended—and, by the way, when it ended with the—when we shut it down after Benghazi was overrun, we suddenly saw all kinds of crazy weapons be showing up, including MANPADS, the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles. We showed—they were suddenly showing up inside—inside Syria in the hands of various jihadist groups. So, clearly, the rat line we set up after we shut it down had a life of its own, which is often that happens in these kind of operations.

AMY GOODMAN: After the Syria talks concluded earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry renewed his backing of the departure of Bashar al-Assad and said the United States is prepared to increase support for the rebel opposition.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: No one has done more to make Syria a magnet for terrorists than Bashar al-Assad. He is the single greatest magnet for terrorism that there is in the region. And he has long since, because of his choice of weapons, because of what he has done, lost any legitimacy. … I will just say to you that lots of different avenues will be pursued, including continued support to the opposition and augmented support to the opposition.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Secretary of State John Kerry. Sy Hersh, your response?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, by this time, they knew from the Joint Chiefs of Staff—they knew that the British had come to us with sarin that had been analyzed at their laboratory and that—we share a laboratory on chemical and biological warfare issues with Britain, place called Porton Down. It’s their chemical warfare facility. And we, Americans, share that in terms of analyzing international problems when it comes to chemical and biological warfare. So it’s a lot of—we have a lot of confidence in the British competence. And so, the Brits came to us with samples of sarin, and they were very clear there was a real problem with these samples, because they did not reflect what the Brits know and we know, the Russians knew, everybody knew, is inside the Syrian arsenal. They have—professionals armies have additives to sarin that make it more persistent, easier to use. The amateur stuff, they call it kitchen sarin, sort of a cold phrase. You can make sarin very easily with a couple of inert chemicals, but the sarin you make isn’t very—isn’t as lethal as a professional military-grade sarin and doesn’t have certain additives. So, you can actually calibrate what’s in it. They came to us, very early, within six, eight days, 10 days, of the August 21, last year’s terrible incident inside—near Damascus, when hundreds were killed. And it was overwhelming evidence.

And so, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by its chairman, Martin Dempsey, an Army officer of many years of experience—he was commander of the Central Command, covered the Middle East—they did go to the president, and they raised questions. They let him know the problems. And they also talked about the fact that the military was, I can say, unhappy. Military people tend to be—when you give them an assignment, they’ll do it, but often they see the risk more than civilian leaders. The first—the president wanted a wave of bombing, and the military came up with a list of a number of targets—I think 21, 31, something like that, targets—runways and other stuff. And they were told by the White House—I don’t know who—that they wanted something that would create more pain for Bashar. So then, the next thing you know, they’re coming back with a massive bombing attack, two air wings of B-52 bombers dropping 2,000-pound bombs, hitting power nodes, electricity nodes, etc., the kind of attack that would cause an awful lot of damage to civilian infrastructure. And that was an awful lot for the Joint Chiefs, and they really raised that question with the president.

And as I write, I don’t think there’s any other issue that would have forced him to stop as he did. The notion of we’re going to suddenly go back and sign a chemical disarmament treaty with the Syrians, that the Russians had been talking about, that had been raised a year earlier, and we didn’t bite them. He clearly jumped on it then. And he—look, you’ve got to give the president credit. As much as he wanted to and as much as he talked about it, when faced with reality, he backed down. He didn’t say why. But, you know, we don’t expect—we have learned not to expect very much credibility on foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, the fact that we don’t get straight talk from the top means that the bureaucracy can’t do straight talk. If you’re inside the bureaucracy, you can’t really tell the White House something they don’t want to know.

AMY GOODMAN: Uh—

SEYMOUR HERSH: That’s—yes, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, I want to talk Turkey for a minute.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: In your piece, you mention the leaked video of a discussion between the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan, and senior officials of a false flag operation that would justify Turkish military intervention in Syria. This is Erdogan’s response to the leaked recording.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: [translated] Today they posted a video on YouTube. There was a meeting at the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Syria, on the tomb of Suleyman Shah. And they even leaked this on YouTube. This is villainous. This is dishonesty.
AMY GOODMAN: Turkey briefly imposed a ban on YouTube following the leaked recording. Sy Hersh, could you explain what the Erdogan administration’s support for the rebels, the Turkish support for the rebels, has consisted of and where the U.S. now stands on this?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, where we stand on it now is that there’s not much we can do about it, because—well, let me just tell you what we know. What we do know, that Turkey is—that al-Nusra groups have been inside Turkey buying equipment. There’s also reports that they’ve also received some training from the Turkish intelligence services, which is very—is headed by a man named Fidan, who is very known. There’s reports, wonderful report in The Wall Street Journal recently about Fidan’s closeness not only to Erdogan, the prime minister and the leader of Turkey, but also to the most radical units. And so is Erdogan. They’re all supporting—if they have a choice, they’re supporting the more fundamental groups inside Syria. And so, we know they supply training. We know also there’s a—there’s, I guess you could call it, another rat line. There’s a flow—if you’re going to send the chemicals that, when mixed together, meddled together, make sarin, they flow—that flow comes from inside Turkey. A sort of a paramilitary unit known as the gendarmy—Gendarmerie and the MIT [Milli Istihbarat Teskilati] both are responsible for funneling these things into radical groups. There’s actually a flow of trucks that brings the stuff in. And so, Turkish involvement is intense.

And I can tell you, and as I wrote in this article, the conclusion of many in the intelligence community—I can’t say it’s a report, because they didn’t write a report about it—the conclusion was, based on intercepts we have, particularly after the event, was that there were elements of the Turkish government that took credit for what happened in eastern Ghouta, with the point being that this sarin attack crossed Obama’s famous red line. If you know, Obama had said in the summer of 2012, there’s a red line that, if they cross in terms of using chemicals or doing too much, the opposition, he will bomb to stop Bashar. And so, Turkey was dying, trying, repeatedly in the spring—there’s a lot of evidence there were some attacks in the spring. The U.N. knows this, although they don’t say it. I write about that, too, in the article. And also, the American community knew. That’s the reason why that secret report I wrote about, the talking paper, was written. We knew that the radicals were—had used—the jihadist groups had access to nerve agent and had used it against Syrian soldiers in March and April. Those incidents that were always described by our government as being the responsibility of the rebels, with high confidence, it’s just not so. And the report makes it clear. We have had a huge problem before the August attack in—near Damascus. We knew about this potential for months before. We just—it’s the kind of information, for some reason, it doesn’t fit with what the administration wanted to hear, so it just never got out. And that—

AMY GOODMAN: On—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, on Sunday, the website EA WorldView published a piece headlined “There is No Chemical Weapons Conspiracy—Dissecting Hersh’s ‘Exclusive’ on Insurgents Once More.” The author, Scott Lucas, questioned the claim that rebels could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack last August, given the range and scale of the operation. He wrote, quote, “Reports on the day and subsequently indicated that 7-12 sites were attacked with chemical agents at the same time. In other words, whoever was responsible for the attacks launched multiple surface-to-surface rockets with chemical payloads against opposition-held towns in East Ghouta and one town in West Ghouta, near Damascus. [The chemical] attacks were … followed by … heavy conventional attacks.” The author, Scott Lucas, says that you fail to ask questions about whether anyone, apart from the regime, would have the ability to carry out such an extensive operation. Sy?

SEYMOUR HERSH: [inaudible] first article on—we’re past that. We now know. Actually, The New York Times even ran a retraction, of sorts. You had a—it was like reading Pravda. But if you read the article carefully, The New York Times had run a series of articles after the event saying that the warheads in question that did the damage came from a Syrian army base, something like nine kilometers, six miles, away. And at that time, there were a number of analysts, a group from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], led by Ted Postol, who used to be a science adviser to the CNO, the chief of naval operations, clearly somebody with a great deal of background and no bias. He did a series of studies with his team that concluded that the warheads probably didn’t go more than one or two, at most, kilometers—two kilometers, 1.2 miles. And we now know from the U.N. report—a man named Ake Sellstrom, who ran the U.N. investigation, he’s concluded the same thing: These missiles that were fired were fired no more than a mile.

They were—one looks—just from the footage one saw, they were homemade. They didn’t fit any of the nomenclature of the known weapons. And don’t think we don’t have a very good picture of what the Syrians have in terms of warheads. They have a series of warheads that can deliver chemical weapons, and we know the dimensions of all of them. And none of these weapons fit that. And so, you have a U.N. report. You have this independent report saying they were—went no more than one or two kilometers. And so, I don’t know why we’re talking about multiple-launch rockets. These are homemade weapons. And it seems very clear to most observers—as I say, even to the U.N. team that did the final report—the U.N., because of whatever rules they have, wasn’t able to say that—who fired what. They could just say—they just could describe the weapons and never make a judgment. But I can tell you, I quote somebody from inside that investigation unit who was very clear that the weapons fired were homemade and were not Syrian army. This is asked and answered; these are arguments that go on. This is—I assume it’s a blog. I don’t know the—I don’t know the blog.

AMY GOODMAN: And—

SEYMOUR HERSH: But this has been going—yes?

AMY GOODMAN: And Turkey’s interest, if it were the case, in pushing the red line and supporting an attack that would be attributed to Assad—their interest in getting the U.S. to attack Syria?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, my god, totally of great interest, because Erdogan has put—the prime minister of Turkey has put an enormous amount of effort and funds and others, including his intelligence service, in the disposable in the—he and Bashar are like, you know, at loggerheads. He wants to see him go. And he’s been on the attack constantly, supporting the most radical factions there. And also, I must say he’s also supporting the secular factions, the people who seriously want to overthrow Bashar and don’t want to see a jihadist regime; they just want to see a government that’s not controlled by one family, you know? But there’s no question Turkey has a deep investment in this. And it’s going badly. It’s very clear now that the Syrian army has the upper hand and is essentially—the war is essentially over. I know, I don’t like to—in terms of getting rid of Bashar, that’s no longer a done deal. There’s going to be some outpost, perhaps, in areas near Turkey where there will be various factions. They’ll be under pressure from the Syrian army all the way. But, essentially, this is a losing card we have. We don’t like to admit it, but that’s it. Bashar has held on. And whatever that means—

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Washington, [D.C.]. We will have a link to your latest piece in the London Review of Books, headlined “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, 20 years ago today, the genocide in Rwanda began. We’ll go to Kigali. Stay with us.

MONDAY, APRIL 7, 2014

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Turkey denies exposing Israeli spies to Iran

Washington Post report accuses Ankara of blowing the cover of 10 Iranians who met in Turkey with Mossad handlers.

Davutoglu said the Washington Post allegations were “without any foundation” [Reuters]

Turkey denied on Thursday a US newspaper report claiming it had revealed an Israeli spy ring working with Iranians on its soil to the authorities in Tehran, a sign of the souring ties between the once-close allies.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had last year revealed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting in Turkey with Mossad handlers.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the allegations were “without any foundation”.

“[Turkish intelligence chief Hakan] Fidan and other security agents report only to the Turkish government and the parliament,” he said.

The allegation angered officials in Ankara, already on the defensive after a Wall Street Journal article last week suggested Washington was concerned that Fidan had shared sensitive information with Iran.

Other officials in Ankara, speaking on condition they not be named, described the article as part of an attempt to discredit Turkey by foreign powers uncomfortable with its growing influence in the Middle East.

“Turkey is a regional power and there are power centres which are uncomfortable with this… stories like these are part of a campaign,” a Turkish official said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

‘Very complex’

There was no immediate comment from Israel, but Israeli ministers have accused Erdogan of adopting an anti-Israeli stance in recent years. Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin declined to comment on the report, but said relations with Turkey were “very complex.”

“The Turks made a strategic decision … to seek the leadership of our region, in the Middle East, and they chose the convenient anti-Israeli card in order to build up leadership,” he told Israel Radio.

The relationship hit the rocks in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists seeking to break Israel’s long-standing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Relations between the two US allies have been fraught ever since, with military cooperation frozen and mutual distrust scuppering attempts to restore ties, despite efforts by US President Barack Obama to broker a reconciliation.

Iran has long accused Israel of spying on it soil and of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists, the last in January 2012.

In April 2012, Iran announced that it had broken up a large Israeli spy network and arrested 15 suspects. It was not clear if this was connected to the alleged Turkish leak.

Last Modified: 17 Oct 2013 17:15

Find this story at 17 October 2013

Turkey blows Israel’s cover for Iranian spy ring

The Turkish-Israeli relationship became so poisonous early last year that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.

Knowledgeable sources describe the Turkish action as a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap the Israelis.” The incident, disclosed here for the first time, illustrates the bitter, multi-dimensional spy wars that lie behind the current negotiations between Iran and Western nations over a deal to limit the Iranian nuclear program. A Turkish Embassy spokesman had no comment.

Israeli anger at the deliberate compromise of its agents may help explain why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became so entrenched in his refusal to apologize to Erdogan about the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident . In that confrontation at sea, Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish-organized convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Nine Turks were killed.

Netanyahu finally apologized to Erdogan by phone in March after President Obama negotiated a compromise formula. But for more than a year before that, the Israeli leader had resisted entreaties from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to heal the feud.

Top Israeli officials believe that, despite the apology, the severe strain with Erdogan continues. The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however.

Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials. Instead, Turkish-American relations continued warming last year to the point that Erdogan was among Obama’s key confidants. This practice of separating intelligence issues from broader policymaking is said to be a long-standing U.S. approach.

U.S. officials were never sure whether the Turkish disclosure was done in retaliation for the flotilla incident or was part of a broader deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Israeli intelligence had apparently run part of its Iranian spy network through Turkey, which has relatively easy movement back and forth across its border with Iran. The Turkish intelligence service, known as the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT, conducts aggressive surveillance inside its borders, so it had the resources to monitor Israeli-Iranian covert meetings.

U.S. officials assessed the incident as a problem of misplaced trust, rather than bad tradecraft. They reasoned that the Mossad, after more than 50 years of cooperation with Turkey, never imagined the Turks would “shop” Israeli agents to a hostile power, in the words of one source. But Erdogan presented a unique challenge, as he moved in 2009 to champion the Palestinian cause and, in various ways, steered Ankara away from what had been, in effect, a secret partnership with Jerusalem.

The Israeli-Turkish intelligence alliance was launched in a secret meeting in August 1958 in Ankara between David Ben-Gurion, then Israel’s prime minister, and Adnan Menderes, then Turkey’s prime minister. “The concrete result was a formal but top-secret agreement for comprehensive cooperation” between the Mossad and Turkish intelligence, wrote Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman in their 2012 book, “Spies Against Armageddon.”

The groundwork had been laid secretly by Reuven Shiloah, the founding director of the Mossad, as part of what he called a “peripheral alliance strategy.” Through that partnership, Israelis provided training in espionage to the Turks and, ironically, also to Iranians under the shah’s government, which was toppled in 1979.

Fidan, the Turkish spy chief, is a key Erdogan adviser. He became head of the MIT in 2010 after serving as a noncommissioned officer in the Turkish army and gaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in Ankara. After Fidan took over the Turkish service, “he rattled Turkey’s allies by allegedly passing to Iran sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel,” according to a recent profile in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal also noted U.S. fears that Fidan was arming jihadist rebels in Syria.

The Netanyahu-Erdogan quarrel, with its overlay of intelligence thrust and parry, is an example of the kaleidoscopic changes that may be ahead in the Middle East. The United States, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all exploring new alliances and struggling to find a new equilibrium — overtly and covertly.

Read more from David Ignatius’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more about this issue: David Ignatius: Rouhani sees a nuclear deal in 3 months Soli Ozel: The protests in Turkey won’t be the last Fareed Zakaria: Israel dominates the new Middle East Sonet Cagaptay: Syria becomes a wedge between the United States and Turkey Dani Rodrik: Turkey’s miscarriage of justice

By David Ignatius, Published: October 17

Find this story at 17 October 2013
© The Washington Post Company

Main opposition slams Erdoğan over wiretapping

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticizez the government for not addressing the issue of illegal recordings and locating the perpetrators of these crimes

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), speaks during a breakfast with Ankara media bureau chiefs.
The leader of the main opposition party likened the wiretapping of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Uludere tragedy, in which 34 civilians mistaken for terrorists were killed, and accused the ruling party of practicing a double standard with regard to unlawful eavesdropping.

“In democratic countries, the political power should decidedly address and resolve these kinds of problems. They have to find the perpetrators and bring them to the justice. Did this happen? No. If the political power does not address the issue – which does not target itself – that is, if it applies a double standard, then it cannot obtain results,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Ankara media bureau chiefs on Dec. 26. “The incident took place a year ago and if the perpetrators cannot be found yet, then we have to find those responsible for it. Then this is another Uludere incident,” he said, referring to failed attempts since early 2012 to ascertain who gave the order of the attack against the civilians.

“What we have observed with this unlawful eavesdropping is the double standard the government is practicing. It feels disturbed when the prime minister is wiretapped but gloats when others are monitored. This is not right. At the end of the day, Mr. Prime Minister, whatever goes around comes around,” he said.

Stressing that Erdoğan’s political rivals have been frequent victims of wiretapping and many politicians’ privacy have been violated through video recordings in the past, Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the government for not addressing the issue and locating the perpetrators of these crimes. “This is a crime that we should all react against together. The victim can be the prime minister or a citizen. But we should denounce it altogether,” he said.

Yet there is a graver situation with regard to wiretapping in the country, according to Kılıçdaroğlu. “There are some acts that turn illegal wiretapping into a legal one. You will ask how it is possible. If some officials apply to the court to legally wiretap journalists but submit fake names to do so, this is a graver crime. I wonder what the prime minister’s reaction to that was.”

Describing attempts to eavesdrop on Erdoğan as a serious and grave issue, the main opposition leader asked the prime minister to inform the people about the perpetrators of this crime and further explain his claim that he might have been wiretapped by the deep state. “I think the prime minister should first answer the question regarding what the deep state is. Which ‘deep state’ wiretapped Erdoğan? The legal one or the illegal one?”

Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım is one of the people responsible for the wiretapping of Erdoğan, he maintained, recalling the minister’s advise that people not talk on the phone if they believe they are being eavesdropped on. “If you are disdainful of such an important issue, then it ends up with the wiretapping of the prime minister.”

Support to ODTÜ
Regarding ongoing attempts to isolate Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), whose students protested Erdoğan last week, Kılıçdaroğlu criticized both the government members and rectors of other universities that issued statements criticizing ODTÜ and its students. “We are, of course, against violence. There should be no violence. But we are equally against an understanding that regards the students’ right to protest, to open placards and to shout slogans, as violence. We also do not approve of other universities’ attempts to see the incident through the eyes and discourse of the prime minister. These are not the real views of these universities but of the rectors appointed by the [ruling] Justice and Development Party (AKP),” he said.

Noting that Erdoğan was escorted by nearly 3,500 policemen at ODTÜ, he asked “Are you going to a university or to an enemy country?”

‘Erdoğan won’t be able to be the president’
Reaffirming his statement that he would vote for President Abdullah Gül if the presidential race of 2014 would be between Gül and Erdoğan, Kılıçdaroğlu said he believed Turkey would elect someone eligible to this post who will not be Erdoğan. “The people will surely not elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as president. Can someone polarizing Turkey that much be the president? Can someone who enjoys the tension be the president? I trust in my people,” he said.

December/27/2012

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

Find this story at 27 December 2012

© http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com

Who bugged the Turkish prime minister? And other questions

The rumors started to hit the political corridor as soon as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Security Chief Zeki Bulut was removed from office on Sept. 7, 2012.

He was actually appointed as the police chief of the Western Anatolian town of Denizli. On paper it was a promotion, but in fact it was a clear demotion according to tendencies in the Turkish bureaucratic system; you’d expect a bigger city after protecting the prime minister for years. A few days later it was understood that he was not alone. Most of the 200-strong team of bodyguards including four police commissars and five squad leaders were moved elsewhere; some papers had claimed that the entire police team and some civilian officers in the Prime Ministry building were replaced.

The rumors were about a number of bugs found in Erdoğan’s office by the electronic sweeping teams of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). It was not possible to make that a proper news story since it was not possible to obtain even a tiny bit of information from any official source, until Erdoğan himself said on Dec. 21 in an NTV interview that he was also eavesdropped on, possibly by the remnants of a “deeper state” in Turkey. “A deeper state exists almost in every country,” he claimed. “We try a lot but unfortunately it is not possible to eradicate the deeper state”; that was in reference to the ongoing court cases of Ergenekon, Balyoz and OdaTV in which many army officers, academics, journalists and writers, lawyers and police chiefs are being tried for conspiring to overthrow the government.

Journalist Ahmet Şık, who was under arrest from one of those cases up until a few months ago claimed in an article in Birgün newspaper on Dec. 26 that the unveiling by Erdoğan exposed a rift within the ranks of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) between the core and the followers of the U.S.-resident Islamic theologian Fethullah Gülen. According to this claim, the policemen removed from being the close guard of Erdoğan were sympathizers of the Gülen group, which has been serving the government dearly since the beginning of the Ergenekon, Balyoz and OdaTV probes. Prime Ministry sources deny the claims that the replacement of the bodyguards has anything to do with the bugs in the office.

Or should we say offices? Because according to the stories appearing in Hürriyet, Milliyet and Star newspapers on Dec. 26, the bugs were found in the last weeks of December 2011 in both the Prime Ministry building and the private office of Erdoğan in his apartment home in Ankara. That was when he returned from his more than 20-day stay in Istanbul following an intestinal operation there. The fact brings another factor into the equation. On Feb. 7, 2012 the Istanbul prosecutors who were working on the coup claim cases attempted to interrogate Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, MİT, together with two former officers, which made Erdoğan furious. A number of prosecutors and police officers who had been claimed by Turkish media to be close to the Gülen group were removed from their offices to less relevant positions and Erdoğan forced a law change from Parliament to make the prime minister’s permission obligatory to open an investigation into MİT officers. One has to recall that soon after Fidan had taken his office in May 2011, an illegally recorded tape was leaked to the media about the (failed) secret talks between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in which Fidan had taken part.

December/27/2012

Find this story at 27 December 2012

© http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com

Speculations mount over PM’s wiretapping

Fingers continue to be pointed as speculation grows in Ankara over who is responsible for wiretapping the prime minister

Speculations have been mounting over perpetrators of the eavesdropping of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after he made public Dec. 21 that wiretapping devices were found in his home-office.

Erdoğan then suggested it was actors within the deep state behind the wiretapping, but fell short of further elaborating on who the deep-state members were exactly. Days later on Dec. 25 Erdoğan offered to close the “bugs issue,” but noted one more bug had been found at his residence.
Deep state refers to a term extensively used in Turkey to describe clandestine collaboration between high-level state security forces and criminal organizations.

Some critics pointed to the Fethullah Gülen movement for eavesdropping on the premier, recalling conflict between the government and the Gülen movement that surfaced when National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan was called to testify as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) probe.

The Gülen movement is an influential moderate-Islamist movement led by Fethullah Gülen, who now resides in the United States. The movement has been accused by critics of manipulating Turkey’s judicial and security apparatus. The Gülen movement has generally lent support to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since its foundation in 2001.

However, an apparent conflict between the ruling party and the movement surfaced earlier this year when a specially-authorized prosecutor in Istanbul called MİT head Fidan to testify about secret talks with the PKK on Feb. 7.

A special law was hastily adopted to prevent Fidan from testifying. In June, Erdoğan accused the specially-authorized courts of “going too far.” “He was instructed by me. If you want to take someone [to prosecute], then take me,” Erdoğan had said.

In July, specially-authorized courts were abolished despite objection from newspapers close to the Gülen movement.

Journalist Ahmet Şık underlined in daily BirGün Dec. 25 that Erdoğan’s doubts of being wiretapped were not new as he held doubts since February when Fidan was called to testify by prosecutors at a time when he was in the hospital.

Two separate bugging devices were found at Erdoğan’s office in his house. These devices are currently being examined by the MİT, according to reports.

Suspicions that Erdoğan was being wiretapped were voiced by the opposition when Erdoğan’s security chief and all of his bodyguards were changed in September. After Erdoğan’s office at Parliament was renovated from top to bottom in October, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair Gürsel Tekin issued a Parliamentary question to Erdoğan on Dec. 3. “The renovation of the prime minister’s office coincides with the replacement of his bodyguards. This move raises suspicion whether the prime minister was eavesdropped on,” Tekin said.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) secretary-general İsmet Büyükataman, for his part, asked yesterday if the MİT knew who secretly listened to Erdoğan. “Does the MİT know who eavesdropped on Erdoğan? Have they taken the necessary precautions? Is the Republic of Turkey so helpless that it is unable to find who put those bugs in the prime minister’s office?” Büyükataman said in a statement.

December/27/201 ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

Find this story at 27 December 2012

© http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com

Mysterious clandestine group behind Turkish wiretap case

Early last January, two concealed audio surveillance devices were found at the Ankara headquarters of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party (CHP). Officials and supporters of the center-left party, which is currently Turkey’s main opposition political force, were shocked by the discovery, and an investigation was launched to uncover the culprits. In a surprising move, Turkish police raided late last week the home of a prominent union official, and discovered documents that are said to directly link the CHP wiretaps with Ergenekon, a shadowy ultranationalist network with strong links to the Turkish armed forces. The documents were reportedly discovered at the home of Mustafa Özbek, chairperson of the Türk Metal workers’ union, who is already in prison awaiting trial on criminal conspiracy charges. They appear to disclose that the Ergenekon group set up a clandestine network of safe houses in Turkish capital Ankara, as well as in the occupied Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, for the sole purpose of wiretapping the communications of targeted individuals and organizations. The safe houses were reportedly equipped with wiretapping systems purchased in Israel, some of which were portable and were thus moved to various cities and towns in Turkey, in accordance with Ergenekon mission directives. Ergenekon is a clandestine ultra-nationalist organization with secularist and anti-Western objectives. Its membership, which is reportedly drawn primarily from Turkey’s military and security establishments, is involved in both criminal and political activities aiming to preserve the political power of Turkey’s armed forces, while subverting the rise of Islamism and keeping Turkey out of the European Union. The existence of this mysterious organization was revealed in 2001 by Tuncay Güney, an operative of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), who was arrested for petty fraud. Rumors about the group resurfaced in 2007, when police in Istanbul’s Ümraniye neighborhood discovered a safe house containing dozens of hand grenades. The discovery sparked a broad juridical investigation into Ergenekon’s activities, which has so far revealed that the shadow network has carried out several targeted assassinations aimed at toppling Turkey’s pro-Islamic government “by creating chaos and mayhem”. Among those individuals listed as targets in Ergenekon’s recent wiretap conspiracy are officials and maintenance staff at CHP’s headquarters, as well as several leftist politicians and union officials.

March 10, 2009 by intelNews
Tuncay Güney
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |

Find this story at 10 March 2009