Repression: Erdogan regime uses intelligence services to spy on opponents (Part 1)
Over the last two decades, the Turkish opposition has suffered various kinds of abuse and restrictions on freedoms, to the point of assassination and kidnapping, at the hands of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime, especially after the scripted July 15, 2016 coup. In this “Repression” series, we discuss the Turkish regime’s methods of repressing and eliminating the opposition.
Ankara, in its attempts to eliminate the Turkish opposition wherever they are found, uses its intelligence services to track down and chase opponents, in flagrant violation of the role assigned to them, as the mission of the intelligence services is to protect the homeland from foreign schemes and not from its own people. Perhaps this reflects confusion striking Turkey as a result of its agencies being preoccupied with protecting Erdogan’s seat of power. After the 2016 coup, Turkish intelligence conducted suspicious activities in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Central Asia through a secret government body created in 2016 for this purpose and operating under the umbrella of the General Directorate of Security.
Among the most prominent countries that have witnessed intense activity of Turkish intelligence are the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Romania, Brazil, Angola, South Africa, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Australia, although Turkish agents are most active in the United States, Germany and Greece, where they have more names listed as being under surveillance compared to other countries.
The list compiled by the Turkish intelligence included the names of a number of opponents who were accused of fabricated terrorism charges, making them vulnerable to arrest if they returned to their country. They were also denied consular services in Turkish embassies and consulates, and their assets were confiscated in Turkey.
Among the most prominent espionage operations carried out by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is spying on opponents in Australia. Mehmet Yavuzlar, 63, is one such prominent figure who rejects the policies of the Turkish regime. Yavuzlar was the CEO of the Australian Universal Federation of Education and Culture, which is a Sydney-based charity working to promote education, diversity and cultural pluralism. He has been targeted by Turkish intelligence due to his attendance at a special meeting in May in Sydney during which he criticized the policies of the Turkish president, which confirms Turkish intelligence’s penetration in Australia.
Ankara's intelligence services are also working to recruit agents in European societies, as the MIT has succeeded in planting agents in many of the main government agencies that deal with Turks and non-Turkish Muslim communities abroad to administer the examination and recruitment program, especially in France, Austria and Germany. The agents receive huge salaries for the intelligence services that they carry out, as they bear the burden of spying on about 5 million Turkish expatriates, to the point that some of the funding for covert operations is carried out through cash carried in diplomatic bags via Turkish Airlines. Some businessmen who finance projects in Turkey are compensated through various means, such as being awarded government contracts and tenders.
The Association to Support International Students and Student Activities (Wonder) in Austria is one of the most important platforms the intelligence agency uses to identify potential recruits in Europe.
For example, Fatih Yavuz Yiğit is one such recruiter from the Austrian Wonder group. He first took a job at the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) and later transferred to the MIT.
It is noteworthy that many of YTB's vice-presidents are in fact Turkish intelligence agents tasked with overseeing the entire scheme, including Gürsel Dönmez, who has lived in Austria for 22 years and led the Austrian branch of the Union of International Democrats (UID), an organization that acts as the lobbying arm of the Erdogan government and has coordinated operations in parallel with the MIT.
Dönmez even wrote a book on intelligence methodology, and he is currently working in Erdogan’s office. Rumors have circulated in Ankara circles about his name as one of the possible successors to intelligence head Hakan Fidan at MIT.