The leaked secret internal memo of a Turkish foundation run by the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has revealed the foundation's clandestine intelligence-gathering plans in close coordination with Turkey's spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MIT).
The three-page memo, obtained by Nordic Monitor, contains recommendations issued by the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), led by the president's son Bilal Erdoğan. It listed not only policy actions but also practical work the foundation and associated entities must take to help support Erdoğan's oppressive government. The proposals included intelligence gathering and surveillance in foreign countries by TÜGVA and aligned associations that work under the cover of nongovernmental organizations.
Although the recommendations appear to have specially targeted members of the Gülen movement — a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in the administration to Erdoğan's support of armed jihadist groups — the wording and broad policy suggestions make clear that they would be part of a massive espionage network built by the Erdogan regime abroad with the intention of spying on any target or interest.
TÜGVA proposed that NGOs "play an active role" in locating dissident Gülenists.
Stressing that the government's intelligence capacity might be limited, TÜGVA proposed that the foundation and other pro-government entities, operating as nongovernmental organizations in Turkey and abroad, "must play an active role" in locating Gülenists. "To support our state at this stage is crucial," the memo underlined.
The memo, created on August 14, 2016 and approved by TÜGVA management, claimed that it was the United States that had orchestrated a failed coup in 2016 and urged that TÜGVA and others ensure that a perception of the US being behind the coup must be nurtured in the international media. It recommended supporting Turkish state broadcaster TRT World and actively following the network's social media accounts to help expand its reach.
Many believe the failed coup was a false flag operation orchestrated by Erdoğan and his intelligence and military chiefs to set up the opposition for a crackdown. During coup trials, evidence emerged that many operatives of the intelligence agency had worked to make the limited military mobilization appear to be a real coup attempt.
Erdoğan immediately blamed Fethullah Gülen, a US resident, of being behind the coup, an accusation that Gülen strongly denied. The Turkish government has failed to present evidence to support the allegation. The US Department of Justice also concluded that Turkey's extradition request for Gülen on coup charges had not met the legal standards for extradition required by the US-Turkey extradition treaty and US law.
Long before the US presented its assessment of the Turkish extradition request, TÜGVA's memo was put into motion, and many government propagandists, aligned NGOs and even government officials started entertaining the idea that the US organized the coup against the Erdoğan government. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu publicly and repeatedly accused the US of orchestrating the coup, while similar chatter often appeared in the Turkish media, which is under the control of the regime.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Turkish authorities secretly investigated the US secretary of defense, Pentagon officials, US diplomats, German generals and NATO military leaders and diplomats in Turkey because they visited Incirlik Air Base in southern Adana province.
The shocking list of dozens of senior foreign officials who were targeted by Turkish authorities as part of a criminal investigation into the 2016 coup attempt was discovered among the documents in case file No.2016/46625-16. The officials were red flagged by the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor's Office because they visited the commander of the base, Staff Lt. Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, between July 2015 and July 2016.
TÜGVA's memo claimed that anti-Erdoğan articles appeared in the foreign press because reporters were paid to write such pieces and recommended that pressure must be applied on foreign media professionals and publications. It also advised members of the foundations and other like-minded groups to harass foreign journalists who entertained the idea that the coup bid was a false flag.
The Erdoğan government runs troll farm operations to shape public perceptions and often feeds fabricated stories to the government-controlled media. Those stories were amplified, with trolls, bots and influencers sharing the lies and fabrications on social media platforms.
Despite its staunch anti-US stand, TÜGVA has managed to leave its footprint in the US through its sister organization, TÜRGEV (Turkish Youth and Education Service Foundation), which is also run by Erdoğan's family. TÜRGEV, joined by the Turkish Islamist Ensar Foundation, notorious for numerous cases of sexual abuse of minors in Turkey, set up a US-based entity, Turken, in 2014. Turken, inaugurated by President Erdoğan, manages a 21-story dormitory in Manhattan and offers young American Muslims all-expense-paid trips to Turkey.
The trip, which includes sightseeing and visits to historic places, also includes private audiences with members of the Erdoğan family, government officials and Islamist ruling party politicians who are eager to push the idea of Erdoğan as the leader of all Muslims and show how Turkey under his leadership has been fighting off Islamic foes.
At the time the memo was circulated, İsmail Emanet, a close friend of Erdoğan's son Bilal, was the president of TÜGVA. He now serves as a member of the foundation's High Advisory Board along with Bilal. The Word document is filed in the "July 15 Round Table" folder, which suggests that the recommendations were made at a meeting with the participation of TÜGVA and government officials. The authenticity of the memo was verified by Enes Eminoğlu, the current head of TÜGVA, who admitted that somebody from inside leaked the document.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.