Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman currently under indictment in the US, asked a former FBI official to plant dirt on dissident Fethullah Gülen.
Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a 44-year-old Turkish government operative who was indicted by US federal prosecutors, tried to run surveillance on opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Washington, D.C., and asked a former FBI official to plant dirt on Fethullah Gülen, a US resident and a fierce critic of Erdoğan.
Alptekin's secret efforts on US soil on behalf of the Erdoğan government were exposed during the trial of his associate Bijan Rafiekian, who was convicted of acting covertly as an agent of the Turkish government in the US without disclosing that relationship to the US government.
The plot included using the services of the Flynn Intel Group (FIG), a company founded by Rafiekian and retired general Michael Flynn to publicly and privately influence US politicians and public opinion, according to a statement released by the US Department of Justice.
Testifying as a government witness at Rafiekian's trial on July 17, 2019 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian McCauley, a former deputy assistant director of the FBI, revealed how Alptekin asked him to plant incriminating evidence against Gülen and run surveillance on Erdoğan critics in the Washington, D.C., area.
Court transcript showing Brian McCauley, a former deputy assistant director of the FBI, testifying that Kamil Ekim Alptekin asked him to plant evidence against Fethullah Gülen, a US resident and strong critic of Erdoğan.
McCauley, introduced to Alptekin by Rafiekian, who was also working with the Erdoğan government in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), submitted a report that detailed what course of action could be pursued against Gülen and his followers in the US. McCauley was working for FIG and directing research on behalf of a Turkish client.
But Alptekin was not happy with the suggestions and instead said he wanted dirt on Gülen, asking McCauley, "Can't you plant dirt?" McCauley testified that he rejected Alptekin's suggestion of planting incriminating evidence against Erdoğan's critic. According to McCauley, Alptekin wanted to portray Gülen as a terrorist and stage a scenario to make that happen.
Gülen, 82, has a lifetime record of opposing any violence and has often spoken against terrorism perpetrated on behalf of Islam. He has been a target of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as well as other jihadist groups, such as the al-Qaeda affiliated, Turkish jihadist group the Islamic Great East Raiders Front (İslami Büyük Doğu Akıncıları Cephesi, IBDA-C).
The Flynn group also rejected the suggestion of falsely portraying Gülen as a terrorist, much to the dismay of Alptekin and Turkish government officials.
Another request made by Alptekin was to have McCauley and his team run surveillance on Gülenists in the DC area, including audio surveillance. McCauley also balked at that idea. "I believe I told him: You watch too many movies. We don' t do that," he told the court during cross examination by trial attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant US Attorneys James P. Gillis and John T. Gibbs of the Eastern District of Virginia.
This was not the first time the Erdoğan government had attempted to frame Gülen as a terrorist. In 2011 Erdoğan, prime minister at the time, told a group of Turkish ambassadors at a closed meeting in Ankara that "I can declare them [Gülen movement sympathizers] terrorists with a prosecutor and three policemen and finish them off," in an apparent hint of framing the group with false accusations and abuse of the criminal justice system in Turkey.
Kamil Ekim Alptekin asked a former FBI official to frame Gülen as a terrorist, according to court testimony.
Erdoğan was furious at Gülen in the aftermath of the tragic Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, which resulted in the death of eight Turks and one dual Turkish-US citizen. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on June 4, 2010, Gülen criticized the Erdoğan government for allowing the al-Qaeda-linked Turkish charity group the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) to organize the flotilla.
Gülen went on to criticize the group for failing to obtain Israel's consent before setting out on their aid mission. "Organizers' failure to seek accord with Israel before attempting to deliver aid is a sign of defying authority, and will not lead to fruitful matters," he was quoted as saying. Gülen's take on of the IHH, a pro-Erdoğan group that works closely with Turkish intelligence agency MIT, was not well received by the Erdoğan government.
In fact, Erdoğan put his plan into motion right after far-reaching corruption probes that came to public attention on December 17 and 25, 2013 and incriminated Erdoğan, five cabinet ministers and his family members and business and political associates. Erdoğan has said that the corruption investigations were an attempt by what he calls a criminal organization to overthrow his government. Gülen denied having any role in the graft probes, and the government failed to present any solid evidence that linking the graft probes to Gülen.
However, a few prosecutors secretly launched criminal probes on terrorism allegations into Gülen and his followers starting in early 2014 and drafted indictments in 2015, resulting the seizure of media outlets owned by businesspeople close to the movement. In October 2015 the İpek Media Group, Turkey's third-largest media outlet, which owned national television networks Kanaltürk and Bugün TV, the Millet daily, a radio station and the English-language news website BGNNews.com, were all taken over by the government and turned into mouthpieces for government propaganda.
Erdoğan also orchestrated a criminal probe into the Zaman daily, at one time Turkey's most highly circulated newspaper, in 2014, with the government eventually seizing it in March 2016.
Kamil Ekim Alptekin asked a former FBI official to run surveillance on Gülenists in the DC area.
The crackdown on the movement picked up pace immediately after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, which turned out to be a false flag plotted by the Turkish president and his military and intelligence chiefs to launch an unprecedented purge of the military, police, gendarmerie and other government branches.
According to new statistics released last week by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, 332,884 people were detained between July 15, 2016 and June 20, 2022 on alleged links to the movement.
The Erdoğan government has repeatedly filed extradition requests and sought the temporary detention of Gülen in the US, but officials there balked at the Turkish demands, with the Justice Department concluding that the requests had not yet met the legal standards for extradition required by the US-Turkey extradition agreement and US law. Accordingly, the Department of Justice noted, extradition could not go forward, absent additional evidence substantiating the allegations.
In the meantime, Alptekin allegedly remains a fugitive from US law and protected by the Erdoğan government. His associate Rafiekian was convicted by a jury in July 2019 in the Eastern District of Virginia. At the end of the trial, which was presided over by Judge Anthony J. Trenga, he was found quilty of acting and conspiring to act as an agent of the Turkish government in violation of US law when he, Alkptekin and others engaged in a lobbying scheme to affect public opinion and congressional views about Turkey's request for the extradition of Gülen. The judge later vacated the conviction and conditionally granted a new trial. But in March 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling of the district court and reinstated the guilty verdict.
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.