The head of the counterintelligence department in Turkey's spy agency MIT has maintained close ties to a Turkish charity known as the logistics supplier for al-Qaeda groups worldwide and has long harbored anti-Semitic views, a Nordic Monitor investigation has found.
Nuh Yılmaz, a 48-year-old hard-core Islamist, has worked closely with the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), described as the logistics supplier for al-Qaeda's global operations.
Yılmaz, who had no experience in intelligence, was put into a senior position at MIT in a special appointment by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on August 15, 2013 and became the right-hand man of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, a pro-Iran Islamist who was hand-picked to run the agency in May 2010.
Although his official title was press advisor, Yılmaz carried out clandestine operations that went beyond the mandate of his office, redesigned the media landscape in Turkey and planted key operatives in senior positions in various media outlets against the backdrop of the Erdoğan government's crackdown on the Turkish media. He helped shutter nearly 200 media outlets including the nation's leading newspapers and broadcast TV networks.
Evidence was uncovered showing that he was in charge of media propaganda concerning a false flag coup on July 15, 2016, promoted the official narrative pinning the blame on the Gülen movement, a critic of the government, and profiled investigative journalists who would be imprisoned to prevent them from discovering the involvement of MIT in the July 15 events.
Yılmaz was rewarded for this service with a new, high-profile position at the agency. In April 2017 he was appointed head of the counterespionage department, a critical role in the spy agency that defines friends and foes, develop policies and options for government leaders and allocates resources to run surveillance of perceived agents and assets of the countries that are targeted.
His former role as the behind-the-scenes coordinator of the huge media machine in Turkey was handed to his deputy, Temel Yücel Öztürk, which means he effectively kept control of that department as well. In his combined role, Yılmaz runs point in operations against targets who are alleged to pose political risks to the Erdoğan government. The details of such operations were later leaked to MIT-linked journalists to shape opinion in Turkey and abroad.
In other words MIT was directed to conduct clandestine operations to neutralize political threats to the Islamist-nationalist government of President Erdoğan rather than to counter real risks and dangers that pose fundamental threats to the national security of Turkey and its allies.
In his publicly available resumé, Yılmaz was careful to hide his dark past and links to the IHH. But a document submitted by the IHH to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office on June 15, 2015 as part of a 2014 criminal investigation described Yılmaz as the endorser of the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla, whose efforts to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza resulted in a bloody clash with Israeli commandos and the loss of lives. Dozens of IHH administrators, employees and supporters were red-flagged by investigators during a multi-year probe into the Quds Force network.
Yılmaz's phone conversations with known Quds Force assets in Turkey were intercepted by police investigators who were probing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force cells in Turkey. The Quds Force investigation, run from 2011 to 2014, revealed that some senior officials in the Erdoğan government had close ties to IRGC operatives.
The confidential Quds Force probe was killed by the Erdoğan government in February 2014 before Turkish and Iranian suspects were indicted and thus never went to trial. The government dismissed police chiefs and public prosecutors who had investigated the Quds Force and orchestrated sham trials to put them in jail for simply doing their job under the law.
In a petition he filed with the public prosecutor's office through his lawyer on February 26, 2015, Yılmaz complained about investigators who intercepted his phone calls; described the Quds Force's Turkish network Tevhid-i Selam, designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey for years, as a bogus terrorist entity; and demanded the punishment of the police chiefs and prosecutors who ran the probe.
After securing his position at the spy agency, Yılmaz brought a number of IHH employees and volunteers into the intelligence field. Nordic Monitor previously published reports about confidential wiretaps that showed how the IHH president, Bülent Yıldırım, had been in close contact with the agency, running operations in Syria at the direction of the intelligence agency. Yılmaz was the point man in those communications.
Syria is a special case for Yılmaz, who wrote extensively on it before joining the agency. In one opinion piece for the pro-government Star daily on June 26, 2011, he lamented the fact that the Turkish government had declined Hitler's offer to hand Syria over to Turkey during World War II. The piece was headlined "What Hitler proposed to Turkey."
He argued that Turkey has been developing its capabilities thanks to developments in Syria that he claimed would take Turkey to the next league. He promoted the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the most powerful and organized Islamist group in Syria and advocated the view that MB will gain the most if it wins the civil war in the Arab country.
He clearly harbors anti-Semitic views and hates Israel. In the 1990s he had worked for a Turkish magazine called Yeryüzü, which was funded by the Iranian regime to promote the mullah's views to the Turkish public. One article with Yılmaz's byline in the April 1994 issue carried the title "Israel must be wiped out." The article was about an event held on March 11, 1994 at the Iranian Consulate General in Istanbul to which Yılmaz was an invited attendee.
In another issue, published in June 1994, Yılmaz wrote about Mustafa Dirani, a pro-Iran operative in Lebanon who was captured by Israeli forces in 1994. He labelled Israel as a terrorist state and condemned attacks on Hezbollah. He complained about pro-Israeli coverage in the Turkish press and the description of Hezbollah militants as fanatics.
He described the mainstream Turkish media as Zionists and collaborators and said one day Hezbollah would defeat them. As the mastermind behind the engineering of a new media outlook in Turkey under the Erdoğan government, Yılmaz has now delivered what he promised back in 1994. Hundreds of journalists who were deemed pro-Western or pro-Israel were either jailed or forced into exile when their media outlets were seized, shut down or turned into government mouthpieces.
In the 1990s Yılmaz closely followed the court cases of Islamist militants who were indicted and tried, defending them in articles he wrote for the Yeryüzü magazine.
Yeryüzü had been the subject of multiple criminal investigations for disseminating terrorist propaganda, with the courts several times ordering the confiscation of its copies after criminal complaints were filed by the Turkish authorities. The editor-in-chief, Burhan Kavuncu, linked to Quds Force cells, and its owner Ahmet Mayali were handed down prison sentences and fines after conviction in their trials. The magazine eventually shut itself down in July 1995 after five years of publication, with Yılmaz appearing in the special farewell issue.
In a three-page article he wrote in the last issue under the title of "Last Word," Yılmaz described the magazine as revolutionary, helping to create a platform for a mass Islamic movement in Turkey by embracing various groups from both the left and the right. He promoted the view that Turks must develop an awareness of resistance in order to build a mass opposition and that that can only be done by engaging on issues that appeal to various groups in Turkey.
With his role in steering the coverage in the Turkish media and running covert intelligence operations with the huge resources available to Turkey's spy agency, Yılmaz has been putting all the ideas he had back in the '90s into practice in today's Turkey. He has the full backing of the Erdoğan government to change Turkey into a regime of zealots who are bent on transforming the country into a new Iran in its region.
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.