A recent report released by the German federal government has identified Turkey as the sole NATO ally that conducts espionage and intelligence activities on German soil, deemed a threat to Germany's constitutional order and social cohesion and raising significant concerns about national security and the relationship between the two countries.
The 380-page report issued last month by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community (Bundesministerium des Innern und für Heimat, BMI) and presented by Interior Minister Nacy Faeser has listed Turkey along with Russia, China, North Korea and Iran as "the main actors in espionage targeted at Germany, cyber attacks directed by intelligence services, proliferation and influence operations."
"Espionage activities against Germany by foreign powers are becoming increasingly multi-faceted and sophisticated; they encompass human sources as well as cyber attacks," the report said, noting that such activities "pose a serious threat to Germany and to German interests" and are "detrimental to Germany's national sovereignty."
According to the report, Turkey and others use their intelligence services to acquire information, exert influence, monitor their critics or pursue other interests, mainly because of Germany's role in the EU, NATO and other international organizations.
According to the assessment by the German interior ministry, the Turkish intelligence services and security authorities are integral parts of the Turkish government apparatus. They are seen as playing a crucial role in assisting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in implementing their policy decisions.
"In Germany, Turkish intelligence services spy on organisations and individuals which oppose or are thought to oppose the Turkish government," the report said.
The report issued by the German interior ministry sounds an alarm about the potential negative impacts arising from intelligence activities conducted by Turkey and other foreign powers within Germany, raising concerns that such activities can significantly weaken Germany's foreign-policy negotiating positions as well as disrupt social cohesion within the country.
Furthermore, the report highlights the risk of these intelligence operations influencing decision-making processes and public opinion in Germany, potentially compromising the free democratic process.
"When foreign intelligence services in Germany gather information on opposition groups from non-EU countries and infiltrate these groups, this can create a climate of fear and also threaten people's lives and health," according to the report.
These findings underscore the seriousness of the situation and the need for vigilance in safeguarding national security, protecting democratic principles and preserving the integrity of Germany's political and social landscape.
In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in aggressive targeting of critics, opponents and dissidents living in Germany by Turkish intelligence agency MIT (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı) and other intelligence services associated with the Turkish Foreign Ministry, police, military and gendarmerie.
The Gülen movement, a group that opposes the Erdogan regime, has been a primary target of a crackdown by the Turkish government. This movement, led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, has faced significant repression within Turkey, and many of its members have sought refuge in Germany. As a result, a significant number of Turkish nationals affiliated with the Gülen movement have been granted asylum in Germany.
The report's findings indicate that not only members of the Gülen movement but also dissidents from the Kurdish political movement and others face targeting by the Turkish government's intelligence agencies. These dissident groups are subjected to information gathering and infiltration by Turkish agents, which poses a serious concern for their safety and well-being.
Furthermore, the reported substantial support provided by the Erdogan government to pro-Turkish government groups, particularly Islamist and far-right groups operating within Germany, raises major concerns. The implications of this support have the potential to affect Germany's internal affairs and raise questions about the extent of foreign influence on German soil.
Support for these groups may impact social fabric within Germany and can lead to tensions among different segments of the population. Furthermore, it can also be seen as an attempt to shape public opinion and decision-making processes within the country.
The combination of intelligence activities targeting dissident groups and the support to particular factions can create a complex and potentially destabilizing environment within Germany. The report underlines the importance of closely monitoring foreign interference and its potential impacts on democratic principles, human rights and national security in German territory.
The detailed analysis of the Turkish and Kurdish groups closely monitored by German security services, as highlighted in the report, indicates a growing concern about the activities of these groups within Germany. The fact that Turkish intelligence services and the Erdogan-led AKP government actively support and depend on some of these groups for intelligence collection, influence operations and political mobilization, including organizing protests and demonstrations, signifies an escalation in the threat posed by Turkey under the current government led by President Erdogan.
The case of Turkish Hizbullah operating predominantly among Turkey's Kurdish population and its overseas activities concentrated in Germany is indeed a matter of concern. Despite being officially listed as a terrorist organization since 2000 in Turkey and facing a significant crackdown at that time, many Hizbullah members were subsequently released from prison thanks to the Erdogan government.
This situation raises questions about the Turkish government's approach to dealing with Hizbullah and its political arm, the Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR). The fact that the AKP formally forged an alliance with HÜDA-PAR in the last election and had an effective alliance for the past decade indicates a concerning level of collaboration with a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization.
The election of three HÜDA-PAR leaders to parliament on the AKP ticket further highlights the potential implications of this alliance for Turkey's political landscape and the representation of certain ideologies within the country's governance. This has a spillover impact on Germany as well.
Germany's role in addressing this situation has become increasingly complicated as it involves monitoring the activities of Hizbullah and other groups within its borders while considering the broader implications of Turkey's political decisions and actions. German authorities must carefully assess the potential risks posed by these groups, especially given the open support they receive from the Turkish government, and take appropriate measures to protect national security and uphold democratic values within the country.
The involvement of not only Turkish but also Iranian intelligence in supporting Hizbullah in Turkey is a further concern. Both intelligence services have utilized Hizbullah as a means to promote their respective interests and agendas. The provision of funding and other support for the organization in Turkey and its affiliates in Europe suggests a possible collaboration that may have far-reaching implications for regional and international dynamics.
The existence of a robust IRGC Quds Force presence in Turkey, operating under the Turkish name of Tevhid Selam, further underscores the complexities of the situation. Drawing its recruitment largely from Hizbullah's base, this network seems to have established a deep connection with the organization.
A confidential probe into the IRGC Quds Force's activities conducted between 2011 and 2014 by public prosecutors in Istanbul, which implicated key advisors to Erdogan in involvement with the network, adds another layer of complexity to the issue. The actions taken by Erdogan to halt the probe when it incriminated individuals in his inner circle effectively granted both Hizbullah and its sister organization, Tevhid Selam, impunity from any criminal prosecutions in Turkey.
This situation highlights the need for vigilance, a measured approach and caution on the part of Germany in dealing with intelligence operations and foreign interference pursued by the Erdogan government.
The presence and activities of the far-right, nationalist Gray Wolf network (Bozkurtlar, aka Ülkücüler, which means Idealist Hearths) in Germany, along with its close links to the Turkish state and intelligence agency MIT, are yet another matter of concern for German authorities. The group's xenophobic and anti-Semitic tendencies as well as its involvement in organized crime activities raise serious security challenges for Germany.
Being associated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) adds another layer of complexity to the situation as the MHP is a partner of the ruling AKP and has a strong presence in the intelligence. military and police in Turkey. The group's large number of supporters, approximately 12,100 in Germany, and its organization into three umbrella organizations underscore the scale of its presence and influence within the country.
The report's observation that the Gray Wolf associations try to project a moderate public image while internally cultivating a right-wing extremist ideology is a cause for alarm. Such tactics can make it challenging for authorities to identify and address potential security threats effectively.
Given the extremist nature and the involvement in criminal activities, the Gray Wolf network warrants close monitoring and scrutiny by German security services as the report seems to suggest.
The information from the report about investigations conducted by German law enforcement into illegal activities of the Turkish intelligence services is significant and highlights the seriousness of the situation. The cases mentioned involving a Turkish national and a German national reveal instances of espionage and cooperation with Turkish intelligence services on German soil.
The conviction of the Turkish national by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court on July 14, 2022 for acting as a secret service agent and illegally acquiring and possessing ammunition underscores the involvement of foreign intelligence services in activities that could potentially threaten the safety and security of individuals living in Germany. "The convict had confessed to having transmitted personal data from Turkish opposition members living in Germany to Turkish intelligence services," the report said.
Similarly, the conviction of a German national on on November 10, 2022 who acted as an informant for the Turkish intelligence services raises questions about the extent of cooperation and collaboration between foreign intelligence services and individuals within Germany. Such actions can undermine Germany's national security and potentially impact the rights and safety of its citizens and residents.
The successful prosecution of these cases indicates the seriousness with which German authorities are addressing foreign interference and espionage activities within their country. By holding individuals involved in such activities accountable, Germany sends a clear message about its commitment to upholding the rule of law, safeguarding national security and protecting the rights of those living within its borders.
The German interior ministry believes the large Turkish community in Germany, estimated to be some 3 million, presents unique opportunities for Turkish intelligence to gather information. It also underlined that the substantial diplomatic presence maintained by Turkey is another opportunity to obtain information in Germany. Nordic Monitor previously published secret Turkish government documents that revealed how the Turkish embassy and consulates were involved in spying activities in Germany with a primary focus on Erdogan government critics.
Another goal of Turkish intelligence is to exert influence on the political decision-making process in Germany by using Turkish communities as leverage, the report indicated. The main instrument utilized by Turkey to achieve this goal is the Cologne-based Union of International Democrats (UID). Founded in 2004, the UID is considered to be the long arm of Erdogan abroad, especially in Europe, and closely linked to the ruling AKP.
In addition to spying on critics, Turkish intelligence services are also actively working to influence bilateral issues with Germany in military, technology, politics and economy as well as help shape German policies in the EU and NATO.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Sweden-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.