A Turkish man based in Berlin volunteered to become an informant for Turkish intelligence agency MIT, claiming that he had successfully infiltrated a group critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was prepared to share information with Turkish authorities.
According to classified documents included within official communications of the Turkish government and acquired by Nordic Monitor, an individual who remained anonymous transmitted several messages to Turkish authorities, including the consulate in Berlin and MIT headquarters, with the clear intention of aiding Turkish spies in the abduction of President Erdogan's critics.
Using a Gmail account registered under the pseudonym "Hans Meier," the individual composed a message on October 2, 2019 claiming to have successfully infiltrated the Gülen movement, a group that opposes President Erdogan, over the course of the past year and to have acquired confidential information about the organization.
He expressed his readiness to share this information and urged the recipients to contact him through a burner phone he had obtained in Germany.
"Listen to me carefully. I am in Germany. I have managed to infiltrate the structure of the FETÖ [Gülen] organization. I've been inside for one year. I've established connections and gained their trust. Right now, they see me as one of their own. I have especially established strong connections with those who have come from Turkey seeking asylum. I have acquired very valuable information for our state," the unidentified person wrote.
An examination of the names and connections he had successfully established implies that the informant is a man, not a woman.
Additionally, the individual proposed volunteering for an abduction plan involving critics residing in Germany. He claimed he could persuade certain members of the Gülen movement to travel to third countries, which would facilitate operations for Turkish intelligence agency MIT to abduct and return them to Turkey.
He asserted that he had also established business relations with some Gülenists in Germany, which could serve as a pretext for taking them to third countries under the guise of expanding their business network.
"In that [third] country, just as the National Intelligence Organization has done in other countries in the past, it can abduct these Gülenists," he said.
Turkey's intelligence agency confirmed in its annual report in 2022 that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement. "... [M]ore than 100 members of the [Gülen movement] from different countries were brought to Turkey as a result of the [agency's] increased operational capacity abroad," the MİT report said.
Following corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013 which incriminated then-prime minister and now president Erdogan along with his inner circle in an Iran-sanctions violation scheme, the Gülen movement experienced a significant crackdown in Turkey. Erdogan attributed the probes to the movement, killed the graft investigations and carried out a comprehensive crackdown on the network.
The group has long expressed criticism of the Erdogan government on a broad range of issues, from widespread corruption in the administration to accusations of Erdogan's support for radical jihadist groups both in Turkey and abroad.
The informant based in Germany also provided highly detailed information he had gathered about individuals associated with the Gülen movement who were planning to flee Turkey in search of asylum in neighboring Greece. He had even established contact with one such individual who intended to leave the country. He implored Turkish authorities to apprehend those planning to illegally cross the Turkish-Greek border before they could make any attempts to do so.
He also mentioned that he had set up a clean burner phone line on a new device, with the registration not in his name, to avoid potential tracking of his communications by German authorities and the exposure of his identity. He further emphasized that the phone was available 24 hours a day and that Turkish authorities could contact him at any time to access the information he had already gathered. He expressed a deep fear regarding the possible exposure of his identity.
In his email he included copies of four previous messages he claimed to have sent to Turkish authorities, including to MIT and the Turkish consulate in Berlin. He expressed disappointment that he had not received any response or callback from them.
It remains unclear whether Turkish authorities eventually made contact with him after he sent the email in October 2019. It's possible that Turkish agencies were inundated with a substantial volume of information from whistleblowers and informants, a trend publicly encouraged by the Erdogan government, which may have placed a significant strain on government employees and resulted in delayed responses or potential oversight in certain cases.
Nonetheless, based on the document trail in the investigation that was initiated in response to the informant's email, it appears that Turkish authorities took some time before responding to the allegations presented in the correspondence. However, they ultimately deemed the information serious enough to launch inquiries into each individual mentioned by the person in Berlin. The thorough investigation also raises the possibility that he may have been approached or recruited as an asset for the intelligence agency after 2019.
Some of the information he had shared in his emails included the names of family members, relatives and friends of individuals seeking asylum who are still residing in Turkey. He also indicated that he had compiled a list of German citizens of Turkish descent who have been living in Germany for an extended period.
According to his information, these individuals were able to travel to Turkey without any difficulty because Turkish authorities were unaware of their connections and had not initiated any investigations. He further said these individuals were visiting Turkey to provide financial assistance to the families of Gülenists who were facing financial hardship.
Furthermore, the individual claimed that there were still generals in the Turkish army who were associated with the Gülen movement. He expressed a willingness to share information about these officers in order to facilitate their removal from their positions.
The Erdogan government conducted extensive purges within the Turkish military following a 2016 false flag coup attempt, removing nearly the entire staff officer corps and approximately two-thirds of all generals and admirals. The coup attempt was orchestrated by Turkish intelligence to provide a pretext for clearing the Turkish army of officers considered pro-NATO and replacing them with individuals aligned with Islamist, nationalist and neo-nationalist ideologies.
In a separate email, the informant provided a detailed account of a private meeting he attended on October 1, 2019 that took place at a school situated in the Spandau borough of Berlin. He shared his observations from the meeting, which had been convened with the purpose of assisting victims of the crackdown in Turkey.
The discovery of the Turkish informant hardly comes as a surprise. Turkish intelligence and other government agencies have been aggressively pursuing surveillance and information gathering in Germany, a NATO ally, for years.
A recent report released by the German federal government 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 in July 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."
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 service and security authorities are integral parts of the Turkish government apparatus. They are seen as playing a crucial role in assisting President Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in implementing their policy decisions.
The German interior ministry believes the large Turkish community in Germany, estimated at 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.
The information from the report about investigations conducted by German law enforcement into illegal activities of the Turkish intelligence service 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 service raises questions about the extent of cooperation and collaboration between foreign intelligence services and individuals in Germany. Such actions can undermine Germany's national security and potentially impact the rights and safety of its citizens and residents.
Starting in 2016 the Turkish government initiated a far-reaching purge of state institutions resulting in the dismissal and/or imprisonment of over 130,000 civil servants. This group includes 4,156 judges and prosecutors and some 700 diplomats including veteran ambassadors as well as 24,706 members of the armed forces. They were summarily removed from their positions based on allegations of involvement or affiliation with "terrorist organizations." These measures were carried out through emergency decree-laws, which were not subject to judicial or parliamentary oversight.
Moreover, in addition to the tens of thousands who were incarcerated, numerous followers of the Gülen movement were compelled to leave Turkey to avoid wrongful imprisonment, torture and relentless persecution.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Ginsburg/Milstein 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.