The Turkish Secret Service in Germany and Austria – Interior Policy Abroad

Introduction

For years, politicians, experts and journalists have been observing more and more actions by the Turkish secret service MIT in Germany and Austria.

The focus is not on activities that are part of the normal field of work of many foreign intelligence services: industrial espionage, finding terror networks abroad that pose a threat to the home country.

Rather, the Turkish MIT acts as an extension of the authoritarian President Erdogan, spying on Turkish opposition members, as well as critical voices from politics and society.

Parliaments and governments in Berlin and Vienna are now dealing with this growing danger, the police and the protection of the constitution are alarmed, because the actions of the Erdogan-loyal spy ring not only question the protection of people living in Germany and Austria, they are also a threat to a peaceful coexistence in these countries.

But not only the Turkish secret service itself is active in Europe: Through nationalistic Turkish movements inside the communities in Germany and Austria, Ankara’s state stuctures are infiltrating Turks in Europe.

The following study aims to show these dangers, it also shows how politics and law inforcement react to them.

The Turkish Secret Service in Germany

8,000 employees, including several hundred full-time agents: No other intelligence service is as present in Germany as the Turkish MIT. Anyone who thinks that MIT’s activities and spying are hidden from the German government is wrong. It has a long tradition that opposition people of Turkish origin, but also German critical voices, such as journalists, writers and politicians are monitored by MIT in Germany.

There are two reasons why the German government is doing too little to counteract those actions and does not protect opposition members persecuted by Turkey from spying and repression. On the one hand, it is about President Erdogan’s policy of balancing Russia and NATO. The German government wants to do everything possible to ensure that Turkey remains a NATO member. The second is Erdogan’s constant threat to reopen the locks for refugees. The German Chancellor fears that in this case, a new refugee crisis could arise, which she cannot cope with politically. That is why the Federal Republic of Germany for years is more or less tolerating the illegal activities of MIT on German soil against its own constitutional obligation.

Close cooperation between the Turkish and German intelligence services began in the early 1960s, initially of a technical nature. That means that BND employees were in a reconnaissance station in Samsun, Turkey, which had the task of carrying out telecommunications reconnaissance into the depths of the Soviet Union. At the same time, there was always a massive exchange of information, in which the German Intelligence Service provided the Turkish secret service with global information and the Turkish secret service provided information from the immediately neighboring countries. During the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1976, for example, the CIA broke off all intelligence contacts with MIT, but the Germans remained loyal to its Turkish partner. From 1981 to 1988, at the time of the Turkish military dictatorship, a former Vice President of the German foreign secret service BND ensured that the Turkish intelligence services received surveillance and storage technology from the Federal Republic of Germany.

The German Intelligence Service BND is responsible for foreign intelligence. That means it is not informed about what MIT is doing in Germany itself. This competence lies in the hands of the „Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution“ (BfV), responsible for investigating the activities of MIT in Germany.

Erdogan has massively increased MIT financially and in terms of personnel to 8,000 employees. In the past, up to 75 percent of soldiers were employed at MIT. Today, it is just five percent. Ten percent of the 8,000 employees are responsible for the German-speaking area with Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The absolute focus is of course in Germany with over three million people of Turkish origin.

As far as the presence of MIT in Germany is concerned, we have a resident at the top, involved in the Turkish embassy in Berlin, and a further twelve full-time employees in various consulates. And these are all employees who are in contact with the German security authorities and are known to them. There is also a wide network of illegal residents. These are full-time MIT employees who, for example, sit in front companies that operate across borders in Switzerland, Austria and southern Germany. That should be several hundred employees, who in turn lead a large number of agents. They are located in Turkish travel agencies, banks with the duty to collect information. In addition, an application for mobile phones was developed mainly by the Turkish Consulate General in Munich with the aim where Turkish citizens can denounce other Turks. Those reports directly are sent to Ankara for further actions against critical voices.

The Turkish intelligence services have always wanted to monitor opposition members in the large Turkish community in Germany. In the 1970s and 1980s – the PKK was the main enemy. Under Erdogan there was a very large, additional boost. It began with the supporters of the protests in Gezi Park back in 2013, being targeted by MIT.[1] After the pseudo coup in Turkey, it is now all Gülen supporters and every person of Turkish origin in Germany who are in any way opposed to Erdogan.

With a common anti-terrorism center in Berlin, where 32 German security authorities are represented, an institution was formed to exchange information with one another, so that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution can also report what it observes about Turkish intelligence activities. But the BfV is too small and has too many other priority tasks – keyword international terrorism, recently right-wing terrorism, counter-espionage, protection of the economy – so that its capacities are hardly sufficient to take targeted control of the extensive Turkish intelligence activities in Germany.

Of course the country in theory would be obliged to protect all people living here – including foreigners – from intelligence services. It does not do that, although it basically knows what the Turkish intelligence service is doing.

Meanwhile, the German government confirmed in the parliament that the actions of MIT in Germany are of a concern and that members of the government also underline this kind of threat in talks with the government in Ankara. „The German Government underlines that it does not tolerate the import of interior Turkish conflicts into the society in Germany.“[2]

Targets and Toolkits of MIT in Germany

MIT monitors the Kurdish population because it suspects PKK supporters in these Kurdish circles. But it also takes every little hint as an opportunity to suspect people being PKK members who are in fact not PKK supporters at all. The German BfV persecutes the PKK, there are also convictions of PKK supporters in Germany. But that is not enough for Turkey. Turkey goes far beyond the intelligence service exchange with the German BfV and collects its own knowledge. And that is an illegal intelligence activity on German soil.[3]

There are of course many “residences”, as they are called by the intelligence services. Firstly, there are legal residencies, that is, the employees sit in the consulates, but also in propaganda associations close to the AKP. They control the now banned, previously existing group of rockers Ottomans Germania, have influence on the DITIB mosques, through the religious authority. There are over 900 imams in Germany, and they are obliged to collect information about citizens critical of Erdogan.

A normal Turkish citizen can hardly protect himself from MIT stalking if, for example, a malicious neighbor denounces him via the already mentioned app. If he does not suspect any of this and travels to Turkey to visit relatives, he can end up in a Turkish prison simply because of this completely unfounded denunciation. It would be the task of the state to protect the Turkish fellow citizens from this. The individual is relatively powerless, unless he holds back completely from making political statements, not daring a word critical of Erdogan. And of course that is also part of MIT’s strategy of spreading such a climate of fear so that no one dares to argue openly politically against Erdogan in the Federal Republic.

The German government is aware of the threats caused by the MIT. In 2018, the Interior Ministry confirmed that the Turkish secret service’s activity in Germany is focusing on spying Turkish opposition groups, Kurdish communities.[4] But do the security structures in Germany successfully challenge those threats?

A Blind Eye Towards MIT Actions in Germany?

The former President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has long described Turkey as a friendly intelligence service.[5] MIT’s activities had long been known, so he thought the ministry was a problematic partner – but still a partner. But in the meantime the German authorities have gone so far as to say that the Turkish intelligence service belongs more to the category of intelligence opponents. This became particularly evident when MIT tried to place a double agent in the BfV itself. [6] You don’t do that with friendly intelligence services, you only do that with opposing intelligence services.

And then of course we experience that interpreters for the German Asylum authority BAMF are instrumentalized by the MIT in asylum procedures.[7] But this is nothing new either, because we already know from the 1980s that interpreters were used by Kurds when they applied for asylum, who then provided the Turkish intelligence service with the grounds for asylum and thus exposed the Kurds to prosecution in Turkey. In the 1980s, the German secret service system, both the BND and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, still passed information on to the Turks. But we have seen since 2016 that the relationship between BND and MIT is becoming increasingly critical. This is because in 2016 the Turkish intelligence services gave the so-called Islamic State (IS) massive support. A study by the German Bundestag speaks of a “jihadist highway”, which means that Islamist fighters from Libya and other countries have been channeled to ISIS by the Turkish intelligence service.[8] We have also seen that a large number of radicalized young Germans have joined IS, And when the Federal Intelligence Service then asked its partners in Ankara, someone flew from Frankfurt to Ankara and then dived, we suspect he was going to IS, then there was an answer from earlier Since 2016, Turkey has refused to answer such inquiries about travel routes because it was firmly on the side of the IS. And of course that has put a heavy burden on the intelligence service relationship between the Germany and Turkey.

But still, the German government is confirming the exchange of information and of data with the MIT: „The BfV is exchanging information and data of individuals according to German law, under the pretext of Turkish security interests.“ [9]

MIT Murders?

MIT is active in 92 countries to target opposition groups and critical voices. And in some states it even dares to commit political murders or kidnappings. In Germany, there were murder plans against Kurdish politicians in Bremen in 2017 and 2018. The German TV broadcast ZDF reported in 2018 that someone was commissioned to set up kidnapping options for hundreds of thousands of euros.[10] But the German government has made it very clear to the Turkish government that a red line would be crossed in the event of a murder or kidnapping in Germany. Because then Germany would be forced to identify at least a dozen full-time Turkish intelligence officers as “persona non grata” and to focus much more intensely on Turkish activities in the future.

There would be a red line if MIT carried out a political murder in Germany in a similar way to the Russian intelligence services. One would determine the perpetrator beyond doubt. Then the Chancellor would be forced to take very massive political countermeasures, and of course not just alone, but in conjunction with other European countries. Because we saw, for example, when there was a Russian murder in Great Britain, that the network of Europeans expelled a total of 128 Russian diplomats. In the event of a Turkish murder – an intelligence service murder – in Germany, a similarly harsh reaction from the European states could be expected. The solidarity of France, Great Britain and the Netherlands would then reach so far that a large number of well-known MIT employees would be banned from Europe.

Entry into German and Austrian party politics by nationalistic Turkish groups, conducted by MIT

The German government confirmed the danger of nationalistic infiltration into Turkish communities. In a parliamentary debate in September this year, the administration „is aware that movements like the Grey Wolves are supporting Turkish communities in Germany, especially since the coalition between the AKP and the nationalistic MHP in Turkey.“[11]

In Austria, the situation is similar. Although parties deny any connection to the ultra-nationalistic group, SPÖ has close supporters in its ranks, critical voices inside the party are not being heard. ÖVP Chairman and Chancellor of the Republic, Sebastian Kurz, can be seen in a picture smiling together with Grey Wolves members, being proud of having the support of Turkish voters.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz

Since President Erdogan’s new Islamist Ottoman Empire dreams became part of Turkey’s state doctrine and he formed a coalition between his AKP and MHP, he is trying to infiltrate European policy with his ideology.

It was just a short handshake between Angela Merkel and Cemal Çetin at the NATO summit in Brussels back in 2018. But for the chairman of the umbrella organization of the Gray Wolves in Europe, the meeting at the highest level was not an everyday honor. His organization Avrupa Türk Konfederasyon was at that time aldready classified as extremist by the BfV and under observation.

Çetin was a newly elected Turkish MP for the MHP and was a member of Erdogan’s delegation in Brussels. The fact that the deputy of the Mother Party of the Gray Wolves was traveling with Erdogan was also widely spread in the Turkish media. The German Chancellery could therefore know who the Chancellor was expecting.

In Germany and Austria, the cooperation between the AKP and the Gray Wolves has been a reality since the coup attempt in Turkey 2016. In 2017 the branch of the MHP in Germany and Austria campaigned for the constitutional reform in Turkey demanded by Erdogan.

Insiders fear that the constant pressure from the Turkish government on German and Austrian politicians will gradually take effect. “We have the Gray Wolves in view. However, there is reason to fear that the political pressure on the Turkish side of Austrian authorities will weaken the observation status,” says an employee of an Austrian security agency who wants to remain anonymous.

The around 270 clubs of Türk Federasyon in Germany and Austria observe the principle of legality and do not call for the violent implementation of their political goals. But their right-wing extremist ideology of superiority remains a problem for internal security and integration. In particular through their well-functioning youth work, they swear young Turkish people to an exaggeration of “Turkishness”. This goes hand in hand with the devaluation of other ethnic groups such as Kurds, Armenians or Jews.

The work of the clubs does not remain without consequences: “Young people who are networked in particular via the Internet propagate their racism in an offensive manner and, for example, verbally call for violence or resistance,” says the security emloyee.

As the AKP majority procurer in the current Turkish government, the Gray Wolves have access to offices and positions in the security apparatus and the judiciary, said Ali Ertan Toprak, Chairman of the Kurdish Community of Germany. “The Gülen people in the Turkish state apparatus are increasingly being replaced by Gray Wolf cadres,” Toprak expects. The Gray Wolves are Erdogan’s new strategic partner, who has the chance to expand power and influence, just like the movement of the Islam preacher Fethullah Gülen. Toprak warns: “The party cadres will use their growing power to prevent peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups in Germany and Austria.“

The summer riots in Austria’s capital Vienna this year prove, that the newest generation of Turkish right-wing extremism is again spreading, in a generation of young Turkish families living in Austria in the second or third generation. On June 22, Turkish nationalist extremists attacked a women’s rally in Vienna. For a long time there was no peace on the streets of Vienna’s district „Favoriten“, where a high number of the Turkish community live.

It all started with a protest marsh by a Kurdish women’s organization. The participants wanted to point out the increasing number of female murders in Turkey and Austria. Then the women were attacked by a group of Turkish male, members of the „Grey Wolves“. Around a hundred right-wing extremists emerged within a very short time, and the police were deployed on a large scale. The women fled to a building nearby and had to wait there for hours for security reasons.

The reaction of Austria’s party establishment shows that they have no answer to a question, which is in the centre of their integration policy for a long time: Should we, with all legal power, challenge those threats, confront the Turkish government with a demand of stopping AKP-propaganda and policy-making in favor of Erdogans’s ideology here in Europe, or should we stay calm, not losing the support of those Turkish youngsters?

Spying on Turkish Asylum Seekers

The arrest of a Turkish lawyer who worked on behalf of the German embassy in Ankara, arrested there in September 2019 turned into a diplomatic crisis. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has announced that he will talk to his Turkish colleague Mevlüt Cavusoglu about the arrest of Yilmaz S.[12] The lawyer dealt with cases of Turkish citizens who had applied for asylum in Germany.

In Berlin it is assumed that the lawyer carried files of asylum seekers with him when he was arrested in September, and that those affected in Germany could be threatened by the Turkish secret service MIT. We take the issue “very seriously”, a spokesman for the Federal Ministry of the Interior said in Berlin.

The MIT in Austria

Is the Turkish secret service MIT planning assassinations against dissidents at least in Austria? A ccurrent criminal case in Vienna not only alarmed the Alpine republic, but also aroused fears of possible attacks among critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Europe in general.

MENA Research Center already published an article[13] about alleged assassination plans by a former MIT employee on the Kurdish scientist Berivan Aslan, who was running for the Greens in the state elections in Vienna. Aslan uncovered in the past few months how MIT had built up a secret network of provocateurs and informers throughout Austria, which apparently caused Erdogan’s critics to be targeted by the secret service.

Former MIT employee Feyyaz Ö., A Turk with an Italian passport, reported himself to the Austrian Office for the Protection of the Constitution a week ago and claimed that he had been hired by a contact in Belgrade to carry out the attacks on Erdogan’s critics. Facsimile excerpts from his interrogation were published. In it, Ö. said that it was not decisive whether the target persons should be killed or only injured. Rather, it was a matter of “delivering a message” and “spreading chaos”.

Feyyaz Ö. also stated that several MIT agents were involved in the attack plans. He himself worked for MIT until his retirement and was reactivated for this assignment. In Vienna he had turned to the police, because he was “not a contract killer” and was hoping for protection. Vienna authorities confirmed the report. According to this, the public prosecutor’s office has initiated proceedings, but does not list Ö. as a suspect for the time being.

Death threats from Turkey as “attempts at intimidation”

Berivan Aslan, who has since received police protection, told the author that she had always rated previous death threats from the Turkish side as “attempts at intimidation”, “but this time it has a completely different dimension”. The alleged MIT agent has a very plausible motive for his self-disclosure. “He is apparently afraid for his life and wants to save himself by seeking protection from Austria.” Aslan says that recently there have been indications of preparations for an attack by MIT agents in Europe. “The new revelations should be an alarming sign to Turkish and Kurdish opposition members in all of Europe.”

In Germany, the lawyer of Turkish origin and ex-member of the Bundestag for the Greens, Mehmet Kilic, has been observing MIT’s activities for years. Like Aslan, Kilic also holds the allegations from Ö. for believable. “The more the Erdogan government comes under pressure in Turkey, the more massively it takes action against critics and opposition members and does not shy away from resorting to mafia methods.” In 2014, Erdogan had Turkey’s secret service law can be changed and expressly “operational business” also allowed abroad. “Kidnappings and killings also count as operational business,” says Kilic.

The authenticity of Ö.’s claims is that he is not a blank slate in terms of intelligence. He belongs to a notorious group of “secret witnesses” mobilized by MIT for manipulated statements in political trials. Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee at the US consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in May to almost nine years in prison for alleged terrorist support based on his statements Topuz denies the allegations, and the case continues to weigh on Turkish-American relations to this day.

According to the Turkish media, Feyyaz Ö traveled to Italy in 2018 and has not been reachable since then. He was supposed to have worked for years as a MIT liaison for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – for which Metin Topuz also worked. When he was questioned by the Austrian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Ö. testified that they had him forced to give false testimony against Topuz. The case is politically explosive not only because of this claim by Ö. At the beginning of September, the Austrian police arrested an MIT agent who confessed to being involved in organized attacks by Turkish nationalists on Kurdish institutions in Vienna. According to the Austrian government, this is proof that Turkey is stirring up political conflicts in the country.

References

[1]    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/31/istanbul-protesters-violent-clashes-police

[2]    Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/22024, p. 3

[3]    German Criminal Code, § 99: https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/99.html

[4]    Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/6173, p.3

[5]    https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article163155394/Deutschland-setzt-auf-enge-Kooperation-mit-der-Tuerkei.html

[6]    https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article166732068/Tuerkei-will-gezielt-Spitzel-im-Verfassungsschutz-platzieren.html

[7]    https://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-10/asylrecht-bamf-mitarbeiter-tuerkische-bewerber-verrat-tuerkei

[8]    Wissenschaftlicher Dienst Deutscher Bundestag, Dokument

[9]    Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/6173, p.5

[10]   https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zdfinfo-doku/die-verschleppten-erdogans-geheimes-entfuehrungs-und-folterprogramm-100.html

[11]   Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/22060, p. 8

[12]   Statement of The German Social Democratic Party: https://www.spdfraktion.de/presse/statements/verhaftung-yilmaz-s-wir-erwarten-schnelle-klaerung-tuerkischen-behoerden-0

[13]   https://mena-studies.org/erdogans-spooks-in-europe/

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