U.S. MILITARY BATTLES SYRIAN REBELS ONCE SUPPORTED BY CIA, NOW BACKED BY TURKEY
September 22, 2017
Soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition tasked with battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) engaged in a firefight in northern Syria Tuesday with Syrian rebels whose movement was once supported by the CIA.
Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the Kuwait-based Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said the insurgents opened fire first near the city of Manbij, prompting coalition forces to shoot back before taking cover elsewhere. The belligerent Syrian fighters were not identified, but they were believed to have been part of a Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army group opposed to ISIS, the Syrian military and the mostly Kurdish forces supported by the Pentagon, all of which are vying for control in northern Syria.
“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” Dillon told Reuters, adding that the coalition has admonished Turkey and told it to tell its allies that such an incident “is not acceptable.”
Dillon went on to say that coalition forces trying to defuse tensions between Syrian Arab rebels and the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces “received fire multiple times over the course of the last two weeks,” even though the U.S. and Turkey are NATO allies. Turkey has criticized U.S. support for Kurdish militias such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), because it considers them connected to an insurgent Kurdish nationalist movement at home.
While it’s uncertain if there is any link between the two events, the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army’s Ninth Brigade special forces released images of its fighters conducting training drills in northern Syria around the time reports emerged of the clash. The Free Syrian Army, a loosely knit band of armed opposition groups, was once one of the most powerful revolutionary groups in Syria, but it has suffered years of defections and defeats to jihadist groups also trying to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.
The Free Syrian Army was also the primary recipient of CIA funding to overthrow Assad, but this support diminished as ISIS and Al-Qaeda became increasingly influential among rebels. Turkey attempted to unify the remains of the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria in May, and reports emerged in July that the Trump administration had cut all CIA funding to rebel groups that refused to stop fighting Assad and at times clashed with the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is now the U.S.’s primary partner in Syria.
The Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have taken more than half of ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa since storming the city in June. Syria’s armed forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have also managed to return to Assad large swaths of the country lost to rebels and jihadists. Both sides have their eyes set on the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been under ISIS siege since at least 2014.
Despite tensions and even violence between the U.S.-led coalition and pro-government forces in past months, the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to work with Russia in order to find a political solution to the six-year war that’s already killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. The two powers have established a cooperation center in neighboring Jordan and have committed to a ceasefire between the Syrian military and a separate Free Syrian Army faction in the southwestern city of Daraa.
Manbij was also the site of early, informal cooperation between the U.S. and Russia when both sent personnel to support their respective partners on the ground from a Free Syrian Army advance in March. Both the U.S. and the Russian military have conducted patrols in the city, which is administrated by a council backed by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
A U.N.-led effort to end the Syrian conflict in Geneva has repeatedly stalled as opposition groups grow frustrated with Assad’s refusal to step down, especially as the military regains control over much of the country. Russia, Iran and Turkey are involved in separate ongoing talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in the Kazakh capital of Astana. This dialogue has produced four “de-escalation zones” not formally recognized by the U.S.
BY TOM O’CONNOR ON 8/29/17 AT 3:40 PM
Find this story at 29 August 2017
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Authorities missed many ‘red flags’ before Paris shootings
December 23, 2015
In January, Turkish authorities detained one of the suicide bombers at Turkey’s border and deported him to Belgium. Brahim Abdeslam, Turkish authorities told Belgian police at the time, had been “radicalized” and was suspected of wanting to join Islamic State in Syria, a Turkish security source told Reuters.
Yet during questioning in Belgium, Abdeslam denied any involvement with militants and was set free. So was his brother Salah – a decision that Belgian authorities say was based on scant evidence that either man had terrorist intentions.
On Nov. 13, Abdeslam blew himself up at Le Comptoir Voltaire bar in Paris, killing himself and wounding one other. Salah is also a suspect in the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, and is now on the run.
In France, an “S” (State Security) file for people suspected of being a threat to national security had been issued on Ismail Omar Mostefai, who would detonate his explosive vest inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall. Mostefai, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was placed on the list in 2010, French police sources say.
Turkish police also considered him a terror suspect with links to Islamic State. Ankara wrote to Paris about him in December 2014 and in June this year, a senior Turkish government official said. The warning went unheeded. Paris answered last week, after the attacks.
A fourth attacker missed at least four weekly check-ins with French police in 2013, before authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. By that time he had left the country.
On any one of these occasions, police, intelligence and security services had an opportunity to detain at least some of the men who launched the attacks.
That they did not, helps explain how a group of Islamist militants was able to organize even as they moved freely among countries within the open borders of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area and beyond.
Taken one by one, each misstep has its own explanation, security services say. They attribute the lapses in communication, inability to keep track of suspected militants and failure to act on intelligence, to a lack of resources in some countries and a surge in the number of would-be jihadis.
But a close examination by Reuters of a series of missed red flags and miscommunications culminating in France’s biggest atrocity since World War Two puts on stark display the mounting difficulties faced by anti-terrorism units across Europe and their future ability to keep the continent safe.
“We’re in a situation where the services are overrun. They expect something to happen, but don’t know where,” said Nathalie Goulet, who heads up the French Senate’s investigation committee into jihadi networks.
Many point to Belgium as a weak link in European security.
“They simply don’t have the same means as Britain’s MI5 or the DGSI (French intelligence agency),” said Louis Caprioli, a former head of the DST, France’s former anti-terrorism unit.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel defended his country’s security services and praised them for doing “a difficult and tough job.” French President Francois Hollande also praised his country’s security services, who hunted down and shot dead the man they identified as the ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, five days after the attacks.
Europol, the European Union’s police agency, says it has been feeding information to the Belgian and French authorities but acknowledges that some member states are better at sharing information than others.
FOCUS ON FIGHTERS RETURNING FROM SYRIA
The focus of investigators over the past few years has been men and women who have grown up in Europe, have European passports and who travel to Syria to train and fight.
As the number of those fighters has increased, authorities have struggled to keep up. The French Interior Ministry estimated about 500 French nationals had traveled to Syria and almost 300 had returned. French authorities reckon up to 1,400 people need 24-hour surveillance. Yet France has only about the same number of officers to carry out the task, a tenth of those needed.
Some 350 people from Belgium have gone to Syria to fight – the highest per capita number in Europe. A Belgian government source said Belgium has a list of 400 people who are in Syria, have returned or are believed to be about to go there. There are another 400-500 people who authorities believe have radicalized. The number of people in the Belgian security services carrying out surveillance is believed to be considerably fewer than this.
The numbers partially explain why many of the attackers in Paris were well-known faces still at large.
The attacks killed 130 people at various locations, including the Bataclan concert hall where 89 concert-goers were gunned down or blown up. Others were killed outside the Stade de France sports stadium and in bars and restaurants around central Paris.
Seven assailants died during the attacks. Abaaoud was killed in a police raid north of Paris on Wednesday along with one other suicide attacker and a woman believed to be his cousin.
Dozens of people have also been detained, some with weapons and explosives, in raids since then.
Abaaoud himself had been well-known to authorities for several years. After a raid in January in the Belgian town of Verviers, police suspected the 28-year-old of plotting to kidnap a police officer and kill him.
In February, Abaaoud said in an interview with an Islamic State magazine that he had returned to Syria after the raid in Verviers. By this time, he knew he was being sought.
If it is true that he returned to Syria from Verviers, Abaaoud made his way back into Europe at some point after January. French authorities did not know this until they were tipped off by Morocco after the attacks.
“If Abaaoud was able to go from Syria to Europe, that means there are failings in the entire European system,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Mostefai, the Bataclan suicide bomber, also traveled back and forth. Although he had eight convictions as a petty criminal, he had never been in prison, a place French authorities can watch for signs of radicalization.
Police say they suspected him of being in Syria between late 2013 and early 2014, before returning to France unnoticed.
In December of last year, Turkey contacted France about Mostefai. They raised an alarm again in June 2015 by letter.
There was no response from French authorities, according to a senior Turkish government official and a security source.
“It seemed there was a connection between this person and Daesh (Islamic State) and we reported it,” the Turkish security source said. “We followed all international procedures. But they (the French) didn’t display the same level of sensitivity.”
French officials declined to comment on this, but say that coordination with Turkey over potential French jihadis has improved markedly in the past year.
Determining how dangerous a person is, and whether they might carry out an attack, is a key challenge for security services, experts say.
“The other difficulty is that if you have nothing concrete for several years, you can’t keep either a sophisticated technical alert system or human resources on a person who makes himself forgotten for three or four years,” said Arnaud Danjean, a former intelligence officer and now a member of the European Parliament.
Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the Stade de France, was another of the suicide attackers under surveillance.
After visiting Syria in February, the 20-year-old French national, who was living in Belgium, returned to Europe by an unknown route and evaded police even though the Belgian Justice Ministry said microphones had been placed at the house where he was thought to be staying.
Then there’s the case of Sami Amimour. French authorities had launched an official investigation into Amimour’s possible terrorism-related activity in October 2012. Prosecutors suspected him of planning to join militants in Yemen.
Amimour was a bus driver who had been radicalized in a mosque near his hometown of Drancy, north of Paris. Because of the investigation, police had ordered Amimour to check in with them every week. As reported by Reuters on Nov 20, he missed four weekly checks in 2013. But it was only after nearly a month that the authorities put out an international arrest warrant.
By then Amimour was already in Syria. His tracks were picked up a year later, in December 2014, when his father gave an interview to French daily Le Monde describing how he had traveled to Syria but failed to convince his son to return.
THE MEN FROM THE BAR
Police are still looking for Salah Abdeslam, who is known to have survived the attacks.
Until six weeks before the attacks, Salah and his brother Brahim – one of the suicide bombers – were running a bar called Les Beguines on a quiet street in Molenbeek, a low-rent area of Brussels which has been linked with several attacks.
After the attacks, Salah Abdeslam went to ground. Authorities say he was stopped on his way back to Belgium after the Paris attacks, but police waved him on. It is not clear what role he played on the night of the attacks and why he managed to survive.
Two men who were arrested later, Mohamed Amri, 27, and 21-year-old Hamza Attou, said they brought Abdeslam back to Brussels after receiving a call from him saying his car had broken down. Police checks meant they were pulled over three times, including a last check around 9 a.m. near Cambrai just short of the Belgian border.
Missteps did not just happen in France and Belgium.
The Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France had been used by a man registering himself as a refugee on the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3. That man traveled through Macedonia and claimed asylum in Serbia, counter-intelligence and security sources said.
The French prosecutor has confirmed that fingerprints taken on arrival in Greece showed that man traveled with a second man, who also blew himself up near the Stade de France.
The pair may have reached Paris relatively easily because, at the height of the migration crisis in Europe this year, asylum seekers were rushed across some national borders without checks.
It is unclear whether the passport issued under the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, a 25-year-old from the Syrian city of Idlib, was genuine or was stolen from a refugee. Whatever the truth, it has helped fuel right-wing criticism in Europe of the number of migrants allowed in this year.
By the time the two men were making their way up through the Balkans to western Europe, France had received more evidence an attack was imminent.
French former anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic says a French Islamist he questioned on his return from Syria in August said Islamic State had asked him to carry out an attack on a concert venue.
“The guy admitted that he was asked to hit a rock concert. We didn’t know if it would be Bataclan or another, he didn’t know the exact location that would be designated. But yes, that’s what they asked him to do,” Trevidic told Reuters.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has also said that his country’s intelligence services shared information indicating that France, as well as the United States and Iran, was being targeted for attack. He has not given details.
Germany’s top prosecutor is also investigating allegations that an Algerian man detained at a refugee center in the western town of Arnsberg told Syrian refugees an attack was imminent in the French capital.
Europe is scrambling to respond to the attacks.
France declared a nationwide state of emergency which will now last three months. Police now have the power to conduct searches without obtaining judicial warrants and can hold anyone suspected of posing a threat to security under house arrest for 12 hours a day. Internet sites deemed to incite or advocate “acts of terrorism” can be blocked and public demonstrations banned.
Belgium has also announced a security crackdown, saying it will spend an extra 400 million euros ($430 million) on security and take measures such as stopping the sale of mobile phone cards to anonymous buyers. Police will be allowed to conduct night searches of homes and it is now easier to ban, convict or expel hate preachers.
Whether such measures will be enough is uncertain. Brussels is on high alert this weekend because of what authorities there called the “serious and imminent” threat of attack. In a video last week, Islamic State warned it would strike again.
“When a large operation is prepared, they are told to keep a low profile in the months before. As they are no longer on police radars, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Terrorism Observatory.
(Robert-Jan Bartunek reported from Brussels and Orhan Coskun reported from Turkey; additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Turkey, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Silvia Aloisi in Athens; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Alessandra Galloni, Simon Robinson, Janet McBride)
World | Sun Nov 22, 2015 5:37am EST Related: WORLD, FRANCE
PARIS | BY JOHN IRISH, ROBERT-JAN BARTUNEK AND ORHAN COSKUN
Find this story at 22 November 2015
Ankara suicide bombings cast long shadow over Turkey’s Syria policy
October 23, 2015
The twin attacks – Turkey’s most devastating in recent history – killed at least 97 civilians and wounded 246 more on Saturday during a predominantly Kurdish peace rally in the capital.
ISIL is the prime suspect in the suicide bombings, and investigators are close to identifying one of the perpetrators, prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish broadcaster NTV on Monday.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dangerously supported hardline militant groups – such as the Army of Conquest, a coalition that includes Al Qaeda’s Syria branch Jabhat Al Nusra and the Salafist group Ahrar Al Sham – to topple Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.
His contentious policy in Syria was already under strain before this, with Russia directly intervening in the war and the US forging close ties with Turkey’s other nemesis on the ground – the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The growing tussle of superpowers in the Syrian war is edging Turkey out of the equation, according to analysts.
“Turkey, in my judgement, is no longer a first rank player in the Syrian crisis. It will always have a role to play, but only because of its geography,” said Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.
Russia’s intervention has altered the course of war, not least for Turkey. One immediate effect will be the likely inclusion of Mr Al Assad in any transitional deal, a bitter pill Turkish leaders will have to swallow.
“Turkey will probably be part of any negotiating table, but I doubt that it will have much of a say as to who sits at the table,” Mr Ozel said.
Mr Erdogan will officially maintain his stance on ousting Mr Al Assad so as not to appear to have backed down from his position, but this may change should, as expected, Mr Erdogan’s AKP fail to win a majority in the upcoming elections, according to veteran Turkish journalist Semih Idiz.
“Turkey’s current policy [on Assad] is unsustainable and could change after the elections on November 1,” he said.
The shift appears even more likely, Mr Idiz added, given the West’s gradual gravitation towards accepting Mr Al Assad in any interim peace deal.
Turkey first emerged as a major player in the Syrian conflict when anti-regime protests began in 2011, pursuing a vigorous policy of backing mostly religiously conservative rebels to overthrow the Assad regime and empower the Muslim Brotherhood. But Ankara’s objectives are slowly blunting as the war draws in direct interventions from the US and Russia.
The priorities of the major powers have taken precedence, with Washington’s main focus on eradicating ISIL and Moscow determined to protect its key ally Mr Al Assad and prevent the Syrian state from crumbling further.
Another indicator of the zero-sum effect Russia’s intervention has had on Turkey’s influence in Syria is the question of Mr Erdogan’s proposed safe-zone within northern Syria.
“The Russian intervention has put the last nail into the coffin for Ankara in terms of its demand for a safe zone,” Mr Idiz said.
Russia’s violations of Turkish airspace last week demonstrate Moscow’s hostility towards a no-fly zone, and send a message to Turkey to respect Syria’s sovereignty, according to Mr Idiz.
Russian incursions into Turkey’s airspace and their close aerial encounters are also a power play that exposes Ankara’s inability to stop the Russians.
“[Russia is] showing its power and exposing Erdogan’s helplessness,” Mr Ozel said.
Pushed back by Russia and facing ISIL’s terror, Turkey is also being squeezed by its main ally, the US.
Washington’s war on ISIL has brought the Americans closer to the PYD, the only acceptable ground force that has proven capable of defeating ISIL extremists.
“Turkey is clearly displeased with the rising international profile of the PYD, which it is insisting is a terrorist organisation like the PKK, but appears to have little it can do to prevent this,” Mr Idiz said.
A key Turkish interest is to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northeastern Syria, fearing it would inspire further unrest among its large Kurdish minority.
While a Kurdish state is unlikely, the importance of the PYD to Washington in its fight against ISIL has curtailed Ankara’s ability to weaken the group.
“The fact that the PYD, which is getting support from the US led-coalition against ISIL, is establishing warm ties with Moscow, is set to weaken Turkey’s hand even more against this group,” Mr Idiz said.
Mr Erdogan’s Syria policy was designed to expand Turkish influence in its southern neighbour.
Instead, he may be relegated to spectator status as he watches three worst case scenarios unfold: Mr Al Assad retaining interim power; the Kurds obtaining unprecedented power along the Turkey-Syria border; and radical ISIL with no qualms spreading its terror into the heart of Turkey.
October 12, 2015 Updated: October 12, 2015 06:20 PM
Find this story at 12 October 2015
Turkey Pays Former CIA Director and Lobbyists to Misrepresent Attacks on Kurds and ISIS
October 23, 2015
Thousands of articles have been published worldwide in recent weeks exposing Turkey’s strategic trickery — using the pretext of fighting ISIS to carry out a genocidal bombing campaign against the Kurds who have courageously countered ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 12 that a senior US military official accused Turkey of deceiving the American government by allowing its use of Incirlik airbase to attack ISIS, as a cover for President Erdogan’s war on Kurdish fighters (PKK) in northern Iraq. So far, Turkey has carried out 300 air strikes against the PKK, and only three against ISIS! Erdogan’s intent in punishing the Kurds is to gain the sympathy of Turkish voters in the next parliamentary elections, enabling his party to win an outright majority and establish an autocratic presidential theocracy.
To conceal its deception and mislead the American public, within days of starting its war on the Kurds, Ankara hired Squire Patton Boggs for $32,000 a month, as a subcontractor to the powerful lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. Squire Patton Boggs includes former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, and retired White House official Robert Kapla. The Gephardt lobbying team for Turkey consists of subcontractors Greenberg Traurig, Brian Forni, Lydia Borland, and Dickstein Shapiro LLP; the latter recently added to its lobbying staff former CIA Director Porter Goss. Other firms hired by Turkey are: Goldin Solutions, Alpaytac, Finn Partners, Ferah Ozbek, and Golin/Harris International. According to U.S. Justice Department records, Turkey pays these lobbying/public relations firms around $5 million a year. Furthermore, several U.S. non-profit organizations serve as fronts for the Turkish government to promote its interests in the United States and take Members of Congress and journalists on all-expense paid junkets to Turkey.
Among the U.S. lobbyists for Turkey, perhaps the most questionable is Porter Goss, CIA Director from 2004 to 2006, who has agreed to sell his soul and possibly U.S. national secrets for a fistful of Turkish Liras.
It is noteworthy that in a report Mr. Goss filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, he avoided answering the question regarding his compensation from the Turkish government. He simply wrote: “Salary not based solely on services rendered to the foreign principal [Turkey]”!
In the same form, filed on April 23, 2015, Mr. Goss described his services for Turkey as follows:
1) Provide counsel in connection with the extension and strengthening of the Turkish-American relationship in a number of key areas that are the subject of debate in Congress, including trade, energy security, counter-terrorism efforts, and efforts to build regional stability in the broader Middle East and Europe;
2) Educating Members of Congress and the Administration on issues of importance to Turkey;
3) Notifying Turkey of any action in Congress or the Executive Branch on issues of importance to Turkey;
4) Preparing analyses of developments in Congress and the Executive Branch on issues of importance to Turkey.
It is significant that Dickstein Shapiro LLP, Mr. Goss’s employer, misled the Justice Department, by reporting two days prior to the start of his employment and three days before the Armenian Genocide Centennial, that the former CIA Director had already met on behalf of his lobbying firm with nine members of Congress to discuss “US-Turkish relations.”
Most probably, hiring Porter Goss as a lobbyist for Turkey was a reward for his staunch support of Turkish issues, while serving as a Republican congressman from Florida from 1989 to 2004. During the October 2000 debate on the Armenian Genocide resolution in the House International Relations Committee, Cong. Goss, the then Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, testified against the adoption of the resolution, using the excuse that it would harm U.S.-Turkey relations. Nevertheless, the genocide resolution was adopted by a vote of 24 to 11.
It is bad enough that former Members of Congress are selling themselves to anyone who is willing to pay them. But, the former director of the CIA…? This is more than unethical; it is a grave risk to U.S. national security. The American government must not allow the sale of its top spymaster to the highest bidder! What if North Korea offered him a higher price? Would Mr. Goss jump ship and lobby for an enemy state just to make a few more dollars?
Posted: 08/19/2015 11:49 am EDT Updated: 08/28/2015 8:59 am EDT
Find this story at 19 August 2015
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Senior ex-general hints at CIA involvement in Balyoz coup plot case
October 23, 2015
Retired Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, who was among the 236 suspects acquitted in the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup-plot case, has said the United States or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could have had a finger in the coup case.
The CIA or the U.S.’ “deep state” could have been involved in the case, recalling the testimony of a suspect, who said in 2010 he and a former deputy had picked up a sack full of documents in 2007 to be used in the Balyoz coup plot case from an American senator and a retired Turkish major in Istanbul and taken it to Ankara, according to Balanlı.
Balanlı said the alleged military documents, which became evidence and began the investigation, contained terms the Turkish army did not use and which were known to be used in the U.S. Army.
“For example, we do not use the word ‘ocean’ when we talk about our seas. The term ‘ocean’ was used in some places of the Balyoz coup plot plan. I think that they could have translated this from an American plan,” said Balanlı.
Balanlı, who was the only four-star general on active duty who was a suspect in the coup-plot case, was in line to be appointed to Chief of the Air Staff in August 2011 if he had not been arrested and sent to jail just two months before. He spent two years in jail and was forced to retire.
Balanlı said even though government officials now say they have been deceived about the case they believed they could gain political benefit from the plot case at the time.
“We can say the government perceived they could politically benefit from the case. Maybe both an opinion was formed and they believed the information given to them within the plot. They believed the plotters very much. Now they say they were deceived,” said Balanlı, adding this was a weakness for the Turkish Republic with all its institutions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said March 19, during his first speech as commander-in-chief at the War Colleges Command, that the “parallel structure” of state officials sympathetic to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen “misled and deceived” Turkey through the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup-plot cases, claiming he had personally objected to the arrest of top commanders and officers.
Stating he had identified a formation dubbed the “parallel structure” by the government as a “gang” when he lodged a petition to the court during his first trial, Balanlı said it would be “naïve” not to think the “parallel structure” had also stationed its own people inside the army, as some of the documents about the suspects in the case contained information people outside of the military could not have known.
Balanlı said they had struggled on their own to tell the truth to the nation, disclaiming the General Staff and Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel’s contributions to winning the case.
“We made the struggle to enlighten the public and made the nation see the truth. If there is any honor in this matter then it is the honor of the people who have showed the courage to stand by us and the truth. I do not believe the General Staff has [made] any contributions to this,” said Balanlı.
Cansu Çamlıbel ISTANBUL
Find this story at 6 April 2015
US neither confirms nor denies tapping Turkey’s intelligence head Hakan Fidan
October 23, 2015
US Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment during Thursday’s daily press briefing on a German magazine’s claim that the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Hakan Fidan, the chief of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT), in order to collect information on a high level security meeting about the possible Turkish intervention in Syria to protect a Turkish enclave there last year.
When asked about a report by the Germany-based Focus magazine asserting the NSA tapped Fidan’s phone and therefore collected the audio from the meeting, Kirby said: “We’re not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence or disclosure activity. I just — I would refer you to the National Security Agency for anything more.”
Kirby was also asked to comment on this week’s meeting in Ankara between Turkish officials and a US delegation led by US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Gen. John Allen. In response to the question, Kirby said the US delegation and the Turks held a series of constructive meetings, in which the parties discussed their mutual efforts in the coalition against ISIL. He added, “I’m not going to detail all the various things that were discussed, but I think you can understand that — I mean, again, it was a pretty wide-ranging sets of discussions about all the different challenges we’re facing against ISIL.”
Kirby did not confirm or deny allegations that the Turkish government had agreed during the talks to allow its military air base in İncirlik, Adana, to be used by US drones to strike ISIL targets in Syria. “I’m in no position to confirm any kind of decision in that regard,” said the spokesman on the claim.
With regards to the differences between Turkey and the US on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Kirby stated that the US understands Turkish concerns, adding “It’s not something that we ignore. What our focus [is] on inside Syria is against ISIL. That’s the focus of the coalition effort. And I’d like to remind everybody that Turkey is a part of that coalition, not just a NATO ally but a part of that coalition, and they’re contributing to the effort.”
Kirby also pointed out Turkey’s “significant refugee problem” from Syria. Gen. Allen and US Department of Defense Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth, along with a large delegation from the Pentagon, have been in Ankara this past week meeting with their Turkish counterparts, including Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu. The Turkish and US delegations had an eight-hour-long meeting on Tuesday and continued their discussions on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Turkish daily Cumhuriyet reported on Thursday that Ankara agreed to let US armed drones that are deployed at İncirlik Air Base be used against ISIL. Speaking to the A Haber TV channel in late June, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu talked about the presence of armed US drones at İncirlik, adding that the drones were being used for gathering intelligence and that it was natural that they were armed, given the threats in the region.
According to Cumhuriyet, Turkey and the US are close to a deal on using the base, but Ankara wants the US to support the Syrian opposition, especially around Aleppo, as a precondition to its assistance.
July 10, 2015, Friday/ 12:17:03/ TODAYSZAMAN.COM / ISTANBUL
Find this story at 10 July 2015
© Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş. 2007
Erdogans SchattenkriegerSo ungeniert spioniert Erdogan seine Gegner aus – mitten in Deutschland
October 23, 2015
Türkische Spione in Deutschland sollen Erdogan-Gegner ans Messer geliefert haben. Ein Prozess gegen einen Top-Spion zeigt jetzt, wie Ankaras Geheimdienst massiv Spitzel nach Deutschland einschleust.
Richterin Yvonne O. geriet ins Stocken. Die Verlesung des Haftbefehls gegen den mutmaßlichen türkischen Spion Taha Gergerlioglu, 59, hatte um 11.30 Uhr just begonnen, da stolzierte ein elegant gekleideter Herr in den Verhandlungssaal. Der Mann übersah mit diplomatischer Arroganz die einfachen Justizbeamten und erwartete Respekt. Immerhin, sagte er zu der Haftrichterin am Karlsruher Bundesgerichtshof, sei er der türkische Generalkonsul Serhat Aksen, 44. In schwerer Stunde wolle er seinem Landsmann Gergerlioglu beistehen, eingesperrt wegen angeblicher feindlicher Agententätigkeit in Deutschland.
Die sichtlich überraschte Richterin wollte gerade weiter den Haftbefehl vortragen, als das Telefon neben ihr klingelte. Ein Anwalt teilte im Auftrag eines Professors aus Ankara mit, dass der mutmaßliche Agentenführer zum einflussreichen Beraterstab des türkischen Präsidenten Recep Tayyip Erdogan gehöre.
„Damit“, so ein Ermittler zu FOCUS, „war die Katze aus dem Sack. Die Türken haben versucht, massiv auf die deutsche Justiz einzuwirken.“ Die mutmaßliche Botschaft, überbracht von Generalkonsul und Professor: Wenn dem Angeklagten auch nur ein Haar gekrümmt wird, bekommt ihr Erdogans Jähzorn zu spüren.
Den Boss nennen sie “Großbruder”
Die Bundesanwaltschaft stuft die Intervention im Gerichtssaal durchaus als „besonderen Umstand“ ein, lässt sich ansonsten aber nicht irritieren. Auch wenn Erdogans Top-Spion eine hohe Stellung im Staatsgefüge der Türkei bekleide, so sei er nach Staatsschutz-Ermittlungen gleichwohl der Anführer eines Agentenrings in der Bundesrepublik. Zwei seiner besonders aktiven Spitzel, der Arbeitslose Göksel G., 34, aus Bad Dürkheim und Reisekaufmann Duran Y., 59, aus Wuppertal, werden sich mit ihrem Chef Gergerlioglu vor Gericht verantworten müssen.
Die Spionage-Clique hatte ein klares Ziel: Verfolgung und Ausspähung von türkischen und kurdischen Dissidenten, die bei der Rückkehr in ihre Heimat vermutlich verhaftet und gefoltert wurden. Ende April 2014 teilte zum Beispiel Duran Y. seinem Führungsoffizier Gergerlioglu mit, dass einer der „Hetzer“ gegen Erdogan bald in die Türkei fahre. Der Boss, von seinen Spitzeln stets demütig als „Großbruder“ oder „Gouverneur“ angesprochen, versprach, dass man das Lästermaul nach der Einreise in die Türkei „sofort fertigmachen“ werde.
In Deutschland lebende Aktivisten der verbotenen Arbeiterpartei Kurdistans (PKK) sowie rebellische Jesiden waren in den Augen des Erdogan-Vertrauten die größten Staatsfeinde. Überdies galten auch Kommunisten der Partei DHKP-C als Top-Zielpersonen.
Das Stammkapital kommt aus der Operativ-Kasse
Der vierfache Familienvater Gergerlioglu, seit Studentenzeiten ein fleißiger Unterstützer Erdogans islamischkonservativer Partei AKP, begann offenbar 2011 seine erste Geheimmission in Deutschland. In Bad Dürkheim gründete der Textilingenieur mit seinem Komplizen Göksel G. eine Agentur zur Beratung von Firmen im deutsch-türkischen Handel. Eine Tarnadresse?
Das Stammkapital von 25 000 Euro kommt offenbar aus der Operativ-Kasse von Hakan Fidan, 46, Boss des mächtigen und allseits gefürchteten Geheimdienstes MIT. Fidan, Intimus von Erdogan, führt Agentennetze im In- und Ausland. Seine Kundschafter in Deutschland sind ihm besonders wichtig. Umso mehr dürfte es ihn geschmerzt haben, dass seine Spitzenkraft Gergerlioglu im Untersuchungsgefängnis landete.
Fidan, ein intelligenter und bulliger Typ, kennt die deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden sehr gut. Als türkischer Verbindungsoffizier zur Nato war er eine Zeitlang am „Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps“ in Mönchengladbach-Rheindahlen stationiert. Seit dieser Zeit gilt er als großer Fußballfan von Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Wer ist der größte Prahler? Die absurden Protzbauten von Staatsoberhäuptern
So smart Fidan wirken mag, so knallhart setzt er Erdogans Ideen um. Vor knapp zwei Jahren protokollierte der US-Geheimdienst NSA ein Telefonat von Fidan, in dem er mit einem hohen Offizier den heimtückischen Plan erörterte, in einer verdeckten Operation von syrischer Seite aus das Grabmal eines berühmten türkischen Religionslehrers beschießen und zerstören zu lassen.
Nach Fidans Konzept hätte dies der Anlass sein können, mit türkischen Truppen in Syrien einzumarschieren. Der Plan liegt bis heute in der Schublade. Stattdessen muss Erdogans Adlatus seit Monaten sein Image aufpolieren. Nahezu alle Geheimdienste in Europa werfen ihm vor, gefährliche Islamisten auf dem Weg nach Syrien ungehindert durch die Türkei ziehen zu lassen. Fahndungsersuchen aus Deutschland oder Frankreich wurden nachweislich missachtet.
Seinem Top-Spion Gergerlioglu und dessen Komplizen war offenbar kein Trick zu schmutzig. Ende 2013 nahmen sie sich den Anführer einer oppositionellen Glaubensgruppe vor. Staatsschützer des Hessischen Landeskriminalamts (LKA) konnten in abgehörten Telefonaten verfolgen, wie das Trio ihr Opfer Fetullah Güllen erledigen wollte. Mit Hilfe eines Fälschers sollte ein Dokument erstellt werden, aus dem hervorging, dass sich Güllen im Korankurs sexuell an Jungen vergangen habe. Diese belastende Nachricht, so die Ermittlungen, war eigens für den „Oberchef“ bestimmt – gemeint ist Recep Erdogan.
Er würde seinem Vorbild angeblich bis in den Tod folgen
Der türkische Staatspräsident war zu dieser Zeit ohnehin rachsüchtig. Kurz vor seinem Besuch in Köln erfuhr er im Mai 2014, dass Plakate in der Domstadt ihn als „unerwünschte Person“ dargestellt hatten. Zwei Wochen später nannten Erdogans Spezialagenten einen der angeblichen Aufwiegler: Diesen Mann, so hörten die LKA-Lauscher, müsse man „ficken“.
Der Prozess gegen das Spionage-Trio könnte die deutschtürkischen Beziehungen weiter belasten. Angebliche V-Mann-Operationen des Bundesnachrichtendienstes im Umfeld von Mördern eines Staatsanwalts brachten die Türken kürzlich in Rage.
Umgekehrt agiert man dezenter. Die deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden wissen seit Jahren, wie rücksichtslos die Spione von Hakan Fidan in der Bundesrepublik agieren – dennoch nimmt man auf den Nato-Partner Rücksicht. „Wenn’s nach den Türken ginge, könnten wir jede Woche ein Dutzend PKK-Leute festnehmen“, sagte ein früherer BKA-Staatsschutzchef zu FOCUS.
Hakan Fidan, der seinem Vorbild Erdogan angeblich treu bis in den Tod folgen würde, gilt als cleverer Geheimdienst-Boss. Seine Deutschland-Spione sitzen nicht nur in sogenannten legalen Residenturen wie Botschaft und Konsulate, sondern auch als Undercover-Agenten in türkischen Reisebüros, Redaktionen, Banken und Gebetshäusern.
Seine Trümpfe sind junge Türken
Die staatliche DITIB-Moschee in Köln-Ehrenfeld gilt als wichtiger Stützpunkt von Hakan Fidans Geheimdienst MIT. Die Vorbeter werden angeblich angewiesen, Informationen über Erdogans Kritiker sowie Personenfotos über vermeintliche Landesverräter zu liefern. Falls ein Rollkommando für harte Bestrafungsaktionen benötigt wird, stehen die Schläger der nationalistischen Grauen Wölfe gern bereit.
Fidans Trümpfe sind junge Türken, die in Deutschland geboren und aufgewachsen sind. Für viele von ihnen ist der Wehrdienst verpflichtend. Wenn sie einwilligen, dem Geheimdienst MIT aus patriotischen Gründen zu helfen, verkürzt sich ihre Militärzeit erheblich.
Zurück in Deutschland, arbeiten die zweisprachigen jungen Türken in Stadtverwaltungen, Hotels und Banken. Somit haben sie Zugang zu Daten, die den Agentenboss Fidan interessieren könnten. „Hakans Arm“, so ein LKA-Man, „ist verdammt lang.“
Samstag, 04.07.2015, 21:19 · von FOCUS-Reporter Josef Hufelschulte und FOCUS-Redakteur Axel Spilcker
Find this story at 4 July 2015
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The Red Line and the Rat Line; Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels (2014)
July 27, 2015
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
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In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
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Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
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By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
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As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
Vol. 36 No. 8 · 17 April 2014
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© LRB Limited 2014
Reports link Islamic State recruiter to Canadian Embassy in Jordan
April 8, 2015
Canada’s embassy in Jordan, which is run by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s handpicked ambassador and former top bodyguard, is being linked in news reports to an unfolding international terrorism and spy scandal.
The federal government refused to comment Friday on multiple Turkish media reports that a foreign spy allegedly working for Canadian intelligence – and arrested in Turkey for helping three young British girls travel to Syria to join Islamic State militants – was working for the Canadian embassy in Amman, Jordan.
Reports also say the suspect has confessed to working for Canadian intelligence and was doing so in order to obtain Canadian citizenship. The man previously travelled to Canada with the embassy’s approval, said one report.
Canada’s ambassador to Jordan is Bruno Saccomani, the former RCMP officer who was in charge of Harper’s security detail until the prime minister appointed him almost two years ago as the envoy to Amman, with dual responsibility for Iraq.
The suspect in custody is a Syrian intelligence operative named Mohammed Mehmet Rashid – dubbed Doctor Mehmet Rashid – who helped the three London schoolgirls travel to Syria upon their arrival in Turkey, according to Yeni Safak, a conservative and Islamist Turkish newspaper known for its strong support of the government.
Other Turkish news outlets identified the man with slightly different spellings: Mohammed al Rashid or Mohammad Al Rashed.
Police arrested Rashid more than a week ago in a province near Turkey’s border with Syria, multiple news agencies reported.
The initial police report says Rashid confessed he was working for the Canadian intelligence agency and that he has flown to Jordan to share intelligence with other agents working for the Canadian Embassy in Amman, various news outlets reported.
The suspect claimed he worked for the intelligence service in order to get Canadian citizenship for himself, said various news reports. The Turkish intelligence service confiscated his mobile phone and computer, which were provided by the Canadian government, according to reports.
Computer records revealed Rashid entered Turkey 33 times with his Syrian passport since June 2013, and agents discovered passport images of 17 more people, aside from the ones belonging to the three British girls, Yeni Safak reported.
The Citizen has not been able to independently confirm the Turkish news reports.
The Syrian agent reportedly received deposits of between $800 and $1,500 through bank accounts opened in the United Kingdom.
A federal government source in Canada said the individual arrested is not a Canadian citizen and “was not an employee of CSIS,” but nobody in government has said this on the record. Nor has the government categorically ruled out reports that the alleged spy was working for or helping the Canadian government in some capacity.
Turkish news channel A Haber reported the 28-year-old man was a dentist who fled the Syrian conflict into Jordan, and sought asylum in another country before the Canadian embassy took an interest in his asylum case.
He then travelled to Canada by approval of the embassy and stayed there for a while before returning to Jordan, according to news outlets that cited A Haber’s coverage.
The news channel claimed he contacted a Canadian embassy official in Jordan called “Matt,” and quoted Turkish police sources that Matt was likely an employee of a British intelligence service, said a report from Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah, citing the A Haber coverage. The suspect only acted as a smuggler and was paid by the intelligence service.
A Haber has released two different videos of the man arrested, with one video allegedly showing him leading the girls into Syria and another of him in custody being led away by security officials.
The choppy footage in the first video, filmed by the man now in custody, shows the girls’ journey from Turkey into Syria, Turkish media reported.
The three girls arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, then headed to the southern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border, Daily Sabah reported. The girls then took a cab from Gaziantep to a location where they were greeted by the man.
The suspect starts shooting video when the girls arrive and asks for their names, before telling them to take their baggage and not leave anything behind. He then informs the girls they will be in Syria within one hour, Daily Sabah reported.
The girls and suspect then hop into another vehicle. He then delivers them to Islamic State militants in Syria and returns to Turkey, and is later apprehended by Turkish authorities, according to the newspaper.
In Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has refused to comment on the reports, citing operational security. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, RCMP and Prime Minister’s Office have also refused comment.
The official Opposition pursued the Conservatives Friday in question period over the alleged link to Canada’s embassy in Jordan, which they noted is run by Harper’s handpicked ambassador.
NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie asked the government to confirm that someone linked to Canadian intelligence – “either an employee, an agent or an asset, is being detained in Turkey.”
Roxanne James, the parliamentary secretary to Blaney, confirmed the government is aware of the reports but, like the minister, refused to provide any details “on operational matters of national security.”
Defence Minister Jason Kenney, speaking to reporters Friday in Calgary, said he has never heard Rashid’s name before and refused further comment. “We don’t comment on allegations or operations about our intelligence agencies,” Kenney said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the government’s refusal to outright deny the reports out of Turkey lends credence to them.
“They haven’t responded,” he said. “And in light of the fact that there’s been more than 24 hours for the government to establish the facts as to what happened, I can only conclude that there is some truth to this story.”
Dewar said if the reports are true, that would be devastating for Canada’s credibility, and, at the very least, reiterate the need to increase oversight over the spy agency’s activities.
“We have been engaged with someone who is not blocking people from travelling to Syria to join up with ISIL, they’re actually facilitating it,” he said.
“So the government has to understand that they’re accountable for the actions of our spy agency and whomever they work with.”
Should the allegations prove true, Dewar said there should be an immediate investigation into what happened, including how CSIS would have recruited such a person to work for it. At the same time, he questioned who would lead such an investigation and where the report would go given the lack of independent monitoring over the spy agency.
“This is why we don’t support Bill C-51,” he said. “There’s no proper oversight right now. It’s a black hole.”
Dewar also noted the reports say Rashid was recruited out of Canada’s embassy in Jordan, which is headed by Saccomani. He said it is ironic given the government defended Saccomani’s lack of diplomatic experience by touting his background in security issues when the prime minister appointed him to the post last year.
Exactly why Turkish officials chose to publicly identify the man’s affiliation as being with Canada, and possibly CSIS, remains unclear.
Relations between Turkey and Canada were rocky after the Conservative government formally recognized the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War as a genocide, but they have become more cordial in recent years.
In particular, Canada has remained largely silent while other Western countries are criticizing Turkey for not doing more to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, many of whom have joined Islamic State (ISIL).
It has also refrained from speaking out too loudly on what some have seen as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian bent and attempt to turn Turkey away from secularism.
Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, are the three British girls believed to have joined the Islamic State, after they left their London homes in early February, travelled to Turkey and crossed the border into Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the suspect arrested worked for the intelligence agency of a country that is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.
He didn’t identify the country, but multiple media outlets, citing security officials, first reported Thursday the individual was working for Canadian security intelligence.
CSIS may well be operating in the region.
If Rashid worked in some capacity for CSIS, and based on reports his computer contained images of passport and travel documents of several apparent ISIL recruits, it’s conceivable he was actually gathering intelligence for CSIS about those recruits and the methods, logistics and contacts for spiriting them into Syria, said Ray Boisvert, former assistant director of intelligence for CSIS.
“If he was a CSIS asset, he’s likely an observer whose only job is to report what he saw,” Boisvert said.
If his computer did, in fact, contain information about many other ISIL recruits in Syria, “that’s a hell of intelligence operation, well done.”
Boisvert said relations between Turkey and Western coalition countries have become acrimonious, especially with the British. It has “become a very high, politically-charged discussion about who’s to blame,” for the ISIL recruit pipeline through Turkey into Syria.
If Rashid was working for CSIS in some fashion, the spy agency’s current mandate would prevent him or the organization from doing anything to have stopped the three British girls from reaching Syria. Under current Canadian law, CSIS and its assets are only allowed to gather intelligence.
Ironically, the government’s contentious security legislation, Bill C-51, would empower CSIS to disrupt such activities that threatened the security of Canada.
The reports come as the government pushes to enact two pieces of divisive security legislation giving CSIS extraordinary powers at home and abroad. But critics argue that without additional oversight and review, Canada’s security agencies could run amok with the new powers.
Under Bill C-51, the CSIS mandate would dramatically expand from its current intelligence collection-only role to actively reducing and disrupting threats to national security, whether in Canada or abroad. If those disruption activities are illegal or unconstitutional in Canada, the legislation authorizes Federal Court judges to grant CSIS warrants to break the law.
The bill also gives explicit direction to CSIS and Canadian courts to ignore the statutes of sovereign states in pursuing such operations. That development was highlighted in an online New York Times op-ed article this week by Canadian legal scholars Craig Forcese and Kent Roach.
Another piece of government security legislation before the Senate, Bill C-44, which amends the CSIS Act, also would allow Federal Court judges to “without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state … authorize activities outside of Canada to enable the service to investigate a threat to the security of Canada.”
Those activities would be limited to traditional intelligence gathering, which is done, usually covertly, by intelligence services the world over.
JASON FEKETE, OTTAWA CITIZEN
LEE BERTHIAUME, OTTAWA CITIZEN
IAN MACLEOD, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Last Updated: March 13, 2015 7:32 PM EDT
Find this story at 13 March 2015
© 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Turkish reports claim smuggler for Islamic State worked for Canada
April 8, 2015
ANKARA, TURKEY — A Syrian former army lieutenant who defected from the military three years ago has become the central figure in a tale of intrigue that ended last month in the flight to the Islamic State of three British schoolgirls.
Everyone agrees that Muhammad el Rashed arranged to smuggle the girls to Syria after they’d arrived in Turkey, some of the hundreds of Britons thought to have joined the Islamic State in recent years.
What’s less clear is how Rashed came to be in a position to help smuggle them. The Turkish government charges that he was a paid agent of Canadian intelligence, and officials imply that’s proof that Canada, as well as the United Kingdom, is helping to finance the Islamic State.
For its part, the Canadian government hasn’t commented on Rashed’s statement to police that he was working as an intelligence operative. A representative of Canadian Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney declined to comment about the reports when asked about them last week in the House of Commons.
The Canadian government also hasn’t commented on Turkish claims that payments wired to Rashed were immediately transferred to Islamic State operatives in Syria. The amount he allegedly received remains unknown.
Turkey has been under pressure from its European neighbors to stop the flow of recruits to the Islamic State, most of whom pass through the country. In the best-known recent case, Hayat Boumeddiene, the common-law wife of an Islamic State sympathizer who killed four Jews in a grocery in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo violence in January, slipped across a border crossing about 300 yards from the office of the district governor, even though Turkish authorities had spotted her as suspicious on her arrival in the country.
Turkey has said there’s little it can do to stop people who arrive in the country legally, and it’s blamed European nations for not notifying it fast enough when possible recruits leave their home countries. The Turkish allegations raise the question of whether officials are highlighting Rashed’s alleged Canada connection to deflect attention from claims that Turkey has been at best lukewarm in its opposition to the presence of radical Islamists in Syria.
The story began last month in Great Britain, when the three girls, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, disappeared from Bethnal Green Academy in London. Their families alerted British authorities and told them they thought the three had caught a flight from London to Istanbul on Feb. 17. Closed-circuit video later released by Scotland Yard showed the girls at London’s Gatwick Airport.
Turkish surveillance video caught the girls waiting for 18 hours on Feb. 18 at a bus station in Istanbul. A subsequent video made public last week by the Turkish TV channel A Haber showed Rashed interacting with the girls in Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey. The video, apparently taken via a hidden camera by Rashed himself, shows him urging the girls to hurry. “You will be there in one hour,” he says at one point, apparently referring to Syria.
Since Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed last week that a man had been arrested in the smuggling of the girls to Syria, Turkish newspapers have published what they said were transcripts of Rashed’s confession to Turkish authorities.
According to those purported transcripts, Rashed said he’d helped 35 Europeans cross from Turkey to Syria, that his Islamic State contact was a British jihadi who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Kaka and that he’d laundered the payments he received from Canada through a jewelry store owned by a relative in the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa, which then passed them to the Islamic State via Rashed’s brother, who lives in Raqqa, Syria.
According to the news accounts, Rashed told Turkish interrogators that Abu Kaka would contact him via the Internet chat service WhatsApp with the names of people who wanted to join the Islamic State. Rashed would then arrange their delivery to the border.
In the case of the three British teenagers, Rashed reportedly said he’d met the girls at a bus station in Istanbul, bought them bus tickets and accompanied them to Gaziantep, where he’d delivered them to a man he identified as Ilahmai Bali, who used the nom de guerre Abu Bakr.
Bali was responsible for arranging private transportation for people wanting to enter Syria, Rashed was quoted as saying.
During his interrogation, according to the purported transcripts, Rashed said he’d been working for Canadian intelligence since 2013.
According to the Turkish accounts, Rashed joined the Syrian military in 2010, before the war there broke out, and defected two years later in Homs, which by then had become the focus of fighting between rebels and the government of President Bashar Assad.
“While seeking asylum, I got in contact with Canada in 2013,” Rashed allegedly told his interrogators in Sanliurfa, adding, “They told me they would give me citizenship if I would gather information about the Islamic State and share it with them.”
The Canadians, he said, provided him with a laptop and a cellphone. He said the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan, had paid for plane tickets for him to travel to Amman. Turkish authorities said migration records showed that Rashed had used his Syrian passport to enter and exit Turkey 33 times since 2013, primarily through Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
Over the next years, he said, he worked as a dentist in Raqqa – a city the Islamic State captured in March 2013 –and sent the Canadian Embassy in Amman details of who was being treated at the hospital. He identified his Canadian contact as Matt, whom he described as about 35 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall and about 200 pounds.
When he moved from Raqqa to Turkey to take up smuggling people isn’t stated in the published transcripts. According to the accounts, Rashed said most of the people he’d helped reach the Islamic State bought their own bus tickets. Most were from English-speaking countries, primarily Britain, but also South Africa, Indonesia, Australia and Nigeria.
Turkish police surmised from records on his laptop that he may have played a role in the smuggling of 150 people to Syria. Among the photos they found, according to reports, were those of the three missing schoolgirls.
Guvenc is a McClatchy special correspondent.
BY DUYGU GUVENC
McClatchy Foreign StaffMarch 17, 2015
Find this story at 17 March 2015
Canadian spy aided eight more British nationals join ISIS along with three girls
April 8, 2015
Canadian spy aided eight more British nationals join ISIS along with three girls
The Syrian national suspected of being a spy working for the Canadian intelligence agency, identified as Mohammed al-Rashed, who helped the three British girls cross into Syria through the Turkish border to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also aided another eight Britons join the group, Turkish media reported on Friday.
According to Doğan News Agency’s report, the suspect greeted 12 British people, including three teenage girls, at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul and bought them bus tickets to Gaziantep, a Turkish province bordering Syria while allegedly handing the recruits to an ISIS commander.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that the suspect has been caught in connection with smuggling the three British girls who left their London homes in early February, into Syria.
He went on to say that the person was working for the intelligence service of a country “that is a member of the international coalition” against ISIS, referring to U.S.-led forces carrying out air strikes against the armed group. He refrained from naming the country, other than stating that it is “not the United States, nor a European Union country.” The coalition also includes several Arab countries as well as Australia and Canada.
Security sources told Daily Sabah on Thursday that the person detained was a member of Canada’s intelligence agency.
A Haber, an Istanbul-based news network, released footage showing the man, identified as Mohammed al-Rashed, speaking to the girls in a Turkish town near the border before the trio board a vehicle to cross into Syria. The footage, captured by a hidden camera by Rashed, recorded in Gaziantep, shows Rashed welcoming the girls as they exit a taxicab. He tells them they will be in Syria “within an hour,” as they carry their bags to another vehicle and adds that he will not go with them.
He was detained on February 28 in Şanlıurfa, another Turkish province on the border. Turkish newspaper Star reported that Rashed was arrested on March 4 by a court and confessed to smuggling the girls into Syria.
Star newspaper released excerpts from the purported interrogation of Rashed by Turkish security services. He told police he was working for Canadian intelligence and contacted Canadian intelligence agents occasionally in a Canadian consulate in Jordan. He said he informed Canadian intelligence officers about smuggling the girls on February 21. Rashed claimed he was looking to be granted Canadian citizenship by helping the intelligence service.
Star also reported Rashed entered and departed Turkey 33 times starting in 2013 through Istanbul and border crossings between Turkey and Syria. The article said photos of passports of 20 people, including the three British girls, were found on the hard drive of the computer in his possession, along with hidden camera footage showing potential ISIS recruits traveling to Syria.
A spokesperson for Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness responded to the inquiry and said Canada was “aware” of the reports but “will not comment on operational matters of national security.” The Canadian Embassy in Turkey had declined to comment on the matter on Thursday.
March 14, 2015
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Turkey holds foreign spy for helping British girls travel to Syria to join Islamic State
April 8, 2015
Ankara: Turkey says it has detained an intelligence agent working for one of the states in the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State for helping three British teenage girls cross into Syria to join the jihadists.
The surprise revelation by Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday appeared aimed at deflecting sustained criticism from Western countries that Turkey is failing to halt the flow of jihadists across its borders.
“Do you know who helped those girls? He was captured. He was someone working for the intelligence [service] of a country in the coalition,” Mr Cavusoglu told the A-Haber channel in an interview published by the official Anatolia news agency.
A Turkish government official said the agent was arrested by Turkey’s security forces 10 days ago, and added that the person was not a Turkish citizen.
“We informed all the countries concerned,” the official said. “It’s not an EU member, it’s also not the United States. He is working for the intelligence of a country within the coalition,” Mr Cavusoglu added, without further specifying the nationality of the detained agent.
The coalition also includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, Australia and Canada.
A European security source familiar with the case of the three girls said the person in question had a connection with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service spy agency.
A Canadian government source in Ottawa said the person was not a Canadian citizen and was not employed by CSIS. The source did not respond when asked whether the person had been working for CSIS.
The spy agency did not respond to requests for comment.
Close friends Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, crossed into Syria after boarding a flight from London to Istanbul on February 17. They took a bus from Istanbul to the south-eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa close to the Syrian border, from where they are believed to have crossed the frontier.
March 13, 2015
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Copyright © 2015 Fairfax Media
Canadian spy said to be detained in Turkey for helping British teens join ISIS
April 8, 2015
MONTREAL – Turkish authorities say they have detained a spy for helping three British girls join Islamic State, and reports say the detainee worked for Canada’s spy agency.
Turkey hasn’t officially identified the spy’s home country.
However, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the spy is from the military coalition against Islamic State and is not from Europe or the United States.
Several Turkish media, citing government sources, have said the detained spy was working for Canadian intelligence.
Tahera Mufti, spokeswoman for CSIS, did not respond to a written request for comment.
The office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, the federal minister responsible for CSIS, issued a brief statement.
“We are aware of these reports,” said Blaney’s office. “We do not comment on operational matters of national security.”
A source in the Canadian government told QMI Agency that the individual held in Turkey was not a Canadian citizen.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also claimed the individual was not “an employee of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”
The source wouldn’t say if the detainee was a freelance or contracted intelligence agent.
The Turkish Prime Ministry’s Office of Public Diplomacy also released a statement on the matter, saying the capture of the intelligence officer “showcased a complex problem involving intelligence wars.”
“This incident should be a message to those always blaming Turkey on the debate on the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, and shows it is a problem more complicated than a mere border security issue,” said the office. “Turkey will continue its call for stronger intelligence sharing, and is worried about the lack of intelligence sharing in a matter involving the lives of three young girls.”
Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, crossed into Syria to join militants after leaving Britain last month.
The Canadian government is currently proposing a law that would formally authorize CSIS to conduct foreign operations “without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state.”
Blaney told senators just this week that the proposed law would be aimed at tackling the threat posed by Canadians who become foreign fighters in unstable countries.
CSIS has already engaged in several foreign operations, including in Afghanistan, and once even had a secret station somewhere inside Turkey. It is unclear if that station is still open.
Ray Boisvert, a former CSIS deputy director of operations, told QMI on Thursday that people have claimed they work for an intelligence service but that doesn’t mean it’s always true.
“There could be a political agenda or somebody who is overstating their connectivity to the service,” he added. “Turkey is a very complicated environment. I’m a little suspicious.”
ANDREW MCINTOSH, QMI AGENCY
Mar 12, 2015, Last Updated: 3:51 PM ET
Find this story at 12 March 2015
Syrian agent ‘worked as courier to deliver money to IS’
April 8, 2015
Ankara (AFP) – An agent who helped three British schoolgirls cross into Syria to join the Islamic State group was also working as a courier to transfer money to jihadists, a Turkish newspaper reported on Sunday.
Media reports in Turkey have said he was working for Canadian intelligence — a claim rejected by Ottawa.
The Milliyet newspaper reported that the man, a dentist using the name “Doctor Mehmed Resid”, told Turkish police during questioning that he received the money sent from abroad before it was delivered to IS militants.
The agent said he withdrew the cash from a branch of Western Union and delivered it to Syrian jewellers working in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa close to the Syrian border, Milliyet reported.
The jewellers then contacted their colleagues in Syria and a middleman would come to their shops.
The agent told investigators that his brother, who lives in the Syrian city of Raqa, an Islamic State stronghold, received the money from the jewellers and delivered it to IS militants, according to Milliyet.
The report did not reveal who sent the money in the first place, only that it came from abroad.
Video footage emerged Friday purportedly showing the same man helping the British girls into a car in Sanliurfa on their way to Syria.
Close friends Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, crossed into Syria after boarding a flight from London to Istanbul on February 17.
They took a bus from Istanbul to Sanliurfa, from where they are believed to have crossed the frontier.
March 15, 2015 6:22 AM
Find this story at 15 March 2015
Turkish military says MIT shipped weapons to al-Qaeda<< oudere artikelen
April 8, 2015
Secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service (MIT) have been leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization.” But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair.
When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he had said, “You cannot stop the MIT truck. You cannot search it. You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens.”
Since then, Erdogan and his hand-picked new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have repeated at every opportunity that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens. Public prosecutor Aziz Takci, who had ordered the trucks to be searched, was removed from his post and 13 soldiers involved in the search were taken to court on charges of espionage. Their indictments call for prison terms of up to 20 years.
In scores of documents leaked by a group of hackers, the Gendarmerie Command notes that rocket warheads were found in the trucks’ cargo.
According to the documents that circulated on the Internet before the ban came into effect, this was the summary of the incident:
On Jan. 19, 2014, after receiving a tip that three trucks were carrying weapons and explosives to al-Qaeda in Syria, the Adana Provincial Gendarmerie Command obtained search warrants.
The Adana prosecutor called for the search and seizure of all evidence.
Security forces stopped the trucks at the Ceyhan toll gates, where MIT personnel tried to prevent the search.
While the trucks were being escorted to Seyhan Gendarmerie Command for an extensive search, MIT personnel accompanying the trucks in an Audi vehicle blocked the road to stop the trucks. When MIT personnel seized the keys from the trucks’ ignitions, an altercation ensued. MIT personnel instructed the truck drivers to pretend their trucks had malfunctioned and committed physical violence against gendarmerie personnel.
The search was carried out and videotaped despite the efforts of the governor and MIT personnel to prevent it.
Six metallic containers were found in the three trucks. In the first container, 25-30 missiles or rockets and 10-15 crates loaded with ammunition were found. In the second container, 20-25 missiles or rockets, 20-25 crates of mortar ammunition and Douchka anti-aircraft ammunition in five or six sacks were discovered. The boxes had markings in the Cyrillic alphabet.
It was noted that the MIT personnel swore at the prosecutor and denigrated the gendarmerie soldiers doing the search, saying, “Look at those idiots. They are looking for ammunition with picks and shovels. Let someone who knows do it. Trucks are full of bombs that might explode.”
The governor of Adana, Huseyin Avni Cos, arrived at the scene and declared, “The trucks are moving with the prime minister’s orders” and vowed not to let them be interfered with no matter what.
With a letter of guarantee sent by the regional director of MIT, co-signed by the governor, the trucks were handed back to MIT.
Driver Murat Kislakci said in his deposition, “This cargo was loaded into our trucks from a foreign airplane at Ankara Esenboga Airport. We are taking them to Reyhanli [on the Syrian border]. Two men [MIT personnel] in the Audi are accompanying us. At Reyhanli, we hand over the trucks to two people in the Audi. They check us into a hotel. The trucks move to cross the border. We carried similar loads several times before. We were working for the state. In Ankara, we were leaving our trucks at an MIT location. They used to tell us to come back at 7 a.m. I know the cargo belongs to MIT. We were at ease; this was an affair of state. This was the first time we collected cargo from the airport and for the first time we were allowed to stand by our trucks during the loading.”
After accusations of espionage by the government and pro-government media, the chief of general staff ordered the military prosecutor to investigate,. On July 21, the military prosecutor declared the operation was not espionage. The same prosecutor said this incident was a military affair and should be investigated not by the public prosecutor, but the military. The civilian court did not retract its decision.
The government cover-up
Though the scandal is tearing the country apart, the government opted for its favorite tactic of covering it up. A court in Adana banned written, visual and Internet media outlets from any reporting and commenting on the stopping of the trucks and the search. All online content about the incident has been deleted.
The court case against the 13 gendarmerie elements accused of espionage has also been controversial. The public prosecutor, who in his indictment said the accused were involved in a plot to have Turkey tried at the International Criminal Court, veered off course. Without citing any evidence, the indictment charged that there was collusion between the Syrian government, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). The prosecutor deviated from the case at hand and charged that the killing by IS of three people at Nigde last year was actually carried out by the Syrian state.
At the moment, a total blackout prevails over revelations, which are bound to have serious international repercussions.
Author Fehim TaştekinPosted January 15, 2015
Find this story at 15 January 2015