Spy ring compromised security of Turkey, US and NATO allies

It almost felt like I was reading quite a sensational Hollywood movie script while scanning through the thousands of pages from the espionage gang indictment a high criminal court in İzmir accepted earlier this week. To me, the question of how the gang managed to corrupt so many junior and senior officers with offerings like cash, women, blackmail and intimidation became less relevant than the question of how on earth this gang had evaded counter-espionage safety measures supposedly in place to check this kind of intrusion in the Turkish military. I believe this major scandal seriously calls into question the capabilities of the Turkish military to prevent penetration.

Unfortunately the fallout from this exposé will not just be limited to Turkey because, judging from the list of documents leaked to this gang, the US and NATO military alliance’s security measures were also compromised. This scandal may invite the wrath of Turkey’s allies. The prosecutors’ office detailed highly classified documents seized from suspects who obtained confidential information by blackmailing victims with information about sexual encounters they had with women who were hired by the gang. The group then either sold or planned to sell these sensitive documents to states or terrorist organizations like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

The investigation by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, launched in 2011, reveals how some branches of the military practically turned into Swiss cheese with so many holes leaking sensitive military information. The indictment mentions 357 suspects, with Bilgin Özkaynak being the leader of the gang. Of the suspects 93 are under arrest and 55 of them are active officers on duty in the Turkish military. The indictment also mentions 831 victims and 196 co-plaintiffs.

To give a hint as to how NATO and US security was compromised; I will cite some incidents mentioned in the indictment. For example, NATO documents seized from suspect Narin Korkmaz during the execution of a search warrant identified Alparslan Yücel Soysal, also a suspect in the case, as revealing in detail the assets and capabilities of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EAD) units operating in each and every NATO member state. The note next to his name clearly singles out Russia, China and Iran as potential clients for these documents.

A suspect named Bülent Karaaslan, a bomb expert, supplied secret US and NATO directives in bomb-making and bomb-diffusion techniques to the spy ring. Suspect Aydın Şit, an air force officer, handed over FBI bomb-making analyses to the gang which explained, among other things, how to make improvised bombs manually and where in the car these bombs can be installed. Suspect Ersin Kapucu, an air force pilot, was identified as an important source for electronic warfare information and data on how it is used in the Turkish Air Force (THK) and NATO. He supplied 22 power point presentation files dated 2009. The note about him says that he was expected to supply pass codes soon, which the gang believed would be very beneficial.

The gang obtained from a mark named İsmail Demir a hard copy of top secret details on AIM-120 missiles used in Turkish F-16 fighter jets. The note advises that he be awarded for supplying this sensitive information. Another mark named Andaç Keskin, an officer at field corps school of engineering in İzmir, was identified as an important asset in linking up with NATO officers. The note about him says he knows many NATO Officers and coordinates logistics for them. It says Keskin used the Aktur Hotel in İzmir where many NATO officers stayed in a room that was fitted with surveillance equipment.

Suspect Nuri Dereli, a flight lieutenant, supplied the gang with a very sensitive file called “Tur_AEM_F16.pdf” which is 954 pages long in English and classified as “Secret Releasable to USA, TUR.” It details technical, tactical and procedural data for F-16s. The note attached to this file says it should not be obtained by anybody else. It even warned that when a file of a similar nature was leaked before, it created problems between Turkey and the US. “I repeat it should not be leaked in order not to experience similar problems with the US,” the note added.

Similarly, suspect Okay Yalçın, an air force officer, leaked sensitive information on Hawk systems, including a 24-page secret document titled “60G-2-2-70 Hawk Passive Engagement System.pdf.” Another set of documents seized from suspect Saygın Özdemir details performance reports of pilots assigned to the 151st squadron and their evaluations for war preparedness. A document called “F-1” reveals frequencies and positions pilots use with the ground control at the 5th Air Base and was described as vital information that cannot be allowed to be leaked to the enemy in war time. Another document explains how the ammunitions loaded on F-16s should be used and under what conditions. It says this document cannot be transferred to any country other than Turkey and the US. A document leaked by Gökhan Gülbalar explains all the nuts and bolts of signal intelligence system named Milsis-23u, used within the General Staff’s Electronic Systems Command (GES), the military’s most comprehensive and top secret communications interception unit.

There are many documents that involved Greece. For example, the warplanes were supposed to patrol above the Aegean Sea as part of routine preparations against the possibility of an unexpected war with Greece but the gang spoiled the military’s plans by sending the planes’ itinerary to the Greek authorities. The indictment said the itinerary information was sent to the Greek authorities within seven minutes of the Turkish military authorities making their decision on which itinerary the warplanes would use. Metin Kubilay Kaşlı was identified as the supplier of this information.

Another damaging leak was provided by Ahmet Gökçül, who had disclosed the radar coverage of Turkish airspace by fixed and mobile radar units. It also listed the potential coverage from the Airborne Warning and Control System that Turkey will be acquiring soon. The fact that documents included a map with white areas indicating blind spots and gaps in radar coverage should be damaging to Turkey’s national security. The note says this map was forwarded via Cem Eriş to a colonel who is the director of operations at the Greek Larissa Air Force Base.

A cache of documents provided by Cem Uyguner reveals highly classified information on contingency planning for the 192nd squadron units for the Milas-Bodrum Airport, an international airport in Turkey close to the Greek islands. It discloses protocols, personnel lists, the number of fighter jets, their duty rosters, and landing/parking zones during wartime. The gang describes the leak as highly valuable. Another suspect named Fatih Şengül supplied a copy of a classified report on the Greek military’s capabilities apparently prepared by a Turkish military attaché in Athens. The gang asks its contacts to link up with the Greek military attaché in Ankara to sell this report to Greece. It says Turkish intelligence operatives Tunç Günal, Uğur Gökşen and Özgür Acar, who had established contact with the Greek military attaché before, can be utilized again.

There are more shocking leaks in the indictment that I cannot include here due to space limitations. But it will be interesting to watch what else we can learn from this major scandal when the first hearing of the case begins in March.

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