Turkish Referendum

Bumbling Spies: How Erdogan Reached into Germany

Türkisches Wahllokal in Dortmund
Turkey's spy agencies were hoping Germany's authorities would keep an eye on some Turkish voters. Source: DPA

Resul Özcelik initially didn’t want to accept the call on his mobile that Thursday morning. No number appeared onscreen. Last year, Mr. Özcelik had received too many threatening calls; he was called a “traitor,” “bastard” and “disreputable dog.”

When he did finally take the call, he found an official on the other line from the State Office of Criminal Investigation in North Rhine-Westphalia. The official informed Mr. Özcelik that he was on a list of alleged extremists that was passed on to the head of Germany’s spy agency, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), by his counterpart at the Turkish intelligence service MIT.

The dossier – a colored, shiny brochure with 70 pages – was handed over in German and English on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference. Its title: The Activities of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization in Germany.

Some 300 people were named in the document, according to research by the newspaper Die Zeit, a sister publication of Handelsblatt. They were divided into 11 categories, including “ringleaders,” “companies,” “foundations,” “media,” “schools,” “asylums,” “cultural centers” and “NGOs.” Alongside each name was a place of residence and telephone numbers. Most of the time, there was also a photograph.

None of them were surprised to find their names on the list.

Instead of placing them under surveillance as Turkey wanted, German authorities went about alerting those on the list. It was no surprise to Resul Özcelik that his name had appeared. Since 2013, he has been publicly criticizing the politics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A father of three, he writes for the German-Turkish Journal, an online medium alleged to belong to the Gülen Movement that Mr. Erdogan accuses of orchestrating a failed coup against him last year. He’s also the founder of the blog Integrationsblogger.

Mr. Özcelik doesn’t believe he’s actually been under surveillance. His mobile phone number and private address, which appear on the list, are also present in the imprint of his blog: “That wasn’t a special feat by the Turkish Intelligence Service.”

Others on the list include a scientist, a journalist from North Rhine-Westphalia as well as two members of an educational association in the Ruhr district and five members of a debating society in Cologne. None of them were surprised to find their names on the list. The chairwoman of a Berlin association close to the Gülen Movement says that the list shows an old private address of hers. And a Turkish passport number, although she hasn’t been a Turkish citizen for a long time.

Only information easily available on the Internet is also given about Ercan Karakoyun, the contact person for the Gülen Movement in Germany. The list is also said to include names of members of Gülen-affiliated associations who long ago gave up their positions. Mr. Karakoyun believes the document was drawn up before the attempted coup in Turkey: “I estimate the list is around two years old.”

Bruno Kahl, the head of the intelligence service BND, handed the Turkish dossier over to his office as soon as he returned from Munich to Berlin. He gave directions to pass it on to the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and also informed the chancellery about the dossier. The department head followed Mr. Kahl’s directions, though he didn’t examine the names on the list. If he had, the BND would have noticed the list even included the name of a Social Democratic parliamentarian, Michelle Müntefering.

The list was discussed at the beginning of March at a meeting of the anti-extremist task force of more than 40 state and federal agencies, the Joint Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Center, or GETZ  in German.

The Turks then went one better: When Emily Haber, Germany’s deputy interior minister, traveled to Ankara at the beginning of March, representatives of the Turkish government gave her another dossier. This one contained reports about alleged Gülen supporters and indications about associates. It also included individuals in Germany who were accused by the Turks of terrorism and said to require monitoring. The Turks presented it as “evidence.” Germany’s authorities, in a secret remark, say this was presumably “material collected by DITIB,” referring to the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, a large Islamic organization in Germany.

Ms. Haber turned the dossier over to police and domestic intelligence agencies. State police warned anyone on the list not to travel to Turkey or enter the consular offices of Turkey in Germany, where Turkish citizens were able to vote on Mr. Erdogan’s constitutional referendum until April 9.


This story first appeared in the German weekly Die Zeit. To contact the authors: redaktion@diezeit.de

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!