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BURAK BEKDİL > Super-cyber Turkey in Syberia

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Jamie Shia, NATO’s deputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges, once said: “One hundred twenty countries currently have or are developing offensive cyber-attack capabilities which are now viewed as the fifth dimension of warfare after space, sea, land and space.”

The Turks took that very seriously – well, at least the idea. Last June, the Turkish government launched the Center for Response to National Cyber Threats. Earlier, the Turkish military headquarters had formed a Cyber Warfare Command. 

Only last year, Turkey hosted about a dozen conferences on cyber security and new technologies. Speaking at the last one, in November, Colonel Cengiz Özteke, commander of the military General Staff’s division for electronic systems and cyber defense, said the Turkish military now considered cyber security as the country’s fifth force – precisely as Mr. Shia suggested.

And Murad Bayar, Turkey’s top defense procurement official until two weeks ago, said, “Cyber defense has become an indispensable part of our national defense.” Mr. Bayar, now a chief adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also said the government viewed cyber-attacks “as a national security threat.” That, too, was in November. 

On an institutional and corporate scale, an impressive number of Turkish players deal with cyber security solutions: the government watchdog Information and Communication Technologies Authority, the General Staff, military electronics specialist Aselsan, military software specialist Havelsan and the state scientific research institution TÜBİTAK. Of these, TÜBİTAK itself accounts for 70 percent of all national crypto solutions. 

About a month after Turkish and international experts discussed cyber security threats at the high-profile gathering, explosive leaks began appearing. I do not wish to remind anyone of the now well-known contents which varied from recordings of embarrassing phone conversations badly smelling of corruption to bizarre family affairs, curses, insults, teasing about Quranic verses, Mr. Erdoğan’s direct involvement in judicial verdicts and media coverage and, finally, to the “secret Syria” meeting of top state officials.

During that shocking sequence, Mr. Erdoğan admitted, more than a few times, that even his encrypted phone had been tapped. According to Mr. Erdoğan, that was treason and spying. But who were the traitors and spies? Again, according to Mr. Erdoğan, they were “the parallel structure, the enemy within, spies, traitors, terrorists and a global crime gang,” none of whom have been identified. And according to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, all that clandestine activity was tantamount to “declaring war on Turkey,” although he did not say who had declared war. Momentarily, Mr. Davutoğlu was a little bit more specific about the enemy when he said that “YouTube was a first-grade security threat to Turkey.” 

We do not know what are Turkey’s warfare plans to fight YouTube, the first-degree security threat. Fighter jets, tanks, or frigates? Counter cyber-attacks? More importantly, we do not know how Turkey will fight the war against an unidentified enemy. We do not know either what are the military’s fifth (cyber) force’s warfare plans. 

But we know one thing. That Turkey is embarrassingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, no matter who the enemy is – in cyber warfare, unfortunately, the enemy often does not send armies to the battleground with flags.

If an invisible enemy can tap the prime minister’s encrypted phone for years without detection, why can a more serious attacker or attackers, say a foreign state better specialized and equipped in cyber warfare, not inflict more harm on Turkey than a “parallel structure?” 

Put it on a transatlantic viewpoint; how can NATO trust Turkey on encryption/safe protection of allied military secrets when the social media is full of audio material of top secrecy? If whom Mr. Erdoğan calls terrorists have been able to break his own phone’s encryption, why should, one day, other terrorists – say, al-Qaeda – not do the same? Or an enemy state, for that matter. 

Really, how many foreign ministers in the world have the recording of a top secret meeting with their undersecretary, their country’s top intelligence official, and the deputy commander of the military posted on YouTube? 

I am sorry that I missed the cyber security conference last November. Being a willing addict of fun and humor, I promise I won’t miss the next one.

April/11/2014

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