Gülen probe deepens: Secret meeting recorded by bug in general’s briefcase

Gülen probe deepens: Secret meeting recorded by bug in general’s briefcase

Murat Yetkin
Gülen probe deepens: Secret meeting recorded by bug in general’s briefcase A number of military officers who had already been arrested over the bloody coup attempt of July 15 have also been subject to an investigation over the illegal recording of a secret March 2014 meeting on Syria in the office of then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which was leaked to the media and triggered a major scandal, ranking security sources have told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said the recording could have been carried out through a bug planted in the briefcase of a ranking general attending the meeting.

The meeting on March 13, 2014, in the foreign minister’s office was attended by only three other top officials: National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler, who was promoted to commander of the gendarmerie after the coup attempt.

Parts of the recording were broadcasted by Kanaltürk TV a few days after Turkish forces downed a Syrian jet on March 23, 2014, for violating the border. In the broadcasted sections of the recording the four officials were heard debating possible scenarios on intervening into the Syrian civil war, including using the opportunity of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks. 

The timing was delicate. The meeting was taking place almost three months after the graft probes of Dec. 17-25, 2013, which were immediately denounced by President Tayyip Erdoğan (who was prime minister at the time) as an attempt by Fethullah Gülen and his followers in the judiciary and the police force to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government. A few weeks later on Jan. 19, 2014, trucks hired by the MİT were stopped by gendarmerie forces acting upon prosecutor’s orders in Gaziantep near the Syria border, on information that they were carrying weapons to rebels in the Syrian civil war. 

The prosecutors, judges and security officers involved in both of the - later dropped - graft probes and the trucks affair are now either arrested or on the run, charged with being members of the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ)” according to the indictment and government statements. Kanaltürk TV was seized by the government in March this year for being used as a conduit for financial transactions to Gülenists and conducting Gülenist propaganda. It was shut down together with other pro-Gülen media houses after the July 15 coup attempt.

Investigations have also been opened by both the MİT and the police to find out who was able to illegally bug a maximum security office of the foreign minister, which is continuously swept to guard against eavesdropping devices and protected against radio waves by advanced jammers.

The experts came to the conclusion that the meeting could have been illegally recorded by a device not operating on radio waves, temporarily brought into the room and later taken away. But they could not determine how and by whom up until recently.

Deepening the probe in light of information obtained in the investigations opened against the military officers who took part in the July 15 coup attempt, security people working in cooperation with prosecutors are now sure that the bug was taken into the room in Güler’s briefcase, without his knowledge. The bug was probably planted there by military officers from his own cabinet, suspected of being members of the network of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher living in the U.S. who is accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt. The investigation deepens into who exactly did it and who else helped him.

There are two factors that helped security experts come to this conclusion, sources told HDN. The first was detailed technical analysis including modelling and examining the noise map of Davutoğlu’s office and comparing it to the recordings which were broadcasted. They found out that the device was closer to Güler than other participants in the meeting and was somewhere close to the floor. The evaluation was therefore that it could be underneath a table or inside a case.

The second batch of information came from statements to the prosecutors of the officers who took part in the abduction of Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Güler on the night of July 15. Lt. Col. Levent Türkkan, Akar’s aide who said he had been recruited to Gülen’s network nearly 30 years ago while in military high school, said in his statements that he and a number of officers in the cabinets of Akar and Güler had regularly placed bugs in their offices and gave the devices back to their civilian superiors after their recording time was over.

Working on that information and combining it with the noise map of the room, the experts were sure that the device was planted in the briefcase of Güler, whose schedule to attend the Syria meeting in the Foreign Ministry was known in detail by his cabinet officers, who are now in jail on suspicion of links to Gülen.