Turkish intelligence looks into telecom privatizations

Turkish intelligence looks into telecom privatizations

Exactly two weeks after summoning German Ambassador to Ankara Eberhard Pohl over electronic spying claims, the Turkish Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ankara, Jess Bailey, over similar claims. They demanded the U.S. stop spying on Turkey at once, “if the claims are true.”

The claims were published by German magazine Der Spiegel on Aug. 31. Primarily based on documents from the archive of ex-intelligence officer Edward Snowden, the claims are about the activities of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the British GCHQ. The report claimed that the U.S., while cooperating with Turkey against the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), covertly set up listening posts in Turkey in order to tap the Turkish leadership. While the activities against the PKK via the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were carried out through a certain “Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell [CIFC]” and “Special Liaison Activity Turkey [SUSLAT],” the NSA allegedly carried out covert activities via two listening posts under the “Special Collection Service [SCS],” also partly in cooperation with GCHQ. The latter was already advanced in its electronic spying, targeting particularly the Turkish Energy Ministry, according to the report.

According to Der Spiegel’s report, the killing of 34 smugglers in December 2011 near Uludere by Turkish jets mistakenly targeted as PKK militants crossing the border from Iraq to Turkey for the attacks was a result of this cooperation – data passed on to Turkish military intelligence by U.S. drones.

Like the earlier report regarding the eavesdropping of German intelligence agency BND on Turkey, the recent alleged NSA (and CIA) activity in Turkey seems to focus on the Kurdish problem and regional energy projects, especially pipeline routes.

Turkey and the U.S. reached a conceptual agreement to work together against the PKK in November 2007 between then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and then-U.S. President George Bush, which continued under President Barack Obama. An example of the alleged German eavesdropping in question, for example, coincided with the 2010 collapse of secret talks between MİT and the PKK, carried out in the Norwegian capital Oslo, reportedly brokered by an unrevealed British nongovernmental organization.  Following that example, Erdoğan decided to go for direct talks with the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in prison via its intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

Whether by the U.S., Germany or the U.K., the systematic electronic espionage on Turkey - especially targeting the leadership’s telephone lines and computers (data communication) - allegedly started from 2006 onwards.

Coincidence or not, the privatization of all Turkish communications networks was completed by the end of 2005, i.e. by 2006. As such, all telecommunications networks were transferred to international groups, despite all of the security concerns voiced by the opposition parties.

Türkcell, founded in 1995, dominates the telecommunications market in Turkey with approximately a 52 percent share. In March 2005, the majority of its shares were bought by TeliaSonera, a Finland-based international group; the dispute between TeliaSonera and Türkcell's founder Çukurova Group over the shares and the amount of money has still not come to an end.

Later the same year, in November 2005, the Lebanon-based Oger Group, which is dominated by Saudi capital, bought a majority stake in TürkTelekom (which had a 20 percent market share in 2012) for $6.55 billion, leaving a 30 percent stake for the Turkish Treasury.

In December 2005, British Vodafone bought a majority stake in Telsim (which had a 28 percent market share in 2012) for $4.55 billion.

All three groups have their voice and data servers both inside and outside Turkey, since each of the companies also has operations in neighboring countries.

A Turkish intelligence source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Hürriyet Daily News that the vulnerability of companies’ servers outside Turkey was being investigated to see whether they have been violated. “We think the majority of the wiretappings have been conducted through satellites,” the source said. “But the risk of telecom servers outside Turkey is serious and something that we are focusing on right now.”