Turkey’s top scientific body has no digital analysts left amid ‘political’ layoffs

Turkey’s top scientific body has no digital analysts left amid ‘political’ layoffs

İsmail Saymaz / Erdinç Çelikkan - ISTANBUL / ANKARA ISTANBUL
Turkey’s top scientific body has no digital analysts left amid ‘political’ layoffs Turkey’s top scientific body has rejected a local court’s request for evidence analysis, citing a lack of qualified specialists amid massive layoffs with allegedly political motives.

The negative response from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK)’s Informatics and Information Security Advanced Technologies Research Center (BİLGEM) was filed to the 4th Court of Serious Crimes in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on March 6, daily Hürriyet has learned. 

In its request to BİLGEM, the court originally asked for an analysis of four hard disks seized during an operation against an illegal organization in the southern province of Adana in February. 

“Regretfully, we are not able to respond to your request positively due to the intense changes over the past six months in our staff who can conduct a digital analysis, which resulted in our institution having a lack of experts for your request,” BİLGEM President Professor Dr. A. Arif Ergin told the court in a written statement.

Government’s fight with former ally Gülen

TÜBİTAK has been a battleground between the government and the followers of its ally-turned-nemesis Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric. The government recently engaged in massive reshuffling, arguing that the Gülenist “parallel structure” had infiltrated state institutions, including TÜBİTAK, and engaged in illegal wiretapping and forging digital evidence in a number of controversial cases. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed the apparent wiretapping by members of TÜBİTAK on a number of occasions. 

“It is very interesting, they even tap the state’s cryptic phones from TÜBİTAK. A president cannot speak with a prime minister without being wiretapped in an instant,” Erdoğan said Feb. 25, arguing that the scandal justified recent bills giving more control to the government over the Internet and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) and announcing similar measures for TÜBİTAK. 

In a move that Gülen sympathizers described as a “purge,” around 700 engineers, experts and chiefs have been fired since the beginning of December 2013 corruption investigations targeting government figures, daily Hürriyet has learned. 

The government slammed the investigations as a “coup attempt” before beginning to pursue allegedly Gülenist civil servants. 

TÜBİTAK to limit court appearances

Many among the dismissed TÜBİTAK personnel are now accused of fabricating evidence in key coup-plot cases such as the Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer). An official from Turkey’s Science, Industry and Technology Ministry told daily Hürriyet on March 9 that TÜBİTAK has recruited new engineers, cyber security experts and managers, but their training takes 18 to 30 months.

“Producing forensic analysis reports is not the primary mission of TÜBİTAK anyway,” the official said, announcing that the institution would no longer be serving as an official expert at the court in ordinary criminal cases, but take part only in “key cases about the state and the nation.” 

Even before Erdoğan and Gülen turned against each other, TÜBİTAK had become a source of controversy amid allegations that the quality of its human resources was decreasing due to political appointments during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), gearing up in 2008 and 2011.

Debate was particularly stirred in 2014, when Mustafa Sancar, the director of the Ankara Zoo, was appointed to a key post at TÜBİTAK in 2014.