German intelligence report points to Turkey’s covert espionage efforts

(Updated with additional background information).

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) has selected Germany as one of the countries to focus its activities in, according an annual report from the German intelligence service BfV.

MİT focuses its efforts particularly on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the European Union, and the Gülen movement, which only Turkey recognises as such, Deutsche Welle said on Thursday, citing the 2019 report.

The findings show that the Turkish intelligence agency also concentrates on individuals and NGOs in Germany who oppose Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

MİT has undergone a transformation, and was granted extensive authority as the “central element of the Turkish security architecture,” the report said.

BfV said that MİT sought to gather intelligence via publicly available sources and covert methods, both domestically and abroad, to influence Turkish and German politics, economy, and technology-related companies.

Dual German-Turkish citizens working as German diplomats have occasionally been turned away at the Turkish border or faced detention due to MİT scrutiny, BfV also found.

Absent from the report was Religious Affairs Turkish-Islamic Union (DİTİB), an organisation associated with Turkey’s top state religious institution, Diyanet, which is active in Europe, despite having a microscope on it in past years over its contribution to covert espionage operations.

The pro-AKP Union of International Democrats (UID) was also listed. The UID has chapters in 13 regions in Berlin and West Germany as an AKP lobbying organisation. The UID makes efforts to appear “moderate”, and not directly tied to Turkey, according to the report, however Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has met the group during his visits to Germany.

Germany’s 1.4-million-strong Turkish community is significant for both countries, it said, citing some 600,000 Turks who voted remotely on Turkey’s general and presidential elections in 2018.

The German intelligence service also cited the Grey Wolves – a paramilitary youth organisation under AKP’s silent coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as right-wing extremists that “aim for radical change in Turkey to the political order via frequent use of violence and terrorism.”

The report pointed to several Kurdish and umbrella organisations as affiliated with the PKK, which is outlawed in Germany. It said the PKK used different names to divert the bans against the organisation, adding that the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (NAV-DEM) had taken a backseat while Confederation of Kurdistan Communities in Germany (KON-MED) stepped onto the stage.

PKK activities in Germany had drawn fewer participants in 2019, while donations to the organisation increased, BfV said. PKK gathered 16 million euros in Germany in 2019, and over 25 million euros across Europe.

An upward trend was seen in recruitment efforts for various armed Kurdish forces, especially after Turkey’s military incursions into Syria – where Kurdish groups have fought the Islamic State militant group for several years – took over part of the territory they controlled.

German official records show that at least 280 people left Germany to join the PKK, in Turkey, northern Iraq and northeast Syria. At least 23 of these people were killed abroad, while authorities have information on 135 people returning.

Four German citizens lost their lives in battle, “proving that persons from Germany really do receive military training and are utilised in combat,” the report said.

The German television channel ZDF released a documentary last month that presented new evidence about espionage in Germany carried out against opponents and critics of the AKP government and Erdoğan.

The documentary, entitled “How Erdoğan’s critics are exposed to espionage in Germany", revealed evidence that the espionage is still being done by DİTİB in Germany on behalf of Turkey’s MİT.

According to the documentary, the Turkish intelligence agency relies heavily on Turkish mosques operating under DİTİB’s umbrella. DİTİB is Germany’s largest Islamic organisation, and it operates more than 900 mosques located in Germany’s 16 states.

In its documentary, the German channel interviewed Turkish citizens who fled to Germany after the failed coup attempt against Erdoğan in 2016. Exiled Turks living in Germany said that they have been subjected to direct threats from imams of DİTİB mosques due to their criticism of Erdoğan and his government.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.