Turkish intelligence said using aid groups as “front” for foreign activities

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Humanitarian aid in this part of the world has always been received with scepticism. When Turkey was struggling with its Kurdish problems in the early 1990s, Western aid workers frequently visited Turkey to help Kurdish villagers who had escaped from Saddam Hussein`s brutality. Later, Turkey`s internal conflicts made it a target for humanitarian aid organizations.

Back in the `90s, Turkish state officials viewed those aid organizations sceptically. They were considered covert intelligence operations. I don`t know how much of the official Turkish view of aid organizations was real. Perhaps there were some intelligence agencies that used aid organizations as a front for their operations.

Since the 2000s, Turkish intelligence agencies have also been using humanitarian operations as a front for their activities. But these operations were sometimes planned so stupidly and that they were found out by other intelligence agencies. For example, in 2004 the infamous “hood crisis” between Turkey and the US was a foolish intelligence operation by Turkey. Turkish military intelligence was using the Turkish Red Crescent as cover to move weapons from Turkey to Turkmens in Iraq. The US military, however, detained Turkish military officers for their involvement in the operation and led them off in hoods.

In addition, the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) works closely with the Turkish Cooperation and Development Organization (TIKA). The current head of MIT used to head TIKA. It`s no coincidence when someone moves from an aid organization to an intelligence organization.

Recently few Turkish aid organizations have escaped doubt about whether they have been used by Turkish intelligence agencies. The Mavi Marmara crisis, for example, was caused by a humanitarian organization. The MV Mavi Marmara may have been on a purely humanitarian mission; no one, however, would say with 100 per cent certainty that no intelligence agency was involved.

That the Mavi Marmara aid mission was planned after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s famous “one minute” walkout from the annual Davos meeting in 2009 raises the question of whether the mission was related to Turkey`s polices on Israel. Why didn`t the Humanitarian Aid Organization (IHH) organize the campaign before Erdogan`s one-minute statement, when Gaza had been under heavy blockade since 2006?

Furthermore, the same humanitarian organization has been involved in some interesting rescue operations in Syria. For instance, a kidnapped Turkish journalist in Syria was rescued by that organization. However, the kidnapped journalist was released not from Syria but Iran.

What is the relationship between Syria, Iran, the humanitarian aid organization and the intelligence agencies that worked to rescue a journalist from Syria but got him from Iran? Another example that deserves close attention is the rescue of two Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers from Syria. That organization was active in this operation as well.

Lebanon`s Hezbollah kidnaps two Turkish Airlines (THY) pilots. In return for the two pilots, Hezbollah asks for nine members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be released by the Syrian opposition group that is holding them. The same humanitarian organization that was involved in the previous rescue operation is said to be one of the main mediators in this deal as well.

There are a number of foreign aid organizations that allegedly help Syrian refugees in the region. But we don`t know how much of their activity is truly humanitarian.

Turkish humanitarian organizations have improved in last 10 years. They really help people all over the world. Most importantly, many of these organizations and their activities are purely humanitarian. They don`t allow themselves to be used by intelligence organizations. Some Turkish humanitarian organizations carry out their missions with the permission of local governments, which limits the ability of foreign intelligence services to use them as cover.

There are humanitarian organizations, however, that act less like aid groups and more like the tools of intelligence services. Such “humanitarian” organizations may help intelligence agencies cover up their operations in foreign territories. However, they severely damage the credibility of Turkish citizens as the friends of those in need.

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