Turkey an internship field for intelligence chiefs

Newly appointed MI6 chief Richard Moore makes the Eagle Salute of the Beşiktaş fans during his tenure as an ambassador to Ankara. (Photo: BirGün)

The Turkish media almost welcomed the recent appointment of the U.K.’s former ambassador to Ankara, Richard Moore, as the head of the British secret service MI6. Now, three diplomats who served in Turkey at the time and who speak Turkish head the world’s three major intelligence services. The remaining two are Gina Haspel, the head of the U.S. secret service CIA, and Bernard Emié, the head of the French DGSE.
Emié was the French ambassador to Ankara between 2007 and 2011. He was appointed as the head of the DGSE in 2017 after serving as the ambassador to London and the high commissioner to Algeria, and he is still in that post. After serving two years in Baku, Gina Haspel worked as an energy expert in the economy department of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara in 1999-2000 but she was actually the CIA deputy station chief. While Haspel was here in Turkey, outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan was arrested as he left the Greek Embassy in Kenya via a joint operation by the Turkish intelligence MİT and the CIA. Around one month after Öcalan was brought to Turkey on Feb. 16, 1999, Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen was accepted to the U.S. on March 21, who would, later on, be indicted to mastermind a coup attempt in Tuırkey on July 15, 2016.

A strange July 15 memory with Moore

Moore had a special place for the Turkish press, the media liked him. After he was announced as the new head of MI6, many colleagues shared their pictures with him during interviews, Moore was doing a good job in public diplomacy and public intelligence. Just like former president Abdullah Gül and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, he was a hardcore fan of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş football team. His Turkish was fluent enough to give TV interviews. In fact, he was expected to become the MI6 chief when he left Ankara, but as part of some bureaucratic maneuvers, he first became the U.K. Prime Minister’s anti-terrorist advisor and then the Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs.

Richard Moore, the Director of the MI6 had kindly contributed to my book at the writing stage, “The Book of Spies for the Curious” when he was the UK Ambassador to Ankara. In this photo that is published in the book he shows the wooden box from which the Nazi spy “Cicero” Elias Bazna, the Ambassador’s servant at the time stole classified documents and sold them to Germans.

Late on July 15, 2016, a crowded reception was held at the British Consulate General in Istanbul and Moore had come from Ankara to join. There, I was asking him questions -some of them sharp- about Boris Johnson, who was appointed the new U.K. foreign minister at the time, and he wanted to change the subject. Suddenly, “Really, what are your soldiers doing?” he asked suddenly. I responded to him asking if he had heard something, but he said something like, “No, just asking.” That chat did not go further. The reception ended, I went back home, but a little later I was back on the way to the newspaper due to the start of the coup attempt to cover the terrible night. From the very first moment, Moore was one of the very few Western diplomats who mentioned that he believed the Gülen network was related to the coup attempt.

Other diplomats who served as intel chiefs

Bernard Emié was not the first former French ambassador to Ankara to head the French secret service. Jean Claude Cousseran, who was the ambassador to Ankara in 1999-2000, was the French spy chief between 2000 and 2002. On the other hand, Sönmez Köksal was appointed to the Turkish Embassy to Paris after he left his post as Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) undersecretary. The post of Köksal before becoming the MİT undersecretary was the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad as the sole representative of a NATO-member country during the Iran-Iraq war. Mehmet Naci Perkel and his successor Behçet Türkmen, the heads of Turkish intelligence in the 1940s and the 1950s were appointed as ambassadors to Bagdad after their tenures.
On the other hand, we know that Raffi Daffam al-Tikriti, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, was appointed as the head of the Iraqi Intelligence service Al Mukhabarat after serving in Ankara as Iraqi Ambassador. Another Turkish intel chief, Fuat Doğu had served as the Ambassador to Lisbon after his tenure as the MİT undersecretary.
If we return to France, Turkey’s current Ambassador to Paris, İbrahim Musa’s previous mission was the MİT deputy undersecretary. So was the former Turkish Ambassador of London, Abdurrahman Bilgiç. Ioannis Korantis, a former Greek ambassador to Ankara, became the head of Greece’s secret service EYP after that post. The next mission of Piotr Krawczyk, one of Poland’s previous charge d’affaires at the embassy in Ankara, was to head the Polish Foreign Intelligence service AW.

Turkey an internship field for spy chiefs

These are of course limited to what we can learn from open sources. And we can only know about the top positions of intelligence services or diplomatic missions. Guess what more remains unknown. And our focus is rather on the western intelligence services. However, as I just gave the example of Iraq, there are more about Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and of course, Syria.
During World War II and the Cold War, Turkey was like a battleground for foreign intelligence services. That feature has not disappeared. There are rather recent examples such as the assassination of Chechen and Central Asian targets by the Russian intelligence in Turkey, the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov, or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi intelligence. Along with that characteristics, it is understood that Turkey plays a role as an internship field for spy chiefs in recent years. It is like those who can make it here rises in his or her country. The fact that officials who served in Turkey are today intelligence chiefs or senior members at the world’s major agencies introduces diversification in communication and dialogue channels, but it also points to a need to act even more carefully.


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