Eavesdropping on Erdoğan

January 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

There is some very strange stuff going on in Turkey and I don’t quite know what to make of it just yet, so I thought I’d do some speculative musing out loud in the hopes of sparking a discussion. In September, Prime Minister Erdoğan completely out of the blue fired his head of security and many of his bodyguards en masse and replaced them with new people. In October, his office went through a complete root and branch renovation. These moves led to speculation that Erdoğan was concerned that he’d been spied on, since they seemed like unusual steps to take absent some evidence of outside parties listening in and monitoring the prime minister’s private communications. Then in December, Erdoğan revealed that his home office had been bugged, and more bugs were found in his parliamentary office and his car. Erdoğan initially blamed the deep state, and then later essentially said he wanted to just put the whole thing behind him, although the MIT (Turkish intelligence) is investigating. Erdoğan also issued special “crypto phones” to all Turkish ministers in order to prevent their communications from being intercepted as well.

A couple of things here are particularly odd to me. First, why did Erdoğan decide in December to publicly reveal that he’d been spied on? The rumors were flying for months, but it seems like a very strange thing to confirm since the benefit of doing so is not readily appreciable. It relays a sense of governmental incompetence, particularly given the scope of devices that were allegedly found, and does not inspire confidence in Erdoğan and his team. The announcement was also not made in an effort to be as transparent and informative as possible, since neither of these things are exactly hallmarks of the current Turkish government. Erdoğan is also a guy who almost never admits he was wrong about anything, and while having your office bugged and phones tapped is not an error on Erdoğan’s part, his letting everyone know that it happened is an unusual admission that something went wrong somewhere.

Second, why did Erdoğan rush to blame the usual suspects in the deep state and then offer to drop the subject entirely? It’s almost as if he geared up for another fight with the military and other deep state actors, and then was somehow frightened off. Certainly it is very much out of character for Erdoğan to publicly back down on anything, and even more out of character to offer not to pursue someone who has spied on him. It leaves the impression that either something or someone spooked him, or that his initial conjecture about the responsible parties was wrong. I can’t recall another instance of Erdoğan giving off the impression that he is ready for battle and then bowing out.

Here are some completely unfounded ideas as to what may be going on here. Taking all of this together, I think that things in Turkey are about to get a lot more unpleasant, with a new round of arrests, prosecutions, and trials. If Erdoğan did not intend to go after someone or something, there would have been no reason for him to announce that his office was bugged. Letting the public know is an effort to get on the right side of public opinion before whatever comes next, much like exposing coup plots, whether real or imagined, was necessary before prosecuting hundreds of military officers. Erdoğan revealing that he is being spied on signaled to me the beginning of a renewed campaign of Ergenekon redux.

The weird part then is his backtracking, and I still don’t know what to make of it. Does whoever bugged his office have information being used to blackmail Erdoğan? Is this whole thing an exercise in paranoid delusion? I have no clue at all. The other question is, who was Erdoğan preparing to go after? It could be the military, which would make sense given his initial blaming the deep state. On the other hand, there are rumors that the party responsible for the bugs is the Gülenists. To my mind, if Erdoğan is preparing to go after someone, it is Gülenists rather than the military, since the growing split between the prime minister and his former cheerleaders has been a long time coming. There is irony in Gülenists banding together with Erdoğan in using shadowy tactics and accusations to bring down the military, to now have Erdoğan turn around and use the same playbook on the Gülen movement. As I said, this is complete conjecture on my part, but something is definitely going on behind the scenes and I think it’s about to get messy. If anyone can shed any more light on this whole strange affair, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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