Wikileaks Reveal Scope of Turkish Connection to IS and Media Crackdown

Turkey (GPA) – On Monday, Wikileaks released a batch of almost 58,000 emails sent and received by Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak.

The release, termed by Wikileaks as ‘Berat’s box’ includes thousands of emails detailing Albayrak’s dealings as the Turkish Minister of Energy. The emails encompass a span of sixteen years beginning April of 2000 until September of this year. Wikileaks was given the database of emails by a Turkish Marxist-Leninist ‘hacktivist’ group known as RedHack.

RedHack had initially announced that they had obtained the emails in September but their social media accounts and pages containing news of the hack were taken down. Originally the group threatened to release the emails if the Erdogan government wouldn’t release Alp Altınörs, a member of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and a journalist named Aslı Erdogan. Suspected members of RedHack have been threatened since September by the government and subjected to the ongoing post-coup torture.

The Turkish government has also banned access to Wikileaks prompting the organization to release the emails to “promote transparency in Turkey.” It’s understandable why the Turkish authorities wouldn’t want these emails to reach the public, they detail multiple shady aspects of both Turkey’s recent involvement in the oil trade out of Syria and their post-coup crackdown on, and manipulation of media in the country.

Oil Trade With The Islamic State

The major accusation that now being leveled against the Turkish Ministry of Energy involves the previously reported ‘smuggling’ of ISIS oil across their southern border. The emails reportedly show Albayrak’s connection and influence over the energy company Powertrans, which has previously been accused of selling oil smuggled out of ISIS held territory in Syria and Iraq.

Albayrak denies claims of having any influence over Powertrans affairs even telling his lawyer in one email that  he “never had ties with this company!” This is despite the public knowledge that Albayrak was the former CEO of Çalık Holding, a major shareholder in the energy company. Wikileaks confirms this isn’t true pointing out that there around 30 emails between Albayrak and the Human Resources department at Çalik Holding discussing the appointments and pay of Powertrans executives and managers. One email even contains detailed discussion of prospects to fill top positions at Powertrans.

In 2011, the Erdogan government passed a bill halting all importing and exporting of oil from Turkey but left a loophole that exceptions could be made in some cases. So far only one exception has been made around these tight restrictions, as you can probably guess, it was to Powertrans.

Media Crackdown and Manipulation

By Cancillería del Ecuador, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The emails also detail some of the moves made by the Turkish government to silence or manipulate any reporting that was deemed dangerous to the Erdogan’s ruling AKP party.

The most focused on platform was Twitter, which has been a thorn in the side of Erdogan’s party since demonstrations broke out in 2013. The Turkish government has already blocked access to Twitter in the country several times since then. Yet blocking Twitter wasn’t enough for the government since they knew their citizens would still be able to gain limited access via certain workarounds.

In response to this, the Turkish state began a massive pro-AKP propaganda campaign across the internet. It was already well known that the Turkish government had hired around 6,000 people to be on a “social media team” that distributed pro-Erdogan propaganda on Twitter but the emails leaked this week shows how this effort goes even deeper than initially believed.

The emails details the makeup of this team, which included coders, graphic designers, script writers and even psychological warfare consultants. There was also an even larger team established to create a network of bots that would receive and spread AKP propaganda across social media.

After the protests in 2013 the network was first employed to spread the hashtag “#DirenÇözüm,” which loosely translates to “resistance solution.” This was used to spread news about the government wanting a peaceful solution to end protests and resolve differences among Turkey’s factions. The hashtag was sent out to the teams that controlled bots along with scripts of several different messages to use to “make it viral.”

There were also emails concerning several dissenting media outlets that the Turkish state had taken control of. Albayrak was furiously lobbying for the state to either keep control of these outlets or sell them to pro-AKP oligarchs instead of returning them to their owners.

By Pivox – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Via Wikimedia Commons

The Wikileaks release stated that this was the softer end of the total media crackdown currently underway in Turkey. According to the site, “things have only gotten worse” since then. The main incident of larger crackdowns cited was the case of “Turkish police commandos uploaded videos of themselves killing people and destroying homes onto social media,” which Turkish media was “powerless” to report on.

After the elections in November of 2015 government began more widely “seizing critical media by force and assigning control to a government-appointed trustees.” This was around the time that the Turkish government raided and seized opposition media outlets and cut off the broadcast of a popular television news network in Kurdish areas of the country.

There will no doubt be more to come from this latest leak from Turkey. Clearly, Erdogan’s son-in-law is deeply connected in the day to day of both business and government activities so there is most likely more shady dealings to find. We will be providing more news from the leak as it is sifted through.

This report prepared by Jim Carey for Geopolitics Alert