It is often suggested that foreign intelligence agencies are active on Turkish soil, where they run operations against the interest of the Turkish state and the Turkish people. Is it just a conspiracy theory, or is it justified to be vigilant against foreign spies?
The latest example of such an accusation was seen on saturday shortly after the suicide bombings near the footballstadium of Besiktas in Istanbul where 38 people lost their lives. The suicide attacks were carried out by the PKK affiliated violent extremist terrorist group TAK. The suggestion being raised on social media is that “The journalists who are being mentioned are in fact spies for foreign powers who use their profession as a cover, because they responded within minutes of the terrorist attack“.
The accused journalists are Frank Nordhausen, Nick Ashdown, Christopher Lord and a Dutch citizen who is currently working as an embedded journalist within the PKK, Frederike Geerdink, who was deported from Turkey in september 2015.
— Üst Akıl Oyunları (@ustakiloyunlari) 11 december 2016
Making such bold accusations, would require proof that the journalists actually do chores for intelligence agencies. This may vary from evidence originating from leaked intelligence reports to witnesses who have had to deal with the extraordinary interaction between a spy agency and a journalist working in the field. In the case of the above mentioned journalists, there is no evidence that they perform chores for foreign secret services.
Dutch spy in Turkey
What we do have however, are the memoires of the former Editor in Chief of the Dutch State TV NOS, Hans Laroes. In his memoires he describes how a few years ago a spy in Turkey working for the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) tried to recruit one of his journalists in the field. The NOS-correspondent was working in Turkey at the time when he was approached by a man who apparently was the owner of different companies abroad with traditional Dutch names. He used the firms as a cover for his function as a spy and “Imported Dutch products” to bolster the credibility of his Non-Official Cover (NOC). NOC’s pose themselves as employees of international corporations, as scientists, journalists or as members of other professions which provide the necessary cover to stay long periods of time in a foreign country and get in touch with locals the agency wants to recruit.
The NOS-reporter, whose name is not mentioned in the memoires of Laroes, who was pressured by the Dutch spy, could not cope with this pressure and sought refuge at Laroes.
Hans Laroes provides a look into his time as editor of NOS in his book “The Scars of the Day” (2012). He writes about the incident of one of his journalists with the MIVD in Turkey:
The owner at first seemed like a friendly, jovial Dutchman. Nice to have contact with. Every now and then he whispered the correspondent some information and gave a look into some documents. A few times he could use some of this information in the few months they got to know each other and met. But now he had suddenly shown his other face and complicated the contact. He said he worked for the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). His businesses were cover-ups; he collected information for ‘The Hague‘. He said the correspondent used this information to his statisfaction, thanks to him, he said. Would it not be possible, the man from MIVD asked, to do something back occasionally? The correspondent came in contact with dissidents, and heard some information. The correspondent sighed. Should he have known that there was something wrong with this businessman when he came with other information than clogs and tulips?
Spy did not comply with instructions
The former Chief Editor of NOS decided to contact the minister of Defense at the time, Henk Kamp, and told him he was considering publishing this story. Within a few days the minister responded that the story of Laroes was right and the MIVD-agent had not complied with instructions (i.e. cover blown) and that he was fired from MIVD. The journalist would never be confronted with this story he promised the Chief Editor.
Hans Laroes quit his job for the NOS in 2011, after having spent 23 years working for the state news agency, of which he was 9 years Editor in Chief of the NOS News Broadcast. When we approached mister Laroes in 2015 to ask him some questions about his book, he responded that he was not willing to cooperate because DutchTurks was -in his eyes- guilty of making propaganda about Frederike Geerdink, the formerly Diyarbakir based deported Dutch journalist, who works now as an embedded journalist in the terrorist organization PKK in Iraq.
According to a report from 2011 the other Dutch intelligence agency AIVD, would have recruited photojournalists and others to spy at the Olympics in Beijing in China. Key figure in this story is Paul Kraaijer who came forth in 2011 as someone who had worked for the Dutch intelligence services for 25 years providing information from within different groups and organizations such as Antifascist Action (AFA), Kurdistan Information Center and Animal Rights Groups. For the Kurdistan Information Center he wrote an article in Trouw in 2002 about the “Kurdish independence struggle”. He signed the article off as an “Old-employee of the Kurdistan magazine”. Paul Kraaijer moved to Suriname where he is accused of pedophile activities in the Surinamese inlands. Politicians called for an investigation into the allegations. His infiltration and even his spearheading of some departments of the political action group reminds of the Dutch Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLPN), whose chairman was Pieter Boevé, a Dutch spy working for the National Security Service BVD (AIVD predecessor Binnenlandse Veiligheids Dienst). The MLPN was set up by Pieter Boevé and others who were thrown out of the Marxist-Leninist Centrum Nederland (MLCN). The splinter party MLPN was from the beginning part of an undercover BVD-operation called Project Mongool, dubbed Operation Red Herring by the FBI, to gain insight in the Maoist movement. The newsletter of the party, De Kommunist, was in fact run solely by agents of the Dutch Secret Service who even had intimate ties with high ranking party officials in China.
Is it plausible that foreign journalists use their profession as a cover for their spying activities somewhere abroad, in this case in Turkey? In conclusion one might say there are foreign spy agencies active on Turkish soil, who are willing to recruit journalists to do chores with them or exchange information with them. Are journalists directly spying for foreign intelligence services? As long as you cannot prove this with hard evidence, we can not say this is factually correct. But the memoires of Laroes surely give a little insight into the unknown world of Non-Official Covers agencies use to spy on their allies.
Questions about this article may be directed to @VulkaanRots