August 12, 2014

'I'm ready to serve many years in prison if what I did was illegal'

Yakub Saygılı, a former police chief who was purged following the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption probes, says he is confident that his team had not engaged in illegal operations as alleged by the government.

In his reaction to allegations that the police carried out illegal wiretapping, Saygılı tells Today's Zaman that only the intelligence unit has the authority to do that. Saygılı further argues that the report referred to the prime minister by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the activities of Reza Zarrab contained information that even the police were unaware of and states that there is currently no prosecution of the users of the Twitter accounts Başçalan and Haramzadeler. Finally, he stresses that it was a non-state unit that wiretapped a number of high-level officials.

Many believe that the operation in which Saygılı and many others were dismissed -- and later detained or arrested -- is an attempt at revenge for uncovering alleged government corruption.

You are arguing that you did not wiretap people illegally; but there are many tapes out there. So who did do this?

First of all, wiretapping is a duty assigned to the police and MİT. I have worked in different departments. There were pretty lousy wiretapping procedures in the past. But today we have a working system based on standard operation procedures and written guides.

So is it not possible to engage in illegal wiretapping?

The police and the gendarmerie cannot wiretap illegally. The system does not allow this. One day after the Dec. 17 operation, I was laid off. At that time, the tapes were not downloaded from TİB. They were held there. This means that they were not in in the police servers. This is how the system was set up. This means that the wiretapping party just hears the communication; he cannot download the sound. It is like listening to music online.

So who did this?

I can guess; but I cannot just accuse somebody. During the investigations, we realized that the intelligence agency sent report to the prime minister on Reza Sarraf and his criminal organization stressing that their activities might undermine the government's image. This was a comprehensive report. To draft this report, thousands of phones should be wiretapped because the report contains information that the police were unaware of. So this indicates that MİT was wiretapping these people.

So do you know MİT well?

Yes, I do. Some different subgroups in this organization have gained some sort of autonomy over time. TİB was founded in 2006. MİT agreed to be involved in the legislation governing TİB. As far as I know, there was a separate intelligence body within the general staff; it was not linked to TİB. Then it was integrated with MİT. This is where I raise an objection.

Is there an inspection mechanism for the wiretappings?

We do not have an inspection mechanism. There is an intelligence committee in the US. But we do not have one. If this unit moves its technical equipment to Istanbul, phone calls can be wiretapped and nobody would notice. No station is needed. I am not saying that they are doing it; but they can do it. This is why they were created. You need 20-30 people to make the system work. If human beings are involved, the system may be abused; this is always possible. We need to acknowledge that. But I cannot say this person or that person did this. Yet, if illegal wiretapping was performed, then there is only one unit that can do this. MİT has such a unit.

Is it possible that Hakan Fidan is not aware of it?

He is aware of it, because this is a unit that can cause serious problems as well as scandals.

Well, there are many scandals now.

I am not saying that they did do this, but this unit has the technical ability. I believe that questions should be asked to identify the culprit. I should also note that, during wiretapping, we start the process, but we do not hear the sound; the only thing we hear is encrypted speech. The system automatically records this but you cannot. After recording it automatically, you need to transform it into voice format. So far, the police have not been able to convert encrypted speech into normal speech.

By encrypted phones, I understand you to mean the phones high level officials use. So did you attempt to break their codes?

No. For example, you upload software into your phone and I do the same. We make encrypted phone calls then. The police department is unable to convert such calls because, let us say, there are 3 million audio files and all of them are encrypted; you have to invest a lot of money to de-code these calls. But the police do not have that much money, because they operate to identify the perpetrators of regular crimes. The police are not responsible for national security.

Does MİT have such a system?

MİT should have this; but again, it is all about budget. I am not sure if the necessary budget is allocated. Imagine that the police were caught, their phones were seized. They cannot turn on their phones; don't you think this would be a problem? You cannot ask any question to the suspects that would be to their detriment. You cannot ask the pin number of the phones. He may say that he forgot. So these are all about the limitations under the laws.

But in the end, encrypted phones were wiretapped; who did this?

I do not think that MİT should be let off the hook here. I believe that they should be suspects. But they may not have the necessary budget to do this.

Is it possible that they might have received support from other sources, including Israel and the US?

We have used the encrypted phones of Alcatel for years. We used to make our phone calls through these devices. We did not have our own encryption unit.

There are a lot of questions about TÜBİTAK as well

The proper thing to do is to identify the holders of the Haramzadeler and Başçalan Twitter accounts and to resolve whether or not the encryptions were leaked or resolved by other intelligence units. This can be done by TÜBİTAK or by experts from allied countries. However, TÜBİTAK was reshuffled; and it also lost its credibility after its recent reports on the wiretappings. It is easy to investigate this encryption matter. The only thing we need is an impartial investigation.

So you did not wiretap the prime minister?

I know this will sound weird; I was driving at night. A police chief, Ömer Köse, who was taken into custody and then released, called me. He said, “There are tapes.” I told him that tapes are leaked every day and asked him what makes these tapes extraordinary. He said that tapes of the prime minister and his son were leaked. I told him that it was impossible because the police cannot possibly wiretap the prime minister. So I concluded that this was illegal wiretapping. He said, “Well, we have a serious problem now.” I told him, “I have a problem; they will start an investigation against me as if I did the wiretapping.” If the prime minister was wiretapped and the information was transferred to a foreign intelligence service, then this is a disaster. This is a huge problem for foreign policy and intelligence.

What are those who leaked these tapes trying to say?

I filed criminal complaints against the Haramzadeler and Başçalan Twitter accounts. Legal tapes were posted in Haramzadeler; Başçalan mostly shared illegal content. The prosecutor asked me why I was interested in this matter. At first, he did not understand how grave this was. I told him that an investigation had been launched against me because of these tapes and I was being victimized by this. I asked him to track these accounts to identify the culprits. He then accepted my complaint.

I guess some others also did the same

A total of roughly 16-17 police officers also filed complaints. The prosecutor dismissed the requests in 14 complaints, arguing that Turkey only had an agreement with the US in the field of terrorism. I told him to file a request claiming that this concerned terrorism. He responded that nobody accepted that this was a coup. So he said that he could not identify the culprits in this case. But I am being held accountable for this. So the holders of the Başçalan and Haramzadeler Twitter accounts were not identified. But they can be traced; I know this because I worked in the cyber crimes unit for a while.

Is it Israel that is performing the illegal wiretappings?

Israeli intelligence has always been strong. They are institutionalized.

Is it possible that a state might try to bargain over these tapes?

I cannot make any comment on this matter; I can guess, but it might not be true. We cannot make an analysis based on a few parameters. I believe that if we search for a culprit, we should not go that far.

Let us now discuss the link between inspectors and so-called parallels.

A total of 16 inspectors reviewed the fiscal unit and 18 performed inspections in the organized crime unit. More than 20 took care of the anti-terror and intelligence unit. I answered questions concerning 16 inspectors. There has been no single allegation concerning a parallel structure or illegal wiretapping in the fiscal department investigation. There is nothing like a “parallel” charge in the investigation files. I do not think that there will ever be.


Parallel is not a legal term; so a prosecutor or court cannot make any reference to this. Only a politician may use it in the election rallies. And that could be only an assumption. The police department is under the spotlight. Let us call foreign experts too. I guarantee that they will not be able to identify a single incident of illegal wiretapping because the police handed everything over to TİB in 2006.

Was it good or bad?

In fact, this was something we wanted to do, because we were the usual suspects in the wiretapping incidents. But we have a system that is inspected regularly. And we did not set up this system, TIB did. Let us keep the police under in the spotlight; but we should also do this with MİT as well. They should be held accountable. There is no other unit engaged in wiretapping in this country. With the exception of TİB, MİT is the only the body that is able to perform wiretapping. And there is no inspection mechanism for MIT.

How would you respond concerning the joint action by the police in Çağlayan and their affinity with Hizmet movement?

Are we allowed to distinguish between people's professional lives and private lives? The police officers who work in the Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM) take lessons on leadership and law enforcement as well as time management and stress management. In these trainings, we pay particular attention to make sure that we do not interfere with their private lives.

So do you practice what you are trained for?

I was in the office of the prime minister in 1996 during the term of Mesut Yılmaz. Refah-Yol came to power after him. You may recall that there were some disagreements over bearded guards. I was on the team that was removed. The head of the team told me that I was wearing a silk tie in Singapore; he got angry with me because silk was not allowed in Islam. I am a professional; I try to dress up nicely and elegantly. I told him that I represented the prime minister, so he should not interfere. In Turkey, he asked me to surrender a list of police officers who were drinking alcohol, but I did not comply with his request.

What has changed since then?

Nothing much. Is a person free to choose in his or her own private life? Yes, of course. But if he drinks a lot and then fails to perform his job, then this becomes a problem. What he does outside is none of our business; but he has to work effectively. So the people who are referred to as members of the Hizmet movement are free to do whatever they wish in their social lives. They prefer a family life. Take a look: all are pretty decent and successful people.

So why are they successful?

They are successful because they have nothing other than their families to concern them. I was admitted to the police college in 1987; I stayed in boarding school for 8 years. We were acquainted for many years. Those who wanted to quit did so during the first years. A total of 120 cadets quit in the first year. It is now a fashion to blame the Hizmet movement; those who failed to be successful like to blame them. Nobody asks whether they were victims of their own failure.

Do you consider yourself a member of the Hizmet movement?

No, I do not. In the FBI Academy in the US, they asked me about my clique. I said you are member of something if you make decisions that would affect your professional life by relying on anything that is not prescribed in our guides. I am not like that.

It is now being argued that police officers did some terrible things in the Ergenekon, Balyoz and KCK investigations and that they are now subjected to the same treatment. Are they going through a process of self-criticism?

There is always a need for self-criticism. The victims of the past now better understand the victims of the present. I think this is a plus. I put Barış Güler and Kaan Çağlayan under arrest upon the instruction of the prosecutor. I did not put them in jail because their fathers were statesmen. They sat in an office and waited for the interrogation.

Was it the right thing to do?

I am ready to answer if I did anything wrong. But the thing today is this: The interior minister was Beşir Atalay when I was working in Diyarbakır. He used to travel to Diyarbakır a lot to hold meetings. In other words, he used to follow these judicial processes as a political authority. He was involved in the decision-making process and timing. Is it possible to argue that the political administration was not involved at all in the Ergenekon, Balyoz and KCK operations and investigations? The prime minister says that the police committed some human rights violations; well, the political administration was involved in the entire process. They decided on its timing.

Is it true that there is an ongoing investigation in respect to 50 MİT personnel because they were members of the so-called parallel structure?

I saw that in the papers. If they have not been able to distinguish them from one another, then nothing good will come out of MİT. This is an important matter. I have held positions in Bulgaria, Ukraine. These were active operational duties. In such cases, I needed qualified agents who would carry out the requirements of the mission abroad. This is where MİT becomes so crucial. This country needs a strong MİT; it should be inspected. But the agency has failed to take measures to identify figures who work autonomously. This is such a shame.

What is the current status of the cosmic study group?

We have worked with them in the past. I know some of them personally. It is normal that they would assume a role in dealing with the so-called parallel state. It is fine; but they should not be vengeful, and they should observe the laws.

Their first investigation was on the bugging device.

Bugging devices are my specialty. I can say a few words about that investigation. First of all, they collected evidence through a procedure that is not allowed in the Turkish legal system. So this evidence is not valid. And there is also a report by TÜBİTAK; in this bugging device investigation, we see that the cosmic study group bends the law to attain its goals.

What will happen now?

It is normal that we raise our voices because we are victims. Everyone will seek redress through legal means; I think nobody should object to this. The limit should be the law here. The results should be respected. I believe that this legal anomaly will be corrected soon. This process will be over. But we should consider that something terrible is happening as we exhaust our energy dealing with such unnecessary struggles. No strong measures are being taken against drug trafficking now. Drug dealers are free to spread drugs far and wide. In 2014, we have not heard any reports on drug operations in Turkey. The repercussions of this are that our kids are dying. But the government is wasting its energy to deal with a so-called parallel state. Our resources are not unlimited. If you exhaust your resources, then nothing will be left to deal with other, more important matters.

What will you say if these police officers are found guilty?

Everybody will be sent to jail; nobody will escape. I know they believe that they are innocent. I await the court's judgment at this time because of the trial procedure. I will, of course, comply with the court decision, but I will continue to criticize any procedural errors I see. My legal struggle will not end there.

Why do not they place you under arrest?

I conducted a judicial investigation. I performed legal wiretapping under court orders. The motions I drafted were referred to the office of the prosecutor. In the end, the sons of ministers and members of the Cabinet were arrested. There was a separate motion that should have been referred to the Parliament as well. The motion I signed was sent to the Parliament. This is the legal record. The prosecutor freely admitted this. Even the prosecutor who was appointed by the government after the operation admitted this document. In the end, he referred it to the Parliament.

And what about the Dec. 25 operation?

This is a file in which the evidence was collected in compliance with the law. It is a dossier that is more important than the Dec. 17 file in which criminal activity committed by some people who enjoyed parliamentary immunity was proven. You know that this operation was not allowed into the Dec. 25 file. The enforcement units did not comply with the instructions of the prosecutor. Because of this, additional evidence was misplaced. It is therefore an unfinished investigation. The office of the prosecutor now seeks to close the file for good. To this end, they also want to make sure that the tapes are destroyed as well. For this reason, even if the case is revoked again, there will no evidence left. Unfortunately, this file contains a number of meetings and negotiations between a person who was banned from entering Turkey and those who rule this country.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 August 2014, Monday