December 8, 2017

Why did Turkey Issue an Arrest Warrant Against Me?

Graham E. Fuller*

On 1 December 2017 the government of Turkey issued an arrest warrant against me, accusing me of personal involvement, right on the scene in Istanbul on the night of 16 July 2016, helping direct the failed coup attempt against the Erdogan government. [See BBC account ] According to earlier Turkish press accounts I was “spotted in Istanbul” and later that same night, following the failure of the coup attempt, was allegedly “exfiltrated by helicopter by the CIA by across the border into Greece.”

In addition I have often been accused in the Turkish press of being “Fethullah Gülen’s CIA handler.” The religious leader Gülen, in exile in the US, is the arch-enemy of Turkey and of Turkish President Erdogan himself for over five years.

Unfortunately for the Turkish government, there a few inconvenient facts that damage their absurd “case” against me.

-I retired from CIA exactly 30 years ago.

-I have not set foot in Turkey in the last five years.

-I served only once in Turkey. My very first tour of duty abroad was as the most junior officer in the CIA Base in Istanbul in the mid 1960s—although the Turkish press likes to promote me to having been “CIA Station Chief in Ankara.” Some accounts have even called me a “former chief of CIA.” Furthermore, I was hardly under any kind of “deep cover” in Istanbul; the Turkish intelligence service MIT knew precisely who I was because I was in direct official liaison with MIT, among several other American officers, mainly to discuss issues relating to the Soviet Bloc.

-My tour in Istanbul was up in 1967 and I never returned to Turkey as a CIA officer again after that tour. I was thereafter many years in the Arab world, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. Nor did my many CIA responsibilities in later years bring me into contact with Turkish affairs.

-I never heard the name Fethullah Gülen the entire time while I was working in Turkey in the 1960s. I met Gülen exactly once in my life, long years after retiring from CIA, in an interview I conducted with him 15 years ago in Istanbul, while doing research on contemporary Islamist movements. I have never seen Gülen since, and have never met him in the US, although I have followed his movement with interest. I also defended him in a well-known personal letter as a private citizen to the FBI, well after leaving CIA, to argue that of all Islamist movements I had encountered, he would least likely represent a security threat in the US. Indeed almost no one in Washington has believed he is a security threat or a “terrorist.”

-On the night of the coup attempt in Turkey last year I happened to have been addressing a group of 100 people or so right here in the town in western Canada where I have been living for the past 15 years.

-I have written a good bit about Gülen’s movement HIzmet (Service) in the context of a broader study on movements in political Islam from Indonesia to Morocco for my book “The Future of Political Islam.” I was impressed then, and am still impressed now, that HIzmet represents one of the most progressive, modern and tolerant visions of Islam and its contemporary social role anywhere in the Muslim world. That apparently now makes me an enemy of Erdogan’s AK party, which, after many years of close association with Gülen, decided to brand him an enemy and a “terrorist.” I know in the rough game of Turkish politics Erdogan and Gülen eventually became rivals and Hizmet members in the police helped uncover corruption in Erdogan’s circle.

Ironically, far from being hostile to Erdogan, in my last book: “Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East” I spoke in very positive terms about the dramatic changes that Erdogan and his party introduced into Turkey in nearly every sphere of life starting in 2002, including his bold, innovative and expansive new foreign policy vision. That book discusses over several chapters both the AKP (Erdogan’s party) role in Islamic policies in Turkey, as well as Gülen’s vision. Only in the final chapter did I begin to express misgivings about the apparent onset of Erdogan’s sudden more erratic behavior, his dogged persecution of perceived enemies, his paranoia, his loss of political touch and his megalomania.

Accusing a former CIA officer, even 30 years later after his retirement, makes for good material in the Turkish press. Many Turks (and other foreigners) are willing to believe almost any story about CIA; political leaders routinely use the CIA as a villain and a bogey man to bolster their own positions.

Unfortunately, these suspicions about the US are not always without foundation. US government policies have much to answer for over the years in their many directives to the CIA to engage in damaging and foolish political intervention and even coup-making in a great many countries around the world. Many of those “regime change” aspirations still exist in Washington today.

That said, I doubt very much the CIA had anything to do with this particular pathetic, ill-conceived and amateurish coup attempt—that unfortunately cost over 250 Turkish lives—against Erdogan in July 2016. I doubt even more that Gülen was himself involved in “ordering” a coup, a view shared by many European intelligence organizations and widely within the US government. (In a movement of over two million people like Hizmet, it is not inconceivable that a handful of pro-Gülen officers could have been part of the amateurish coup plot, but there are thousands of Turkish army officers who have always loathed Erdogan for his Islamist tendencies and would willingly have supported the coup.) For what it’s worth, Gülen condemned the coup attempt in the strongest terms. Furthermore, hIs movement has had zero involvement in any political violence prior to the so-called coup attempt charge. Indeed, Gülen has always denounced violence in Islam from any quarter.

I personally am only marginally swept up among many Turks in the ongoing wave of arrests, persecutions and cashiering of tens of thousands of Turks—journalists, judges, academics, military officers, teachers, politicians, police officers—all perceived as enemies of Erdogan’s state. Most of them have suffered grievously. I, at least, am lucky not to be living in Turkey now, a country, culture and language I have been fascinated by since my early university years. Three of the many books I have written are about Turkey.

Not content with absurd accusations of coup plotting by myself and a few Americans, the Erdogan government has also stoked the fires with “fake facts” and crude propaganda fabrications about my own views and writings. On a recent Turkish website (in Turkish) appears the following:
Take a look at what Former Director of the CIA (sic) Graham Fuller said in his book A WorldWithout Islam:

The only obstacle blocking US domination of the world are the Sunni Muslims. The US works jointly with the Wahhabis, and utilizes the Shi’ites. But the destruction of Sunni power is (only) possible with the destruction of Turkey, the fortress of Sunni Islam.

That’s what the man has said, totally openly. So what else might he do?

Please share this information with others so that everyone will be aware of it.

Anybody who knows my writings in the many different books I have written over the years will realize what a total fabrication such a statement is, completely contrary to the spirit of everything I have ever written.

I am well aware that I am only a small player in this game. Erdogan’s real target is the top levels of the US government. It wishes to force Washington to desist from prosecuting the damaging court case against Erdogan’s close lieutenants and family in the Zarrab case about corruption and high level illegal dealings with Iran. The Turkish government is also firing a shot across the bow of the US government with its now thinly veiled threat that the CIA was behind the failed coup attempt.

Sadly, all this only provides further evidence of the extent to which Erdogan has become a nasty (but elected) authoritarian engaged in a national witch hunt that has intimidated his country, alienated virtually all foreign leaders, produced tens of thousands of domestic victims of arrests, and cashiering from jobs in all walks of life among any whom Erdogan perceives as enemies.

Ironically, if Erdogan had resigned in 2011 after ten years in office he likely would go down in Turkish history as the country’s greatest prime minister for all his accomplishments. But extending his term, he now besmirches his own name and squanders his historical record by abandoning in his last few years nearly all his original policies he had earlier promulgated. His growing imperious behavior, his isolation among a handful of yes-men courtiers. and the polarization of the country is likely to cost him dearly in the next elections in 2019—assuming they will be honest.

* Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan.”

Published on author's personal blog, 7 December 2017, Thursday