Today, fake news is a common problem around the whole world. Countries blame one another for intervening in their internal affairs by digital methods and perception operations as an asymmetric, hybrid war technique, and by using deep fake tools. The countries in which these accusations are most common are Western European countries. The fact that these countries, which claim to be advanced democracies, are fighting against the creation of fake news while also financing this through organizations like the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) is a great irony.
According to data published by the Swedish Internet Foundation, a great majority of Swedish people read internet news on the largest scale ever during the general elections of 2018. Even though the Swedish government is sensitive regarding media literacy and social media, it had difficulties in preventing fake news on the internet during the mentioned elections. The number of fake news articles published during the elections in the country ranked first among other European countries and second in the world after the U.S. during its 2016 elections. The rate of disinformation in election and political news has reached 22%. Even though Sweden claims Russia is at the top in terms of generating fake news that is an extension of the Europe-wide trend, research by the Oxford Internet Institute has shown that fake news originating from Russia corresponds to less than 1%, while a much greater percentage of the news is created from within Sweden.
So, how is it possible that a country that teaches media literacy and even techniques to fight fake news during high school is not able to tackle this problem?
A striking example of how Sweden's freedom of thought, speech and media cannot prevent fake news is FETÖ's media structure which churns out fake news with the support of some institutions in the country.
It would be useful to once again remind people that FETÖ – which is a hybrid terrorist organization that uses the fields of freedom of thought, speech and media opened to them in western countries, just like they had done in Turkey for many years – used classified government documents and Turkey's information network not to enlighten the public but to sustain its own power and, finally, to try and grab power and take over the government.
Now, on the other hand, we witness a FETÖ member taking shelter in Sweden, doing so-called "journalism" with distorted or regenerated fake documents with the support of Sweden.
Media figures of FETÖ that fled abroad following the failed coup in July 2016, have found a space within the scope of media freedom in Austria, France, the U.K., Greece, Belgium and, especially, the U.S. and Germany.
One of these figures is Abdullah Bozkurt, who operates from Sweden. Bozkurt was FETÖ media outlet Today's Zaman's Ankara representative before he fled to Stockholm directly after the failed coup attempt in 2016. Bozkurt has a warrant out for his arrest stemming from his FETÖ membership. A statement made by Bozkurt's mother to police after the coup attempt saying that her son, who did not disobey Fetullah Gülen in any way, would collect money from mosques in the U.S. for the organization, is a piece of essential evidence pointing to the fact that Bozkurt was an organic member of FETÖ.
Bozkurt is still administrating two web pages in Sweden called the Stockholm Center of Freedom and Nordic Monitor while receiving logistical support on this matter by Swedish authorities. This support was confirmed by Gülsen Çiğel, who has been living in Sweden for quite some time and is head of Stockholm Women's Branch of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD). Indicating that Bozkurt opened a think tank called Stockholm Center for Freedom (SDF) in Sweden, Çiğel said: "He tries to make the Swedish public opinion believe that FETÖ was not responsible for the bloody coup of July 15 with fake reports, as if the Swedish were behind this institution. They are messing with us because we uncovered these lies." She added, "I know that Abdullah Bozkurt comes to Sweden fleeing from Turkey" (Star newspaper, Nov. 7, 2017).
Currently, a number of fake and manipulative documents and information used by FETÖ prosecutors and police chiefs in conspiracy cases are published on Bozkurt's web pages administered by Sweden.
In fact, the aim of generating this fake news is neither for journalism activities nor propaganda on the terrorists' behalf. With this, Bozkurt is trying to create new arguments for terrorist organizations like the PKK, DHKP-C and Daesh, and some countries conducting a hybrid and asymmetric war against Turkey's policies in the name of FETÖ.
Therefore, Bozkurt's articles, which were fabricated via fake information and forged documents, aim to criminalize Turkey's security institutions, to keep claims of Turkey's so-called support to Daesh on the agenda and to marginalize Turkey's regional cooperation with countries in the Middle East, South America and Russia.
For instance, in order to support the claims propelled in his articles, Bozkurt used some confidential information belonging to the Turkish Armed Forces and derived from indictments that were prepared by FETÖ member prosecutors in 2016-2017 and presented to the courts. Needless to say, the sources for these fabricated articles are FETÖ's prosecutors.
On the other hand, it is no coincidence that the article, "Turkey's intelligence agency illegally dispatched arms to Syrian jihadists," which was published by Nordic Monitor, was cited only by the FETÖ-affiliated Turkey-ISIS Research Network. We can see that the Investigative Journal, where Bozkurt appears as a columnist, also cited the article. This example ascertains that FETÖ-affiliated Bozkurt showed an exceptional effort to circulate the article.
Meanwhile, Nordic Monitor's employment of Murat Çetiner, who was dismissed from his job in Turkish security institutions after he was caught illegally wiretapping on behalf of FETÖ, is also noteworthy. Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Çetiner.
FETÖ lived through its golden age in terms of infiltrating into the Turkish judiciary between 2008 and 2013. Five million people, including businesspeople, journalists, artists and athletes, were illegally wiretapped during this five-year period. Crypto members of FETÖ had concealed their identity and fabricated voice recordings to plot against opposing people. Çetiner was one of the FETÖ members who carried out these illegal wiretappings.
The victims of these illegal wiretappings were associated with many fictional cases ranging from membership to terrorist organizations to organized crime. The foremost wiretapping scandal by FETÖ was the Selam-Tevhid plot. It was revealed that countless people including bureaucrats, ambassadors, mayors and journalists were illegally wiretapped. FETÖ members also monitored phone calls of state servants during the Dec. 17-25 judicial coup attempt and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks case.
We are facing a terrorist organization, which plotted, blacklisted and imprisoned many journalists with forged documents, blackmailed everyone that stood against their purposes and committed murders for the sake of their goals. Therefore, asymmetric methods such as fabricating articles and targeting people are easy and practical methods for the organization. This is exactly what Bozkurt is doing.
One other attention-grabbing piece published on the website on Dec. 17, 2016, is titled, "Embassies no longer safe in Turkey." This is not a coincidence, because Russia's Ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov was assassinated by FETÖ-affiliated police officer Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş in an exhibition just two days after the article was published. The circulation of such articles by FETÖ members prior to the case is not a coincidence. Similarly, in the 89th episode of the TV series "Nizama Adanmış Ruhlar," broadcasted on FETÖ's TV channel Samanyolu, we see that depiction of the ambassador's assassination years prior the incident.
This becomes clear when we examine almost all articles published in the Nordic Monitor in 2019, and verify their correctness. The recent article, "US Defense Intelligence Agency says Turkey, Qatar supported Al-Nusra Front," published Dec. 10, claims that U.S. intelligence made an announcement accusing Turkey and Qatar of supporting the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria. Unsurprisingly, the Foundation for Defense for Democracies (FDD), which is funded by the United Arab Emirates in Washington, was the only outlet that gave credit to these unverified claims.
Furthermore, we see the same accusatorial rhetoric in the article on Turkey's so-called confidential plans to expand its base in Qatar to render it into a joint operation center. It is not hard to predict that the claim was fabricated by the UAE, which took up arguments against Turkey as a mission, just like FETÖ.
Through the Nordic Monitor, the terrorist organization sent messages to countries in the international arena, suggesting Turkey's so-called indifference in the fight against Daesh, and going even further, making black propaganda and claiming Turkey gives logistical support to Daesh.
There are plenty of articles to prove FETÖ's fabrications and fake news generation. One of the other examples is that information in the articles such as "Homes owned by US, UAE, Norwegian and Canadian Embassies were investigated by Turkey" published on Nov. 6, was never verified by related countries' diplomatic missions or Turkey's security institutions.
It is clear that all articles on the website aim to associate Turkey and the Turkish government with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Daesh. It is also easy to predict which country would mount an argument against Turkey by using the fabricated articles regarding Turkey-Qatar, Turkey-Iran and Turkey-Russia relations.
Another striking example is an article published on Aug. 2, 2019, on the Nordic Monitor, titled, "Record of admiral who commands Turkish naval base in the Mediterranean raises concerns." The colonel mentioned in the article was Gen. Ercan Kireçtepe, who had been sentenced to four and a half years in prison during the Poyrazköy Case, which was another conspiracy FETÖ prosecutors created with fake evidence. Kireçtepe was acquitted of the case where all accusations and fake evidence were disproved and was promoted to the position of rear admiral last year. Kireçtepe's position of duty is in Turkey's Mediterranean command. This example is one of the most solid in showing clearly how FETÖ is targeting people, whose lives are made miserable with fake evidence, this time through the help of fake news. Furthermore, the scheduling of the designation of the mentioned Mediterranean commander is also far from being a coincidence, since it is known that Turkey intensified its activities on the Eastern Mediterranean in 2019.
The issues and people the web page dwells upon with fake documents and falsified news are actually those names that directly suffered from FETÖ. One of the tens of thousands of victims is retired Col. Coşkun Başbuğ, whose name is mentioned in the article "Sex trafficker hired by Erdoğan-owned TV network as commentator." Col. Başbuğ, who was targeted by the Nordic Monitor and Bozkurt, was acquitted after two and a half years in prison due to the "espionage case" opened in a conspiracy concocted by FETÖ.
Başbuğ, who explained the internal affairs of the organization on TV following FETÖ's July 2016 coup attempt, stated: "They did not even feel the need to conspire; they threw me in prison without evidence just because my name was written in a hard disc. I stayed in prison for two and a half years. I took this road saying goodbye to my family and taking the risk of dying as I started the fight against this organization in the name of my country and people. I expected everything from this groveling organization. FETÖ members tried everything – women, money – to stop me from my fight" (Habertürk newspaper, Aug. 14, 2016).
It is possible to reveal the aim and analyze the message of each fake news piece Bozkurt generated on his page, yet this would cause the list to grow notably longer. What is most important here is how Bozkurt can abuse media freedom, which is quite broad in Sweden, and create fake news while serving FETÖ.
Sweden is not the only example in this manner. The U.K., Germany, France and the U.S. are also among the countries where figures representing FETÖ's media wing live and work. They continue to generate baseless news at full speed with the support and funds of those countries to mount arguments for their actions against Turkey.
*Daily Sabah Ankara representative