- A former FBI official testified this week in federal court that Michael Flynn’s former business partner asked him about surveilling supporters of Fethullah Gulen, as well as whether he had access to classified files on the Turkish cleric.
- A top adviser to Gulen, who is exiled in the U.S., called the testimony “deeply disturbing.”
- Six Turkish journalists told the Daily Caller that they were surveilled in the U.S. — they believe by the Turkish government.
A top adviser to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen says he was “deeply disturbed” by a former FBI official’s testimony regarding alleged surveillance requests made by Bijan Rafiekian, a former Michael Flynn business partner accused of acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey.
Former FBI official Brian McCauley testified Wednesday that Rafiekian asked him in September 2016 whether he still had access to classified files on Gulen, who has lived in exile in Pennsylvania for two decades. Rafiekian also allegedly asked McCauley whether he could conduct audio and visual surveillance on Gulen’s U.S.-based followers.
McCauley, who was a contractor for Flynn’s intelligence firm, Flynn Intel Group (FIG), testified that he rebuffed both requests from Rafiekian, who was an executive at FIG.
Alp Aslandogan, executive director of the Gulen-affiliated nonprofit Alliance for Shared Values, told the Daily Caller News Foundation he was surprised to learn about Rafiekian’s inquiry into what he claims are “illegal activities.”
“We are deeply disturbed by news reports that Mr. Bijan Refiekian … sought access to classified government files on Mr. Fethullah Gulen in order to smear him as part of Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s witch hunt against Gulen and his sympathizers,” Aslandogan told the DCNF of McCauley’s testimony.
He also noted reports of Turkish intelligence operatives working in other Western countries to spy on Gulen supporters.
“Several countries noticed and rejected Erdogan regime’s efforts to conduct espionage on Gulen sympathizers or others whom they perceive as critics, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands being recent examples that became public knowledge,” he said.
The Turkish government has not been caught conducting surveillance in the U.S., however, several Turkish journalists who either support Gulen or have criticized Erdogan have claimed they were targeted in a coordinated spy campaign. A top spokesman for Erdogan also recently alluded to ongoing intelligence activities aimed at Gulen supporters on U.S. soil.
“Our relevant units and institutions will continue their operations in the countries the FETO operates in whether it be the U.S. or some other country,” Erdogan aide Ibrahim Kalin said on Sept. 24, 2018, using the pejorative acronym “FETO,” which stands for Fethullah Terrorist Organization.
Erdogan has accused Gulen, his former ally, of masterminding a failed coup attempt against the Turkish government on July 15, 2016. Gulen has vehemently denied the allegation. But Erdogan has led a crackdown against Gulen supporters in Turkey, as well as in other countries.
“Rest assured that they will feel Turkey breathing down their neck,” Kalin said.
The Daily Caller interviewed in April 2017 a half-dozen Turkish journalists living in the U.S. who were targeted in a surveillance campaign that saw their photos and personal details published in negative stories in the Turkish press. (RELATED: Who Is Spying On Turkish Journalists In The US?)
Most of the journalist said they believed that the Turkish government was behind the surveillance, which was conducted in August and September 2016.
“Of course, of course, of course, most definitely,” said journalist Aydogan Vatandas when asked whether he believed the Turkish government played a role in surveilling him. Vatandas was spied upon outside of a book store in Clifton, New Jersey, on Sept. 16, 2016.
There is no evidence that Rafiekian or FIG were involved in surveilling the journalists.
Instead, the core allegation against Rafiekian, who is on trial in Virginia, is that he acted at the direction of the Turkish government as part of a contract that FIG signed in August 2016 to investigate Gulen. FIG signed a $600,000 contract with a Dutch firm called Inovo BV that was actually owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, indicted Alptekin along with Rafiekian, but he is believed to still be in Turkey.
The contract called for FIG to use an “investigative laboratory” to potentially make criminal referrals against Gulen, with an eye on gaining his extradition from the U.S.
Government witnesses who testified this week said that Alptekin pressed FIG to secure congressional hearings on Gulen and to ramp up a media blitz portraying the cleric as a terrorist. But FIG was unable to accomplish little of what Alptekin sought.
The firm hired an outside consulting firm to promote a “60 Minutes”-style documentary on Gulen that never materialized. FIG also set up a meeting with the House Homeland Security Committee that did not result in any congressional hearings.
Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, wrote an op-ed in The Hill on Nov. 8, 2016 that portrayed Gulen as an Islamic radical who should be extradited from the U.S. The story did little to move the needle on Gulen, but did land FIG’s work on the radar of the press and federal authorities.
The Daily Caller published a story three days after the op-ed appeared that connected FIG to Alptekin. The Justice Department opened its inquiry into FIG several weeks later, on Nov. 30, 2016.
Federal prosecutors have revealed during the case against Rafiekian that Turkish government officials were routinely briefed on the Gulen project.
Alptekin sent multiple emails indicating that he was in contact with Turkish officials regarding the FIG contract. Alptekin also arranged a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting in New York City between Rafiekian, Flynn and McCauley and two high-ranking Turkish government officials. One of the officials was Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
Prosecutors have acknowledged they do not have evidence that the Turkish government funded Alptekin or the Gulen project. The judge handling the case nearly threw out charges against Rafiekian on Thursday, saying that the evidence presented so far was “very speculative.”
Closing statements are expected to start on July 22.