A Daily Sabah article alleges that Turkish security has detained an agent of the Canadian intelligence for having assisted three British girls for traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State:
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday that an intelligence agent from a country that is a member of the anti-ISIS coalition had helped the three British girls join the group in Syria. While Foreign Ministry officials refused to comment on the nationality of the agent, security forces reached by Daily Sabah found the agent is suspected to be a spy working for Canada.
The story grabs headlines because of the tie in to the three British girls who recently disappeared from the U.K headed for the Islamic State. Media outlets are now widely covering the story, all citing from the Daily Sabah piece. Daily Sabah is noted for being supportive of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP.) Few of the media covering the story noted, as the Wall Street Journal did, this interesting point:
Within an hour of the statement, several Turkish pro-government media outlets published reports quoting senior government sources claiming the operative worked for Canadian intelligence.
Given the timing, and the curious nature of the Turkish Foreign Minister’s comments, the whole story suggests an information operation is currently underway. Canadian sources have already pushed back, with Canadian Broadcasting running the strongest version of the Canadian government’s denial:
Some Turkish media accounts suggested the detained person may have been a Canadian citizen or from Canada. CBC News has confirmed this is not the case. The suspected individual is neither a Canadian citizen nor a Canadian Security Intelligence Service employee, CBC News has learned.
Perhaps the most curious question, is, why Canada and why now? There are a number of possible scenarios:
Possibility number one is that the story is true, an agent was arrested and the agent was a Canadian intelligence asset. Even if this were the case, for example, if the agent either was doubled and ended up supporting Islamic State, or if the operation simply went awry, the Turkish decision to out the agent, from an allied (NATO) country seems highly unusual. Why then choose to release the information? We can note this odd quote allegedly from the Prime Minister’s office:
“The statement said that capture of the intelligence officer “showcased a complex problem involving intelligence wars. This incident should be a message to those always blaming Turkey on the debate on the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, and shows it is a problem more complicated than a mere border security issue. Turkey will continue its call for stronger intelligence sharing, and is worried about the lack of intelligence sharing in a matter involving the lives of three young girls,” the statement said.
The statement suggests an attempt by the Turks to deflect criticism of their handling of Islamic State supporters crossing the border, and lay the blame on the Western intelligence services, for a lack of sharing, while playing into popular conspiracy theories that the Islamic State is the creation of Western intelligence.
Alternatively of course, the story could be true, and an agent was arrested, but the agent was NOT a Canadian asset. Or the story is wholly false, and there is no agent. Both of which make the decision to finger a Canadian culprit even more curious. Regardless of which scenario ends up being true, the question remains:
Why go out of the way to leak specifics and point the finger at Canada? Canada seems a curious choice to target, even if the goal is to redirect the blame for Islamic State’s recruitment on the West and distract from Turkey’s own border security problems. Blaming MI-6 or the American CIA would seem to resonate better with the audiences in the Middle East.
Is it possible that the choice of Canada as a target has less to do with Turkey and its relationship vis-a-vis the Islamic State, and more to do with the ongoing situation in Canada, where the government is attempting to revise and expand the capability of its domestic intelligence agency to investigate and disrupt threats?
Consider that Canada has already conducted an aggressive investigation, Project Sapphire, which cracked down on Islamic organizations allegedly involved in fundraising for Hamas through Muslim Brotherhood networks which are now under greater scrutiny. The successful passage of Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015 would like put additional pressure on those networks, and could lead to a direct targeting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Canada.
Why would the Turkish government care? Because Turkey itself, has been repeatedly noted for its close ties and funding for Hamas, and its relationship with key Global Muslim Brotherhood figures like chief jurist Yusuf Al Qaradawi. Qaradawi himself has confirmed the Ikhwan’s close ties to Ankara. An opportunity to direct attention away form Turkish failings regarding Islamic State, as well as to throw a wrench into Canadian internal discussions on how best to strengthen their intelligence agencies, may have been an appealing opportunity that the Islamist government in Turkey couldn’t bring itself to pass up.