Life after Snowden

Life after Snowden

Edward Snowden appears on NBC on May 27, 2014. His revelations haven’t given much food for thought to government supporters in the increasingly Orwellian new Turkey. (Photo: AP)
In April, Turkey passed a new law regarding the country’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), giving extensive powers to the agency to spy on our lives. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the new law opens the door to abuse “as it greatly increases the intelligence agency’s surveillance powers” while threatening journalists who expose its abuses with prison terms.“The law would decrease state accountability, media freedom and the right to privacy,” it said.

On June 14, Turkey’s government-controlled Yeni Şafak daily ran an interview with former model Tuğçe Kazaz, whose phone lines were allegedly wiretapped without a warrant by mean people who are trying to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. Of course, this is the narrative of none other than Our Great Leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but the raison d’étre of the government-controlled media is to promote Erdoğan’s discourse. Not surprisingly, this former model, who is known best for changing her religion a couple of times (though, it turns out, she is not the questioning mind she appears to be), offered an analysis of Turkey’s current dynamics, saying that a corruption operation against the government was in fact part of a coup plot against our government. This is what anyone who speaks to the government-controlled media says, whether they are a former model or a soccer player or a political analyst. Many of us here in the real world (i.e. non-government media) suspect that the same person (possibly our Great Leader) writes up the entire text for many of these interviews in a true politburo spirit. Their reporting would put the Pravda and Izvestia of the Soviet times (though not that much has changed in Russia today) to shame. It is no secret that the AK Party has a major propaganda machine now, but since this has not really been covered in the English-language press, I want to translate a comment by Kazaz (or whoever the ghostwriter was). “I am a transparent person and my goal, as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, is to perform what I do in the best way I can. Other than that [my goal] is to act in accordance with the interests of the country. The related official agencies of the Republic of Turkey can eavesdrop on me when they deem necessary. As long as they keep out of my personal life.” (Yes, I wasn’t kidding about the Pravda thing).

I don’t remember reading anything as dangerous as Kazaz’s words in a long time, not even about the new MİT law. We don’t know how many people would take this seriously, because it reads and sounds laughably ridiculous, but Kazaz’s words — well, the government’s words — are supposed to explain to us the new narrative. It means our government really wants the citizenry to think that way. And unfortunately, their supporters often follow the government narrative blindly.

Here is an excerpt from Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State”: “Initially, it is always the country’s dissidents and marginalized who bear the brunt of the surveillance, leading those who support the government or are merely apathetic to mistakenly believe they are immune. And history shows that the mere existence of a mass surveillance apparatus, regardless of how it is used, is in itself sufficient to stifle dissent.”

Edward Snowden risked his entire future, even his life, to bring out the truth about NSA surveillance. And I think it paid off. People know what is going on, and both the NSA leaks and history have shown time and again that any unscrupulous power with the ability to monitor people’s communications (with hardly any oversight as per the latest MİT law) will have dire consequences for all of us eventually, including the defenders of the government.

It is our responsibility as citizens of this world to at least think about what Snowden’s revelations mean in terms of the relationship between governments and the governed, although it appears that what he did hasn’t changed much in our government-controlled media.

This is a reminder to all my colleagues in the government media. Things look great today, but unconditional support for warrantless wiretapping and state surveillance and government intrusion into personal lives will have consequences for you one day. Maybe not today, but one day.

This post originally appeared as a Today’s Zaman blog post at http://www.todayszaman.com/blog/e-baris-altintas/life-after-snowden_351079.html

Erdoğan’s new paramilitary force

Erdoğan’s new paramilitary forceThe Trust Force, with their baseball caps, batons and backpacks, actively contributed to efforts to block the Gezi anniversary protests on May 31.
Our banana republic, it turns out, now has a team of regime guards, which Turkish columnists (for some reason very few have written about this), have likened to Iran’s Basij. Ours are called Güven Timi, which can be translated as the “Trust Force.” We saw them actively intervene in the Gezi anniversary protests last Saturday and beat up protesters.

They appear to be plainclothes officers, but with a twist. They are mostly bearded men. On Saturday, they were all sporting blue baseball caps, the same type of backpacks (black with vertical white stripes in front) and wielding (the same) batons. They did not have any insignia or any other official indicator suggesting that they work for the police force.


According to Wikipedia, Basij in Iran “consists of young Iranians who have volunteered, often in exchange for official benefits.” Although the Trust Force in Turkey was founded in 2009 as part of the Police Department, anything can happen here as we live in one of the least transparent countries in the world. These teams were, according to a quote from the Public Safety Unit’s Deputy Director Dursun Güneş in 2009 [featured in a post by T24 blogger Aram Ekin Duran], set up to “not look like cops,” and their primary target was to catch pickpockets red-handed.


But on May 31, Saturday, they were beating up young people instead of chasing pickpockets in Taksim in addition to 25,000 riot police and 50 water cannon trucks deployed in the area to stop the protesters.


Hopefully, we will know more about them if and when the opposition submits a parliamentary query about our own mysterious Basij.


Also during the protests, CNN’s Ivan Watson was detained live on camera while reporting from Taksim. One commentator said this was a clear message to the rest of the world that our government really doesn’t care about what the rest of the world really thinks about Turkey. (I am not trying to hide the commentator’s name, I just don’t remember who it was). Disturbing as it is, I think this is the only logical explanation behind the detention of Watson and his crew.


On June 2, Monday, the lifeless body of a young man  was found in the Gezi Park — where the Turkish government doesn’t allow access to anyone who is not on the police force. The dead man was not a police officer. He was identified as 27-year-old Tuğrul Turnalı. The cause of his death wasn’t clear at the time of my writing this blog post, but there were reports suggesting that he died at the end of an epileptic seizure; asphyxiated by his own tongue. One cannot help but think that this was another protest related death. Maybe it was just a coincidence, or a seizure triggered by tear gas, but it is highly unlikely for anyone to die as a result of a coincidence at a park where no civilians are allowed.


Just last week, the police shot a man dead as he waited outside a cemevi (an Alevi place of worship) to attend a funeral. Seven people were killed in the Gezi protests of last year, most of them due to police brutality. Now the Trust Force is out on the streets, freely beating people.


Could it really be that, Erdoğan’s exit plan out of the corruption charges he is facing is to start a civil war? Only time will show. For now, with a higher number of cops on the streets and the latest addition — the Trust Force –, all we can be sure is that the country has never been more dangerous.
This blog was originally published in Today’s Zaman’s Blogs section.