I'm a terrorist, an intelligence agent for at least two Middle East governments, a coup-plotter, and a member of a sex cult.
At least that's what the Turkish press is reporting.
My career as a Turkish outlaw and secret agent began when I began researching Ankara's burgeoning links to terrorist groups. In 2010, I observed that Turkey had become a hub for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. A year later, I was shocked to learn from senior U.S. officials that Turkey was backing jihadists of all stripes in a bid to topple embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad. Then in 2012 and 2013, reports emerged that Turkey helped Iran evade sanctions—moving more than $20 billion in gold and cash—at the height of the nuclear standoff.
For a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury now working at a Washington think tank, this stuff was too juicy to ignore. So, I wrote about it. And the more I did, the more I discovered new and disquieting things about myself.
In 2013, the Islamist, pro-Erdogan Yeni Safak reported that I was part of a Mossad network in the United States targeting Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence. The paper claimed that I was pushing "theses that can be called Deep Israel." Apparently, my "fingerprints" could be detected on critical pieces about Turkey that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
After the Department of Justice last year asked me and my colleague Mark Dubowitz to serve as expert witnesses in a trial involving a Turkish banker, we were quickly identified as members of the Fethullah Gulen network (commonly known by the acronym FETO in Turkey), long-time allies of President Recept Tayyip Erdogan who were subsequently designated as terrorists after their fallout with the Turkish strongman.
I suppose now is the time to admit that Gulen, the reclusive cleric accused of masterminding the 2016 failed coup in Turkey, lives in the Poconos, which is where I attended summer camp in 1985 and 1986.
Without even knowing my Poconos connection, the Turkish Star asserted that I am an operative of the United Arab Emirates and that I "partnered up with FETO." The Pro-Government Takvim and Haber 7went a step further, saying I was a full-fledged member of FETO. Yeni Safak then accused our think thank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, of being part of a "consortium" behind the 2016 coup attempt.
After that, things got weird(er). This summer, Mark and I were accused of belonging to a sex cult. It happened after Turkish police raided the compound of a cult leader, Adnan Oktar. The Turkish Aksamfurther claimed that Oktar, whom I have never met (but always admired his snazzy suits and immaculately groomed beard), was sharing state secrets with me. The paper also falsely claimed that he put me up in a fancy hotel in Istanbul.
Even today, pro-government Turks on Twitter share with me new and shocking revelations about my mother, my anatomy, my attraction to certain domesticated animals,and more. I certainly don't endure this abuse alone. The Turkish press vilifies American analysts as coup plotters and terrorists all the time. In some cases, Ankara issues arrest warrants for them. My colleague Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian, even had his assets frozen. What we all share in common: criticizing the Erdogan government's Islamist and authoritarian trends.
It's far worse inside Turkey. Under Erdoğan's rule, Turkey has imprisoned 535 members of the press, earning his government the top spot among the world's jailers of journalists in 2016 and 2017. As a result, the International Press Institute reports "creeping and pervasive self-censorship among journalists" in Turkey. And to further prevent unwanted content from reaching the public, Erdoğan's cronies control more than 90 percent of Turkey's media.
The atmosphere on Turkish social media is equally repressive. As Freedom House reports, "The government has repeatedly suspended access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp on national security grounds, while Wikipedia has been permanently blocked." Most of this purge is to expunge critical statements of Erdoğan.
What remains is a robust Turkish diaspora that struggles to regain the narrative. But they fail to adequately challenge the state-run stories that dominate the Turkish media. They also struggle to contend with Turkey's conspiratorial political culture, which consistently undermines truthful reporting.
Alarming numbers of Turks believe that the United States created ISIS, and that we did so with Iran. Some Turks believe Lufthansa Airlines funded the 2013 domestic protests at Gezi Park. One Turkish politico said "foreign powers" are using " telekinesis" to try to kill Erdoğan, and the claim probably helped his career. Meanwhile, Turkey's economic woes are blamed on the all-powerful "interest rate lobby," which is said to be run by Jews. Finally, Turks of all stripes—Islamists, secularists, nationalists, andsocialists—see CIA fingerprints on the failed July 2016 coup.
Today, Turkey is at the center of the diplomatic drama surrounding the horrific murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish intelligence clearly knows what happened, and information continues to leak out about Saudi Arabia's culpability, drip by terrible drip.
Unbelievably, Turkey has become the protagonist in this drama. Erdoğan is celebrated as the guardian of truth. And reputable outlets continue to cite the state-owned Turkish press as if they are legitimate sources.
The full story of Khashoggi's death must come out. And Turkey clearly has an important role to play in that process. But that does not mean that the world's top jailer of journalists should get a free pass.