SPIES AND SECRETS

How to Publicize Spies: Turkish State Media Exposes Agents

In Ankara, the Turkish government unwittingly revealed hundreds of its spies in a photo on social media.

Abdullah Ayasun
3 min readJan 14, 2024

--

“The life of spies is to know, not to bee known.” George Herbert

As novels, manuals, and accounts of former moles reveal, the world of espionage is shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Snooping and spying occur where lies, secrecy, undercover, and double identities are part of everyday existence. To go even further, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once quipped to Stalin thatIn wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” before the British army raised the ante of espionage to deceive Germans into thinking that the famous landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, would occur elsewhere. The trick worked.

In Turkey, some spies are no longer secret to the public. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a speech to Turkey’s spy community at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) only a week after law enforcement rounded up dozens of people suspected of spying on behalf of Mossad, Israel. Previously starved of funds and manpower, Turkey’s ever-sprawling spy agency enjoys a period of expansion, something that speaks to the ambition of the Turkish strongman who sees a key role for MIT in foreign policy. But one odd thing happened. The state-run broadcasting channel TRT and the president’s official Twitter account shared a picture on social media, sparking a nationwide controversy. All the spies’ faces were quite visible.

The scandal is unprecedented, given its scale and how many spies could be discernible in the photo. The bizarre revelation is more than self-defeating. It defies all the logic that governs the essence of spycraft. How on earth would such a costly mistake take place? No editor, no double-check? Later, as folks cracked wild jokes and tore apart the sloppiness of the president’s press team, the authorities moved to blur the faces of already-revealed agents.

More than a decade ago, a similar, if smaller, incident happened when a group of spies went to a tavern to…

--

--

Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun