The United States has been inextricably involved in Turkey's surveillance and targeting of Kurdish rebel groups for years and even had a hand in a botched mission that resulted in the killing of 34 innocent people. Despite this ongoing collaboration, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden and jointly reported by The Intercept and Der Spiegel on Sunday, the country itself remains one of the National Security Agency's top surveillance targets.
The NSA's strategic alliance with Turkey has borne a surveillance headquarters in the Middle East from which the U.S. can monitor goings-on in Russia, Georgia and Syria. The reporting paints a picture of a troubling quid pro quo arrangement in which the establishment of the NSA listening station was given in exchange for U.S. intelligence information and assistance targeting individuals with the separatist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) group.
However, the leaked documents further reveal that, despite this partnership, the government of Turkey is one of the United States' leading targets for spying, with the NSA infiltrating the computer systems of the nation's top leaders, UN representatives, and ambassadors in the U.S.
One NSA document reportedly describes the country bluntly as being both a "partner and target." As the Der Spiegel/ Intercept report notes:
The very politicians, military officials and intelligence agency officials with whom US officials work closely when conducting actions against the PKK are also considered legitimate spying targets by the NSA. To that end, in addition to the official SUSLAT [Special Liaison Activity Turkey] liaison office and the intelligence workers it has cleared with the Turkish authorities, the US has two secret branch offices, operating Special Collection Service listening stations in both Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara.
In the April 2013 edition of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a document establishing U.S. intelligence priorities, Turkey is listed on par with Venezuela as one of the country's most surveilled by the U.S. The PKK is given a much lower priority ranking.
According to NSA documents seen by reporters working at both news outlets, U.S. surveillance tracked the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders and shared updated information with the Turkish government every six hours, and in the case of one particular mission, once every hour. Further, the NSA even infiltrated the communications of PKK leaders living in Europe.
From the reporting:
One top-secret NSA document from January 2007, for example, states that the agency provided Turkey with geographic data and recordings of telephone conversations of PKK members that appear to have helped Turkish agents capture or kill the targets. "Geolocations data and voice cuts from Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK) communications which were passed to Turkey by NSA yielded actionable intelligence that led to the demise or capture of dozens of PKK members in the past year," the document says.
The latest NSA revelation came the very same day that the U.S. military announced they are now taking part in joint military operations with Kurdish forces against fighters with the Islamic State. According to reporting, the U.S. government has gone so far as to ask Australia to provide arms and munitions to the Kurdish fighters.