* Turkey unable to keep top secrets despite purge
* Foreign minister calls leak investigation
* Supporters of Erdogan rival deny involvement in leak
* Prime minister faces string of crucial elections
(Adds comment from senior government official)
By Ralph Boulton and Orhan Coskun
ISTANBUL/ANKARA, March 28 Turkey's spymaster
discusses possible military intervention in Syria with army and
civilian chiefs, and days later their words are broadcast on the
internet for all the world to hear.
The breach appeared to highlight a disturbing truth for
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan: that Turkey can no longer keep
even top-level security planning secret, despite his purge of
thousands of officials to root out a covert network of enemies
he accuses of trying to sabotage the state and topple him.
"This crisis is one of the biggest in Turkish history," a
senior government official, who declined to be named, told
Reuters. "A serious concern has certainly emerged regarding what
follows now...If a meeting such as this has been listened to,
others may have. We do not know who is in possession of them."
Erdogan was out of public action on Friday, resting his
voice strained by campaigning for local elections this weekend -
the first in a string that will decide the future of a man who
has reformed Turkey fundamentally but is now accused by critics
of authoritarian and divisive tendencies.
Even without the principal actor, the drama played on over
the leaked audio recording that appeared on YouTube on Thursday;
by far most serious of a stream of illegal intercepts of state
communications, many involving Erdogan himself.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in whose office the
security meeting took place, said "everyone and everything
within the Foreign Ministry will be investigated with utmost
scrutiny" - a measure of the alarm stirred by the recording.
A body close to the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric
Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of running a "dirty
campaign" of espionage to implicate him in corruption, said
suggestions Gulen was involved were "beyond comedy".
The leaking of such sensitive material could also raise
alarm among NATO allies who see Turkey as occupying a crucial
position on the edge of a volatile Middle East. Telephone
conversations between Erdogan and his family have been
intercepted; calls from foreign leaders may also be in unknown
The recorded meeting discussed whether to send forces across
the Syrian border to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah,
grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in an area
largely controlled by militant Islamists fighting the Damascus
government. Ankara regards the tomb as Turkish territory.
One leftist daily carried the headline "I'll Send Four Men,
Fire Eight Rockets". This referred to a comment on the recording
attributed to intelligence chief Hakan Fidan - one of Erdogan's
closest allies - that if necessary he could send four men to
Syria with eight rockets and fire onto empty land. This, the
voice said, could be used to justify Turkish intervention.
Officials, aware that any involvement in Syria would be
highly unpopular with Turkish voters, accept the recording is
genuine but say it was manipulated in places. Its dissemination
on radio and television has been banned in Turkey and the
government ordered that the video-sharing site YouTube be shut
A crisis erupted in Turkey on Dec. 17 when anti-graft police
raided homes and detained businessmen close to Erdogan and sons
of ministers. Erdogan responded by purging members of the police
force and judiciary he accused of serving Gulen, a former ally
who controls a network of schools and businesses and has over
decades amassed followers in state institutions and business.
"There are two shocking things in this case," said Sinan
Ulgen, Chairman of Istanbul's Edam think tank. "One is the fact
that Turkey is now unable to keep a conversation at the highest
level in the security establishment...secret."
"The second shocking thing is that despite every measure
they have taken since December 17, including the purge of many
thousands of people including police, judiciary and probably
other places, this continues to go on."
The recording constituted in effect a message from its
unidentified dispatchers, that they were still in business.
Sunday's local polls will test Erdogan's popularity
following the corruption scandal and a heavyhanded police
crackdown on anti-government protests in the summer. Failure by
Erdogan's AK Party to hold Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, and
the capital Ankara could undermine his authority.
It is unclear yet what effect the corruption scandal and
leak will have on the outcome, but government officials argue
the recording could work in Erdogan's favour by rallying voters
disgusted by the release of state secrets.
Shares and the Turkish lira have been stronger this week on
expectation that Erdogan's AK Party will achieve or approach the
40 percent vote of 2009 and that this may help ease the crisis.
Sympathetic media backed Erdogan on Friday. "We condemn the
heinous treason against Turkey," a couple of dozen
pro-government newspapers and television stations said in a
joint statement. "The shadow organisation has given itself
Erdogan used Gulen's influence in his early years in power
to help rein in an army that had toppled four governments in 40
years. Critics suggest, in essence, that having let the wolf
into his kitchen he should not be surprised by the outcome.
The present confrontation began when Erdogan moved last year
to close Gulen's schools, a source of income and influence.
Gulen had criticised Erdogan over deteriorating ties with Israel
and over his crackdown on anti-government protests in June.
ERDOGAN FEELS DUPED
Tercan Basturk, board member of the Journalists and Writers
Foundation that often speaks for Hizmet - also known as Cemaat -
said the movement had nothing to do with the recording.
"How could Cemaat go into a secure room where four diplomats
were and listen to them?" he asked. "It's beyond comedy... They
are looking for Cemaat under every stone."
A government official, who asked not to be named, said
Erdogan felt he had been "duped" by Gulen, who denies any
involvement in the police graft investigation or the recent
leaks. "The main reason for Erdogan's anger now is this sense of
having been deceived. He's taking this very personally."
The Syria recording as posted also alluded to turmoil in
state bodies since infighting broke out between Erdogan and
"Currently the state is functioning with a few people and
with a few departments able to make proper decisions," Foreign
Minister Davutoglu is quoted as saying in discussing the
problems of marshalling support for actions.
"Definitely, sir, definitely," Deputy Chief of the Armed
Forces General Staff Yasar Guler is quoted as saying.
"Well, are we going to be put off by this?" asks Davutoglu.
"No, we will not be put off, minister, we will not be put
off," General Guler is quoted as saying.
(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara, Seda Sezer,
Ayla Jean Yackley and Daren Butler in Istanbul; editing by David
Stamp and Philippa Fletcher)