He was sat alone at a waterfront taverna in Greece staring at the Aegean, when he was approached by a man who introduced himself as Mehmet. “Hello Martin,” the man said, adding that they had met years earlier in Turkey. “He knew I was a photographer and asked for some touristy pictures,” Martin recalls. “I felt very flattered.”
Three months later they met again, this time in Izmir, where Mehmet repeated his request: “We want pictures of windmills, old houses and other sights.” He was accompanied by five other men, who didn’t introduce themselves to, or even address, Martin. They wore gray suits and blue shirts. “Next time bring your laptop,” Mehmet said at the end of their conversation and they agreed to meet at a restaurant in Izmir a week later. “At that meeting he revealed that they didn’t actually care for conventional sightseeing photos, and said he wanted me to photograph the movements of military vehicles. He threatened me, saying that if I did not comply they had other ways of convincing me.”
Martin was arrested for taking pictures of military facilities on a border-island, and imprisoned on charges of espionage against the Greek state. He had been recruited by agents of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) at the beginning of this decade who had built up a “network of retirees,” a spy team comprising older people from Northern Europe who had chosen to settle in the Aegean for its warmer climate.
A couple of months ago, his case was reheard by an appeals court and he was given the shortest possible jail sentence in recognition of his cooperation. He was taken into custody and released some 24 hours later, thanks also to his lawyer’s assistance. He then agreed to be interviewed by Kathimerini, on the condition that details that could reveal his identity and endanger him be changed.
“When they approached me to recruit me they knew everything about me. The families with whom I have friendly relationships, my colleagues as a photographer, but most importantly that I am a gay man and that I was in a romantic relationship with a young Turk, Bilal,” Martin explained. “At our third meeting, Mehmet slammed his hand on the table and threatened me, saying: ‘We know you are a sick person Martin. You will do as we tell you, or we will hurt Bilal’s family or you,’” he said, his voice trembling.
Up until the age of 50, Martin had lived in a big city in Northern Europe, but due to health problems, his doctors recommended that he move somewhere warmer. He initially settled in Antalya, on Turkey’s southwest coast, and then Izmir, where he led a quiet life. Nine years later, his insurance fund notified him that he had to return to a European Union member-state to continue receiving his pension. “I had visited Greece many times, and knew most of the Aegean islands well. It was an easy decision to move to one of them,” he said in the interview, the first by any former MIT spy with Greek media.
He had developed a warm relationship with Bilal’s family while living in Izmir and stayed in touch with them when he moved to Greece. “Every time I visited them in Turkey the police would come, claiming orgies were taking place in the house,” he said in court (the minutes are in Kathimerini’s possession).
The MIT agents installed software in his laptop and explained how he was supposed to use it to communicate with them. They told him that if Greek authorities found it, they would claim that they didn’t know anything about it. “They said that every day I should switch on the computer to get instructions. “You will read what we want from you and you will go to whatever military base we send you to.” Martin told Kathimerini: “They weren’t interested in the military facilities on the front line. They knew about those already. They wanted detailed updates on what happened out of plain sight – what vehicles each facility had, their type, how many of them were covered by sheets, which ones were not, who came and went from each base.”
The information he gathered was integrated into digital images (jpg) through special software (fotolabor). “They told me to take some useless pictures and attach text to them. The software they had installed allowed me to do exactly that,” he explained, adding: “When I sent them, I had to immediately delete them.”
Over the course of a few years, up until his arrest, he would, on an almost daily basis, spy on military bases, or anything else the Turkish agents asked, such as the island’s airport, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) plant, the reservoir’s irrigation system, cargo ships and so on. He had to send in his replies in the middle of the night, and was given three days to carry out his instructions. “If I missed something or whenever I would send inaccurate or incomplete information on purpose, they would correct me, saying, ‘The agency’s photographer saw something different.’ It was obvious I wasn’t the only one on the island working for them.”
At first, during the trial period, he worked unpaid. Later he started getting 400 euros a month for his services, then 700 euros later on. Toward the end of his time as a spy, when he had learned the ropes, his monthly pay had reached 1,250 euros. The money would be deposited in his bank account – even though he never gave them the number – apparently sent by a woman he didn’t know.
He was arrested five years after his recruitment, when police officers saw him driving “a blue sports car” – as they described it – on a farm road near a military base on the island. “We noticed the defendant on a dirt road. The road wasn’t central, and the car drew our attention,” the arresting officer testified. He confessed immediately and described in great detail what he had been doing, while also offering the police full access to the messages on his computer. Messages like: “Here are five Unimog Mercedes;” “The passage ends in front of a two-story stone observatory with handlebars. The untrained eye won’t be able to spot the base;” “Here are 6 military armored vehicles covered in sheets;” “A narrow path leads to a military reservoir, and after 50 meters to a khaki-green observation post with a 360 degree view;” and “On 15/4 a ship with 30 armored Leopard tanks.”
All of the above was presented in an expert’s report that was included in the case file with 13 pictures of military bases found saved on Martin’s camera. “I am not proud of what I have done. I apologize to the families I have let down. I am too ashamed to look many people in the eye,” he said, concluding his apology to the court. He has now started a new life in Northern Europe. He still has ties with Greece and hopes to live out the rest of his days quietly.