USA Today Bestseller Vicki Hinze — A Publishing Pioneer

By Bayard & Holmes

 

USA Today Bestseller Vicki Hinze

USA Today Bestseller Vicki Hinze

 

Vicki Hinze can write anything. She has several popular series from romantic suspense to military thrillers to Christian fiction and non-fiction books on the writing craft. She has published over thirty-five books in as many as sixty-three countries and won multiple awards since her writing career began in 1987. A kind and sharing lady who enjoys associating with others, Vicki Hinze is also one of the charter sponsors of International Thriller Writers and served on its Board of Directors.

We are honored today to welcome Vicki Hinze.

Vicki, you write romantic suspense, military thrillers, science fiction, Christian thrillers, and pretty much everything else. Is there any correlation between events in your life and the types of book you prefer to write at any given time?

Honestly, I write about what I’m fearing most at the time or about something that sets me off like a rocket.  For example, I was midway through a three-book contract for paranormal romance novels when I went to the commissary (grocery store on a military base).  Anyway, this young airman and his wife were standing in the aisle debating between buying a jar of peanut butter and a can of tuna–they couldn’t afford both.  I was stunned to hear that, went home did some research and discovered the lowest four pay grades in the military were eligible for food stamps.  I went postal.  They put their lives on the line for us, their families sacrifice too, and they’re eligible for food stamps?

I went on a “this has to change” binge with elected reps (and it has now) and called my editor.  I wanted to write military romantic suspense/thrillers that depicted the special difficulties soldiers and their families face.  Like custody battles due to deployments.  Military romantic suspense/thrillers hadn’t really been done, but the editor trusted me and we went for it.  That gave me the opportunity to write about a lot of fears–environmental terrorism (before the phrase was coined)–fear of our water supply being poisoned, our food supply, dirty bombs.  I wrote about all of those things in the mid 90s before they were totally on everyone’s radar.

It’s God’s sense of humor, when you get down to it.  I hate to cook, so where do I have the most epiphanies?  In grocery stores.  And in a quirk I can’t explain, I marry my fears to them. That often results in a new sub-genre, or something being done differently than it has been, but I’m okay with that.  It’s interesting and challenging.  I gravitate toward challenges.

Your books or articles are published in over 60 countries. When publishers in countries that are very different from America contract for your books, do they ever ask you to change things to appeal to their local cultures?

Typically in these situations that’s established in contracts.  That publishers can alter content so that it is consistent with the market in the distribution area. When you think about it, it’s it everyone’s best interest.  Something that is ordinary and totally acceptable in one culture could be extremely offensive in another.  The objective isn’t to isolate or irritate readers.  Now, authors are seeing more contracts call for world rights and those contracts do retain rights on that front.  Since the objective is to provide great reads, it’s a common sense thing to give the work the best possible chance for attaining its objectives.

Christian fiction is a relatively new publishing genre, if you don’t count the Book of Esther. Some people think Christian fiction is all about prayer meetings, devout pioneer women, and girls in fluffy dresses giggling over boys at youth camp, but your books include such gritty turns such as murder and human trafficking. How would you describe the Christian (faith-based) thriller genre to people who are not already familiar with it?

That’s a common misconception about the Christian fiction market and I’m not sure why it exists.  Being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from life’s problems or insulate you from realities occurring in the world.  What it does do is give you tools to cope with those challenges and an understanding that whatever you face, you don’t face it alone.  Christian fiction is as diverse as human beings.  You will find people struggling in relationships, struggling against bad things that happen to them, hard times, and all the rest.  It’s a solutions-oriented genre, and one that embraces constructive solutions to everyday problems as well as ones we hope we never have to face.

Often what happens is out of our control.  But how we react to it is in our control.  Faith provides a foundation to sustain us and knowledge of faith provides us tools and constructive solutions.  You’ll find the same diversity in the challenges, obstacles or conflicts that you encounter in any thriller. 

You’re known through the publishing world for your original ideas, such as creating limited edition, multi-author ebook collections. In keeping with your reputation, you just launched a new web site that allows your readers to connect on a private social media site. Could you please tell us more about this?

Readers Group News Community is a community I created for my Readers. Those who get my Newsletter are eligible for the Community and everything there. I’ve gotten to know many of my readers, and they’re great people. I thought they might enjoy having a place where they can meet and get to know one another. I also didn’t want our conversations and interactions to always be all about me. I want to know more about them, too. A community where we can chat and interact seemed like the answer, so I thought we’d give it a try and see how they like it.

So far, I’d say they like it very much. There are recommendations for books that are free and on sale, virtual exercise buddies and virtual walk videos (Venice and Australia and other cool places). A place to share recipes. Contests. A place to celebrate whatever anyone is celebrating, chats–and well, all kinds of things.

Readers Group News Community is new, but the responses and feedback thus far have been great. The site has been busy, that’s for sure.

Anyone signing up for my newsletter receives an invitation to join us. People are encouraged to do as little or as much there as they like. It’s not supposed to be “another thing I have to do” for anyone. It’s supposed to be a place where you can get support if you need it, someone to cheer with you, or you can recommend a book you read and enjoyed so others can read and enjoy it, too.

My goal in creating Readers Group News Community was to give Readers a place that isn’t so overwhelming and is more intimate and focused, where you can interact and grow friendships. Readers clearly like the idea of it, so that bodes well for the community long-term.

Sounds like a brilliant way to connect with your readers and provide them with a way to connect with you and each other. We predict many authors will follow your lead, as they so often do, and reader communities will become familiar throughout the writing world.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. It’s been an honor to have you at our site today.

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Vicki The Marked Bride

 

Our sincere thanks to this lovely, talented lady whose big heart and talent are legend in the writing world. Her latest release is THE MARKED BRIDE, first in the Shadow Watchers series. Would you turn to the man that you dumped at the altar and ask him to risk his life for you? When terrorists kill and threaten to kill again, do you really have any choice? You can find this and Vicki’s other bestselling books at her website, Vicki Hinze, along with inspiring posts, common sense, and resources for both writing and life.

Life, Death, and the Sex License

By Piper Bayard

Themes of death and birth, that cycle of apocalypse and renewal, surrounded me this week. A dear friend’s father died, a good soul who made the planet better by his presence. Another friend hit the magic 28 weeks and breathed a sigh of relief that her unborn child now has the odds in his favor. And in our house? My 9th grade son, who I could swear just started walking yesterday, applied for his Sex License.

 

Canstock photo -- Not my son.

Canstock photo — Not my son.

 

“So Mom. How old is old enough to have sex?”

I’m well aware that almost any religion on the planet would offer a moral answer to that question. I’m also aware that the guiding light of morals tends to dim in the dashboard lights. I mean, think about it. How many “good kids” did you know in high school who lost “it” at church camp or spawned prom babies because THEY would never do THAT? I needed to give him something real. Something tangible. So I said what I think most parents would say in my shoes.

“Uuuuhhh . . .”

“I get my Learner’s Permit at 15.”

“Not fifteen!”

“Well, I get my Driver’s License at 16, and driving a car is a serious responsibility.”

“A car doesn’t get pregnant when you drive it. And you don’t get hepatitis or AIDS from a car.”

“So Mom, how old is old enough?”

“Well, you know you can have a baby every time you have sex, even with birth control. I mean, have you noticed your little sister running around here? Latex loophole baby.”

“Eeewww! Maaahm!”

“Hey. You opened the door for that one.”

So we talked about sex. We noted how young men are most biologically suited for killing bears and starting families. I commiserated with him about how the modern economics of supporting families are out of sync with natural urges and the sight of teen girls in mini-skirts. We pondered the fact that the most important decision he will make in life is choosing the mother of his children. And I can hear some of you dear readers now . . .

“He asked his mother? He needs to talk to his dad. His dad will set him straight.”

I’m sure his dad WOULD give him a different answer. And my writing partner, Jay Holmes? Let’s just say he’s been a student of sex, C4, and hollow points for a very long time, so it’s safe to assume he won’t be backing me up on this one.

But as I studied my man-child and tried to give him real world answers to his real life questions, at least from a mother’s perspective, I realized something. Life so loves Itself that no amount of death can discourage it for long. At least not while there are teenage boys, and girls in mini-skirts.

Make Your TSA Grope Memorable

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Spring break is kicking off the travel season, and summer is just around the corner. The DHS and the TSA are already using this timing to further justify molesting American citizens and irradiating them with shocking, and shockingly expensive, strip-scanners in airports, on highways, and in bus terminals.

 

Canstock image.

Canstock image.

 

Our advice to you? As Holmes says, “Avoid the radiation by all means. We shouldn’t be irradiating our citizens. Situations like this make me long for the Cold War. At least back then, our government knew who we were supposed to irradiate, and we weren’t planning to offer those SOBs any patdown options.”

We realize this subject causes great stress for many travelers, and our entire goal is to sell books alleviate your stress. So not long ago, we spent the better part of our evening sipping 10-yr-old Guinda* and discussing some creative methods of reducing your stress and lightening up the travel season for you and all of your fellow voyagers.

We want to extend our stress relief to TSA employees, as well. After all, except for the child molesters and other perverts among their ranks, they are mostly people who are just as beleaguered by their duty to grab your crotch as you are.

 

"Two by two, hands of blue." ~Firefly TSA agents in Boston. Image by DHS, public domain.

“Two by two, hands of blue.” ~Firefly
TSA agents in Boston.
Image by DHS, public domain.

 

We’re offering these suggestions to help you make your TSA Patdown fun for you and memorable for your TSA agent. Let’s fill America’s airports with laughter and joy this summer. It’s win/win.

1. Pretend you don’t speak English. Whatever translator they bring you, pretend you don’t speak that language, either.

2. If you’re traveling with a church group, you should all simultaneously cry out, “Hallelujah, the rapture is coming!” and start speaking in tongues.

 

 

3. Let yourself relax and enjoy it. In fact, moan loudly with pleasure. After all, lots of folks enjoy a good groping, and your TSA agents are hard at work looking for all of your security sweet spots. Be sure to cry out with passion to let your TSA agents know how much you appreciate their security technique. When it’s all done, compliment them, and if it’s your first time, let them know it was everything you dreamed of. Meg Ryan gives us a great example for the TSA encounter.

4. Educate your TSA agent to the benefits of becoming an Amway salesman and refuse to move on until you have finished with your sales pitch.

5. If you are a melanin-gifted traveler, and you’re being groped by a melanin-challenged TSA agent, burst out singing Perry Como’s “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” with the broadest smile you can muster. (We recommend against any rap songs about killing authority figures.)

6. Tell your TSA agent that if her groping inspires an out-of-body experience, you will reward her with a kiss and a phone call on the morrow.

 

Man in kilt enjoying his TSA grope. Canstock image.

Man in kilt enjoying his TSA grope.
Canstock image.

 

7. For men, wear a kilt with no underwear. When they get to your genitals, have a bouquet of flowers pop out of your cod purse playing Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. Then, in your best Mike Myers Scottish accent, exclaim, “Ah, Laddie, ye give such good grroope!”

If the TSA fails to offer you a complimentary groping and attempts to re-route you through a metal detector, remind them loudly that you paid full fare for this ticket, and you are every bit as entitled to a groping as any other traveler would be. And don’t worry. If you are a virgin, you will still be a virgin when they are finished. But if they offer the free cavity search, definitely turn them down.

Let’s fill America’s airports with laughter, song, and joy this summer travel season. It’s win/win. And remember, you’re in good hands with TSA.

All the best to all of you for avoiding all unwanted gropings.

 

The bottle we toast from on special occasions.

The bottle we toast from on special occasions.

 

*Guinda is a traditional Spanish drink made from cherries. It will give you a serious case of the warm-fuzzies.

Writing Spies–How the Pros Bug a Room

 By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The basic function spooks serve is to spy on people and organizations. Technology makes that task easier. One major segment of that technology revolves around “bugs.”

 

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug. Of course, he finds one. Image from "From Russia with Love."

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug.
Of course, he finds one.
Image from “From Russia with Love.”

 

In spy parlance and crime stories, the term “bug” refers to electronic devices for clandestinely monitoring targeted spaces. We’ve all seen and read about fictional spooks locating bugs in homes, offices, and hotel rooms. The characters usually find them in a few seconds on lampshades, behind pictures, and inside desk phones. It’s cute and convenient, but it’s far from the truth.

After the Soviets successfully bugged the US Ambassador’s residential office in the US Embassy in Moscow from 1945 – 1952 with a gift of a carving of the US Great Seal, the US Central Intelligence Agency invested heavily in developing better bugging and bug-detection technology. They developed “audio teams,” whose specialty it was to bug targeted spaces. The term predates video surveillance. Modern intelligence services around the world now all field such specialty teams.

Bugging technology has improved tremendously since audio teams were first formed, but they still use some of the basic practices and principals developed prior to 1960. While other types of intelligence operatives partake in bugging activities as opportunities allow, when time and opportunity permit, a specialized team can do a better and less detectible installation of bugs.

Canstock 2014 Surveillance Word Collective

How an operative or a specialty team bugs a location depends on several factors.

  • Time—How soon do they need the information?

If critical information is needed quickly there may not be time for an audio team to show up and do a thorough job. In that case, field operatives would do the job, and they have varying degrees of training and expertise in basic bugging techniques.

  • Time—How long will they have to plant the bugs?

If a team or operative has only a few minutes, then they will use the simplest installations of disguised bugs. If a specialty team has as much as twenty minutes to work, they consider it a luxury. With less time, they will be less thorough.

  • Time—How sophisticated is the target?

In twenty minutes, a six-man team can install a high quality eavesdropping system that will be difficult for a sophisticated opponent such as a Russian or Communist Chinese embassy to detect. With a less sophisticated target, such as a drug gang or a third world military or diplomatic installation, a good team can do a great job in as little as five minutes.

  • Time—How long must the power source for the bug last? (Are you seeing a theme?)

Transmitters—bugs—need a power source. They are now smaller than a dime, and in the smallest devices, battery power is limited. However, technology allows for bugs to use external power sources, such as the target’s own electrical system, without a direct tap into the electrical system.

The bug’s transmission need not be powerful. In fact, if a bug transmits too strong a signal, the target can too easily detect it.

  • Location—Where can the operative or audio team monitor the bugs?

If the operative or team can’t safely monitor the installed bug from a nearby location, such as an apartment or business in an adjoining building, then larger (but still compact) relays can be installed nearby to receive and retransmit the bug’s weak signal. They can also install monitoring equipment in a vehicle. A car’s trunk can contain equipment that can trigger a relay to quickly transmit information and recordings picked up by the bug in a matter of seconds when the car drives past the relay.

  • Alternative Installation Methods

Sometimes, the operative doesn’t need to access the space. Many a bug has been placed by sending a nice gift to a target, such as a heavy desk clock, a lovely antique lamp, or the US Great Seal carving referenced above. The trick in these cases is to have a viable source for the gift. A contractor trying to do business with a foreign embassy might serve as such a source if the contractor is in the employ of the folks doing the bugging. Unfortunately, most of the premier targets, such as a Russian Embassy, will not be easily duped into accepting gifts and placing them in secured areas.

 

1945 Great Seal Exibit Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

1945 Great Seal Exibit
Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman
Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

 

In the most ideal case, a targeted building can be bugged during construction. These windfalls are infrequent, but they provide the best opportunity for placing the most sophisticated, long acting bugs.

A more frequent event would be gaining access when repair work is being done. If you can intercept a delivery of new furniture or appliances, then you have a great opportunity to place the highest quality bugs with well-disguised installations without setting foot on the premises.

  • The Field Spook’s Bugging Kit

Once an operative gains access by way of bribery or burglary, his bugging kit need not be any larger than a paperback novel. A basic bugging kit would include bugs that can be programmed to record and/or transmit on preset schedules. The bugs can also be turned on and off remotely to foil bug sweepers. The kit would also contain a small hand drill, a minimal paint kit, and epoxies for patching minute holes in walls. The paint is odor free and fast drying. For the finishing touch, the kit would contain a “puffer” for adding a layer of ambient dust to a painted area. The entire kit may be disguised in something such as a travel-size chess set or built into real cosmetic containers for a female spy.

  • How a Field Spook Plants a Bug in a Wall

The operative first selects an advantageous location—often just above a baseboard. She begins by drilling a small hole, catching the dust on a little piece of plastic. She then selects a bug from her assortment, pops it in the hole, and seals the hole with epoxy. She empties the wall dust from the hole into a baggie and then uses the plastic as a palette to mix dabs of paint to match the color of the wall. With a small brush, she paints over the epoxy and then collects all of her materials to take with her. As a finishing touch, she sucks up ambient dust from against the baseboard with the puffer and puffs it onto the freshly painted wall until it looks like the surrounding area.

In short, your characters’ bugging efforts will be believable if you consider the full nature of the opportunities they have for surveillance and plan their bug installations accordingly. Where are they? How much time do they have? Who is the target? What equipment do they have? Work logically with your space, time, and tools, and your characters will bug like the pros.

Do you have any questions about bugging? What kinds of surveillance equipment do you see or use in books?

Hillary’s Private Server — What Difference Does It Make?

Early this month, security firm Venafi reported that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her private email in conjunction with a private server at her house to conduct formal State Department business. It is State Department security policy that any official correspondence be done on the State Department secured system, or, under certain circumstances, military or CIA equipment.

Not only did Clinton keep her entire email correspondence outside the State Department system, for the first three months she was Secretary of State, access to her personal email server was not encrypted or authenticated by a digital certificate. During that time, she traveled to China, Egypt, Israel, South Korea and other places outside the U.S.

We have invited our own web site host, Jay Donovan of Techsurgeons, LLC, to explain the security implications.

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

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Meme by Lars Larson and Jose Lopez.

Meme by Lars Larson and Jose Lopez.

 

Hillary’s Unencrypted Emails – What Difference Does It Make?

By Jay Donovan

As our Vice President Biden once said, “It’s a big ****ing deal.”

To understand why this lack of encryption is significant, we need to go a little bit into the tech. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief.

Digital certificates are used to prove that a site is run by the actual person or group. Certificates vary in strength depending on the submitted proof of identity. Certificates are created and validated by Certificate Authorities.

With a certificate, “keys” can be created for securely encrypting network connections and files. If you suffer from insomnia, Wikipedia has a fine technical explanation of how key cryptography works.

Okay, that’s all the technical background we need. Now, let’s talk a little about how an email server without a certificate is insecure.

Without a certificate and the related keys, a mail server cannot encrypt anything. Not only would any email be transmitted “in the clear,” but passwords would be, as well. Anyone with the ability to view the information transmitted over the network path between the device and the server could eavesdrop on the conversation. This includes anyone on the same Wi-Fi network. When former Secretary of State Clinton was abroad, and she was behind a foreign national firewall or on a foreign government network, you can bet that country’s intelligence officers were monitoring and recording all of her communications.

It’s not just the link between the users and the private email server that’s insecure. It’s also the link between the private mail server and government mail servers. Without a certificate, all communications between mail servers is, again, “in the clear.”

Here’s the dirty little secret about email.

Messages are almost always stored on the servers in plain text. Anyone with administrator access to a server can read any email stored on said server. There are ways to encrypt email on the server so the admin can’t easily read it, but if the email is encoded or decoded on the server, an unethical administrator can see it. This is especially bad if the server administrators do not have security clearance.

Buying a reasonably secure certificate and configuring the mail server to require encrypted connections for devices can be done in half a day. If the server didn’t require encrypted conversations, any device that wasn’t reconfigured to use encryption would still be transmitting email and passwords “in the clear.” For safety sake, all passwords should have been changed during the switch from the communications being unencrypted to being encrypted.

 

Clinton had none of these protections when transmitting State Dept. communications.

Clinton had none of these protections when transmitting
State Dept. communications.

 

And the grand finale – why former Secretary of State Clinton’s email server made classified information ripe for the picking.

Having read the above, you’re probably a few steps ahead and realize that the idea that Secretary of State Clinton did not receive classified information on her phone is implausible. In her press conference, she made a specific reference to classified documents. Technically and legally, there is a difference.

Classified documents are generally physical documents and have specific handling procedures. Classified electronic documents are on a separate network and require clearance – this is why Edward Snowden’s ability to copy what he did is such a big deal. He breached the security on the ‘secure’ network.

There are many classified mailings that go out, including daily status reports regarding the assorted diplomatic hot spots and troubled areas. It’s just inconceivable (and yes, I know what the word means) to think that not a single classified email was sent to the Secretary of State.

And if her email password was not changed regularly, someone who grabbed her password when communications were insecure could simply have set up an email program to log in to the server with Sec State Clinton’s email credentials and copied every message sent or received from her account.

 

This guy and thousands of his friends are on the job 24/7.

This guy and thousands of his friends are on the job 24/7.

 

My feelings regarding SecState Clinton’s private email server are best described by the German word “fremdschämen.” The word means “vicarious embarrassment,” as I’m embarrassed for the people involved with the creation and use of a dangerously misconfigured email server.

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Jay Donovan of TechSurgeons, LLC, has done it all, from remotely debugging the Internet connection for a US aircraft carrier deployed to *REDACTED*, to building the servers & networks for one of the largest Internet sites in the world. He’s trained as a Certified Ethical Hacker and always uses his geeky powers for good. When he’s not neck deep in wires and computer parts, you’ll find him hanging out on Twitter as @jaytechdad or on Facebook. He is the co-founder of TechSurgeons, LLC and can be contacted at jay.donovan@techsurgeons.com.

Changing US-Mideast Relations — Turkey’s Hot and Cold Running Erdoğan

By Jay Holmes

During the past twelve years, US-Turkey relations have been in a state of flux. Statements from Ankara and Washington D.C. to the Western media have been almost habitually optimistic, but the reality beneath the rhetoric has proven problematic for both nations. For the West, the rise to power of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party has introduced complications in the previously stable US-Turkey relationship.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

 

As compared to earlier Turkish leaders, such as Abdullah Gül, the outspoken Erdoğan has demonstrated less finesse when dealing with Western leaders. In his three terms as Prime Minister and now as the President of Turkey, Erdoğan has represented himself as an agent for change. Precisely what sort of change Erdoğan represents is not so easy to identify.

Erdoğan is a case study in contradictions.

Turkey has been moving toward economic integration with the European Community for over a decade, and Erdoğan openly supports this. He’s counting on European markets to provide the cash that will satisfy the “development” aspect of his Justice and Development Party platform. Yet, in spite of his desperate need to bring Turkey into the European Community, he simultaneously sees himself as leading Turkey into a leadership position among Islamic nations.

These two positions are not realistically or mutually sustainable. The values, standards, and laws that are central to European Community membership are not compatible with the values, standards, and laws of most Islamic nations.

One of Erdoğan’s dilemmas is his relationship with Iran.

Iran, unlike Turkey, is a Shia nation with a radical Shia theocracy. Therefore, it might seem a simple choice for Erdoğan to openly oppose Iran and Iranian ambitions in Syria and Iraq. However, Iran is Turkey’s second largest export customer. Iran also provides Turkey with about 35% of its oil supplies. Instead of being at odds, these two countries have fostered closer relations in recent years.

The rise of a democratic reform movement in Syria followed by the birth of the ISIS cancer presents Turkey with obvious security risks. It also presents Turkey with a golden opportunity to assume a leadership role in the fight against ISIS at a time when Turkey so desperately wants membership in the European Community.

In light of this golden opportunity, one might envision coalition air attacks being conducted from Turkish air bases, which are ideally located near the Syrian border. One might even expect the Turkish Air Force to take part in those raids. However, one would be quite mistaken. While Erdoğan has loudly demanded and received prompt NATO protection in the past, he refused to allow US and European air forces to conduct raids against ISIS from Turkish bases. For apparent diplomatic reasons, the US and its allies have downplayed their frustration with Turkey over this and several other issues concerning ISIS.

Another contradiction in Turkish policies is Erdoğan’s changing relationship with the Kurds. While most Kurds see themselves as being one people in need of an independent homeland, Turkey views them as three distinct groups.

The first group is the Kurds within Turkey. In order to enter the European Union, Turkey has been under pressure from Europe to improve its stance on human rights. Erdoğan and many Turks see the Kurds within Turkey as enemies of Turkish culture and a challenge to Turkish nationalism. In order to gain entry to the European Community, Turkey has changed some of the laws that discriminated against Kurdish Turks, but Turkey’s relationship with other Kurds remains more complex.

The second group of Kurds resides to the east of Turkey in Iraq. From Erdoğan’s point of view, they are “our dear Kurdish friends to the east.” The central feature of those particular Kurds that makes them dear to Erdoğan is the oil reserves in their region. Perhaps I oversimplify. It’s not just the oil. There’s gas, as well.

 

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014 Image by Voice of America, public domain.

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014
Image by Voice of America, public domain.

 

The third group of Kurds is in Syria. Many of these Kurds previously resided in Turkey, but they escaped to Syria to avoid oppression by the Turkish government. While practicing to pretend to love Kurds in Iraq, Erdoğan is hosting 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey. These Kurds have no oil and no gas to sell to Turkey, and so to Erdoğan, they are only a problem.

Removing ISIS from Syria would be a simple solution to the refugee problem. However, when ISIS attacked Kobani, Syria, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey refused to allow the US and other coalition members to supply the Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In Erdoğan’s mind, Kurdish control of part of Syria represents a threat to Turkey. Erdoğan fears that the Kurds will one day do to Turkey what Turkey has done to the Kurds.

The US grew tired of negotiating with Erdoğan and resorted to airdropping supplies to the Kurdish fighters. In spite of Erdoğan’s opposition to US assistance to the Kurds, the Kurdish resistance fighters were able to drive ISIS from Kobani.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobani, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

One particularly nasty rumor that surfaced during the battle of Kobani is that members of the Turkish army supplied ISIS with ammunition during the battle. Another serious allegation against Turkey is that it may have been supporting ISIS affiliated rebels in Libya.

Turkey denies those allegations, but they cannot deny that a Turkish-born ISIS commander, Emrah Çaçan , is being treated in a Turkish hospital after being wounded in Kobani. At the same time, Turkey is prosecuting a Kurdish-Turkish medical student named Esra Yakar for providing volunteer medical treatment in Kobani.

Esra left school to volunteer as a physician in Kobani. She was badly wounded there, and with the promise of better treatment, she was taken to a hospital in Turkey. Her Turkish doctor requested that she receive advanced care by eye specialists, but he was ignored. She then lost the use of her right eye. After she was finally transferred to a hospital in Ankara, Esra Yakar was ordered out of her hospital bed by police, arrested, and thrown in jail. Though she was released a few days later, she is still awaiting a trail date on April 30. Apparently, Erdoğan and his government consider anyone that gives medical treatment to Kurdish fighters to be criminals, yet they are happy to give medical care to a well-known terrorist.

To be clear, not everyone in Turkey supports Erdoğan’s pro-ISIS behavior.

The medical community in Turkey is outraged by what was done to Esra Yakar and has lodged complaints and petitions on her behalf. Unfortunately, the opposition in Turkey counts for less each day since Erdoğan’s government has stifled the press and used the police and intelligence services to crush any opposition to his rule.

So why is Erdoğan so willing to defy his Western “allies”? Why would the European Community seriously consider Turkey’s application when Turkey has so clearly rejected all of the European Community’s shared values?

In large measure, the answer is oil and gas.

Turkey is serving as a major conduit for oil from Russia, Central Asia, and Iraq. Turkey must import most of the oil and gas that it consumes, and if the Justice and Development Party is to deliver on its “development” promises, it needs even more oil and gas to do so.

 

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline -- only one of many through Turkey. Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline–only one of many through Turkey.
Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

 

Although Turkey has none of its own gas and oil to sell to Europe, it collects lucrative fees on each barrel of oil or cubic yard of gas that flows through its pipelines or transfers through Turkish ports. At a time when Russia’s trans-Ukraine oil and gas pipelines are under threat because of its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Europe will likely remain quiet about whatever Erdoğan does as long as he keeps allowing that oil and gas to keep flowing across Turkey.

And what will the US do?

For the moment, the US administration has decided to keep pretending that Erdoğan is an ally to the US and NATO. Elections in Turkey are scheduled to take place in June. Whether or not the throttled opposition can manage a victory remains to be seen.

The US will not be interested in harming European allies by slowing the transit of oil and gas across Turkey to European markets. My guess is that, if Erdoğan and his party remain in power, the US will begin to disregard Turkish interests while continuing to pretend that Turkey is an ally.

If the Justice and Development Party loses the next elections in Turkey, Turkey will likely end up with a more secular-leaning government, and it will abandon its fantasies of friendship with Iran and ISIS.

Until that happens, we cannot expect any real improvement in US-Turkey relations.

 

 

Turkey’s Tug of War–The Changing Face of US-Middle East Relations, Part Two

By Jay Holmes

The basic relationship between Turkey and the US was founded on post-WWII Cold War realities. Since then, there has been a tug of war between Western-leaning Turkish political factions and pro-Islamist contingents. To understand current US-Turkey relations, we need to also understand the fundamental internal shifts that Turkish politics and society have undergone over time.

 

Canstock 2015 March Tug of War

 

Traditionally, Turkey and Russia have been imperial rivals since the 1700s. Conflicts between Turkish kingdoms and Russian kingdoms date back to ancient times and were originally a product of the location and size of these two empires.

In 1952, Turkey faced a hostile, nuclear-armed USSR, and it quickly made the decision to join NATO.

From the point of view of Europe, Turkey was the crossroads between Eastern and Western civilization. From NATO’s perspective, Turkey was vulnerable to attack by the numerically and technically superior forces of the USSR. Nonetheless, Turkey was a valuable ally for two critical reasons. First, because it allowed NATO to station air forces and nuclear missiles on the USSR’s southern border. Second, because Turkey sits astride the narrow Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits that separate the Black and Mediterranean Seas, respectively. This gave NATO forces a strong double “bottle cork” for containing Soviet naval forces in the Black Sea if war were to break out between the USSR and NATO.

 

Aerial view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Image by NASA, public domain.

Aerial view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Image by NASA, public domain.

 

NATO membership also played a practical role in preventing Turkey and Greece from descending into armed conflict over their various territorial disagreements.

In 1974, Turkey invaded Cypress on the premise that it was protecting Turkish Cypriots from Greek oppression. That conflict stretched US-Turkey relations thin, but in the end, the larger issue of the Soviet military threat forced the Greeks and Turks to localize and limit their conflict.

In November of 1979, the Iranian Shia Islamic coup, followed by the invasion of the US Embassy in Tehran, had the side effect of forcing Sunni Muslim Turkey and the US to improve their relations. Then, when the Kurdish separatist PKK launched attacks in southeastern Turkey in 1984, it was an easy decision for the US to condemn the PKK as a terrorist group.

In 1987, Turkey took a major step toward the West by applying for European Economic Community membership. This was a clear and significant financial alignment with the West, and the minority Islamists in Turkey were solidly against the move.

Also in the late 1980s, concerns grew over Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and against its own citizens. The US and other Western nations became interested in the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq. The fact that NATO member Turkey was simultaneously fighting an internal war with the Kurdish PKK complicated US decisions to establish a relationship with Iraqi Kurds. The Iraqi Kurds had been some of the primary victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons. However, from the Turkish point of view, chemical weapons in Iraq were worrisome, but not quite as worrisome as the PKK.

 

Family graves of Iraqi Kurds killed in chemical attack by Saddam Hussein in 1988. Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., wikimedia commons.

Family graves of Iraqi Kurds killed in Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on Halabja in 1988.
Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., wikimedia commons.

 

When Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia in August of 1990, Turkey again took on greater importance to the US and NATO.

Turkey allowed the US-led coalition to use Turkish airbases to launch air strikes against Saddam Hussein’s military. The US and other coalition members had hoped for Turkey to take a more significant role in the war against Iraq, but internal politics in Turkey were unstable, and the Turkish government declined to become more involved.

By January of 1991, the US and its allies accepted that the UN would not take meaningful action against Iraq. In January and February of that year, the coalition attacked Iraq and liberated Kuwait. Coalition forces dealt a decisive and one-sided blow to the Iraqi military, but did not invade central or northern Iraq.

Against the wishes of the US and NATO, Turkey sent 20,000 heavily armed troops into the Kurdish region of Iraq in 1992, supposedly to strike PKK terror bases.

Many observers speculated that large, untapped oil reserves in Kurdish Iraq were a stronger motivator for the Turkish invasion. Under Western pressure, Turkey withdrew most of its forces within a week. With permission from Saddam Hussein, smaller Turkish incursions into the Kurdish Iraq continued until 2003, when a US-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the Hussein regime.

 

US President Clinton and Turkish PM Tansu Çiller at the White House in 1995. Image by US govt. employee, public domain, wikimedia commons.

US President Clinton and Turkish PM Tansu Çiller at the White House in 1995.
Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

 

In 1993, Tansu Çiller became the first female Prime Minister of Turkey.

She formed a fragile coalition government with centrist and right wing parties against the opposition of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. Two years later, Turkey again invaded Kurdish Iraq with 35,000 troops. Again, under heavy pressure from the West, the troops were withdrawn. Tansu Çiller’s coalition government collapsed.

In the political vacuum, a united front of pro-Islamist groups under the Welfare Party banner won elections, but they lacked a majority to form a government. Instead, moderate and right-wing political groups formed an anti-Islamist coalition government. Amidst the political turmoil, Turkey took a strong pro-Western step by entering the European Customs Union.

In 1996, Turkey reversed directions.

The center-right coalition collapsed, and the pro-Islamist Welfare Party formed the first Islamic government in Turkey since 1923. The Welfare Party’s rise to power signaled a shift away from the West and the US. Under pressure from the Turkish military, this Islamist coalition government resigned in 1997, and a center-right coalition took power once more.

The following year, the Turkish government banned the Welfare Party on the grounds that it was plotting an anti-constitutional/anti-secular takeover. The pro-Islamic members of the Welfare Party stepped back and reorganized as the Virtue Party.

 

Virtue Party (pink) held 111 of the 550 seats in Turkish Parliament after 1999 elections. Image by T.C. Ataturkiye, wikimedia commons.

Virtue Party (pink) held 111 of the 550 seats in Turkish Parliament after 1999 elections.
Image by T.C. Ataturkiye, wikimedia commons.

 

In 1999, a devastating earthquake killed 17,000 people in northwest Turkey. In response, the UK pledged £50,000 pounds sterling, and the US pledged US$1 Billion dollars for disaster relief.

In June 2001, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the opposition pro-Islamic Virtue Party due to its anti-secular/anti-constitutional activities. Apparently the Virtue Party’s principal “virtue” was the destruction of freedom and progress in Turkey.

The following month, the members of the banned Virtue Party formed the pro-Islamist Saadet party.

Saadet morphed into the Justice and Development Party when it realized it could bring in a larger following by pretending to emphasize justice and development. This pro-Islamist party won elections in 2002.

 

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

 

Current Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a principal founder of the Justice and Development Party. The continued rise to power of Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist party quickly caused serious complications to US-Turkey relations. Next week, we will look at those complications and the current state of US-Turkey relations.