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Turkey: Spy scare at Baykar drone factory

A suspect tried to steal hard disks from the maker of the Bayraktar TB2, though authorities insist the incident was simple theft, not espionage
A Turkish Akinci combat drone developed by Baykar as it flies over Baku in 2022 (AFP)
A Turkish Akinci combat drone, developed by Baykar, flies over Baku, Azerbaijan in 2022 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

An intern working at Turkey’s world-renowned drone producer Baykar was caught trying to steal four hard disks while leaving the company’s factory premises in Istanbul on Monday, Turkish media reported. 

“An engineer working in the facilities was caught red-handed by security personnel who noticed him while he was removing the hard disk inside a computer containing technological secrets,” Patronlar Dunyasi, a local news site, reported on Tuesday. 

The story created a buzz on Turkish media as headlines suggested the suspect was a spy trying to steal industrial secrets related to the famous Bayraktar TB2 and Akinci armed drones. 

Turkish news agency DHA reported on Wednesday that an Istanbul court arrested the 20-year-old intern, named as Ahmet C, who tried to steal four units of SSD hard disks from the company’s depot. 

Ahmet C, who had been working at the company for the past two months according to the report, told the authorities that he didn’t know whether the hard disks contained any data or not. The suspect told police that he stole the material to sell them. 

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“The suspect, whose public order records were also examined through the police's GBP [General Information Search] system, was prosecuted for stealing a laptop from a cafe six years ago,” the report said. “It was also understood that Ahmet C's family filed a missing person complaint about their son last year.”

In an article responding to the incident, Feramuz Erdin, a retired police officer and security adviser, wrote that stealing hard disks could be an effective way to bypass electronic security protocols that are in place in high-tech companies like Baykar. 

“If anyone tries to copy any data from the system, the system will not allow it and the information will be sent to the relevant administrators immediately,” he wrote.

“Many computers used in such places do not even have copying units such as USB or CD. Since the possibility of transferring data collectively by other methods is limited, there is only one method left: physically seizing the hardware where the data is stored!” 

A source familiar with the investigation told Middle East Eye that the incident was overblown and that it was a simple theft.

“However, it showed to the company that security checks and protocols in place in the company work really well,” the source said. “You cannot copy any of the data, but more importantly you cannot move the hard disks either.” 

Baykar has made a name for itself worldwide in recent years through its battle-proven armed drones, including the Bayraktar TB2.

It has made $1.2bn worth of exports, including to Nato countries. The company is now currently developing an unmanned fighter jet called Kizilelma.

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