FETOMETER (FETÖMETRE in Turkish) is a software developed by the Naval Forces Command to root out followers of the faith-based Gülen movement. Initially put to use in the navy, the program is gradually becoming widespread. Possessing certain similarities with software developed by Huawei for the Chinese government to spot members of the ethnic Uighur minority, the FETOMETER identifies alleged Gülen followers based on 78 main and 253 secondary criteria. A person who gets four points is identified as a suspect, unleashing a series of consequences including dismissal from their job and criminal prosecution on terrorism-related charges.
The software is the toughest instrument employed thus far as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s large-scale crackdown on followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. Developed by Adm. Cihat Yaycı, it was primarily used to uncover alleged Gülen sympathizers within the navy.
Professor Yaşar Hacısalihoğlu, the pro-Erdoğan rector of Yeni Yüzyıl University, is one of those who claim that the program’s use should be expanded to all segments of society. According to Hacısalihoğlu the purge of the group’s members should be carried out with the same precision that is required for wiping out viruses.
Yet, using the software in such sweeping fashion could prove risky for Erdoğan’s rule as its criteria are strict enough to have millions blacklisted, even people in Erdoğan’s inner circle.
Initially 58, the number of criteria was steadily increased to ultimately reach 78 essential and 253 secondary criteria, many of which relate to private background information such as education, training, academic success, family, relatives, marriage and financial record.
Some of the lesser criteria involve notable details such as whether the reviewed person has served in NATO-related posts or has earned a Ph.D., both of which are regarded as elements of suspicion. Having served as a military attaché or worked at NATO missions earns the person in question 0.300 points.
Another aspect of private life subject to grading is if someone has organized an engagement or wedding ceremony when getting married. According to the algorithm, people who have not had a wedding in military-owned facilities are suspect as they are potentially trying to conceal the identity of their families.
Developed by an admiral, the program is designed in a manner similar to new-generation weapons systems that allow using artificial intelligence to spot and destroy the enemy.
The software identifies not only living and active members of the Gülen group, but also those deceased and retired. It has led to the revocation of the military ranks of 1,512 officers who had retired years ago. Its family-related algorithms also allow the pursuit of children of those noted down as suspects.
Staunchly pro-Erdoğan writer Ferhat Ünlü provides a detailed description of the system.
“If the personal information matches a few of these criteria, the software gives out a signal, just like the DNA matches we’ve seen in the movies. Speaking of DNA, I should finish with this: FETOMETER allows us to map out the DNA of the crypto militants of the group, who have almost turned into mutants.”
Between a failed military coup in July 2016 that Erdoğan blamed on Gülen’s network and December 2020, a total of 20,566 officers were expelled from the military. Some 11,000 soldiers are facing criminal investigations.
The navy accounted for 3,934 of the expulsions, 2,620 of which were in connection with the software, and 251 retired naval officers were stripped of their former ranks.
The government has now brought the program to the land forces command.
Journalist Arslan: FETOMETER’s objective is to redesign military
Exiled journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan has graded the software’s developer, Adm. Yaycı, on the basis of the criteria and said that Yaycı scored 5.8 points, according to which he would also be identified as a Gülen follower and arrested.
“Cihat Yaycı had senior intel sergeant Mahmut Taşçı develop this software. Taşçı worked on it for months, only to be spotted by it himself and expelled,” Arslan said. “Yet, Col. Fahri Can Yıldırım, who had also been identified by the program, was taken off the suspects’ list.”
According to Arslan, when officers known to be pro-Eurasia or ultranationalist, meaning those who support dismantling Turkey’s traditional Western alliances in favor of rapprochement with Russia and China, get outed by the software, they do not face the same consequences.
“FETOMETER has nothing to do with the law. The objective was to redesign the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] in line with the political will, which has been accomplished.”
Yaycı’s profiling efforts over the army
Adm. Yaycı in statements about the July 2016 abortive coup said since as early as 2013 he had been working with Erdoğan to conduct a profiling of military officers. On the night of the coup he was together with Erdoğan, who was on vacation in the southwestern resort town of Marmaris. When Erdoğan connected to CNN Türk via FaceTime and called on the public to take to the streets against the military, a voice was heard in the background telling him what to say. About two years after the incident, it was revealed that the voice belonged to Yaycı himself.
A source of inspiration
FETOMETER also inspired similar policies in other state bodies, such as the Social Security Institution (SGK), which for the last four years has been marking suspected Gülen sympathizers in its database with “Code 36.” The indication is automatically visible to any potential employer, which leads to apprehension among those considering hiring one of these individuals.
Another software developed by İsmail Eren offers algorithms to profile and list Twitter users affiliated with the Gülen movement. The project is financed by the Council of Forensic Medicine, which employs Eren.
According to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, a total of 597,783 people faced investigation over alleged Gülen links between 2016 and 2020, which led to 282,790 detentions and 94,975 arrests. Yet the extent to which the software and algorithms were applied in the framework of the criminal prosecutions remains unknown.
A similar one in China
According to a report by BBC, Chinese company Huawei has developed a technology that allows recognition of members of the Uighur minority on street cameras. The company filed for a patent for the system in July 2018, in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The software identifies Uighurs’ behavioral patterns.
FETOMETER however, has been actively used in Turkey since 2017.