Friday, June 13, 2014

And That's A Wrap!

And that's that. I'm done blogging for the season, at least here.

I'm headed up to moose country for the summer. My family loves this time of the year; the wi-fi frees up and the dog is out of the house for a whole month and a half.

I'm moving all my posts over to a new blog now that RPNPS is in full hiatus. That space isn't ready yet, so simmer down. I'll let you know in a week or so. As an extra special treat, I'm also going to port my old School TechConnect posts so that they're preserved for generations to come. Snark for the ages.

The fall is going to bring all kinds of changes, so we'll just see where this thing goes. I have a feeling you're going to see a whole new kind of writing in the fall. But I'm sticking with the Gulen investigations, you can count on that.

Thanks for reading, all. If you need to get in touch, @tbfurman is still the best way. See you in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Message Control In The Gulen Movement

Here's a little demonstration of the message control that characterizes the Gulen Movement. It's really quite fascinating.

In the United States, one of the central themes of GM message control is that the charter schools aren't connected to the transnational religious/political/social movement. At best, according to the heavily managed theme, there are only loose, vague instances of various unnamed people possibly being "influenced" at one time or another by the teachings of Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Almost random chance, in other words.

It's been a successful effort. Even in the recent media coverage of the FBI raids throughout the Concept charter system, journalists are very, very guarded about using the G-word.

But take a look at this fresh piece from the Gulenist media outlet, Ebru TV (English language version.) It's a puff piece about Love Is A Verb, the recent "documentary" (i.e., propaganda film) about the Gulen Movement.  [The documentary is a story in itself. Even I wanted to join the Gulen Movement after watching clips from the documentary. It doesn't touch on the hardball political intrigue, the infiltration of the Turkish judiciary, the wiretap montages, or the whole "move silently through the arteries of the system" thing.]

I'm going to embed the current version (the one I linked to, above) of the Ebru puff piece here. Note the nice Latino gentleman at the 1:50 mark.  He's the guy I'm focusing on.

There's nothing particularly remarkable about the Latino gentleman at 1:50, except that he didn't appear in the original version of the puff piece. He's a substitute.  The producers clipped out someone else and substituted this unremarkable (here, at least) person into the slot where the original figure had been.

So who did they cut out of the original puff piece?

Why, one of the central characters in the whole charter school connection, of course! Check her out; she's at 2:02 in this early capture of the television broadcast of the original puff piece. [

She's Lynne Emily Webb Ozgur, and she works at Central Jersey College Prep, which has many, many Gulen-linked connections, including one to Ebru TV, which has studios about a mile and half from the charter school in New Jersey.  Lynne Ozgur is married to Kemal Ozgur, who, according to reports, is the person who invited Fethullah Gulen to come stay at the Golden Generation compound in Pennsylvania.

Golden Generation had already been established in Saylorsburg on the grounds of a former summer camp. Kemal Ozgur, a microbiologist and Gülenist, met Gülen in Minnesota and invited him to stay in Pennsylvania. The cleric has remained there ever since.

On any given day, if you wanted to visit Mr. Gulen at the compound, you'd probably run into Mr. Ozgur.

Anyway, I've isolated Ms. Ozgur's appearance in the puff piece here. It's brief. Note that the (Ebru TV) interviewer precedes Ms. Ozgur's appearance with: "including Lynne Ozgur, an American-Muslim, who teaches at a Gulen-based charter school in New Jersey.

Lynne Ozgur herself says hardly anything at all, but the Ebru people must have figured out that her presence in the video (as well as the interviewer's description of her) violated what must be some kind of prime directive: thou shalt not reveal the charter school connection. Or something like that.

The Ozgurs (and I imagine many of the other Gulenists) are property owners near the compound in Saylorsburg. Someone in Turkey (and I have no idea who this is) has been watching them very closely and tracking them on Twitter.

When you start looking into this subject, you find that a lot of people in Turkey are tracking the leadership of the Gulen Movement with surprising precision. I have no idea what the agenda of this Tweeter is; it doesn't interest me.

Ebru TV even thought to remove any mention of Ms. Ozgur from the web-print version of their story. Clearly someone higher up got involved. The charter school connection had to go. 

Here's the current web-print story on Ebru's website.

And here's the version that got scrubbed (it wasn't up for very long).

Isn't Google amazing? 

Anyway, they clipped any mention of Ms. Ozgur because of the prime directive, obviously. The phrase "Gulen-based charter school in New Jersey" must have set off some kind of alarm throughout the system.

One of the interesting things about the Gulen Movement, in my mind, is the weird behavior that grows out of a conflict between two of Fethullah Gulen's Pearls of Wisdom.

On the one hand, there's the Pearl about deception..

And on the other hand, there are many Pearls related to keeping secrets. This one, for example:

Or this one:

I'm not a religion scholar. But from a layman's point of view, the focus on keeping secrets is probably the thing that's at the root of the deceptive behavior about the charter connection, and certainly this must create some kind of cognitive dissonance. It's also possible that the entire enterprise is based on deception and secrecy, and the Pearls are more of an ancillary set of suggestions.

It's not important. What is important is that people realize that message control is highly managed within the Gulen Movement, and the desire to keep the charter school secret in the vault seems to be one of the very highest priorities.

Research by Sharon Higgins.

Note: The Youtube version of the original Ebru TV broadcast (the one still containing Ms. Ozgur) was posted by a Youtube account named GulenMovement. I have no idea who it actually is, but there are quite a few videos on the account. I would imagine that the Youtube version of this particular broadcast is going to be scrubbed. When it is, would someone alert me? I'll replace it with a backup version.

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

Dragnet! Peoria Concept School Raided By FBI
It Seems Like A Good Time To Ask
FBI Raids, Concept Charter Schools, and Rahm
Is the FBI Looking At Chicago Charter Schools?
Your International Intrigue Update
Here, Have A School
Dispatch From The Parallel State

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dragnet! Peoria Concept School Raided By FBI

Glen Barton, CEO of Concept's charter school in Peoria, confirms that FBI agents with search warrants came on June 4.

Barton also served on the state charter school commission, which in my opinion, was a conflict of interest throughout his tenure.  He's still attached to the Concept school in Peoria. He does a good job here of trying to diffuse the focus on Concept:
Read more:
Barton said the raid was “in response to a federal program that provides funding to schools — all schools, not just charter schools — to upgrade infrastructure and requires a certain level (of) low-income students to qualify.” The school explored that program, but did not apply for it, according to Barton.

“I think it’s sort of an issue why were singled out,” said Barton, who believed the search was unnecessary.

Yes, the E-rate program is for all schools. But as far as I can tell, warrants were only served on Concept charter schools. And no, Quest wasn't singled out. The entire Concept system is being investigated.

Concept's spokesperson apparently also let it out that:
FBI officials also inquired about “certain external individuals/entities” that had performed computer server upgrades and personnel development. None of those services were paid by Quest using grant funds, according to the statement.
Interesting. The whole idea of "external individuals" is interesting in the Gulen-linked world. There's so much interconnectedness; it's very likely that the Cleveland FBI office is looking at people who worked throughout the Concept system and possibly even at other branches (non-Concept) of the Gulen-linked system. Once you start looking at actual names, those very same names turn up over and over and over.  "External" is very much esoteric designation in the "fantastically disorganized" universe in which these schools exist.

In other words, it seems highly unlikely to me that whatever the FBI is looking will be confined to the Concept charters.

The idea that they're looking at the system through a technology angle is a bit disturbing. More on that later. When you look at the modern history of the Movement, at least as it exists overseas, I think it's fair to say that technology does not bring out the best in them.

I'm refraining from more speculation at this time, but it isn't easy. If we could get a clearer picture of all of the facilities raided, that would help clarify exactly what the FBI is really looking at.

And kudos to Thomas Bruch of the PJ Star. He made a call, got a statement, and now we know a little more than we did before. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It Seems Like A Good Time To Ask

July 22,  2014, Update: The individual referred to in this post has been identified; her name is misspelled in the Commission minutes. She appears to me to be a highly qualified attorney who was indeed simply working pro bono on this Commission while it worked on approving the Concept appeal. It appears to me that this individual had no prior experience in the charter sector, would have had no reason to look into Concept's history, connections,  or practices; and is seems highly unlikely she would have had an inkling about a grand jury or an FBI investigation. 

One very little detail here. Can you help?

I'm boxing up my notes from the last year, including all the transcripts from the state charter school commission meetings, as well as dozens of other documents, FOIA'd and otherwise. In all the hundreds of pages, there's just one person I can't actually identify.

Someone has to write the history of this thing; it's probably going to be me. But I need help with this one name.

Chicago's a small town; surely someone will know this person and clue me in. She's an attorney, so that should narrow it down.

The name appears in the March 19, 2013, transcript of the Illinois State Charter Commission.

It's during the meeting where they approved the controversial Concept appeal for the Horizon Science Academy Belmont and Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park.

In the transcript section below (from P. 78), the executive director of the commission is starting to talk to the commission about the appeals process and all of the people who participated in the analysis of the appeals. It's pretty dull; there are lots of names, and you can (if you're like me) Google all of the names and figure out who's who.

Except this one name.

It's probably nothing. It's just that this one individual appeared at an obscure commission's door one day during the pending Concept appeal, and was so helpful, with the appeals and all.

Ten out of ten people living in Chicago couldn't tell you where this commission's offices are or when they meet. But this person with no digital footprint found it and got right to work.

I'm just keeping track of names here. It's probably just a misspelling. But still, for future reference..... does anyone know her? I'd hate for my book to be incomplete.

You should see my office walls. Flowcharts, timelines, biographies... The devil's in the details, as they say.

Confirmed By (Ohio) Reporter: There's an FBI Investigation of Concept

6PM Update: The intrepid Dan Mihalopoulos has gone there. Oh yes he has. This should be interesting when Concept finally answers the phone. Remind me to do a post about the whole "keeping secrets" thing.

Let's just hope people recognize the difference between an "audit" and a criminal investigation. Because I'm thinking we're going to be hearing the word "audit" tomorrow. Hint: audits don't come with search warrants.

Looks like Dan's anticipating the "audit" response, too:

But the FBI’s Anderson said Tuesday, “What we did was not part of any audit.”
Original Post

Remember, back in the day, when if the FBI raided your schools as part of a criminal investigation, someone would report it? In the press?

Doug Livingston of the Ohio Beacon:

Federal agents have raided 19 charter schools, including three in Ohio, where an FBI criminal investigation in Cleveland has led to search warrants in Indiana and Illinois over the past week.
The 19 schools are managed by Concept Schools, a charter school operator headquartered near Chicago.
Concept Schools has been investigated previously by the U.S. Department of Labor for its use of foreign workers. Ohio audits found that public money for the schools had been used improperly for visas. Concept received more visas for immigrant workers than Google in 2009 and many of the school’s employees are of Turkish descent. Most of the nonprofit schools’ board members in Northeast Ohio are male and of Turkish descent.
The company manages 19 charter schools in Ohio, second only to Texas with 44 such schools. There are nearly 140 charter schools, spread across 26 states, associated with Turkish Cleric Fetullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric exiled from Turkey, living in Pennsylvania.
The raid began last week as unmarked vans and agents seized documents. The search warrants have been sealed.
“Last Wednesday afternoon we executed some search warrants in conjunction with the (U.S.) Department of Education and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission),” said Vicki Anderson, a special agent with the FBI Cleveland office.
“It is in regards to an ongoing white-collar crime investigation,” Anderson said, declining to divulge further details. “It’s a criminal ongoing investigation.”
Anderson confirmed that raids on Concept Schools in Indiana and Illinois were “all based on the investigation in the Cleveland Field Division.”

So, let's review the key terms:
FBI, search warrants, vans, agents, Concept charter schools, Illinois, boxes of documents, criminal investigation, Chicago. 

These are the key ingredients of a successful news story. 


Thank God for the Sun Times! (This has been my motto for years.)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

FBI Raids, Concept Charter Schools, and Rahm

It's weird how the feds are always looking at charter school guys that Rahm Emanuel hangs out with.

Earlier today, I reported on a Sharon Higgins alert that one of the Concept schools in Indiana has been raided by the FBI in connection with "a white collar crime" investigation, as the FBI put it.

The FBI also indicated to the Indy Times reporter that they were looking at "19 charter schools in various states."

It's my guess that those schools are in the Concept system, and I'm sure hoping some local journos start sniffing around. The FBI did, after all, raid a Concept school, and Concept does operate (over) 19 schools in various states. And they're certainly an intriguing bunch of fellows when you start looking at the whole picture.

The founder (and current board member) of the FBI-targeted Indiana charter school is a man named Bilal Eksili. How long do you think it took Sharon to find a picture of Mr. Eksili with Rahm Emanuel?

The answer would be five minutes. So here it is, a picture of Rahm Emanuel and the man who founded and basically runs the school that the FBI just raided, in what appears to be a much larger-scale investigation into the Concept schools. 

Don't you love Twitter? The love goes back and forth.

 Anyway, here's who's who in the above tweet, to the best of my knowledge:
1. Suleyman Turhanogullari, president of the Turkish American Federation of the Midwest. 
2. Salim Ucan of Concept Schools
3. F*ck You, Lewis!
4. Bilal Eksili, of the FBI-raided charter in Indianapolis. Also associated with Niagara.  Leader of many, many junkets for policymakers.
5. Tamer Copuroglu, president Turkish American Chamber of Commerce.

I find it useful to think of all of these organizations, with their frequent re-namings, and their revolving cast of characters, to be just subsidiary groups of one big organization. And you know what organization I'm talking about.

Anyway, Mr. Eksili is huge on Twitter. Here's one of him and a certain Turkish autocrat, back in the day when they could be in the same room together (in 2013).

Again, for the record:

1. Bilal Eskili, of the FBI-raided Concept school. Friend of Rahm? Who knows.
2. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister of Turkey.
3. No clue. [Update: We're guessing that's Faruk Taban, who runs the entire Gulenist umbrella organization, the Turkic American Alliance. And yes, he was also running a charter school in Reno (the Coral Academy of Science) back in 2007. He's also listed as a director of the EMO that services the Gulen-linked schools out West (the Accord Institute). ]

Whenever you see a picture of someone in the US posing with the Turkish prime minister, prior to 2014, the odds are you're looking at someone who runs a charter school, or who formerly did so. After 2014? Not so much.  

Here's Eskili with the Republican Adam Kinzinger; these guys are entrenched out in Rockford.

The guy gets around. The odds are that if you are in a political office in Illinois, and it's during office hours, then there's a guy from one of the Gulen Movement nodes out in your waiting room, with a camera, getting ready to invite you to one thing or another, possibly a junket to Turkey. Or write a check.

One example, and then I'll stop. Do you remember that I mentioned that Tammy Duckworth wrote a letter of support to the Gulen-linked Turquoise festival in Rosemont? The one where the charter kids competed in a chance to go to Turkey? Well, Tammy Duckworth got $2,000 from one of the Rockford guys (Celal Evliyaoglu--I'm not sure if he's pictured in any of these Eskili tweets) in 2012--- the guy who is listed as the accountant for the Turkish American Society in Chicago. So, for two grand, they got to read a letter from a Congresswoman at the Gulen-linked talent show in Rosemont.
(Confusing, I admit. The man lives in Rockford, apparently, and is the accountant for the Chicago organization. You really do need a whiteboard to write these posts.)

You have to admit, the political outreach arm of these charter schools--- and the larger Movement of which they are a part--- is amazing. They make UNO look like a train station dice game. Which it sort of is.

Someone really needs to start calling the Concept schools to get statements from them about whether or not the FBI has taken records from them, whether search warrants were involved, and the details of all of those things. If they're raiding the Indianapolis school, and if they're investigating 18 other schools, then it's almost a certainty that they're looking at the schools here in Illinois.

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

Is the FBI Looking At Chicago Charter Schools?
Your International Intrigue Update
Here, Have A School
Dispatch From The Parallel State

Is The FBI Looking At Chicago Charter Schools?

A Concept charter school in Indianapolis has been raided by the FBI, and it looks like the feds might be looking hard at the whole chain.

Here's what the Indy Star had to say.

Three federal agencies are investigating the Indiana Math and Science Academy North as part of a broader probe involving 18 schools in the Midwest.
Armed with a warrant, officials representing the FBI, Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education entered the school Wednesday afternoon to gather documents.
An FBI spokeswoman would say little Friday other than confirm the investigation is underway.
“These (searches of 19 total schools in various states) were related to investigating a white-collar crime matter,” agent Vicki Anderson said. “It does not involve violence or threats to students or faculty. No arrests were made.”

I'll leave it to a local media person to try to figure out if any of the Concept outfits in Chicago were also raided. It seems entirely within the realm of reason that they have all been raided.

This tv station seems to have run with the Concept PR person's story that the investigation is related to federal e-rate transactions.

There are times when I know more about a situation than I can comfortably post here. I obviously have no idea what this particular raid was about, but I would just point out that when the feds finally got Al Capone, they did it through the tax laws, not the vice laws.

The tv story's reporter is typically vague. He refers to talking to a "school board" member who didn't even know about the raid. Is he talking about one of the Concept "board members" or someone in an actual public office? Hard to say. There's a huge, huge difference. And I love how the thing is reduced to an "audit."

Yeah. An audit. I got news for you: when the FBI shows up to cart away your files, it's not an audit.

Anyway, I'll confess this much: for a long time we used to keep our eyes on one of the local Concept schools for signs of a quiet raid--- anything that looked like boxes of documents being carted out by guys in FBI jackets.  I still scan the parking lot every time I go by the campus on the bus.   From the video, it looks like the feds are using your basic Chevy vans.

Anyone seen one of these over at CMSA?

Concept runs these schools in Illinois:

The Belmont and Mckinley Park schools have an interesting connection to the now-under-investigation Indiana Math and Science Academy, in addition to simply being run by the same firm. Part of why CPS turned down the Belmont and McKinley Park charter proposals (which were later overruled by the state charter commission) is that the Concept people initially submitted some boilerplate language to CPS that actually came from their earlier Indiana proposal.

In other words, in filling out the CPS paperwork for the two charters that CPS denied, Concept appears to have simply copied and pasted some bullsh*t that they used back in Indiana, without even changing the names in the paperwork. Their explanation was basically, "oopsie."
As it was explained before, we initially had submitted a draft version of the proposal narrative by mistake, which included references from other proposals such as the Indiana Math and Science Academy proposal. 
(The above is from a communication from Concept to the Illinois State Charter Commission.) I have another really funny example of boilerplate substitution in the Concept application to CPS, but it will have to wait.

One last thing:  what hasn't come out in the press is that the Chicago Concept schools (approved by the state commission) named "Belmont" and  "McKinley Park" are,  legally speaking, a whole different kettle of fish from, say, CMSA.

This is also from a communication from Concept to the state commission:

Concept Schools is an Illinois-based, not-for-profit management organization. Concept currently manages 27 successful charter schools across the Midwest. Each of the Concept-managed schools has their own board of directors who signs a management agreement with Concept. Concept manages the schools on behalf of their board of directors. 
However, Concept intends to be the charter holder for the proposed Horizon Science Academy-McKinley Park and Horizon Science Academy-Belmont. This structure is explained in detail in Section 2.3 Governance Model of the Concept Proposal Narrative (page 58 through 73). 

In other words, Concept is an EMO in some cases, and a charter-holder in others, and possibly also a charter-holder + EMO in these latter examples, and I'm not sure how that squares with some of the new charter legislation in Illinois.

It's all very, very slippery. But the odds are pretty good that the FBI has already paid a little visit. If you're a journalist, would you mind having a look into it? 


PS: I'd also like to point out that we've entered the era when and FBI investigation into a charter school is basically just part of the background noise. It's expected. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Your International Intrigue Update

Just a quick update on the Turkish Olympiad, which I have written about at length. In short, this event is an annual, international festival of primarily Turkish language and folk arts that in the past has been attended by students from Gulen-linked schools all over the world, including the United States.

I have previously described the religious nature of the event, which needs to be understood in its full context: the Gulen Movement in Turkey is a former partner in a now-dissolved archly conservative political alliance, and the Movement's religious basis is deeply connected to a strain of Turkish national identity politics as well as larger conception of a transnational "Turkic" cultural identity.

Recently, students at the local Gulen-linked charter schools, as well as from Gulen-linked charter schools and private religious schools around the region,  participated in an event in Rosemont that functioned as a sort of qualifying contest for kids hoping to attend the Turkish Olympiad in Turkey. The organizers of the event were careful not to mention the names of any of the schools, although it isn't difficult to figure out which groups were from which schools.  I even wrote about one of our local charter school contestants.

At the time of the Rosemont event, the Turkish Olympiad was already a much-reduced prospect, scheduled for May 30 - June 1 in Istanbul.

The very hot cold war between Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his former ally, Fethullah Gulen, appeared at that time to have taken a toll on the scale of the Turkish Olympiad, formerly an event that stretched over two weeks in multiple state-controlled locations. It was quite the spectacle in the past, as we reported: a glittering stage for the confluence of interests between a secretive social movement and its authoritarian political allies.

Then I lost track because I work in a school, and May is crazy.

Hadn't heard a word about the big event in Turkey, until this piece came out in the Gulen Movement's own Today's Zaman. Evidently they didn't even make it into Turkey.

The International Turkish Education Association's (TÜRKÇEDER) Language and Culture Festival, which brought together 95 students from 27 countries under the motto “Hearts United,” was held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa over the weekend. 
The festival was an updated version of the Turkish Olympiads and it took place outside Turkey for the first time, after Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government refused to allow the event to occur in Turkey.
I haven't heard if any of the Chicago charter students participated in the event in Addis Ababa, but I'll report back when I learn more. I don't think that was every any doubt among basically sentient people that the event has always been a Gulen Movement production; however, it is still probably largely not understood by the public that the local charter schools are active participants in the event, or that the schools themselves serve as an American adaptation of the Gulen-linked schools all over the globe: schools that to one extent or another, further the interests of the Movement. Again, the kids pretty much have no idea about any of this, nor do the American staff, in most cases.

According to the Today's Zaman article (so, take that for what it's worth), the Turkish diplomatic corps was forbidden by the government from attending the qualifying events, which would include the Rosemont event.
In March, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu sent a message to Turkish ambassadors and diplomats serving abroad ordering them not to attend the overseas selections phase of the 12th Turkish Olympiads.
This would confirm my previously reported observation that the Turkish Consul in Chicago was not present at the Rosemont event, as he had been in similar past events. To sum up: the Turkish government appears to have forbidden its representative from attending an event organized by the local Gulen Movement organization for (mostly) charter school kids because in the eyes of the Turkish government, the leaders of that very same movement have pretty much tried to overthrow the government.

We've come a long way from bake sales and bobby socks.

So yeah. Let's not talk about that. 

Disclaimer: I have openly identified the media source as being part of the Gulen Movement, and this is a widely accepted characterization of Today's Zaman. It is a source I do not trust, obviously. But I think this article is pretty much telling it the way they see it.

My point is that it's strange, to say the least,  in America, for 150 publicly funded schools to be so closely (yet opaquely) connected to a foreign drama, and that we really don't have any understanding of how it went from a few Movement-linked private religious schools to the nation's largest public charter school network. And we don't have any credible prediction of what it will eventually mean in, as they say, the fullness of time. And also that it's probably a bad idea for this set of circumstances to exist without the public's knowledge.

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

Here, Have A School
Dispatch From The Parallel State

And yes, I "bake sales and bobby socks" is a bit of a non sequitur. I just liked the sound of it. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Charter Bill Update

Looks like I called the Charter Commission bill too early, as well as the Charter Accountability Act. 

That's what I get for doing policy updates  via Twitter on the bus. 

I'll do an official update when I hear from someone who was there, but I'm hearing that the charter commission bill died in the concurrence vote--possibly not a bad thing long term. Also, a watered down version of the Charter Accountability Act appears to have passed. 

Details when I get them. I hate to be wrong twice. 

Meanwhile--- the May meeting of the State Charter Commission was canceled, but if anyone is going to the June one, please get in touch. I'll be away for that meeting, but we definitely need for someone to be at the June meeting. 

There's something that needs looking into; if you can help, send me a note. @tbfurman

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Here, Have A School

In case you missed it, here's a pretty comprehensive backgrounder on what's going on in Turkey. Here in Chicago, and in places around the nation, we've opened up publicly funded charter schools that are tied directly to the people running the Gulen Movement from Pennsylvania.

Again, let me repeat: tied directly.

We're not talking about hypothetical vague influences that might or might not exist.

It's a phenomenon for which there is no analogy in the United States. There simply is no other transnational social/political/religious movement operating inside the US while simultaneously struggling for authoritarian dominance of a foreign land, while also running a fast-growing network of publicly funded charter schools. It's sui generis.

In the fall, I will start proposing measures that can help us come to terms with the phenomenon, but a lot of policy-makers are going to have to take a good, long look in the mirror first.

We can all enjoy a nice, guided tour of an ancient land, but that doesn't relieve us from the duty of understanding. And what is the history?

To begin with, Turkey's institutional deterioration is not a recent matter. It started long before Erdogan’s manifestly heavy-handed and polarizing responses to the Gezi protests of the summer of 2013 and to the corruption probe in winter 2013. The harsh crackdown on the media over the last year is but the latest phase in an ongoing process of repression of independent press. And Erdogan and the Gülenists have long manipulated the judiciary, using it to harass and jail opponents on charges ranging from the flimsy to the fabricated.
So Erdogan relied on the Gülen movement, which was all too willing to cooperate, having pursued a long-term strategy of placing its sympathizers in the state apparatus. The Gülenist police and judiciary, which in the later part of last decade, ran the notorious anti-military (Ergenekon and Balyoz) and anti-Kurdish (KCK) court cases, had a free hand until Erdogan decided to part ways with the movement. Anyone who took a close look at these political trials, even early on, would have been under no illusion that they had any relation to the rule of law. Between 2007 and 2011, Turkey’s global ranking in judicial independence fell from 56 to 83 of around 140 countries, and would fall an additional two places by 2014.
So you have to factor these things in. Don't you? Am I wrong about that? Or should we just open the doors to every partisan in every struggle in every foreign land and say, "Here, have a school. Give us a junket; it's all we ask." 

Getting rid of the inept, ill-advised, badly-used-by-Concept State Charter School Commission is a good first step, but it's not enough. We need a lot more transparency across the charter sector, and possibly some new basic rules. It will be good for everyone. This looking-away that everyone's doing, I understand it, but it can't go on forever. 

H/t Sharon Higgins

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunlight On The Charter Commission

Reaching the end of blogging season here; I'll be decamping for moose country soon, and our group is looking at what form we're going to take in the fall. We'll see.

Meanwhile, we've had a small committee looking at the State Charter School Commission's approval of the two new Concept charters in 2013. We're going over the slim-pickings returned by the Commission in response to a FOIA request. There's some interesting stuff in there. Not much, but some.  As the Commission itself circles the drain, we're trying to preserve a record of some of what it did.

One thing I'm going to post before it escapes my memory is just a small detail in an email sent from Concept to the Commission in response to a Commission meeting or Commission staff + Concept meeting that evidently took place on March 12, 2013.

At some point in the timeline, Concept found a new location at 2050 W. Balmoral, and they started to move on the zoning and other matters. It's a tiny little thing, but here it is:

So for the historical record, Concept informed the Commission that they had a series of meetings with Alderman O'Connor, and that the he was supportive of the zoning change for the facility. I have no reason to doubt that this representation is true; however, I didn't get this sense of it at the time. Jay Rehak, who attended the meeting and reported on it over at Substance at the time, noted this:

After Mr. Ucan, Chris Hill (the property advisor to the project) and Ms. Barnes exited, the community continued to ask incisive questions in search of clarity. Ms. Shingler then read a statement from Alderman Pat O'Connor (who did not attend but had a staff member present) indicating that neither he nor Mayor Emmanuel was in favor of the Concept Charter application.

Obviously, I don' know. It's not my ward, and I wasn't in the series of meetings between the alderman and Concept. But something's not right. Someone misunderstood something, someone changed his mind, or someone's making stuff up.

On a less interesting note, Concept -- in its original proposal narrative-- also informed the Commission of these other things:

It gets confusing--- the above was written when the proposed "Belmont" location was still 4257 W. Drummond, in Ray Suarez's ward. The school was eventually built at 5035 W. North Avenue, in the 37th Ward (Alderman Emma Mitts). Anyway, Cardenas, Suarez, and Joe Moore, were all on board with the application and/or the appeal. I never saw the letter from Joe Moore; it evidently wasn't submitted to the Commission, so I don't know the nature of it. It seems doubtful that Alderman Moore would be writing a letter of support for a Commission override of a CPS decision, but then again, we do live in strange times. The letter was probably a letter of support for the original CPS application.  I wonder if  Joe green lighted its use in the appeal.

It's all so tedious, isn't it?

One more thing. In the transcript of the March 19, 2013, meeting of the Commission, the executive director talks a bit about how overworked the staff (she) is and how it's in the works to have another person on board by April (P. 57) but in the meantime:

I just post this nugget because it's just another example of how public policy is impacted/paid for by the efforts of the Gates Foundation, Eli Broad, and the Walmart heirs. You need an analyst for your charter commission? They'll send you one.

More later. Our analysis of the FOIA response is going to take a while.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The FBI And The Gulen Movement In Chicago

*Before I start this post, let me record for the record that Dupage County Sheriff John Zaruba's email person has responded to me, and I quote:

                                              The answer is no. He has not. 

That was in response to the question: "Has Sheriff Zaruba ever traveled to Turkey as part of a group activity in coordination with the Niagara Foundation and/or the Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce? If so, during what years?"  

That's a much clearer answer than ISBE's Gery Chico's office provided, I'll say that. Nevertheless, the Gulen Movement is clearly reaching out to Sheriff Zaruba; he'll certainly be getting an award or a junket offer sometime soon. He was already a judge at the talent show, along with the Consuls of Venezuela and Pakistan. 

Which brings us to this. I've posted many, many times about my concern about the connection between a large network of US public charter schools and the Gulen Movement, a 5-million member transnational social/political/religious movement currently based in Pennsylvania but entirely Turkish in its history and emphasis.

 I've also posted about my observations that the Gulen Movement's political behavior in the States seems like the "baby steps" of its mature political behavior in Turkey, where it is widely agreed that they quietly co-opted the judicial system to a large degree. Whatever the precise history inside Turkey is, it is clear to me that it isn't entirely clean, it isn't dialogue-ish.

If you've been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that the local branch of the Movement, the Niagara Foundation, has invited Bob Holley, the FBI Agent In Charge of Chicago, to a little private talk. The outreach effort toward the American judiciary system is part of a pattern we've seen before, in Turkey.

I'm not sure what "a select group of our members and staff" means, but I will say that that it's probably easier to get in a room with the FBI Agent In Charge by being a member of a Turkish transnational religious movement than it is by being, you know, an ordinary citizen or even a member of the secular Turkish expat communities.

The FBI has a long, long history of being on the receiving end of Gulenist outreach inside the United States. They're either trying to build up what they perceive to be a non-fundamentalist branch of Islam, or they're simply unable to say "no" to invitations that seem benign but are actually part of the foreign policy of a group operating inside a nation (Turkey) on behalf of an agenda that very few people fully understand. It seems improbable to me that the local FBI branch is very much concerned about the charter school connection. It also seems improbable to me that the FBI could have predicted the divorce between Edogan and Gulen. Who knows what the end-game is now? They probably don't even know.

The FBI's participation in Niagara's forum goes back at least to 2007,  when then-Agent In Charge Robert Grant appeared at Niagara to give a talk. Incidentally, this was the event where we learned that Niagara had sent at least 30 people from Elmhurst College to Turkey.

Kemal Oksuz, the Executive Director of Niagara Foundation declared the event open and thanked Elmhurst College representatives for the flowers kindly sent to Niagara Foundation as Niagara Foundation sent 30 professors and personnel from Elmhurst College to Turkey for friendship and intercultural dialogue purposes. Beautiful flowers showed the thankfulness and gratitude of Americans to Turkish hospitability in Turkey. Later on, Mr. Oksuz presented a short biography of Robert Grant and introduced him to the audience and left the podium for the speaker.
I'll later do a search for any scholarship even remotely critical of the Gulen Movement coming out of Elmhurst but something tells me I'm not going to find any.  Incidentally, the list of Illinois luminaries junketed to Turkey is clearly much larger than the Sun Times list. For example, in this video, John Cullerton says he's gone twice. (Interesting video, by the way. The Turkish Consul was still at that time making public appearances with this group.) I don't know what goes on during these trips, but it seems likely that the recipients are steered away from 60% of the Turkish population.

There was majority negative sentiment towards Gulen and his movement, whose supporters claim to number millions worldwide 
Some 60 percent of those polled describe their overall view of Gulen's movement as negative and 57 percent believe it to have established what Erdogan has described as a "parallel state" within the state bureaucracy.
Mr. Oksuz, from the 2007 FBI appearance mentioned above,  later went on to spearhead to the Movement's efforts in Texas, and is referred to in this 2011 NYT article.  There's a goldmine in Texas charter school construction, let's just say that.

Sharon Higgins, who was once told by a Chicago-connected Gulenist operating under the Twitter handle "Gitano Bandolero" to "keep your hands off your keyboard," has compiled the beginnings of a list of known FBI appearances at Gulen-linked events. It's a pretty long history.

  • ALABAMA: “FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Patrick J. Maley announced that the Peace Valley Foundation (PVF), Huntsville Chapter is the recipient of the 2010 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA). SAC Maley made the announcement and presented a certificate to Satilimis Budak, President of PVF’s Huntsville Chapter...” FBI press release, 12/13/2010,
  • COLORADO: “... [Multicultural Mosaic Foundation] hosted FBI Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Bradley Swim as the speaker for its Dinner with Speaker series.” 3/23/2012,
  • INDIANA: “speakers... Michael Welch, Special agent in Charge, FBI...” Niagara Foundation Dialogue And Friendship Dinner 2009,
  • LOUISIANA: “The center also has had guest speakers, including... David Welker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans division.” Turkish Cultural Center in Metairie, 5/11/2011,
  • MASSACHUSETTS: "FBI Agents visited Hampden Charter School of Science." ~2012, photo gallery:
  • MISSOURI: “... then, guest speaker Special Agent Mr. Robert Herndon from FBI Kansas City Field Office gave a presentation on Identity Theft.” Raindrop Foundation, 2/28/2009, “... and Tom Jones, Senior Special Agent of FBI, gave remarks of the night. Hosts offered authentic Turkish Baklava and Turkish coffee to their valuable guests.” Rosegarden Turkish-American Cultural Center, 2/22/2012,
  • NEW JERSEY: Edison EnergySmart Charter School: Aaron Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark office, visited the school with the county sheriff, the mayor, and four township council members. “The guests were given a tour of the school and had lunch with students and teachers.”
  • NEW MEXICO: “Keynote Speaker: Carol K.O. Lee, SAC, FBI Albuquerque.” 3rd Annual Dialog and Friendship Dinner & Awards Ceremony, 11/27/2012,
  • NEW YORK: “Other recipients of awards were Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the NYC Police Department and Mark Mershon, Assistant Director in Charge of the NY field office of the FBI.” [date unknown], Turkish Cultural Center Friendship Dinner,
  • NEW YORK: “Speaker: Donald Chu, FBI Special Agent.” Turkish Cultural Center Albany, 2/16/2013,!topic/crmoroccans/we-xZ-CsxvE
  • NEW YORK: “FBI - Assistant Director in Charge, Janice Fedarcyk at Turkish Cultural Center Friendship Dinner.” Turkish Cultural Center New York, 3/24/2011,
  • NEW YORK: “Turkish Cultural Center in collaboration with FBI has organized a seminar on Identity Theft, Internet Safety and Counterterrorism Programs.” Turkish Cultural Center Long Island, [date unknown],
  • TENNESSEE: “The Knoxville Turkish Cultural Center invited the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association to dinner. I took pictures of the delicious food but I don’t know what any of it is called.” 5/30/2013,
  • WASHINGTON: “We invited local FBI agents to our cultural center and discussed how we can work together.” Acacia Foundation, 5/16/2012,

  • The Illinois interactions aren't even on the above list yet: the FBI Agent In Charge visited Niagara in 2007, as I've mentioned, and then again in 2011. A Special Agent visited last year.  Take on an individual basis, each visit seems within the realm of what an FBI agent might do in the course of his/her public relations duties, but looked at as a whole, it seems like the massaging of a relationship. The awards are weird. I don't think law enforcement people should receive private awards, in general. Not when there are hidden relationships to business before the state.

    Who knows what's going on here? Certainly not me. Maybe there's some profit in the FBI stirring up the Gulen-Erdogan rivalry. Maybe it destabilizes Russia somehow.  It's not for mortals like me to know.  Maybe the FBI just isn't looking at it at all. 

    What I do know is that it isn't wise to involve schools. This Movement runs schools, not Arby's franchises, and if they weren't public schools, I wouldn't be writing about this topic. As CASILIPS has said, 

    On a related note, did you hear about the CIA announcing it wouldn't do fake vaccine programs any more? What happened there was that the CIA did a fake vaccine program in the effort to find Osama bin Laden, and it backfired. Accounts vary, but this one is really disturbing.  

    In my mind, vaccines are good, and so are public schools. It wasn't wise to mix vaccination programs with an intelligence agenda, and it isn't wise to mix public education with a foreign policy agenda. All the rest of this business, I don't much care about. We should just be more judicious about doling out these charters.

    This current Agent-in-Charge is also on my short-list for likely Niagara award-recipients. Time will tell.

    New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

    Dispatch From The Parallel State