Renowned doctor Mehmet Oz is under fire from national security experts after a photo surfaced showing him voting in Turkey’s 2018 presidential election.
Oz, a dual US-Turkish citizen, has pledged to revoke his Turkish citizenship if elected to the US Senate after initially saying he would give up security clearances to retain it.
Although Oz claimed during the election campaign to have “never been politically involved in Turkey in any capacity”, he voted in the last presidential election in Turkey, according to his spokesperson, Brittany Yanick, who has confirmed the authenticity of the photo.
Yanick defended the Oz vote by distinguishing voting from being “actively engaged” in the Turkish government. “Voting in an election is very different from being actively engaged in Turkish government political work, which Dr. Oz was never involved in,” Yanick told ABC News. “There are no security concerns.”
Yanick added that Oz’s vote was a last-minute decision during a visit to the Turkish consulate to discuss “humanitarian work for Syrian refugees in Turkey.” Oz reportedly voted for Muharrem Ince in his failed attempt to overthrow Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A former government attorney familiar with federal security clearances said the 2018 Oz vote “is problematic from a security clearance perspective.”
With Oz’s dual citizenship at the center of his Senate bid, some national security experts fear his ties to Turkey could trigger a “giant flashing red light” for the civil background check process.
As ABC News reported:
Elected officials are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as civilians seeking security clearances for sensitive government work; Once sworn in, legislators have access to classified information, unless the executive branch denies them certain information.
But the civilian background check process can also “provide a framework for analyzing whether or not someone is trustworthy,” according to Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a public interest law firm in Washington. non-profit. And for McClanahan, voting in another country’s election would trigger a “giant flashing red light.”
Oz reportedly retains his Turkish nationality to care for his mother in the country while she battles Alzheimer’s disease. However, Oz had to serve in the Turkish military to receive Turkish citizenship, which he did briefly in the early 1980s.
In addition to his vote in the Turkish elections, national security experts worry about his significant financial ties to the foreign country. Oz owns hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate in Turkey, according to its financial information. Oz even rents one of its buildings from the Turkish Ministry of Education for free.
Apart from his real estate interests in the country, Oz also has a sponsorship deal with Turkish Airlines, the country’s national airline. Oz appeared in a 2018 Super Bowl commercial for airlines and recently starred in a four-minute informative detailing airline coronavirus safety protocols last year.
“Any one of them would be enough to torpedo a [security] permission,” McClanahan told ABC News. “Overall, I wouldn’t put a good chance of this person getting clearance anywhere.”
Another foreign policy expert said Oz, who has vowed to be “Erdogan’s toughest critic” in the Senate, would have no choice but to be friends with Ergodan to maintain Erdogan’s position. Turkish Airlines brand ambassador over the years.
“If you wanted to have a lucrative career as a spokesperson for Turkish Airlines, you certainly couldn’t say anything negative about Erdogan,” said Nicholas Danforth, nonresident researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European Policy and foreign.
Oz’s financial disclosures have also drawn criticism for his ties to China after he allegedly made millions from deals with a company that made its products in China.
Along with national security experts, members of the Armenian-American and Greek-American communities have expressed concerns about Oz’s Turkish ties. They fear his ties to the country could potentially embed denial of the Armenian Genocide.
However, former President Donald Trump’s former director of national intelligence, Ric Grenell, said Oz’s understanding of Turkey is an asset when dealing with totalitarian leaders like Ergodan.
“It is frankly un-American to suggest that first- and second-generation Americans are unworthy or suspect of working as a US public servant,” Grenell said. “They have seen fascism and totalitarianism and are actually more lucid about what is at stake.”
Oz received Trump’s endorsement last month ahead of Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary, which will take place on May 17.
Other experts praised Oz for being transparent about his dual nationality, noting that it would be more of a political risk than a national security risk.
“The fact that [Oz] made no effort to conceal his dual citizenship counts in his favor,” said Steve Aftergood, senior analyst for the Federation of American Scientists. “Voters will have the opportunity to decide whether this concerns them or not.”