Despite his status as a wanted fugitive, Catli was employed by the Turkish secret police before and after the military coup. As payment for services, the Gray Wolf commander and several of his colleagues were allowed to smuggle heroin and commit other lucrative crimes. Catli's drug trafficking landed him in jail in France and Switzerland during the mid-1980s. After escaping in 1990, he became a key operative in the Turkish government's brutal anti-Kurdish campaign. Turkish Army spokesmen have admitted the Counter-Guerrilla Organization (renamed the Special Forces Command in 1992) played a pivotal role in anti-Kurdish operations.
For more than four decades, Turkey's strategic importance to the United States and NATO derived from its status as the easternmost bulwark against Soviet communism. Cold War Realpolitik compelled the Gray Wolves and its Turkish parent organization, the National Action Party, to cultivate a discreet alliance with NATO and U.S. intelligence. Led by Catli's mentor, Col. Alpaslan Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a militant pan-Turkish ideology that called for repatriating whole sections of the Soviet Union under the flag of a reborn Turkish empire. "The Turkish race above all others" was the Nazi-like credo of Turkes and his revanchist colleagues, who had been enthusiastic wartime supporters of Adolf Hitler. Although the National Action Party has been outlawed, its hard-right ideology continues to influence Turkish politics.
During the Cold War, the CIA supported these would-be Turkish roll-backers in an effort to incite anti-Soviet passions among Muslim Turkic minorities in the Soviet Union. Although this strategy became anachronistic when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, U.S. policy unintentionally had set the stage for aggressive Gray Wolf encroachments in Central Asia after the Cold War ended. In 1995, Catli was among a group of Turkish extremists who traveled to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, where they tried unsuccessfully to topple the government and install a leader who would permit them to use a new drug-smuggling route to the West.
Thus far, however, Turkish officials aren't talking about the most controversial aspect of Catli's nefarious career--his ties to Ali Agca and the papal shooting.
In all likelihood, the plot to kill the pope was not hatched by a foreign government. Rather, it appears to have been the work of renegade Turkish extremists who operated under the protective umbrella of Turkey's secret service but did not always take their orders from Ankara.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government, which played a major role in promoting the spurious Bulgarian link, won't discuss Catli's ties to the papal plot or his long relationship with Turkey's corrupt security forces. Nor has Washington acknowledged any responsibility for the Turkish Frankenstein it helped create. A State Department spokesperson described Catli's activities as "an internal Turkish matter" and declined further comment.