Nearly three weeks after the downing of the Turkish jet by Syria, we are still intensely discussing how the incident occurred, with lingering questions as to whether it was shot down by a guided missile or anti-aircraft weapon and whether it was in Syrian airspace or international airspace. We still are still awaiting the completion of the technical analysis of the wreckage of the jet and the military’s comprehensive statement about the incident. Too much has been said so far about the inconsistencies in the statements of Turkish military and civilian authorities. Therefore let’s focus our attention on another aspect of the issue.
It is my opinion that the performance of Turkish intelligence – especially before the downing of the Turkish jet -- remained poor, especially in its analysis of the state of the Syrian military, both in terms of military readiness and of its psychological state. I recently asked a senior government official whether intelligence had warned the military not to violate Syrian airspace or to pay the utmost attention when conducting military activities along the Syrian border.
“I think they based their risk assessment on the fact that it was an unarmed jet and was flying a solo mission. That’s why they might have felt that the risk was very low in this case,” the official told me.
A healthy risk assessment requires robust intelligence. And according to Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkish intelligence has this capacity, but that can hardly be proven after the sad event.
“When talking to our counterparts in our region and elsewhere, we have always been told, ‘Turkey is the shining star in this region.’ Regionally, we are at a good point in terms of intelligence-gathering and processing,” Fidan said in early January, on the 85th anniversary of his organization. “In fact, this region is one which does not contain first-class players except for one or two countries. Therefore, our target is to become a global intelligence player.”
He further said: “We are in very close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. That takes in traditional intelligence-gathering and direct interventions in regions like Syria, Iran, Iraq, the Turkic world, the Caucasus and the Balkans.”
Obviously, MİT seems to have failed in assessing the schizophrenic mental state of the Syrian army. Having been at war for more than a year with the Free Syrian Army, feeling cornered against world powers threatening to topple the regime, the Syrian army should have been better analyzed by MİT, if they have no problem with intelligence-gathering in Syria. This was the mental state that pushed the Syrian military to open fire against the rescue plane as well.
There are also questions about the performance of the Electronic Systems Command (GES) which was handed over to MİT by the military on Jan. 1. Fidan vowed that MİT was preparing to establish a broad “electronic intelligence village” in Ankara’s Gölbaşı district, capable of electronic surveillance over a very large region. Seemingly, the GES still needs time to improve how it performs its surveillance duties.