Transformation of Turkish intelligence service
The Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is opening the gates of its headquarters in Ankara for a media opportunity today in a rare occasion to leave behind its 85 years tomorrow; it was founded on Jan. 6, 1926. The last time such a large scale media trip had been organized was 10 years ago for the 75th anniversary; a summary of the MİT history was publicized on that occasion as well.
Ten years ago it was important because the Turkish Secret Service was opening itself up to media as a sign of its version of transparency under a civilian undersecretary, Şenkal Atasagun, who was also the first to head the organization from within. But he wasn’t the first civilian undersecretary. Sönmez Köksal, a seasoned diplomat (who had formerly served in Vienna and Baghdad during the Cold War), had been appointed to the post in 1992 (the 65th year) by Prime Minister Demirel. Demirel had won a precious election victory and was back in power after being toppled and banned from politics by the military coup in 1980, which had not been told by the military undersecretary of the MİT at that time.
And that was for the second time. The legendary head of the MİT, three-star Gen. Fuat Doğu, had hidden the approaching ultimatum by the top brass from his Prime Minister Demirel in 1971, despite the fact Demirel had specifically asked him about such speculations; Doğu was acting on the orders of President Cevdet Sunay, who was also a retired general.
So the first steps to get the Turkish intelligence under civilian control started 20 years ago. Emre Taner was another experienced intelligence officer who replaced Atasagun in 2005, and he was the first one to make public a transformation strategy to mark its 80th anniversary. He made a series of structural changes aiming to bring flexibility and proactive approach which enabled the organization to carry out talks with the representatives of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) seeking a way to put an end to the bloodshed going on for the last three decades.
Hakan Fidan, the current (since 2010) undersecretary, is the fourth civilian and has an academic background (on intelligence matters as well).
As a favored young civil servant by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (first as the head of Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency, then PM’s foreign policy adviser and deputy undersecretary), he has never been in party politics.
Fidan started to change the structure of MİT from day one under the government strategy to have more civilian control over military. Turkey’s biggest electronic intelligence facility, which had been under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for years, was transferred to MİT as of Jan. 1, only a few days ago.
There are also debates about the leak of the PKK talks and opposition parties’ claims about possible intelligence failure in killing of 35 civilians by air force at the Iraqi border mistaken as PKK militants.
Fidan will have to find an answer to those questions, but the real importance of today’s meeting with the press of MİT is beyond current affairs and is a milestone in the transformation of Turkey’s intelligence service.