What’s next for Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency?
It was a short while before the 1971 Turkish military memorandum. Foreign Minister İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil visited Tehran after receiving an invitation from Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, for a meeting which he later recounted:
“We were not sitting at the golden-plated, golden-salt-cellared dining table where we always ate. Arşidiri, Pahlavi’s security advisor, was also with us. It was a rather special atmosphere – distinct from the accustomed protocol. The Shah told me, ‘The military will stage a coup in Turkey in a few months.’”
The Turkish Foreign Minister learned about the coup which the Turkish military would carry out from the Shah of Iran.
The undersecretary of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT), Fuat Doğu, on the other hand, not only chose not to inform Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel about the coup, but also asked for the PM’s resignation on the day of the coup, March 12.
Furthermore, in the 1980 coup d’état, the plans for “Operation Flag” (Bayrak Harekâtı) were conveyed to the military units by the MİT’s airplane. The agency, however, once again did not notify the PM, even though the MİT was under the authority of the PM; because the MİT took part in the coup.
This wheel was broken in the coup attempt of July 15, 2016. The MİT undisputedly fought against the coup. Nevertheless, one of the most asked questions about the coup attempt was why the government had no foreknowledge before July 15. The MİT stated that it did not have the authority to gather intelligence from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). I went after the question, “Why is there such an obstacle?”
The three directives
On Nov. 28, 2011, Chief of the General Staff Necdet Özel, signed Directive MY 114-1C, which forbade the MİT from gathering information from the TSK. The intelligence units were only responsible for “the soldiers’ attitude and behaviour outside the military”. This was not the first such directive of its kind either. On 30 May 2001, Chief of the General Staff Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu signed Directive MY 114-1B, which prohibited the MİT from gathering information from inside the TSK. Directive MY 114-1A, which was announced on 30 March 1990 under Chief of the General Staff Necip Torumtay’s leadership, also banned the conduct of intelligence activities inside the TSK.
It is reasonable to ask, “Since the plans for the July 15 coup attempt were prepared under Gülenist imam Adil Öksüz’s supervision in civilian-occupied locations, why wasn’t there any intelligence about it in advance?” yet instead of delving into the old debates, I’m now going to evaluate the new circumstances arising from the subordination of the MİT to the presidency. Still, this does not stop me from making a confession. I concluded my article on 19 April 2017 by noting, “I am receiving information about a potential restructuring of the intelligence system.” I would be more than glad to say, “Look, I pointed to this,” but I have to be honest. What I had heard was not about the subordination of the MİT to the presidency, but about the formation of a unit within the MİT to gather intelligence about the TSK personnel.
The relationship between the prime minister and the MİT
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s statement about the MİT’s subordination to the presidency, “[The change is] compatible with the April 16 presidential system,” is appropriate. As a matter of fact, the PM’s weekly schedules had not included the routine weekly meetings with the MİT undersecretary. Except for the security summits and National Security Council (MGK) meetings, the regular Thursday meetings between PM Yıldırım and MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan have not been taking place for a long time. The two have solely met for once or twice in their regular weekly meetings since the coup attempt in 15 July 2016. A harmony consonant with the spirit of the April 16 constitutional referendum was materialised with this change. This was only the first step towards the restructuring of the intelligence structure. What else happened?
1. The MİT was brought under the authority of the presidency.
2. The provision to appoint the undersecretary of the MİT in the MGK and the requirement of the PM’s approval were removed from the text, and thus the president will appoint the MİT undersecretary.
3. The MİT was provided with the authority to gather intelligence from the TSK.
4. The president was provided with the authority to chair the National Intelligence Coordination Board (MİKK), which used to be chaired by the MİT undersecretary.
The restructuring of the MİT is next. The report of the MİT is sitting on President Erdoğan’s table. The French model of intelligence once came to the fore – that is, the separation of the intelligence system as internal and external intelligence, in which case the MİT would focus on external intelligence.
There is an important regulation in the state of emergency decree about the MİT. I am talking about the MİKK which will be chaired by the president. The MİKK was one of the reasons behind the operation against MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan on 7 February 2012. February 7 marked the formation of a council of coordination within the intelligence structure that was going to be chaired by Hakan Fidan. The Gülenists, on the other hand, had sought to seize the intelligence coordination structure through the General Directorate of Security and the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organisation. When Erdoğan opted for MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, the Gülen organization initiated the February 7 operation.