Silence of the spymaster

Silence of the spymaster

The Turkish state’s most enigmatic figure has created such a star effect in politics that even President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is heartbroken. Hakan Fidan’s resignation from the top post in intelligence and move into politics is probably the biggest political event of 2015. And this may even overshadow the upcoming elections. Here is why.

I had a chance to meet with Fidan years ago when he was then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s special envoy on nuclear issues and known as the “nuclear sherpa.” We were attending the Nuclear Summit in Washington and even then he seemed to be comfortable in any government-related position. Unlike most intelligence bureaucrats or diplomats, he did not shy away from the press, nor felt uncomfortable in crowds. His easygoing but very tightlipped manner affected many foreign diplomats in Turkey.

Another striking encounter Mr. Fidan had was years later with another spymaster. His counterpart from Israel, the head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, despite all political differences between the two countries, had arrived during the days of the Gezi Park protests. Fidan and Pardo, according to my diplomatic sources, conducted very deep and concrete conversations, mostly about Iran. “When Turkey and Israel sit together,” my source had said, “the big issue is always Iran. It is not Syria even in the heat of the war.” These sentences also define how the West sees Fidan as someone who knows his neighbors and adversaries.

In another article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, former U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey was quoted as saying, “Fidan is the face of the new Middle East. We have to be able to work with him, because he gets things done. This should not mean he is a friend of the U.S., because he is not.”

Jeffrey’s words also portray Fidan as someone respected by the U.S. even as an adversary.

These criteria separate Fidan from both Davutoğlu and Erdoğan. He is someone who can talk to Israel and criticize the U.S. or vice versa at the same time. For Western capitals, he is as interesting as Qasim Suleimani of Iran or Meir Dagan of Mossad. Fidan knows politics but knows the Turkish state as a machinery much better. He is someone that portrays power without even saying a word. His silence is as influential as Erdoğan’s routine anger sessions. And this is probably what makes Erdoğan incredibly nervous.

On his way to Colombia and Cuba, Erdoğan called him his “secret keeper,” his “confidant.” As the Roman saying once again proves, you are the master of the secrets you hold until you disclose them.

Once they are out, you become the slave of your own words. By calling Fidan his “master secret keeper,” Erdoğan unfortunately admitted that Fidan is privy to many things that he should not be. By these words, and his disenchantment with Fidan’s decision, Erdoğan has openly expressed his need to keep Fidan closer than ever. Oddly enough, the spymaster is now free from bureaucratic clout and open to challenges and criticism right in the heart of the public. His breakaway attempt is almost reminiscent of the resignation of Mustafa Kemal Pasha from the Ottoman military.

On a lighter note, Ahmet Takan, an old friend and a real Ankara insider, wrote that it was Fidan’s wife that pushed for his resignation and move into politics. I could not help but smile imagining that the ultimate spymaster of Turkish Intelligence would take orders from his wife.

But then again, why not?