A new tapping scandal amid intel bill row

A new tapping scandal amid intel bill row

This time, it was two pro-government newspapers, Star and Yeni Şafak, that ran a wiretapping scandal in Turkey to kick the week off on Monday (Feb. 24) morning.

According to their almost identical front page stories, the telephone lines of around 7,000 people had been tapped. The papers did not only print their names, but their telephone numbers as well. As in the cases of former tapping scandals, among them there were journalists, academics, and intellectuals, but this time the majority of victims were government people.

The papers claimed that the phones of many government names, from Interior Minister Efkan Ala to National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief political advisor Yalçın Akdoğan to his social media coordinator Mustafa Varank, were tapped by the members of a “parallel structure” within the state apparatus over the last three years.

The “parallel structure” is a vaguely defined expression that has started to be used by Erdoğan himself following the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe, in order to describe the sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen in the executive and the judicial branches of the administration. Gülen, a U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar, used to be Erdoğan’s closest ally, especially during probes against the military and the Kemalist elite, but is now considered the arch-enemy.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said they, meaning the Gülenists, had the state and the government was the actual “parallel structure,” but that irony failed short to explain how a popular government like Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which has been ruling the country over the past 12 years, failed to detect such a well-organized crowd among themselves, until the graft probe.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said Erdoğan and his government shared any responsibility for the tapping and other wrongdoings by the Gülenists in the state structure. “The government should take them to court” he said.

The first signs of discrepancy between Erdoğan and Gülen actually started over the MİT almost three years ago.

And perhaps by coincidence, a few hours before the news of latest tapping scandal broke, the AK Parti domination in Parliament voted to pass a new law for MİT, empowering the capacities and decreasing judicial control over it by further concentrating the authority over it to the prime minister. The opposition parties criticized the bill as a step by Erdoğan to turn the national intelligence agency into his own agency, and of trying to create a state of fear in Turkish society.

It’s true that Turkish intelligence needed reform and modernization, but the rushed result turned out to be a typical example of overdoing it “alla Turca.”

It’s no coincidence that all new legislation, including the intelligence bill, the Internet bill and the bill over increased political influence over the appointment and disciplinary acts of judges and prosecutors, came after the Dec. 17 graft probe, which has cost Erdoğan the resignation of four of his ministers up to now. Erdoğan considers it to be a “coup attempt” against himself by Gülenists.

So far, the outcome of the probes for the Turkish people are steps backward in terms of European-standard rights and freedoms.