Intelligence failure in the coup attempt?
The military announced on July 19 that the top brass had been informed about the impending coup attempt on July 15 hours before it actually took place. The top soldiers then sent orders to military units across the country to stop all aircraft and armored vehicle activities. That could not stop the junta from trying to implement its plans, though it was forced to push the button six hours earlier than planned.
According to ranking security sources in Ankara, the sequence of events was roughly as follows:
At around 3 p.m. on July 15, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) got information about “extraordinary activity” at the Air-Land School Command in Güvercinlik, Ankara, where helicopter training is given to military units. MİT head Hakan Fidan informed Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar about the activity at around 4 p.m., sending his deputy to the military headquarters for a meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Yaşar Gürel at around 5.30 p.m. In the meantime, in order to confirm the information Land Forces Commander Salih Zeki Çolak sent his deputy, İhsan Uyar, for an inspection of Güvercinlik. At 6 p.m., Fidan also went to the military HQ to meet Akar, and Çolak. Akar issued a written order to all units in Turkey at 6.30 p.m. to close Turkey’s entire air space and to stop all kinds of troop movements, including of aircraft and armored vehicles like tanks.
Let’s pause here to ask this critical question: Were Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım or President Tayyip Erdoğan informed about this “extraordinary” military activity by either MİT chief Fidan or military chief Akar?
The question is necessary because Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş repeated after the military statement yesterday that the government had received no information prior to the attempt. President Erdoğan also told CNN International on July 18 that he was only informed about events at around 8 p.m.
The answer to that key question of whether they were informed is “no,” according to ranking security sources who asked not to be named. One said they did not want to disturb the president, who was on holiday with his family, over unconfirmed information. In fact, they were still trying to confirm the intelligence five hours after it was first heard.
When the order went out from General Akar to all military units, the plotters knew that they might be exposed and arrested soon. The result, according to the same sources, was that they started their coup attempt six hour earlier, bringing it forward from 3 a.m. on July 16 to 9 p.m. on July 15.
Before 9 p.m., the military secretary of General Akar, acting on the order of the junta, invited generals Çolak and Uyar to the HQ for a meeting. At 9 p.m. this secretary and the guards on the shift acting on his orders entered the office of Akar and forcefully seized him. When Çolak, Uyar and Güler entered the office the same thing happened to them, with the contribution of more officers who were manipulated by the junta.
Erdoğan and Yıldırım were informed about a “possible movement” at around 8 p.m. Erdoğan then tried but failed to reach Akar from the hotel where he was staying in the southern resort of Marmaris. He wanted to return to Ankara or Istanbul but it was understood that their airports were seized by pro-junta troops. It was only after the Istanbul-based 1st Army Commander Ümit Dündar’s intervention that the Istanbul airport was cleared and Erdoğan was able to leave Marmaris. In the CNN International interview, Erdoğan said that if he had left 15 minutes later, the commandoes acting on the junta’s orders could either have kidnapped or killed him.
But this is not the bigger picture.
In the bigger picture there is a question that has to be answered not only by MİT but also by the military counter-intelligence and the police intelligence. There was a deep suspicion that the military and the judiciary have been full of ranking sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. who was a close ally of Erdoğan up until 2012 and became an arch enemy after 2013. Were all the state’s intelligence organizations sleeping as the Gülenists, or the “parallel structure within the state” as the government calls them, organized to stage a coup?