Intelligence failure questions from a spy chief

Intelligence failure questions from a spy chief

Emre Taner ran the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) from 2005 to 2010. A veteran intelligence officer who had been recruited as a young student in Ankara University, Taner was the one who had proposed and launched a move to establish dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2008-2009. 

He was the one who conducted the operations to talk to members of the PKK in the Norwegian capital Oslo facilitated by a U.K.-origin institution and talked to the imprisoned founding leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, and the Iraqi Kurdish leaders from 2009. 

The talks started to fail before the secret recordings of the Oslo talks were broadcast on the internet in 2011, when a group of PKK members who agreed to surrender upon their arrival were supposed to be released but were instead arrested in late 2009.

During the Oslo talks, Hakan Fidan was appointed as Taner’s deputy. In 2010, when Taner retired, Fidan became the head of the MİT; he still holds the position.

Described by President Tayyip Erdoğan as “my black box,” Fidan and Taner were both the targets of prosecution on Feb. 7, 2012. A group of prosecutors wanted to interrogate them for being in contact with the PKK. 

Actually, Taner was retired and Fidan was trying to re-establish the contact under the instructions of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for another attempt at dialogue. The dialogue would start in September 2012 in order to end acts of terror and pursue a lasting solution to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem. 

All of the prosecutors and police officers involved in that probe, which was stopped by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government through a snap amendment in the law, are either in jail or on the run on accusation of being members of the secret network of Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of being behind the bloody military coup attempt of July 15. Actually it was the major breaking point for Erdoğan to perceive a direct threat to his power by his old ally, Gülen.

Taner was invited to testify before the parliamentary commission established to investigate the July 15 coup attempt on Nov. 9.

In his testimony, he first defended the Oslo talks as an attempt to take the initiative in the Kurdish issue in which “many other intelligence organizations were involved.”

But he also made a few remarks about the performance of his former agency and his successor, Fidan, about their capacity regarding the coup attempt and the struggle against the Gülenists, without mentioning Fidan’s name directly.

There were three major points:

1- MİT failed to collect the information that the Gülenists were pursuing a coup attempt.

2- MİT also failed to deliver the information that there was something going wrong on that day to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Tayyip Erdoğan. 

“This is something like orders from God,” he said. “You immediately give such info whether it is confirmed or not.” (PM Yıldırım said in a TV interview after the coup attempt that he had asked Fidan about the lack of a report about the moves during the day and he was not able to get a satisfying answer.)

3- Taner also claimed that Gülenists were able to infiltrate the agency after his retirement.

The opposition parties have been raising similar questions so far, but these have now come from a seasoned intelligence officer and the former boss of the current one. The answers to those remarks could shed some more light on the coup attempt.