The war within upsets Turkish intelligence

The war within upsets Turkish intelligence

The need to employ spies or agents for foreign intelligence services operating in Turkey nowadays is perhaps not as high as it was before, as the factional fight within the government trenches made a number of Turkish covert operations something more than overt.

Early on Jan. 19, the gendarmerie stopped a convoy of seven trucks near the town of Ceyhan in the southern province of Adana, on their way to Syria. The check was due to an informant’s message that the transportation was a weapon and ammunition smuggling operation.

Acting upon the prosecutor’s orders, the gendarmerie was able to conduct a search of three trucks before being stopped by Adana Governor Hüseyin Avni Coş, who said the trucks were being escorted by officers from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in a “routine” operation. The rest of the trucks were not searched and the content of the three that were search was not revealed. In fact, the probe itself was closed to the public, including the media.

In a similar case on Jan. 1, another truck was stopped by the police in Hatay province, bordering Syria, again on similar information, but the cargo escorted by a MİT officer could not be checked because Hatay Governor Celalettin Lekesiz had intervened and let the cargo continue on its way. Despite speculations that the truck was carrying weapons and ammunition for Free Syrian Army-linked groups, fighting against both the Syrian government forces and al-Qaeda, Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala declared that it was carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria.

The policemen who stopped the truck were immediately removed from their positions by Ala. It will not be a surprise for the Turkish public, under the given political atmosphere, if the gendarmerie brigadier general who stopped the seven trucks and the prosecutor who ordered them were appointed to places other than Ceyhan.

The pro-government media is putting the blame not on any foreign intelligence services, but on the sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen in the judiciary and the bureaucracy, especially the security bureaucracy. “Betrayal to the country” was the headline of Yeni Şafak on Monday.

As a U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar, Gülen was Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) closest ally until recently. Not only did Gülen ask his followers to work and vote for the AK Parti from the 2007 elections onwards, but his sympathizers in the judiciary and the bureaucracy played key roles in probes and court cases such as the Ergenekon, Balyoz, KCK and OdaTV cases between 2007-2012. In these, Erdoğan was happy to see the “cleansing” of the political system from “military tutelage.”

But two moves by the same prosecutors and judges have started to turn the picture upside down. The first was the arrest of Erdoğan’s former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ in January 2012. Başbuğ was later sentenced to life in prison in the Ergenekon case in 2013, convicted of being the leader of a terrorist organization. The second move was an attempt to detain MİT head Hakan Fidan, over his alleged involvement in operations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); actually, he had been in covert dialogue with the PKK.

A very upset MİT thinks that the stopping of their trucks on the way to Syria was a similar “attack” by the same people, in the wake of the war within the AK Parti trenches, aS their “institution” was the only bastion left in the whole state apparatus where the Gülenists had not been able to infiltrate. “What kind of lock could work if the thief is from the house itself,” one source said. “Imagine if the FBI is doing nothing but chasing the CIA all the time.”

That may be an overstatement, but it reflects the mood. Revealing the trucks may not be a big blow to the MİT’s operations in Syria, but it is certainly an embarrassment, and there might be something more. One source claims that the truck “operations” could be a part of an effort to provide material against Turkey in a possible court case at The Hague, opened by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

That could also be an overstatement, but it too reflects the mood.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has taken a rather legalistic position, saying the MİT has no such operational authority by law. It is simply supposed to collect intelligence and present it to prime minister. “It is a shame that Turkey is accused of smuggling guns to a civil war in a neighbor,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “How are we going to explain all this in the future?”

It all shows that the fight within will not stop here. Soon it will be possible to observe court cases opened against certain prosecutors, judges, police officers and even military officers, on accusations of being members of a “parallel” organization within the state plotting to undermine the government, perhaps even on accusation of “betrayal.”