Turkish secret service takes over military intel

Turkish secret service takes over military intel

Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) took over facilities of the Joint Staff Electronic Systems Command (GES) based 20 kilometers south of Ankara officially as of Jan. 1, but case officers, engineers and technicians started their workday as of 9 a.m. Jan. 2.

This is not an ordinary bureaucratic shift; on the contrary, it is one of the strongest symbols of increasing civilian control over the Turkish military. The GES facilities, known as the “Bayrak” (Flag) Garrison, played an important role in the planning phase of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’etat by the Joint Staff; so important that Kenan Evren and fellow generals had code named the whole coup operation as the “Bayrak” operation.

Established in the 1950’s as a NATO communications facility by the U.S. in order to collect intelligence on Soviet activities and then transferred to Turkish army, the GES facilities have the most sophisticated electronic communication and thus eavesdropping devices in the Turkish system. Its capacities completely for military purposes, such as sustaining the communications with Turkish troops abroad from Afghanistan to Somalia and Kosovo or field intelligence for army commands in Turkey, will continue to stay under the Joint Staff. But the rest, all those cutting edge technology listening devices which have been and could be used for civilian purposes are under MİT as of yesterday; the consolidation work started almost a year ago

It is important for the MİT, which is going to mark its 85 anniversary on Friday Jan. 6, since up until 15 years ago it used to be mostly under military control; a three star army general used to rule it with many key posts being under military officials. Today, the MİT is working under its fourth civilian undersecretary (directly reporting to Prime Minister) and engulfing military intelligence in national capacity.

Yet those important developments take place amid a series of controversies about the Turkish secret service’s performance for the last year, after the appointment to the leading post of Hakan Fidan, who opposition parties have regarded as a political appointee of PM Tayyip Erdoğan.

A few months ago, secret MİT talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) representatives in Europe (probably in Oslo, Norway) were leaked to the internet media. Nowadays, MİT is again the target of criticism because of providing misleading information to the military which ended up of killing of 35 small-scale smuggling villagers at Turkish-Iraqi border, mistaken as PKK militants.

The whispers in the security community claim there is a competition from the police intelligence who don’t want to be under MİT control, on the contrary seeking a separate FBI-style domestic intelligence structure which indirectly contributes to the discrediting leak stories. The sources say the competition is especially on sharing the intelligence on the PKK; the most sensitive issue for Turkey’s security now.

Nevertheless, civilian intelligence taking over the control of the military facilities has an important significance in Turkey’s painful politics and military relationship and will be marked as such.