Is the operational power of the MİT increasing?
If a genie come was to come out of Aladdin’s magic lamp and tell the heads of the intelligence organizations of Western democratic countries “Make your wish,” it may get the answer “6532” from many of them.
6532 is not an intelligence code. This figure is the number of the law that passed through Turkey’s Parliament on April 17 concerning amendments to the Law on State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
This new legislation, which is now awaiting the approval of President Abdullah Gül, changes several articles of the MİT Law No. 2937, which had been prepared by the military regime on Nov. 1, 1983. It also introduces a series of new articles.
As a general observation, it is possible to say that this new law expands the jurisdiction of the MİT, introducing broader freedom of movement. The entire problem is concentrated in the questions of how carefully it respects the principles of a democratic constitutional state, and to what extent the rights and freedoms of citizens are protected.
Of course, to be able to assess what this new law means, one needs to remember the conjuncture from which it has come. We can consider the new MİT law to be a step that the Dec. 17 process triggered on the governmental front. This law, just as the amendments introduced to the HSYK law, is the last of the series of strategic steps taken by the government against the Gülen community’s harsh move targeting the government.
One of the issues is that while, at one time, there was a debate on separating domestic and international intelligence affairs, we have now reached a place where - particularly as an extension of the fight between the government and the Gülen community - the MİT’s domestic functions have been further strengthened.
When we look at the duties of the MİT in the new law, we see a vague situation. This law adds a new article to the MİT’s duties as being to “carry out the duties assigned by the Cabinet on matters concerning external security, the fight against terror, and national security.”
In the 1983 law, actors such as the president, the National Security Council, the chief of general staff, and the prime minister were listed as the interlocutors of the institution. In the new arrangement, however, it is the government - in other words the prime minister - who emerges in the most central and determinant position directing the MİT.
The issue here is that several activities – including operational ones - will be able to be included in this broad definition, which has both domestic and international dimensions.
Actually, the former system did not openly grant any operational power to MİT, but the institution was still quite capable of conducting external operations. These kinds of operations – like the failed 1996 assassination attempt against Abdullah Öcalan in Damascus – were projects carried out with the political approval of prime ministers.
Nevertheless, the MİT’s domestic operational power was always extremely limited. It was able to conduct only counter-intelligence activities domestically. According to the MİT website, members of the MİT were able to use the rights and powers given to the security forces in general to protect their facilities and members, and to conduct counter-espionage activities.
This legal framework gave the MİT power to respond with an armed operation against another country’s secret service’s espionage activities in Turkey. Apart from that, anti-terror operational powers were only given to the police and the gendarmerie.
When this is taken into consideration, we see that the new law brings a broader framework to the government’s authority to assign the MİT over matters of external security, the fight against terror and national security.
No doubt, other questions such as how this expression will be interpreted, how it will be applied in connection with this, where the operational authorization boundaries will stop, and what kind of organizations and structures will be targeted in these assignments, are critically important.
The government wing in the parliamentary debate stated that the MİT’s domestic policing powers were limited to espionage crimes, trying to refute criticism that operational powers had been broadened.
However, in a field where confidentiality dominates entirely, and where practices are arranged with even more confidential regulations, these kinds of abstract assurances cannot be regarded as adequate.