Intelligence reform has become a must

Intelligence reform has become a must

Turkey was shocked twice in two days by heinous separatist terrorist attacks. The latest attacks, as well as intensifying undertakings of the separatist gang, particularly in the rural areas of southeastern provinces, clearly demonstrate a rising threat. At a time when “national unity” or “tolerance to others” have become the national sport in post-July 15 foiled coup attempt politics, the surge in clandestine Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist attacks deplete the already thin prospects of a political resolution to the Kurdish issue.

First on Wednesday night the terrorists exploded a car bomb close to the police headquarters and police lodgings in Van. Three people were killed and 79 people were wounded in that blast. Most of those wounded were reported to be people attending a wedding ceremony at a nearby wedding hall. The second attack came on Thursday morning. A huge explosion rocked the Elazığ police headquarters, shattering buildings over a very large area, killing scores and wounding over 140 people, 14 of them critically. 

According to unverified claims, the culprit of the Van blast was captured wounded by police. After the Elazığ blast eyewitnesses reported that they heard exchanges of gunfire. Was it an exchange of fire between the attackers and the police?

A national intelligence organization with a budget of millions of liras that is unable to gather sufficient reliable intelligence to protect the president of the country, let alone ordinary citizens, to stop an attack on its own headquarters cannot have any credibility. Why is the intelligence chief still in his position? What sensitive information might he know to merit remaining in his job, which he has vividly demonstrated he is inept at?

Without undergoing a radical transformation and reorganization, could the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) be trusted, for example, to conduct a new series of discreet or open talks with the separatist gang for a “political end” to the Kurdish issue? Could anyone have confidence in the current top spy or his team, bearing in mind the entire flop that they have so far overseen?

It is of course impossible to stop all terrorist attacks. While this writer and others unleash fierce criticism against the exposed failures of the MİT, perhaps hundreds of successful and silent intelligence operations escape our attention. That is not the issue. This country has suffered from separatist terrorism for more than four decades. We have lost over 35,000 citizens, maybe more, to this menace. What’s more, Turkey is now facing the dreadful challenge of ISIS. Put aside the nasty claims that Turkey breastfed the ISIS until it discovered what a malicious beast it was, in recent years the Islamist gang has undertaken many heinous acts. 

Everyone immediately blamed the Elazığ attack on the PKK but was it a coincidence that at around the same time as the car bomb went off police were conducting an operation against ISIS dens in the city? Of course no one should think for a second that the terrorists had better intelligence than the state, but obviously other gangs - not only FETÖ members - must have found some ways to infiltrate public offices.

No one can look down at the intelligence chief. After all, once upon a time he was a non-commissioned officer in the military and his academic career is also impressive for many people. His courage in walking the dangerous road – of course under orders of the government – of negotiating with the separatist gang, including with the enforced life-term convict confined to the İmralı island prison, must be commended. But he has badly failed, not once or twice but many times.

No one can blame FETÖ for leaking the minutes of the Oslo round of talks with the PKK. Was not the MİT capable of keeping its own sensitive intelligence material safe? Or, if even FETÖ could infiltrate the intelligence agency, can we assume in comfort that foreign spies have not been able to infiltrate the Turkish intelligence network? If a spy agency cannot gather sufficient credible information about a coming coup attempt until few hours before it was put into action, don’t we have a problem? If major terrorist attacks in front of sensitive buildings – including top government offices, police buildings and lodgings of top officers - or at protest rallies organized by the opposition, cannot be stopped, what is the intelligence service doing?

Rather than disbanding military schools, closing down associations, foundations and think tanks, launching a merciless purge in public offices, universities, and hunting alleged FETÖ members in the media and business world, Turkey should first disband and re-establish its intelligence organization.