What is a ‘state secret’?

What is a ‘state secret’?

It might sound odd and indeed scary, but Turkey is apparently sinking further into the swamp of dictatorship. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been in efforts to change the concept of a “state secret” and cover the entire country with a veil of secrecy by giving the power to decide “what a state secret is” to the sole decision of the prime ministry.

This issue has popped up onto the agenda again, with the government accusing the Taraf newspaper of leaking a secret document regarding a plan the prime minister and his people molded during a 2004 National Security Council (MGK), for the extermination of the Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood.

Under the draft, which was presented to Parliament back in 2008, but neither legislated nor withdrawn since then, and in a way, dangling like a sword over our heads, the prime minister (or the super president if ever he might become one) obtains incredible powers or the power to virtually declare anything he did not like a state secret.

Under the draft, what is a state secret will be decided by a five-person body headed by the prime minister, comprising of the ministers of interior, justice, foreign affairs and defense. Once this five-person body decides an issue is a state secret that issue would remain secret for a period of 50 years and will be kept away even from the courts. Therefore, if something related to a crime that could land the head of government or Cabinet members in the high court, the investigating prosecutor or judge might end up colliding with the wall of the state secrets act. Accordingly, anyone violating the law on state secrets would be punishable with up to six months in prison.

In a democracy, of course, what is a crime and what is a state secret cannot be left to the discretion of an individual, even if that individual is the prime minister or super president of a country.

A government which is escaping auditing the budget from the Court of Accounts, despite clear stipulations of the Constitution; defining alone the scope of state secret applications; covering whatever it considered hazardous to itself or detrimental to “national interests” with a veil of secrecy for 50 years naturally can only be considered the product of an “advanced” or “deep” democracy.

On the other hand, the current state secrets application is even worse. Many institutions have their separate so-called “cosmic vaults,” where they place documents they consider to be “top secret.”
Often, the contents of such vaults are not known by anyone else and therefore they are kept safely away from the rest. However, sometimes with a fake suicide story or such creative means, such safe vaults might be selectively exposed to send the no longer appreciated bureaucrats behind bars, including former top generals.

A new arrangement of the state secrets law is indeed a must. However, rather than leaving the decision of what is a state secret to the prime minister and decorating him with the privilege of shielding himself with a secrecy act, might only land Turkey in a far more complicated situation than what we already have.

We have already been complaining about the prime minister’s autocratic and indeed patriarchal attitudes. What will happen if he is decorated with such additional powers? Would he not be like the fox placed in a poultry house?