Turkey is faced with a growing intelligence scandal
Some observers say it amounts to a power struggle between rival branches of security forces
Warrants have been issued against current and former intelligence agents
Arrest warrants have been issued for Turkey’s former intelligence chief, his deputy and two other intelligence agents, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported Friday.
The warrants were issued a day after Hakan Fidan, the current head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known by the MIT acronym, rejected a summons to testify in connection with an investigation into a suspected Kurdish terrorist organization.
Many Turkish observers said the judiciary’s move against current and former spymasters amount to a power struggle between rival branches of Turkey’s security forces.
Some also saw the attempt to force Fidan to testify as a direct and unusual challenge to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan appointed Fidan as MIT chief in 2010.
“Fidan was a hand-picked head of the (intelligence) agency by Erdogan, a kind of protégé,” said Yigal Schleiffer, Eurasianet’s Turkey editor. “The move against him in the Turkish context can be seen very much as a direct challenge to Erdogan and his authority. It indicates a sense among whoever is making these moves that they see him as somewhat weakened. He has been the undisputed power in Turkey for several years now.”
“There is a power struggle as far as we can see between the (police) security directorate and MIT,” said Lale Kemal, Ankara bureau chief for the Taraf newspaper.
She warned this could weaken Turkey as it seeks to gather international support to confront a deadly government crackdown in neighboring Syria.
“If you have serious internal problems, and in this case the accusations leveled against MIT, it will weaken your position to influence regional developments,” Kemal said.
The left-leaning Taraf newspaper was itself plunged into the heart of the growing intelligence shake-up when it published a report Thursday claiming that between 2008 and 2009, seven of its senior editorial staff members were wire-tapped by MIT in connection with a counter-terrorism investigation.
Taraf columnist Mehmet Baransu wrote that Turkish police arrested a pair of MIT agents, after he noticed a suspicious man and woman following him around Istanbul.
Officials from MIT could not be reached for comment on the arrest warrants, or on Taraf’s allegations.
On Friday afternoon, Turkey’s president weighed in on the growing intelligence scandal, with a public appeal for calm.
“This matter is very unfortunate and sad for Turkey,” said President Abdullah Gul, in remarks reported by Anatolian. “When institutions are accused for carrying out duties authorized by the law, utmost care is needed.”
Within hours of the announcement that the arrest warrants had been issued, a lawmaker from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party proposed legislation to curtail investigations into MIT.
The draft legislation calls for the prime minister to assume control of investigations into alleged crimes committed by intelligence officers acting under the prime ministers’ direct orders.