Turkish gov't to expand powers of national intelligence agency

Turkish gov't to expand powers of national intelligence agency

Turkey's government has taken another controversial step amid deepening political turmoil, this time moving to expand the powers of Turkey's spy agency, turning it into an intelligence coordination body that will work directly under the prime minister.

The move has raised further questions over the principle of separation of powers in Turkey. A related bill was presented to the Parliament Speaker's Office late on Feb. 19, at a time when the country's agenda was dominated by incidents and heated debates that show no sign of slowing up.

Tape recordings of politicians are being revealed on an almost daily basis, and tension between judicial authorities and intelligence officers has led to dramatic scenes, such as the public disclosure of weapons in a search of National Intelligence Organization (MIT) trucks.

The bill to restructure the country's intelligence system has added fuel to the fire in a political climate where concerns over freedom of expression are rising, mainly due to governmental actions that some say could lead to a reduction in freedom of expression.

Parliament's Internal Affairs Commission will begin debates on the MIT bill over the weekend. The commission's chair, Mehmet Ersoy, told Anadolu Agency on Feb. 20 that the bill was slated to be adopted by Parliament before recess, which will begin at the end of February due to the local elections on March 30. The commission will therefore work around the clock in order to approve the bill in a timely manner, Ersoy added.

Cabinet may assign any tasks

According to the bill presented by two deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Alpaslan Kavaklioglu and Idris Shahin, the MİT will fulfill all kinds of tasks regarding external security, the anti-terror fight and national security, which are assigned by the Cabinet.

Prosecutors will contact MIT executives when they receive any kind of denunciation or complaint regarding MIT members and their duties and activities, or when they learn about such situations. In the event that there are issues with the MIT's duties and activities, no legal operation will be launched and no protection measure will be imposed.

A court of serious crimes in Ankara, to be chosen by the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), will be authorized to try those who are charged with personal crimes or charged with crimes regarding their duties related to their position at the MIT.

The Supreme Court of Appeals will also be responsible for trying the MIT undersecretary, who is Turkey's top intelligence chief, if any case is opened against him or her.

The prime minister's consent is already obligatory to prosecute the MIT undersecretary. Such obligations concerning top MIT officials, as well as special envoys tasked by the prime minister, were hastily passed in Parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in February 2012. That move came after top MIT officials, including MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, were summoned by a specially authorized prosecutor in order to testify as part of an investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Undercover agents hired by the state, those who assist with MİT's duties and activities, or those who benefited from intelligence services, will not be held responsible for their duties, activities and assistance, regardless of whether they are public servants or not, according to further aspects of the latest bill.

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