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Turkey’s spy chief enters politics over Erdoğan’s protests | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The former head of Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency Hakan Fidan (C) standing in Ankara on December 19, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

The former head of Turkey's MIT intelligence agency Hakan Fidan (C) standing in Ankara on December 19, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

The former head of Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency Hakan Fidan (C) standing in Ankara on December 19, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

Ankara, Bloomberg—Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency and a close confidante of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for more than a decade, has decided to enter politics in a move that Erdoğan said he opposed.

Fidan’s resignation February 7 signals differences between Erdoğan and his hand-picked successor as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in the run-up to elections on June 7. Davutoglu praised Fidan’s choice to run, saying he’d served his country well.

For Erdoğan, Fidan has been key to his battle against what he calls the “parallel state,” which refers to supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled Muslim cleric living in the US. Erdoğan accuses Gulen of backing a probe into government corruption in 2013 that implicated four cabinet ministers. Fidan also led Erdoğan’s efforts to reach an agreement with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to try and end decades of low- level warfare in the nation’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

“I had brought an extremely reliable person, someone I regard as my secret box, to the head of MIT,” Hurriyet reported Erdogan as saying, using the initials of Turkey’s intelligence agency. “It is very important who will replace him because we know what we’ve suffered in the struggle against the parallel structure.”

Erdoğan said he opposed Fidan’s desire to run for parliament, Akif Beki, a journalist who used to be Erdoğan’s press secretary, said Monday while traveling with the president to Colombia. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also criticized Fidan’s decision, saying he was far more important at the helm of the intelligence agency.

Erdoğan’s opposition has sparked local speculation about cracks in the ruling Justice and Development Party’s unity as Davutoglu seeks to rally supporters for parliamentary elections. Erdoğan is lobbying publicly for a change to a presidential from a parliamentary system.

Saban Kardas, head of the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, or ORSAM, said that speculation is probably misplaced.

“There is nothing to suggest a power shift, they are all on the same team,” Kardas said by phone today. “Fidan would not be running for the parliament if Erdoğan did not leave the final decision to him.”

Fidan’s talks with the PKK abroad have become a centerpiece of Erdoğan’s policy at home. When prosecutors sought to question the intelligence chief over his contacts with the group in 2012, Erdoğan quickly pushed through a law shielding spies from the judiciary.

Fidan was also the center of controversy last March, when leaked tapes of top-level security meetings allegedly recorded him offering to detonate bombs on Turkish territory to justify an invasion of Syria. Turkey banned YouTube after the leak, citing a “first-degree threat to national security.” The Foreign Ministry, then headed by Davutoglu, who was also in the alleged meeting in which the Syria plan was discussed, called the leak a “despicable attack” on national security.

Erdoğan, speaking to reporters on his plane en route to Bogota on Monday, said Fidan cited exhaustion as a reason for his resignation, Hurriyet reported Tuesday. A former non-commissioned signal officer, he might have been “lured” by some promises, Hurriyet cited Erdogan as saying.

Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan ruled out any weakening in the struggle against Gulenists after Fidan’s departure, saying he might be seeking a different position in the civilian bureaucracy.
“Whether to make him a minister is a political decision which is up to the premier and which requires the approval of the president,” Akdogan said.

“Fidan resigned to fulfill his expectations for higher posts,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara, said by phone Tuesday. “Yet his aspirations may be limited with Erdoğan’s clout over the ruling party.”