Draft law would drastically expand Turkish MIT's powers

A draft law has been submitted to Turkey's parliament that provides for widely expanded powers for the Turkish intelligence services.

al-monitor A new draft law would widely expand the powers of Turkey's intelligence services, possibly creating a mukhabarat (secret police) state. This photo showing security cameras was taken in Munich, Jan. 31, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Michaela Rehle.

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turkey, security and intelligence, legislation, justice and development party, akp

Feb 21, 2014

A draft law of fundamental changes to the State Intelligence Services and National Intelligence Organization Law has been submitted to parliament. The draft, signed by Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies Alpaslan Kavaklioglu and Idris Sahin, is expected to be passed next week. The proposed legislation, leaked on the Internet, would transform Turkey into a full-fledged mukhabarat (Syrian-style secret police) state.

MIT gets operational powers

First, the Council of Ministers would be able to assign operational duties to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) on issues related to external security, counter-terrorism and national security. Accordingly, a term as vague as “national security” would serve as a basis for MIT to conduct operations against any entity or individual the government defines and singles out as a “national security threat.” Thus, any group at loggerheads with the government — for instance Alevis, Kurds or [religious] communities — could be identified as a “national security threat” and become the target of MIT operations. The provision would allow MIT to function as the intelligence branch of a party state.

Compulsory information supply to the MIT

Under the powers it would acquire, the MIT would be able to collect information from all public institutions, all legal entities, including banks, and all institutions without a legal personality, regardless of whether the requested information constituted a commercial secret. According to the draft, the MIT “may collect information, documents, data and records [from those institutions], make use of and connect to their archives, electronic data processing centers and communication infrastructure. Those who receive requests in the said scope may not avoid meeting the requests by citing provisions in their own statutes.” Under this provision, the MIT would be able to go any time to any institution, including newspapers, media outlets and banks, and collect information or documents. The institutions would be unable to turn down MIT requests in line with their own regulations.

The MIT above anybody

If the MIT deems it necessary, “various materials, equipment, gear and devices” in the property of public institutions “may be handed over to the MIT, regardless of what other laws stipulate on the issue.” This means that the MIT would effectively rise above all other institutions and be able to use the capabilities of the Turkish armed forces, the police, the gendarmerie and even the State Water Affairs agency.

Absolute blackout

A total blackout would be imposed on MIT activities. The draft envisages heavy jail sentences for individuals who obtain and disseminate information and documents about “the National Intelligence Organization’s responsibilities and activities” or MIT members. To prevent unwanted media reports about the MIT, the draft envisages “jail sentences of three to 12 years for owners of periodical or non-periodical publications, content providers, content authors, reporters, writers, managing editors, publishers, printers and those involved in dissemination in cases when such information or documents are published [or broadcast] via radio, television, the Internet, social media, newspapers, magazines, books or any other media vessels and by the way of any print, visual, audial or electronic mass communication medium.”

This provision would block the dissemination of any bit of information concerning the MIT. Moreover, not only publishers and editors, but distributors too would be penalized.

Similarly, newspapers would be required to hand over information and documents in their possession. Individuals who refuse to hand over information and documents requested under the law would be sentenced to jail terms of two to four years.

Communication surveillance

Another provisions says that [the MIT] “may gather data passing through telecommunication channels concerning external intelligence, national defense, terrorism, international crimes and cybersecurity.” Thus, using the front of vague concepts such as “national security” and “terrorism,” the MIT would be allowed to collect all data transmitted through telecommunication channels.

With respect to wiretapping and surveillance, a permission by the the MIT undersecretary would make it possible to wiretap all foreign phone lines, all domestic public phone lines and the phone lines of foreigners in Turkey.

The related provision in the draft says: “With the purpose of gathering preventive intelligence and making analysis, communications conducted abroad or by foreigners as well as communications conducted via public phones … may be monitored, wiretapped, recorded or have their signal data analyzed with the approval of the MIT undersecretary or his/her deputy and without consideration of regulations in other laws.”

This means that court decisions would be no longer necessary to wiretap the public phones in the streets and the phones of foreigners in Turkey. The permission of the the MIT deputy undersecretary would suffice.

Legal shield for Imrali and Oslo talks

The MIT law contains also a surprise: it institutes a legal ground for the talks held with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Oslo talks held between MIT officials and PKK representatives. The related provision says: “[The MIT] may establish direct contacts with any local or foreign institution, organization, entity or individual and employ appropriate coordination methods in cases when national security and the country’s interests so require. While carrying out their duties, MIT members may meet with detainees or convicts in penal institutions after a prior notice, and may contact any entity threatening national security, including terrorist organizations, as part of their duties.”

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